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14.11.07

Do You Have The Bad Kind Of Asian Fetish?

I always have to roll my eyes whenever I read the comments of any post criticizing racial/ethnic fetishes. Inevitably there will be a handful of men very earnestly worrying about whether the criticism is too broad and covers my desires/relationship which is totally not racist I swear. Here's the thing: If you understand the reasoning behind the criticism (rather than just taking note of the conclusions), you'll be able to figure out which desires/relationships it affects, by seeing which ones meet the premises of the criticism. (This is a basic principle of pragmatist philosophy that applies across the board.)

Since we're talking about the feminism criticism of racial/ethnic fetishes, let's break that one down as an example. As I understand it, there are two wrong things happening in the case of these fetishes (plus one exacerbating precondition). If these things don't apply to a given desire/relationship, then it's not being criticized, even if you apply the same terminology (e.g. "Asian fetish") to things that are and are not targeted by the criticism.

0. The exacerbating precondition: A desire for a partner who exhibits characteristics that make her* more compliant in forming a type of relationship that primarily caters to the fetishizer's needs. In the most common examples (Asian and eastern European fetishes), the characteristics in question fall under the general heading of submissiveness, and the desired relationship is one in which the woman serves the man in a traditional way. But the fetish can take a different form -- e.g. a fetish for black women or Latinas is often based on a quest for a partner who is passionate and sexually loose and thus would comply with a kinkier and more sex-centered relationship. I describe this as an exacerbating precondition because, while it is present in nearly every criticism of racial/ethnic fetishes, it can be conceptually separated. It's still problematic to pursue such characteristics in a racially/ethnically neutral fashion. And it's still problematic (based on conditions 1 and 2 below) if you fetishize a certain race/ethnicity based on good characteristics -- e.g. if you were to fetishize white women because you're seeking someone who's independent-minded and insists on an egalitarian partnership.

1. The first problematic aspect of racial/ethnic fetishizing is the assumption that an entire race/ethnicity exhibits whatever characteristics you're seeking in a mate. This is stereotyping, so it shouldn't be too hard to understand what's wrong with it -- it's not even Anti-Racism 101 material, this is Pre-Anti-Racism.

2. Slightly more complex is the problem of treating individual members of the fetishized race/ethnicity as if they are (or worse yet, demanding that they be) just instances of the stereotyped category. If you're pursuing/dating "an Asian girl" rather than "so-and-so, who is, among other things, (descended from people) from one or more places in Asia," you're doing it wrong. Romance is about bonding with a particular other person, and it's harmful to that person to be treated as simply a stand-in for or embodiment of some category.

The other thing to remember is that comment sections of blogs (particularly large-membership political blogs -- you might be OK talking things out in the comment section of a friend's personal blog) are not the best venue to figure out whether your particular case falls under the criticism or not. It's unlikely that other commenters can acquire enough information in the space of a comment or two to accurately judge your situation. But you shouldn't be surprised if they assume the worst, based on 1) your earnest insistence that you're being unfairly lumped in with the bad guys, 2) your desire to show off what an enlightened human being you are because you're able to exhibit basic decency in your personal relationships, 3) your focus on your own individual purity in the context of a discussion about a society-scale problem, and 4) your desire to get a stamp of approval from someone else in order to relieve your guilt and/or defensiveness, rather than engaging in honest self-reflection.

*Throughout this post I'm assuming that it's a man fetishizing a woman, since that's the most common dynamic and one in which the power differential exacerbates the harm done. But the comments to the Pandagon thread linked above contain examples of white men fetishizing Asian men, and Japanese women fetishizing white men.

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