Credit to the Arcterex for this great insight
Here is a real life example that focuses on the behaviors of white males. They use plausible excuses and their status to trap and dominate their prey.Asian Women and Racial Sexual Pestering (“Pestering”)
There is a kind of conduct by white men towards Asian women that happens so commonly that most Asian women may assume it is just part of the American experience. This is that white men in America are routinely sexually brazen with Asian-American women, invading their physical space, raising their voice in a commanding way when hitting on them, and engaging in inappropriate touching. We can call this racial sexual pestering. Pestering often flies beneath the surface of conscious observation, avoids scrutiny, and can often be “plausibly denied”; in that incidents can appear innocuous and beneath the threshold of what some would consider sexual harassment or violence. Nonetheless, these incidents are totally inappropriate, unacceptable, and have dangerous effects on the well-being and safety of Asian women. This raises serious questions: why is this happening? Why is it happening more acutely to Asian women? What can be done to stop it?
When I bring up my observations, at first, others are reluctant to talk about it. But soon, they are sharing experiences with ‘creepy’ white men who are far too old for them, or not anywhere close to the kind of man they would date, insistently coming on to them. All too often, these white men don’t take no for an answer and while it doesn’t culminate in sexual violence, it is psychologically disturbing. What’s unfortunate about this scenario is just how common it seems. When it occurs this often, Asian women often feel they must only cope with it and deal with it on a case-by-case basis, rather than rebel against it entirely because it seems so systemic that to address it would require changing the mindset of white men wholesale, a massive undertaking. What’s heinous is that both white men and women overlook this behavior. They tolerate it. In some cases, other white men join in on the unwanted advance or join in making stereotypical remarks about Asian women. Other whites gaslight this behavior, condoning it, because they prefer to normalize behavior and privilege that they care to preserve and exploit in similar or other ways. Further, they are more likely to pardon the transgressions of fellow whites (“racial contract”).
There is little empirical data on the degree of racial sexual pestering because the behavior is subtle and has not been measured. But let’s take a look at sexual violence against Asian women. For racial sexual pestering, we have to go on anecdotal accounts. Here are some public examples.
In “According to Asian Pacific American Women and Racialized Sexual Harassment”, Sumi K. Cho describes a case of Rosalie Tung, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business. When a new white male department chair was hired, he immediately began making sexual advances on her. What follows describes an example of how white males turn the group against the Asian female who resists his advances. On being rebuffed, the department chair solicited professors for negative reviews on Tung- in short, using his status and influence with the group to deny her a promotion. Relevant is that the white male felt like he could exact this punishment of her because she would be most willing to accept it. From the study “Tung also noted the comments of one of her colleagues, describing her in a newspaper article as “elegant, timid, and not one of those loud-mouthed women on campus.” Her colleague continued, “In other words, [Professor Tung was] the least likely person to kick over the tenure-review apple cart.”
Here is a quotation by an Asian woman in an article on sexual harassment on GoldSea: “Men try to pick on Asian women because we are perceived as easy,” says a senior accountant at a large New York firm. “This one guy went up to [an Asian female subordinate], Are you single, are you dating anyone? [That kind of thing] is awkward, awful! It’s really hard to stop. If you are a total bitch about it, they say, ‘What are you upset about, I was just joking.’ One way is to be very firm and say, ‘You are making me feel uncomfortable. I don’t think this behavior is appropriate.’ That is very hard. If you cross the line too much, you might get fired.” (source)The Root of Racial Sexual Harassment against Asian-American Women
The historical origins of white men objectifying and fetishizing Asian women have been described by many studies and I will not list them here. Instead, I’ll focus on what is happening today. The concept of sexual bullying applies. According to BullyingUK, this entails “sexualised name calling”, “unwelcome looks and comments about someone’s appearance or attractiveness; either face to face or to others”, “Inappropriate and uninvited touching” and “Inappropriate sexual innuendo and/or proposition”. Unfortunately, Asian women may be unusually familiar with this list. But what the discussion lacks is an examination on the effect of race on sexual bullying. There is analysis of racial bullying and sexual bullying but not the intersection.
I want to speak to this subject in terms of specifics, not vague generalities and abstractions. I will rely on my own personal observations to talk about racial sexual pestering - and how white men use their higher social status (as granted by the racial continuum or pecking order they have set up in America) to take liberties with Asian-American women, how they create consequences for Asian women who are not receptive to their advances, and how at a broader level, the white-controlled culture creates empowering roles for white men and vulnerable roles for Asian women; and how role theory and group dynamics make it challenging for Asian women in this context.Personal Observations of Racial Sexual Pestering
Here is an example of online racial-sexual pestering. I attended college with an Indian woman; I’d see her often at parties and we were friendly, though not close friends. After college, I observed some of her exchanges on Facebook with white friends. In one case, a white male made sexually forward comments to her on her Facebook page. After ignoring several of them, the white male grew impatient and angry. He lashed out at why she was ignoring him. Soon, his comments became offensive, attacking her both on gender and racial lines. He played upon the stereotype that Indian women are “hairy” and made derogatory remarks about her (non-existent) body hair. Having known this woman, I know this is not true. Nonetheless, he persisted day after day making these comments. I observed how her white female and male friends did nothing. Though they seemed to rally to each other’s defense and have empathy for white friends in other cases, the racial abuse of this woman seemed not to weigh heavily in their minds. All too often racial sexual pestering of Asian women is met by indifference by other whites.
At the heart of racial sexual pestering is that white men expect Asian women to welcome their sexual advances, perhaps because they see themselves as high status and Asian women as lower status than white women. When reality doesn’t match the outcomes seen on TV, where Asian women are scripted to routinely welcome advances of white men, white men take umbrage and lash out. When they do, they are aided by the fact that whites can dole out racial abuse that stings minorities more than the reverse, because minorities in America often are viewed as lesser and because minorities feel more vulnerable to social dynamics.
The following are real-world observations taken from my experiences over time. In a social circle, the white male strikes up a conversation with an Asian woman. In most of my experiences, this has been a white male and an East Asian female. Let’s say the Asian girl turns away from the white male who approaches her and makes clear his romantic interest. She is not attracted. What happens next? Sometimes, the white male becomes hostile to her, and the white esprit de corps (their unity especially when there is conflict; the unspoken contract between whites to defend one another) causes the Asian female to get frozen out. She internalizes “Do not reject white men, at least not forcefully”. Endure the conversation and see where it goes. These lessons are learned as early as middle school.
An Asian woman who rejects the entreaties of a white man can be ostracized from a group. This is exacerbated when white women favor the white man - he naturally becomes high status in that group. Once an Asian woman enters the social circles of her white friends, she usually accepts that invitation with the caveat she is accepted conditionally. If she steps on others, she will feel the sting of rejection more acutely. If this happens a few times, she will be more cautious. White men sense the perceived lower status and pounce if they are sexually attracted. This dynamic is supported by scientific studies which are referred to later in the article. White men say or do things they wouldn’t do with other women; they push until the Asian woman says no; buoyed by a Hollywood media that tells them this is acceptable and a sense of higher status that insulates them from criticism. According to “How to Deal with White People” by David Goldberg, “the courage of white males will surge when interacting with non-white women. Gestures, words, and actions that they would never use with a non-white man become the norm when dealing with women of color.” Given the media stereotypes of Asian women as docile and “available”, this only encourages white men, even unattractive white men, to be aggressive with Asian women.
How does racial sexual pestering play out in real life? Let’s take a look. Sometimes the Asian woman notices the romantic interest of the white male. To this, she puts the brakes in the various ways people do. In response, the white male will mock her and suggest she not “flatter herself” or “relax, I’m just having a conversation”. Asians, fearful of social faux pas especially amongst whites where we don’t always know all the invisible social rules (all minorities play catch-up to some degree), allows the conversation to continue. When the minority targets are insecure of their social standing they are more likely to allow the pickup to continue.Why Asian Women suffer More
One of the other reasons Asian women are a primary target of racial sexual pestering by white men is that Asian women are in high demand. This is proven by actual user behavior data on dating sites OKCupid and Are You Interested. But now combine this with the fact that in America, Asian women are perceived as submissive in the white racial frame, and you have a powderkeg. The media reinforces this impression that Asian women are submissive. The two dynamics interplay and the result is that while other women of color also suffer from racial sexual pestering, the kind demonstrated towards Asian women is prevalent and persistent.
When the racial sexual pestering mindset is held by a critical mass of white men, and especially in environments where white men have authority (which is most environments in America), it becomes challenging for Asian women to effectively combat this disturbing harassment in a way that shuts it down definitively. Asian women are navigating a white space and failure to be diplomatic about it has other consequences.Role Theory - Complications to Combatting Racial Sexual Pestering
Modern Hollywood media repeats the theme or fantasy that Asian women are submissive sex dolls. At least two recent media productions, [Humans](lhttp://kulturemedia.org/entriesdetails.php?iid=154 and Ex-Machina, depict Asian females as compliant sex robots who sexually serve their white masters. This is not the 1960’s, this is now- in the 21st century. Pernicious stereotypes persist, even in an era some whites like to think of as “post-racial”. Our identity is, in part, socially constructed. The idea that TV and other media can shape our self-identity, our associations, and our worldview is well understood. Eisend & Möller (2007) describes how television informs us of our social reality….[TV and movie] scripts contain the ‘life scripts’ of the millions of who consume them. ”
Role Theory is defined as a “perspective in sociology and in social psychology that considers most of everyday activity to be the acting out of socially defined categories (e.g., mother, manager, teacher). Each social role is a set of rights, duties, expectations, norms and behaviours that a person has to face and fulfill. The model is based on the observation that people behave in a predictable way, and that an individual’s behavior is context specific, based on social position and other factors”
The media and the general American culture (that is Eurocentric and imposes their own self-serving narratives about who they are and who we are) defines a role for Asian women. That they are to be polite, accommodating, quiet, agreeable - and this role is shown in the entertainment media as almost always applying to their interactions solely with white men. This prescribed role is as entrenched as it has been, reinforced by the nature our modern movies and shows.
Breaking out of the defined role takes a psychological toll on Asian women. When the broader culture manufactures a role, it also complicates matters for non-Asians; for example, to accept when Asian women act contrary to their manufactured “roles”. It causes role confusion in their mind and people attempt to solve the cognitive dissonance by forcing people back into the roles that the larger culture made them believe those particular people should serve; in this case compelling Asian women to accept the role of being submissive and sexually available. In evaluating how white men impose themselves on Asian women, it’s worth noting that both white men and Asian women are impacted by the roles they are given by society. The academic journal ‘Communication Research’ featured a study showing that exposure to TV lowered the self-esteem of minorities across the board (and girls instead of boys). But raised the self-esteem of white boys. This may be because “White people flood the media with an onslaught of images of themselves as happy, in charge, strong, fair, and just….Caucasians create larger than life white superheroes and ultra-stylized action and glamour icons. These ‘super’ images serve to perpetuate white worship and to cripple non-white’s esteem” Ultimately, white society creates constricting, narrow roles for Asian women and this has real-world consequences for them.
In many media accounts, the white male approaches…and succeeds in having relations with an Asian female. This occurs even when that Asian female is already in a relationship. For example in “New Girl”, a white male lead Schmidt has sex with the Asian female CeCe while she is engaged with the Indian male Shivrang. In the end CeCe leaves Shivrang for Schmidt. This repeats itself on TV. Other examples include http://kulturemedia.org/entriesdetails.php?iid=55, Beauty and the Beast (tv show) and Sense8. This reinforces the Communications Research study - white men begin to think of themselves as entitled to Asian women. Their role is one of seducer. However, unlike Asian women, whose role is defined as a submissive who has no agency to question white advances, it is up to white men to confront the privilege granted to them by the larger culture. Their obligation is one of moral introspection whereas the onus on Asian women is to be willint to deflect unwanted interest despite the role that the larger culture has seeded in the minds of American men that Asian women will always yield to white men.Group Dynamics
This kind of pestering would be impossible were it not for the group’s complicity, and in particular the complicity of other whites. As discussed in role theory, white men often assume Asian women have no standing to disagree with them. However, they will listen to other whites who are on peer level with them as far as social status. How does the group respond to a white male engaging in racial sexual pestering of an Asian woman? The unfortunate truth is that they largely ignore it.
In one example, I observed a white male constantly approach an Asian female who he was clearly interested in. Enough mockery from myself and others finally made him quit (ie: “do you ever wonder if she’s not interested in you” asked sarcastically). But it was clear that other women in the Asian woman’s circle did not take any action. Instead it seemed they were jealous or perhaps thought the Asian woman deserved the behavior. The ‘model minority’ perception of Asians sometimes leads whites to believe that Asians are not victims of racial mistreatment. Ultimately, whites operate under an implicit racial contract, whereby they defend one another and permit one another’s transgressions against non-whites. At some level, this is a same-race kinship that is more abusive when practiced by whites due to their numerical majority and higher social status.
White men often look the other way, perhaps agreeing with the idea of their privilege in making unwanted advances and avoiding accountability. Asian men are in a difficult position because their behavior is viewed as jealousy of the white male-Asian female flirtation. Nonetheless, Asian men can learn techniques to disarm white men in order to stand up for Asian women. Women of color also have difficulties involving themselves lest they be on the receiving end of aggression of high-status white men.Social Consequences
The social consequences of an Asian woman rebuffing the advances of a white man are the most sickening element of racial sexual pestering. The full extent of these is beyond the scope of this article. Human social structures are hierarchical, typically with high-status leaders all the way down to lower-status followers. The hierarchy is highly influenced by gender and race. The leader often influences the social fate of the rest. Those who are not leaders are hesitant to stand up to the leader for fear of retribution. So simply put, the leaders are less accountable. In America, whites have installed themselves as head of the social pack. The larger culture, the media, and other whites, with official and unofficial power, reinforce this position. While social leaders dole out penalties to those they dislike or those who disagree with them, their power to do so is greater against Asian women because of the status disparity both by race and gender.
What consequences could white men cause for Asian women? Turning the group against her, mocking her in front of others, making subtle racist comments (ie: “in this country, we…”), ignoring her when she speaks, talking over her, rejecting her suggestions for decisions the group will make, not inviting her to group activities, glaring at her, continuing to make unwanted advances (often to the nervous laughter of the others), excluding her from the group altogether, talking negatively about her behind her back, conveying disrespect or anger when he interacts with her, and favoring others over her blatantly. Sometimes these actions are so subtle that Asian women can’t put their finger on why things have changed, but they feel uncomfortable, upset, they feel the group has turned against them, they feel isolated, shunned. They feel as though they will lose their circle of friends. They enjoy their social interactions less because of these dynamics. At a gut level, they feel like they need to leave or they need to patch things up with the white male. These verbal and behavioral attacks leave psychological scars. No matter who the victim is, it makes that individual less likely to push back in the future, against that individual or those who resemble the aggressor.
Psychological research tells us it is a primal fear to be socially ostracized. It is reported that ostracism sometimes hurts worse than overt bullying. Social consequences and resulting social pain can lead to physical symptoms such as disrupting sleep and weakening the immune system. There is some research to indicate that social pain is felt similarly to physical pain. It is also hardwired for us to submit to a pack leader, if nothing else for the deeply ingrained desire for tribal unity. It discomfits others in the group if they observe tension between the leader and someone else in the group, in this case the white male with the Asian female, and they prefer the lower status individual conform or leave. People naturally develop a liking towards leaders, an adaptive evolutionary quality as it would be dangerous to rebel against those who have such influence over your well being.
According to traumatic bonding theory, “strong emotional ties that develop between two persons where one person intermittently harasses, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other.” We observe this, for example, in fraternity hazing and military basic training. Across gender lines, attraction may also develop . Romantic attraction is sometimes kindled across status differentials and via forced submissiveness. It is both the feeling that the victim cannot easily resist the will of the socially dominant individual as well as a more complicated, perhaps evolutionary, draw to aggressors (adaptive for survival purposes in yesteryear). According to Social Psychology and Human Sexuality, men with power over women are more attracted to them and more likely to sexually harass or “aggress against women”. The book also explains why other group members don’t interfere. “The behavior of subordinates towards their superiors is different…: more deferential, friendly, appreciative, and hardly ever negative”
All this leads to a difficult situation for Asian-American women. In many cases, racial sexual pestering leads to psychological breakdowns for Asian women and in other cases, it breeds a kind of real-life submissiveness and attraction towards white men, who ironically brought about that state by subjecting Asian women to social consequences.The Workplace
Earlier I cited the case of a university professor Rosalie Tung and how her white superior exacted consequences for her refusing his sexual advances. In work settings, often the white superior has the advantage of professional status (comparing with social status in non-work settings). Many of the rules still apply. The stereotypes against Asian women work against them the same here. So too is the reality that white men abuse their station. Greater awareness is needed about this dynamic by human resources to provide women with channels to lodge complaints that are processed in a way that is informed by an understanding of the seriousness and frequency of this problem. In particular, Human Resources must come to understand that racial sexual pestering is an acute problem for Asian women in particular, owing to many factors including historical and present-day stereotypes.
It is vital to examine low-level pestering in the workplace- that is seemingly innocuous things white men do to Asian women that are inappropriate. One thing white males do is invite Asian women to ‘meetings’ outside of standard company meeting rooms. They invite them to meet in the company cafeteria, in casual areas with couches, and at nearby coffee shops. Often they spend an unusual amount of time during those ‘meetings’ talking about personal topics not work. In the office, employees need to work with others to get things done. Regularly turning down white colleagues for meeting at these venues would cripple an Asian woman’s ability to get things done. I’ve personally seen many white males invite female work colleagues to meet to discuss work at a nearby coffee shop or “over lunch”. For these individuals, I don’t seem them do this with anyone else. As an earlier example indicates, white males often think Asian females will be less likely to call them out. White males often have authority in the workplace and this is easily abused.
Racial sexual pestering often lies in the range of ‘plausible deniability’; using the last example, whites can move the relationship from professional to personal with Asian women and claim that the meeting venue is irrelevant. When a white male suggests to an Asian female that “You know what? I’m tied up, but let’s meet at the coffee shop down the road at 3 and I can go over how the billing system works with you”, it is challenging for the Asian female to imply the venue is inappropriate. After all, some legitimate meetings do happen outside of meeting rooms. A while male, if taken to task, can claim there is nothing inappropriate per-se. It just so happens that he far more likely pushes the boundaries with Asian women, raising questions about his intent. Again, since racial sexual pestering prevails in environments where whites are the majority, racial kinship amongst whites prevents the group from suggesting the behavior of other whites is inappropriate.Addressing the Issue
In addressing racial sexual pestering, becoming aware and understanding the dynamics behind it are essential. This is not innocuous behavior. Given its subtle nature, it takes a measured but determined response to stop it. Asian women do not deserve to be put in awkward positions where they must negotiate the contours of white spaces, of white authority, of white majorities who ignore their concerns – just so they feel safe.
Ultimately, understanding the possibility of pestering and the methods used by white men is vital to seeing it on a conscious level when it happens. The other dimension of confronting pestering is for Asian women and men to learn behavioral tools to confront it when they see or experience it. I hope that this area is one that develops over time.
Before discussing tactics, I will add that discussion of tactics is always the most questionable part of any exploration of a topic. That is why most analyses avoid it, because the minute you start discussing tactics, people become critics. Some invariably claim the tactics are ineffective or incomplete or frivolous. I am making a foray into the kinds of techniques that might be useful and of course like anything, they deserve to be further refined and tested through trial & error. However, it is important not to stay on merely the background or explanation of the issue - which everyone can agree on - and shun discussion of tools to address this issue. Even if doing so is controversial and invites the most disagreement. It is an attempt to begin the discussion, not a comprehensive and airtight set of solutions.
Finding ways to communicate the inappropriateness of pestering to management, to co-workers one can trust, and to human resources is important. Sending the signal to those who pester takes courage and conflict resolution skills - which are like any muscle and can be built over time. Unfortunately, there is no way to stand up for oneself that is immune from push back from the offender; but verbal/behavioral self-defense is nonetheless essential to making offensive behavior stop. For example, when a white male attempts to imposes himself with an inappropriate hug, extending a hand for a handshake beforehand may suffice. Many Presidential leaders learn this technique to avoid conveying a closeness that is unwarranted. In the case of former President Bill Clinton’s meeting with the PLO, his team had Clinton practice using his arm subtly to keep distance with Yasir Arafat and extending his hand to prevent a hug. It sounds overly complex, but people use these mechanisms on a regular basis to govern interpersonal interactions all the time. In social settings, conferring amongst non-leader peers is sometimes an effective way to build consensus in the group in order to confront the social leader directly or indirectly. According to “Oh the things I Know!” , the author claims, “If your boss is insulting and abusing you, he’s probably insulting and abusing others. Forge an alliance with your abused coworkers and then go over his head.”. This applies to social situations as well. Given a hierarchy, peers can collaborate to limit the influence of the leader.
Asian men can also play a role. If Asian men see white males engaging in inappropriate touching, especially using their social status to impose themselves on Asian women, Asian men can speak up. One method is ridicule the offender’s perversion either directly or indirectly It’s important not to “laugh along” with pestering which only emboldens the offender. In cases where the white male has clearly crossed the lines, Asian men should intercede such as by coming between the white male and Asian female and tell the white male to “cool it”. The Asian male should express his disgust to others in the group and gauge which members of the group are sympathetic. Others in the group, especially other women, may empathize, because they may be next in line for these unwanted advances, They may speak up vocally such as telling the offender to “stop being such a pervert” or to “cut it out”.
In confronting the offender, basic techniques of escalation should be used so that if the offender brushes off one, he is confronted with another and the Asian male should be willing to endure a confrontation or several to get this behavior to stop. While diplomacy is a primary option, direct methods can work. Asian men can and should play a more active role in stopping racial sexual pestering; all men should. It is not easy to risk one’s social capital in defense of another - and yet this is the cohesion we hope increasingly develops between Asian men and women.Moving Forward
White men engage in racial sexual pestering of Asian women for a variety of reasons - but primarily because of a real or perceived status differential, indifference or support of other whites, as well as prescriptive roles encouraged foisted on Asian women by a Eurocentric American culture and media. Racial sexual pestering is the outgrowth of hegemonic white masculinity - of the constructed primacy of white men, an endorsement of their sexual actions and exoneration of their misbehavior. Asian women suffer more because data shows they are both more desirable and perceived as more desirous and/or tolerant of these advances. Confronting pestering requires addressing the problem at its root- improving awareness amongst both Asians and non-Asians, educating human resources (to address pestering in the workplace), and developing a set of behavioral tools that Asian women (and men) can use to stop this abusive behavior in its tracks.