Stanley Kubrick, Chopsticks, and Other Ways to Harass an Asian American Girl

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.

Her recommendations:

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?

Earlier:

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

  • NYC Trainer

    She lives in an ideal world that I have never experienced.  I carry myself with a definite assertiveness, look men straight in the eye instead of dropping my head and trying to make myself smaller, and yes, confront harassers on a daily basis. At times I’ve had to get physical with it  I learned early on that being soft and acquiescent to strangers doesn’t allow you to get where you are trying to go.

    I’m quite challenging in my attitude when on the street and possess the skills to back it up, being a life long martial artist with championship titles under my belt.  Didn’t happen to you once, eh?  Perhaps that’s why you have the delusions that you do which dictate that it’s our “attitude and demeanor” that spurs these men on.  Trust me, I’m not walking down the street smiling….

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  • Megan Marie

    I know the video is funny, but it just made me depressed. I can’t stand the street harassment I get that is only because I am female, I can’t hardly stomach the added racism for all of the asian, black, gay etc.. women out there. Funny thing is many men that I know just don’t believe me when I repeat some of my experiences.

  • http://rvcbard.blogspot.com RVCBard

    Is this what’s known as digging yourself deeper?

  • Keith

    Although the video is attempting to make a point through lighthearted humor, let’s not forget that such behavior can lead to violence. I remember when I was a kid, about 7 or 8 my mother would make me go to the store with my 16 year old sister at night. I remember how guys would harasser her and how much it pissed me off. I am just lucky they never attacked her because I am not sure how much I could have done to protect her.

  • dersk

    If those were real attempts at pick-up lines, I’m embarrassed to have testicles.

  • dersk

    If those were real attempts at pick-up lines, I’m embarrassed to have testicles.

  • Bob Gordon

    I’m not sure who you’re talking to,
    nicthommi, but if you’re addressing me, then none of the statements you’re
    attributing to me are in my post.

     

    (i) I never suggested that guys harassing
    Asian women in the street were “unaware of their own racism.” That
    was specifically — and by specifically, I mean *numbered as a completely
    separate point* — a comment about the guy on the couch telling the woman how
    much he respects her culture as he haphazardly tries to guess what that culture
    is. Obviously, he’s not complimenting her at all but reducing her very being to
    an hors d’oeuvres tray of clichés. 
    Depressingly, he doesn’t even know he’s doing it.

     

    Of course street harassment that is racist is
    consciously so.

     

    (ii) Pointing out someone’s unconscious
    racism is never a justification of it, let alone, a celebration of it. 
    Knowing the difference, however, can inform the way one deals with it.

     

    (iii) The imaginary guy I quoted (note quote
    marks enclosing the statement) is illustrating the concept of unconscious
    racism by stating that his stereotyping is “supportive.”  Nowhere in anything I’ve ever posted in my
    short bleak life will you find me saying that stereotyping a person is a compliment. 

     

    (iv) I never claimed that “something
    like 1 billion women are nothing more than one-dimensional caricatures” to
    *me*.  I’m saying that, specifically,
    it’s true of the guys you see in the video (and parenthetically of the kinds of
    guys I’ve had to endure for my entire life). 

     

    (v) When you wrote “the line of thinking that
    you have demonstrated is on[e] big problem,” you failed to understand that the
    line of thinking I’m analyzing is not only a big problem but one that I’m
    *actively condemning*.  In order to
    respond to reprehensible behavior, I find it useful to try to understand that
    behavior first. That’s all I did in my post:  Attempt to delineate the
    thinking of the oafs who do these things.

     

    Ever since I was a little kid and saw how my biracial mother
    was treated as a public schoolteacher and at parties with supposedly
    blue-blooded in-laws, I’ve either tried to argue with people who stereotyped
    women based on race or lain in bed sick to my stomach at the things I’d heard
    men saying.  These aren’t views I hold
    because they’re popular or approved. 
    They’re the thoughts of a person who’s been sickened by his own family’s
    casual debasement throughout his life.

    (This might appear under a different name than Bob Gordon — there have been different logins for Disqus since Engadget’s security was breached — but the discrepancy is not deliberate and I’m still the same user in bothe cases.  I just don’t have access to my password lists at work.)

  • Anonymous

    I think you are mis-reading Bob and actually twisting his point to make him out to be offensive. Which isn’t very fair.

  • Kate

    I don’t think there is much of a difference between a failed pick up and street harassment. A lot of dudes yelling in the street are trying to pick somebody up, or at least acting like they are. Some of that might have to do with class, I’ve been harassed by all kinds of guys, the more privileged the more insistent and violent, but working class guys in working class neighborhoods are more likely to approach you publicly in the street. Or maybe it has to do with the harassees and how they are being classed and raced by their harassers. 
    I don’t know, what do folks think? I think some of it has to do with an idea of ownership over somebody’s  body, even the non-threatening kind of “cat-calling.” Black and brown women, transgender folks are more likely to be the victims of  this kind of sexual violence for a lot of reasons all of which have to do with some kind of racism. 

  • Anonymous

    So basically, if the harassment continues it’s because the woman somehow picked the wrong tactic to get the harasser to go away? Please, take this ridiculousness elsewhere.

  • martha

    Elton, I think your comments are coming from a good place but are a little naive.  You seem to presume that women haven’t already *tried* the tactic of ignoring harassers.  Along with a million other tactics:  Ignore, defer, confront, run. 

    The tactic that gets us out of trouble with Harasser A might only serve to enrage Harasser B.  It’s a crapshoot.  And it’s absolutely exhausting and demoralizing to be placed in that crapshoot over and over again and told to guess correctly *every time* or face physical, verbal and/or sexual violence.

  • http://www.tourabsurd.com Katrina

    The funny thing, is that discussions like this (the food and the background parts, anyway) at Couchsurfing meetings, for example, don’t always have the same racial-tension undertones, especially not in Ireland. There really is just an attempt to learn about each other, often based on appearance, accent, who you know, etc. It’s plain ol’ curiosity. Our landlord, in fact, subjected me to a small battery of questions like that when I first moved her from Italy (I’m American, husband is Italian). He pointed out that, before about 6 years ago, there just weren’t too many people in Ireland besides Irish folks. Seeing a black person, for example, was unusual, though there was no hostility involved. It just was. (His explanation.)Definitely good to be aware — and beware — of assumptions you make, but be kind, too. People are trying their best. If they are ignorant, help ‘em out a bit. There are a buhjillion times I’ve put my foot in my mouth about cultural differences, mostly while trying to learn about them.  I try to make it clear that I’m aware of my limitations and ignorance, but still manage to be a doof sometimes.I’ve also experienced the covert, “I know you’re one of us” white person racism from time to time.  On the west coast of the US, it’s most often about Latinos, and I am part Mexican.  On a few occasions I found myself too dumbfounded to say anything when someone made a racist comment about Mexicans.  Now I say something, as gently as a I can, but I am not afraid to get loud if someone persists in being an ass.  …gotta pick your battles, though.As far as objectifying a woman, that’s something that crosses race lines around the world.  Not all cultures are patriarchal, but there does seem to be a common idea that a woman should be flattered simply for getting attention, no matter how it minimizes her as a human being.  As a female, and a petite one at that, I have definitely experienced that.  I can’t just vilify socially awkward/unaware men across the board, however, as I have (as previously mentioned) a pretty good idea about what my shoe tastes like.  Whenever possible, I try to mix kindness and calling b.s.

    • Grace

      A petite one at that? I’ve been slowly gaining weight since I was 4 years old. I’m now 24, and carrying 250 lbs on a 5′ 7″ body. I’ve been getting street harrassed since 8th grade. -__-

      On another note, since no one seems to be talking about it: I’m a born and raised New Yorker, but I find it highly problematic that Caitlin states that we’re in America, ergo we should assume that the person we’re romantically interested in isn’t an immigrant.

      Um, how ’bout we just don’t make assumptions? :-/

      • xenu01

        While I agree that assuming a USian audience can at all times be problematic, I think that in this case there is a reason for Caitlin saying, “…assume the Asian female you’re chatting with is American.”

        The reason is that many non-Asian USians automatically assume that Asian people are different, foreign, non-USian, and as the video suggests, these markers of foreignness (funny language ! funny food habits!  omgomg!  etc) get used as the tools for “getting to know” the young lady in question.  I think of the latest episode of Awkward Black Girl (http://www.awkwardblackgirl.com/episodes) in which White Jay takes Jaye on what he thinks is a black people date (jumbalaya and beat poetry) when she was expecting to go out for some sushi or something.

        • http://twitter.com/GREGORYABUTLER Gregory A. Butler

          I find the term “USian” offensive. I was born in the United States of America, therefore I am American, not a “USian”!

          Would you call a person born in the United States of Mexico a “USian”?

          Would you call a person born in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland a “United Kingdomer”?

          Would you call somebody who was born in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan an “Islamic Republicer” or a “IRer”?

          The generally accepted term for a person who resides in America is American. That’s what we call ourselves, that’s what others call us. Please respect that.

          • http://rvcbard.blogspot.com RVCBard

            The generally accepted term for a person who resides in America is American.

            The one above or below the equator?

      • kim

        You make a good point but I think in the video, it is specifically in reaction to how asian women are constantly told we are “different, foreign, weird, exotic, and most definitely NOT american.” I can’t even count how many times in life someone has asked “Where are you from?” and when I answer New York, they reply with “Well no I mean where are you REALLY REALLY from?” or “Where is your accent?” is what I got when I was younger.

        Or they’d just follow me around yelling “Are you Japanese? Chinese? Do you like anime? I like anime? Konichiwa!” It’s like, well no, I don’t watch anime, I’m neither ethnically Japanese nor Chinese. I was born here as were both of my parents and if you want start a conversation then bring up the Knicks.

      • kim

        You make a good point but I think in the video, it is specifically in reaction to how asian women are constantly told we are “different, foreign, weird, exotic, and most definitely NOT american.” I can’t even count how many times in life someone has asked “Where are you from?” and when I answer New York, they reply with “Well no I mean where are you REALLY REALLY from?” or “Where is your accent?” is what I got when I was younger.

        Or they’d just follow me around yelling “Are you Japanese? Chinese? Do you like anime? I like anime? Konichiwa!” It’s like, well no, I don’t watch anime, I’m neither ethnically Japanese nor Chinese. I was born here as were both of my parents and if you want start a conversation then bring up the Knicks.

        • Anonymous

          Or they’d just follow me around yelling “Are you Japanese? Chinese? Do you like anime? I like anime? Konichiwa!” It’s like, well no, I don’t watch anime, I’m neither ethnically Japanese nor Chinese. 

          And yet these same dudes usually complain about how haaaaaaaaaaaarrrd it is to approach Black women.  I guess they figure any and every Asian woman is down with getting with any non-Asian man.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=28124954 Jennifer Chan

    Great, sad but true I still experience similar situations in super-cosmopolitan cities…

  • Elton

    I often complain that “diversity” programs aren’t designed to address the concerns of minority groups.  They’re put in place for the amusement of the privileged majority, who can choose to dabble in the exotic for a moment if they have free time, and then safely return to being dominant.

    A similar attitude is expressed when presumably well-intentioned men stoop to racism to get attention from women of color.  It’s all about the man.  It’s all about his need for attention.  He claims to want to get to know the woman better, but what he really wants is for the woman (or any woman, really) to get to know HIM better.

    Peacocking is an ancient evolutionary strategy that men use to win the competition for a woman’s attention.  Men say offensive things to get attention BECAUSE IT WORKS.  To disarm this strategy, then, women should not give their attention to men who say offensive things.

    • k.eli

      “To disarm this strategy, then, women should not give their attention to men who say offensive things.”

      As a young woman who has experienced the whole spectrum of street harassment on my college campus, I can assure you that ignoring the men who’ve harassed me has not always been successful. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve ignored the accoster only to have them essentially stalk me until I acknowledge them. I kid you not.

      One guy made it very clear that he refused to leave me alone until *I* took down *his* phone number. Another time, a whole group of guys shouted out for all to hear many lewd and disgusting remarks about me as they followed behind. I was scared and humiliated beyond reason but it wasn’t until I made it plainly known that I wasn’t interested that they finally stopped. I’m not saying that ignoring your harasser never works; just that it’s not always a guaranteed solution.
       

    • kim

      “Well intentioned men stoop to racism”…..
      “…women should not give their attention to men who say offensive things.”Elton – You’re post makes you sound as if you’re saying that women of color are responsible for their own stalking, harassment and even intimidation. Just ignore them ladies! Spare me please.As someone who has ignored, argued, played nice and every tactic in the book over the course of my life, they don’t work. In fact ignoring a follower is how I wound up running down the street calling for the cops just two weeks ago.If you have such great ideas, why don’t you teach MEN how NOT to harass women as we just try to go about living our daily lives.

    • kim

      “Well intentioned men stoop to racism”…..
      “…women should not give their attention to men who say offensive things.”Elton – You’re post makes you sound as if you’re saying that women of color are responsible for their own stalking, harassment and even intimidation. Just ignore them ladies! Spare me please.As someone who has ignored, argued, played nice and every tactic in the book over the course of my life, they don’t work. In fact ignoring a follower is how I wound up running down the street calling for the cops just two weeks ago.If you have such great ideas, why don’t you teach MEN how NOT to harass women as we just try to go about living our daily lives.

      • Anonymous

        But that would mean men taking ownership and responsibility for their actions and the consequences of said actions.  And we can’t have men giving a damn about women outside of getting sex from us, now can we?

    • Restructure!

      Um, what? Ignoring male harassers is what I usually do, as an introverted person. I’m so good at it, I can even continue carrying a conversation with another woman without missing a beat. It doesn’t always work, though. If I am alone, sometimes they think I’m not reacting because I don’t understand English, and they start telling me in English that I don’t understand them because because I only speak Chinese. Then they might start saying racist stuff to me because they think I don’t understand English and/or won’t get the cultural references to those movies about Asian women.

      Seriously, most of the stuff that heterosexual men do doesn’t work. I always wonder how it’s possible that men don’t know how to interact with women. You would think there should be some kind of  innate, evolved module to help men reproduce, but there isn’t. It’s a mystery to me how the human race continues to reproduce.

      I mean, do you honestly think that the men who say “Sucky sucky five dolla” are more sexually successful than those who know not to say things like that? Is it that cocky men who say such things are likely to overstate their success with women, similar to how self-reported penis sizes are unreliable?

  • Morenaclara

     The  video was wonderful and my heart goes out to these women.  How can one deal with street harassers?  You cannot respond( since they can get violent) but you are at such a disadvantage and the street harassers know that.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=28124954 Jennifer Chan

      If they are far away enough I tell them what they said was racist and keep walking.

  • http://andtheycalledmefreak.blogspot.com Kristin

    And if getting close to you was their motivation they wouldn’t get so angry so fast when you shoot them down. That is about power and entitlement and the gall of a woman who doesn’t “know her place”.

  • Anonymous

    Street harassment, even when it’s not racialized, always feels like an attempt to “put me in my place” as a woman. To remind me what I’m for, so to speak. From that perspective– with that motive– street harassers adding a dash of racism where applicable/possible makes perfect sense.

    • Soulsentwined

      I agree. Street harassment seems to be a method of punishing women/girls for daring to leave the house without a male chaperone. Harassment only happens when I am solo or with other women. All it takes is one man to be walking with me or a group of women and no harassment will take place.