Reader Caitlin sent in her video about street harassment and the very strange predilection for men to lead in with her race when trying to get her attention. In her video “How to Hit on an Asian Girl/How Not to Harass an Asian Girl,” Caitlin goes through some of the most ridiculous things said to Asian American women who are just in public space.
1. Asian women are not equatable to Asian food. Even if you’re hungry.
2. You’ve cultivated an impressive catalogue of 80’s war movies. Well done sir. But the sidewalk is not your mother’s basement and I am not an internet forum. Keep the movie quotes to yourself.
3. Pop culture references that invariably suggest someone is foreign, submissive/docile, or willing to service you sexually should always be avoided. In other words: find a new fetish.
4. Seriously, when has anything referencing the Vietnam war ever gotten anyone laid? (Stanley Kubrick, who knew your legacy would be Asian female street harassment?)
5. If the first thing you think of when you see an Asian woman is “I should ask her to feed me,” you should know you’re not fit for human companionship. Period. Get a rice cooker. It won’t care if you fetishize it.
6. This is America; assume the Asian female you’re chatting with is American. Talk to her about red vs. blue politics, her favorite type of pie, who is better: Katy Perry or Ke[s]ha, or at the very least, baseball – not about foods that use chopsticks. Your ability to feed yourself is an accomplishment – but she doesn’t need to know that.
Caitlin’s video was hilarious. I’ve heard all these stories – and so much more! – from my Asian American friends over the years. And, if I was queen of the airwaves, I’d have this running as a PSA, along with other notices about street harassment in general. But there’s one thing that keeps sticking out in my mind, and it’s generally the same refrain we hear over and over again when we post abut street harassment: the idea of men watching the vid and going “What am I supposed to say then?” (Yeah, just headdesk and move on.)
I always think about a certain verse on Murs’ “Dark Skinned White Girls,” a song that’s really problematic despite its good intentions. The verse about mixed girls was fairly revealing about the mindset of these kind of guys (emphasis mine):
Now half and half of mixed girls
I know what the battle be
Everytime you go out it’s “whats your nationality?”
Everybody always wanna dig up in ya background
You don’t look… now how does that sound?
I couldn’t tell you were… oh is that right?
Do you take it as a compliment or start up a fight?
Venezualan and Indian, Rican and Dominican
Japanese or Portuguese, Quarter of Brazilian
White and Korean, Black and Pinay
We’ll find out later
It don’t matter, ya fly
It don’t really matter to most of us guys
We just need an excuse to get close or say “hi”
Somehow, it never seems to matter what the woman likes or appreciates, which is this unexplored dimension of street harassment. If the objection to women protesting street harassment is that we should forgive a man’s clumsy attempts to pick up a woman he finds attractive, then wouldn’t not offending a woman be pretty high on that man’s priority list? But there’s no way to yell out “sucky sucky five dollar” at a woman passing by and not be offensive. So there’s clearly another motive at play. What is it? What makes racism so appealing for street harassers?
Black Women x the Streets x Harassment
Kill Me or Leave Me Alone: Street Harassment as a Public Health Issue
Addicted to Race 119: Annie Le, Gospel Tours, Fractions, Street Harassment
Oh You Can’t Speak To A Brotha?
Racism as a Lifestyle Choice
Catcalling is a Cross Cultural Annoyance