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Do Asian American Women Have More Courage than Men?

Update: What I learned after writing this. 

What does the outsized willingness of Asian American women to date interracially reveal about courage vis-a-vis their male counterparts?

It’s well-documented that Asian American women date and marry outside their race far more often than their male counterparts. Most estimate around a 2:1 ratio but I’ve read up to 4:1.  

Weike Wang’s New Yorker short story perfectly captures the power asymmetry in Asian female-white male dating relationships with this memorable line:

"So it was settled. The big question of why he was dating her was out of the way. Her Chineseness was not a factor. They were merely one out of a billion or so Asian girl–white guy couples walking around on this earth.”

ONE BILLION Asian girl - white guy couples. That’s certainly what it feels like in the San Francisco bay area and other urban centers like New York City, where her story is set. It’s a trend I observed in my high school over two decades ago and though the ratio has become more balanced in recent years, it’s a source of insecurity for many Asian American men. 

I’m familiar with the conventional argument for the interracial dating/marriage gender gap. In Western culture, Asian women are fetishized. They’re so sexy, petite, mysterious, docile, and submissive. That stereotype has the opposite effect on the sexual attractiveness of Asian men, who are hyper-feminized, emasculated, and compared to a toxic Western ideal of masculinity, especially when it comes to physical appearance. We’re like naked mole rats - small, hairless, blind, and underground - coding, playing video games, and watching porn.

I’m not fully buying this explanation. I don’t deny the stereotype effect is real but it’s not powerful enough to fully account for the interracial marriage gap. No one forces educated Asian American women to marry white guys. There’s agency here. 

Enter Weike Wang who is unabashedly nerdy, a chemist by training. Her unnamed woman has this volatile mix of paranoia/conformist impulse/individualism/critical thinking, which all coalesces into a neuroticism that results in conflicting messages for her boyfriend. The woman's neuroses make complete sense to the reader because she lays bare all the exquisite features and details of her internal conflict. Here’s another example:

"He met most of her friends, who afterward found a way to tell her how lucky she was to have met someone like him: single, American—an artist, no less—and her age. By “American,” some of her Asian friends also meant “white,” the implication being that she was somehow climbing the social ladder. She hadn’t thought any of these things before, but now she did. Or maybe she had thought all of these things before and was just now admitting to them.”

Many Asian Americans experience this inward collision between culture, discrimination, power dynamics, and privilege but we struggle to describe this messy bundle in words. The brilliance of Wang’s short story is how well she can articulate the conflict. Her analysis is totally nerdy in a winsome and insightful way. The woman's internal conflict is a giant rubber band ball of relational tension and Wang deftly peels off each loop one by one.

That’s something many Asian men in the US are not equipped to do. Asian American men suck at verbally expressing negative emotions, especially insecurity and anger. 

I talk with Asian American women and they’re often frustrated by this deficiency in their male counterparts. After all, the ability to verbalize fear and insecurity is highly valued in Western culture. We place a premium on words and emotion. Asian American women work out their anger and insecurities in words. They have examples of other women of courage like Wang, other pioneers like Amy Tan (Joy Luck Club), and non-Asian women like Brene Brown. If a person has trouble putting words to their emotion, we tend to perceive them as emotionless or dishonest or both.

Some readers will protest - NAAAMALT, that is, Not all Asian American men are like that. Yes. Fine. Even if I’m narrowly addressing second-generation Chinese, Korean, and Japanese men who work in STEM fields, there are still thousands of men in that group to constitute a critical mass and make some observations about. 

Asians don’t deal well with anger, especially Asian men. Asian American women don’t want to marry anyone remotely resembling their immigrant father. So often men are wrestling with this internal conflict and there’s a fundamental dishonesty about how we communicate. It’s a victimhood mentality although it’s never described as such. There’s anger, bitterness, and resentment manifesting themselves in violence and aggression. These outbursts rarely involve words and the heightened self-awareness that Wang demonstrates.

Asian American men are working against two obstacles 1) Traditional Western culture socializes men NOT to share their feelings, show weakness, or depend on others. Men also develop their verbal capacity later in life relative to women.  2)  Asian culture - particularly Chinese, Korean, and Japanese - also socializes men NOT to share their feelings, show weakness, or depend on others. There’s a nature and nurture component. Its not just Asian male software engineers that struggle with this.

I talked with a Chinese American software engineer in his thirties. His immigrant parents never asked him to make eye contact when they were speaking to him and he quickly became  to tuning them out during their lectures. To this day, he finds making eye contact during conversation excruciating for him. He now realizes how his downward gaze inadvertently conveys a lack of interest, passion, and enthusiasm.

Another man described a conversation with a woman he had a romantic interest in. He used what he thought were objective terms to describe the “facts” of their interaction but his perspective was so blatantly skewed by his anger. He couldn’t step outside of himself, like Wang’s character in Omakase, and evaluate his perspective. If he couldn’t identify his resentment, he couldn’t own it. And if he couldn’t own it, there was no chance he could describe it. 

It’s not news that Asian American men, on average, likely have lower emotional intelligence (EQ) than their non-Asian counterparts. What I think is constructive is to recognize Asian men in the West have unique obstacles outside of stereotyping and Western culture that prevent us from learning EQ well. So when an Asian American man is able to verbalize his emotions in a non-destructive way, it’s worth noting this is a more significant breakthrough than we otherwise might have believed. And even small steps towards this are meant to be celebrated.  

Comments

  1. The factors you mentioned are germane and Asian-American men need to evaluate how much cultural expectations they bring in relating to Asian-American women. But speaking as an Asian-American man, it is simple - EXTREMELY simple, in fact.

    White women (and Latina and black women) for the overwhelmingly most part do not find Asian-American men attractive. The ludicrous stereotype of the geeky, unathletic, nerdy, physically smaller Asian man still exists. It does not help the situation that 1.5 years away from the year 2020, hundreds of thousands if not millions of non-Asian people in the U.S. have had little if not zero substantial social interaction with Americanized, English-speaking Asians. And given white, Latina, and black women are naturally going to find white, Latino, and black men attractive for reasons such as cultural/ethnic comfort, for them to ignore us is not too shocking.

    Asian-American women also tend to be attractive. Yes, it's a blanket statement, and many aren't. But look at the very picture in your post about Asian-American Christians and "whiteness" from June 9. The woman in that picture is a twenty-something, very pretty young woman. She has long hair, large eyes, and any straight man of any race would find her attractive.

    Given that today, many Asian women are sufficiently slender, feminine, curvy (not all and I'm not being inappropriate, but the old stereotype of Asian women being broomsticks with long hair being gone, it bears being stated here to make the point), elegant, charming, and knowing how to present themselves, it's no surprise many of them are sought by non-Asian men.

    And given this is the United States where the dominant culture was historically white/WASP and given non-FOB Asian-Americans born/reared here pick up that culture, with all the intermingling beginning in grade school up to college and beyond, plus the mix of hormones, why wouldn't attractive Asian-American women and handsome or decent-looking white men match up?

    I'm not one who thinks Asian women who date/marry whites are "race traitors," although I've seen some very FOB Korean women specifically only date white men and that was somewhat disturbing.

    EQ does play a role. But to assume that Asian-American women pair up with white (or Latino or even black men) only due to EQ is to ignore all the uncomfortable factors I've presented.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This sentence is poorly worded but I'm going to leave it since it's been out there awhile now: "What I think is constructive is to recognize Asian men in the West have unique obstacles outside of stereotyping and Western culture that prevent us from learning EQ well." It should read instead ""What I think is constructive is to recognize Asian men in the West have unique obstacles IN ADDITION TO stereotyping and Western culture that prevent us from learning EQ well." There is an ownership factor in each AA guy to deal with his own unique set of baggage. Stereotypes, structural discrimination, etc. is part of it. This sentence might say it better: "I don’t deny the stereotype effect is real but it’s not powerful enough to FULLY account for the interracial marriage gap." EMPHASIS IN CAPS MINE

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