Asian Fetish & “Yellow Fever” Is Bad, a Follow-Up Essay

Author Cindy Young discusses her last piece on White guys and yellow fever and the backlash she received after publishing it.

First of all, I’m the author of this article. If you haven’t read it yet, take a moment, go back, and have a look at it. Originally I had intended that article to be a somewhat humorous, but informative exploration of a hotly debated topic within the Asian community: yellow fever, or a fetish for Asian women. I intended stereotypes to be brought up so they could be laughed at and REJECTED as ridiculous, never accepted, but I quickly realized that the mere mention of stereotypes was like whacking a hornet’s nest with a flaming torch. A lot of readers assumed that, in mentioning a negative stereotype and how it contributed to the development of yellow fever, I was accepting those stereotypes and calling yellow fever a good thing. This is not the case. Some parts of the article were satirical and some were serious, but because of the intermixing I admit it was very confusing and possibly offensive to many.

This response essay is part apology, part clearing the air, part making sure you actually understand what I’m trying to say.

First off, yellow fever is BAD.

Even though I received a lot of backlash from people who completely misunderstood my intentions, stereotypes are something that NEED to be addressed, and today’s article will be a serious one.

Because yellow fever is not a pretty issue. The very name itself is a racially biased stereotype; it’s not an Asian preference, it’s guys liking those YELLOW women. They’re not Korean. They’re not Chinese. They’re not Japanese. They’re not Thai, Cambodian, Hmong, Burmese, Laotian, Vietnamese, Filipina. They’re not any of the many diverse Asian nationalities and ethnicities. They have no history. They’re not even people. They’re objects. They’re just YELLOW.

Yellow fever is real, and it reduces Asian women to nothing more than a color; this hurts both Asian men and Asian women in equal measure.

How does it hurt Asian women?

Because they become objects. They become accessories. They’re little more than toys and playthings for the amusement and pleasure of men who couldn’t care less about them as women, so long as they fit the description of their prescribed stereotype.

Meek. Quiet. Obedient. Servile. Docile. Girlishly feminine. Submissive.

I bring up these stereotypes not to reinforce them and to apply them as a blanket statement to Asian women, despite what some of my readers might have thought; that’s how the concept of yellow fever arose in the first place. Outsiders THOUGHT they saw docile and submissive women—they completely skipped over the fact that they were looking at intelligent, independent women with ideas and personalities of their own.

I bring up these stereotypes so that we can acknowledge what exists and make an effort to prove it both ridiculous and harmful.

All it takes is just one rumor, just one person making a casual remark about these strange and exotic women he saw, to start a 200-year spiral of rumors that snowball into harmful stereotypes. After 200 years of Western media reinforcing the image of Asian women as exotic and submissive, stereotypes are hard to shake. They become a box that Asian women are forced into, a prison of assumptions and expectations.

When a man approaches an Asian woman, she doesn’t know if he expects her to be servile and meek like she’s been portrayed for 200 years, if she is his secret fetish, or if he is a genuine and good man who will accept her the way she is.

That’s because yellow fever is a hidden FETISH—it doesn’t matter who she is, she’s just YELLOW and that’s good enough for him. There are good men out there who simply enjoy Asian women and do not treat them as objects, and I do not intend to portray all men who like Asian women as sick fetishists, but to ignore the thriving business of mail order brides and Asian sex slave trafficking as a result of yellow fever fetish is to bury our heads in the sand and ignore a major problem that destroys lives every day.

Asian women are strong. They are beautiful, outside as well as in. They are doctors, lawyers, and engineers. They are writers. They are soldiers. They are wives and mothers, feminists, philosophers, actresses, athletes, and anything else they want to be.

Being as I’m also part Asian, it doesn’t make sense I would ever condone a stereotype that affects both men and women. I am adamantly AGAINST yellow fever, but I understand how my original article was confusing.

Yellow fever is a result of harmful stereotypes that we cannot ignore if we wish to move forward.

And these stereotypes do not just affect the women.

The section in my article about Asian men and their stereotypes needs to be talked about. My intention was to address the stereotypes and counter them, not support them.

Most Asian men in the US have heard accusations of his penis being tiny. Most have seen themselves portrayed as weak and effeminate in Hollywood films. Most Asian men are seen as the comedic foil, never with the girl on his arm. This is quickly changing, but unfortunately this is the reality of the media today in the United States.

These stereotypes are real. They exist. We can’t ignore them. They sting. They hurt. They suck. You and I both wish that they didn’t exist. But as is the case with Asian women, ignoring these stereotypes and refusing to mention them makes it impossible to stop Asian men from being portrayed negatively. It makes it impossible to demand a strong, confident leading male role in Hollywood films for Asian men.

But why should we acknowledge them?

If we can’t acknowledge these stereotypes, we are forever stuck with Long Duk Dong in “Sixteen Candles.”

If we can’t acknowledge it, John Cho’s Selfie will be our last leading romantic male role (and this one was recently cancelled).

If we can’t acknowledge them, then we can never demand that Asian men be portrayed in a positive light. Until Asian Americans make a real issue out of it (which was my original intention), we’ll forever be seeing Ken Jeong making a mockery of himself and Asian men in movies like the Hangover.

Until Asian Americans decide to TAKE ACTION against the stereotypes, we will we never see change. The good thing is (which I mentioned in my article) that we’re already seeing much more positive Asian male representation in media, and I can only hope for this to continue.

In my article I mentioned that yellow fever was here to stay.

And I don’t want to retract my statement because I firmly believe some White guys will always have Asian fetish and that yellow fever will probably persist for a long time. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do to improve the situation, but the deeply rooted stereotypes and thought processes within Americans will be there for a very long time.

We live in an era where Asian men and women are no longer forced into the shadows by law. We’ve moved past forcing the Japanese into internment camps and being able to legally deny someone a job for his or her Asian heritage. But in order to enact social change, in order to demand that the objectification of Asian women and the emasculation of Asian men via yellow fever be eliminated, we MUST acknowledge these stereotypes and we MUST refute them.

I know that a lot of people misinterpreted my words in my previous article. I’m sure that there are people who will misinterpret me here. And I know that a lot of people are under the mistaken assumption that I think it is good or permissible to portray Asian women as docile and submissive, Asian men as effeminate. For that I apologize. Mostly I apologize that I wasn’t being clear with my words and that there was that room for misinterpretation that I see now.

(Photo credit model Lily2Silly)

Written by Cindy Young