The perception of Asian dads and masculinity

  • Level 3 - Captain

    The perception of Asian dads and masculinity


    The Asian cultural definition of masculinity relies heavily on scholarship and not showing weakness

    Perry Li says he resented his father most of his life because he rarely showed affection

    For many, emotion equals weakness

    Haenah Hwang cuddled her 4-month-old son, Evan, as her husband, Mike, a 37-year-old Taiwanese-American, shared stories about his father.

    “He showed me his love by making sure that I did the best I could in everything,” he said.

    The Hwangs were reflecting on their first-generation immigrant Asian-American fathers while looking forward to celebrating their first Father’s Day as new parents.

    “I have a different type of father’s experience,” said Haenah Hwang, a 32-year-old Korean-American.

    She recalls her father as a family man who spent a lot of time playing with her growing up. But she said she felt a weight of responsibility early on, having to translate English to Korean for her parents.

    “I had a little bit of resentment. My dad felt more like a friend to me, almost,” she said, adding this made her question her parents’ love for her at times.

    The portrayal of Asian-American dads and masculinity has a long history in the U.S.

    “For Asian fathers, when their main concern was on survival, fitting into the new culture and bringing bread on the table, what America considers ‘male’ was not their priority,” said Dr. Josephine Kim, a professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education who specializes in child development and immigrant issues.

    The Asian cultural definition of masculinity relies heavily on scholarship and not showing weakness, she said, which translates into men showing less emotion.

    She added that the difference in values often led second-generation Asian-American children to misunderstand their fathers as unloving and uncaring, seen through the lens of their Americanized cultural perspective.

    Perry Li, a second-generation Chinese-American born in Chicago, said he resented his father most of his life until recently because he rarely showed him affection.

    “It’s going to be hard,” said Li, 29, about treating his dad to a Father’s Day dinner. He said he has told his father directly that he loves him only twice. He plans on telling him again at dinner.

    Li has been trying lately to be more understanding of the struggles and stress his father went through to provide for the family over the years, he said.

    Korean-American actor Randall Park also can relate.

    Park, who plays Louis Huang, an Asian immigrant father on the ABC sitcom “Fresh Off the Boat,” said his father operated a photography store in Santa Monica, Calif., where Park observed firsthand “all the struggles that he went through to keep that business afloat.”

    Park said he finds similarities between his character on the show, which, in its second season, is the longest running Asian-American sitcom, and how he and his father were.

    “At times, (my father) does walk that line of being the classic bumbling sitcom dad. But there is always that undercurrent (of) struggle and sacrifice, which is something I see in my own father and, in some ways, myself,” said Park.

    Despite the hardships Asian immigrant fathers faced, they were considered not “manly” enough throughout history.

    “There is a long history of ways in which Asian-American males were deprived of masculinity in American society,” said Dr. Mark Chiang, the interim director of the Asian-American Studies Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He said the histories of Asian countries bring different experiences to the table.

    When Asians started immigrating to the U.S. in the 19th century, Asian men were mainly engaged in manual labor. Toward the end of the 19th century, when the U.S. economy grew rapidly, then collapsed, Asian-American men became unemployed and wound up as scapegoats and targets. Often, Asian-American men had no options but to engage in laundry work and cooking to provide for their families.

    “The issue of masculinity comes in here. Laundry work and cooking are seen as women’s work. So the Asian men became feminized because of the labor they were pushed to perform,” said Chiang.

    Influenced by media portrayals, stereotypes and the model-minority myth, Asian-American males continue to face difficulties in how their masculinity is perceived in American culture today.

    The recent #StarringJohnCho movement is not only a push for diversity in Hollywood, but also the Asian-American community’s attempt to reclaim the portrayal of Asian-American masculinity in the media.

    “I’m team #StarringJohnCho all the way,” said Park.

    Park said he has always been conscious of the way Hollywood portrays Asian men.

    “I do understand the importance for us to have more images of ‘masculine’ Asian males to balance out all the Long Duk Dong’s of our time. Asian kids are still getting bullied, and I’m sure the lack of strong media images plays a part in that. But for me, personally, what’s more important than masculinity is that we, as men, just feel good about who we are and to do our best to represent that unapologetically,” said Park.

    “I don’t want Evan to grow up feeling different in any way. At the same time, I want him to grow up knowing his heritage as half-Korean and half-Taiwanese,” said Haenah Hwang. She said she is positive Evan will overcome the influence of Asian stereotypes in the media.

    She said her husband, Mike, will be a good role model and help their son distinguish what is right and wrong in portrayals of Asian masculinity.

    “I want him to be compassionate – quick to listen and slow to speak. I want him to love the diversity of the city and the country that we live in,” said Mike Hwang. He hopes to demonstrate the “quiet strength” that comes from leading by example and sacrifice that his father showed him.

    Do you agree? That Asian fathers typically don’t show enough affection? Also that Asian Masculinity in America started all the way back when jobs traditionally seen as “women’s work” were the only options available to Asian men?

  • administrators

    @neonfuzion Sure, but there’s a difference due to context due to its industrialization/urbanization, and second, they are tackling things instead of just talking - anti corruption drive. desert reclamation, environmental clean up, green energy investments, etc.

  • @secondstrike said in The perception of Asian dads and masculinity:

    Another example is Western democracy vs Chinese centralized governance. The later has a bad rep despite totally dominating the former system in every conceivable metric wherever it has been implemented. Here’s an excellent presentation.

    Not to detract , but its not like China’s centralized governance has no problems either. Its also got its own problems. Don’t be blinded by China’s achievements, for there are still many problems within the Country.

  • @natalie_ng The one major focus in Asian Culture that sets us apart is Family.

  • @secondstrike Yeah, that’s another thing about Asian masculinity that western men lack…whereas Asian men take pride in caring for their families, western men can’t seem to understand the concept. I remembered my high school history teacher (who was a petite, blond white woman) complaining to us at one point how her (also white) husband resented her for not working while she was pregnant. And immediately after she had the baby, he pressured her to return to work asap, despite the fact that she was still healing and they weren’t even in any financial difficulties.

    On the flip side, a lot of men in my family were the main breadwinners while their wives were very traditional housewives and mainly stayed home, cooked, cleaned, and took care of the kids. But never did I hear them complain about it.

    Even my own husband, despite being a 3rd gen Asian American guy, was very understanding when I had to quit my job to move with him across the country and when I needed a lot of time to find another job again. His white friends, on the other hand, weren’t very understanding towards their wives and even became a little resentful for having to support them. It’s probably cultural differences but it seems like Asian men are more prideful and generous in being able to care for their spouses/children whereas white men are a little more selfish.

    Lol about your mom bringing out the hermit in your dad when she nags. Yeah, I would imagine most men to just avoid saying anything in case they prolong the nagging, lol.

    Oh, my mom definitely isn’t submissive by nature either. She’s only submissive to my dad because she respects him a lot but in reality, she’s not afraid to speak her mind to others and if anything, she’s an extremely loud and proud pro-AM AF that makes me look tame in comparison, lol (the difference between her and me is that she can read/write/communicate in multiple languages, so when older Asian women are speaking in their language and start dissing Asian men in favor of white men, my mom can understand what they’re saying and she usually verbally tear them apart, whether online or irl). But nah, she’s not submissive either, except to my dad who she happily submits to because she adores/admires him a lot.

  • administrators

    @natalie_ng I agree. Taking care of family is alpha. Guys who run off are trash especially when the wife is older. That’s like a death sentence for the family. My father is stoic too but mother isn’t so submissive. She doesn’t nag that much but definitely brings out the hermit in him when she does.

  • I would say yes, most Asian fathers don’t like showing affection. I think a lot of it has to do with pride though. My father, for instance, hated showing vulnerability so he hated showing signs of sadness or fear. He was the breadwinner of our family and made all major decisions for our family (my mom is extremely passive/submissive and happily follows everything he lays out for her) and I think in his eyes, being a leader meant he needed to command our respect and to get our respect, he must appear strong-minded at all times (although he’s unaware that he already earned our respect in a lot of other ways). I remembered he often scoffed at his white male friends/coworkers for crying or fearing their wives and calling them “pathetic”. But that didn’t mean he lacked emotions/compassion himself. If anything, it’s quite the opposite. Although he’s 100% about actions because words mean nothing to him.

  • administrators

    Compared to Westerners who often say the right things, East Asians in general are much more quiet. The later tend to show their commitment and sincerity with their actions rather than fleeting words. Here are a few examples.

    East Asians don’t show as much affection (both publicly and privately) but have lower divorce rates. Whites do more grand displays of affection but suffer much higher divorce rates.

    China doesn’t brag about development/progress, but it’s got the world’s fastest super computer, most amount of high speed rail, lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty, created a native space faring program, etc.

    I find Asians focus on substance and less of PR, which is to their detriment. Westerners are experts at PR. The iPhone isn’t a big deal, but each release is celebrated as if it would cure cancer…again. They charge exorbitant prices for it. Meanwhile, East Asian firms like Samsung, Xiaomi, Huawei are making products with similar specs for less money but they’re called “inferior”. Part of it dynamic is probably racism, but I don’t see the Chinese drone maker, DJI, suffering much.

    Another example is Western democracy vs Chinese centralized governance. The later has a bad rep despite totally dominating the former system in every conceivable metric wherever it has been implemented. Here’s an excellent presentation.

    Asian soft power’s first requirement is to shed, at least some, of its humbleness. We called them barbarians once. We can do it again.

Log in to reply

Looks like your connection to AsianSoul was lost, please wait while we try to reconnect.