Perhaps behind our insistence of “preference” and “desirability” lurks something far more insidious, far uglier than we first thought.
When talking with the foreigner female community in Japan, the topic of dating Japanese men usually comes up and we quickly bemoan how so many of them really don’t want to date us. We curse, shake out fists at how sexist Japan is, how Japanese men are afraid of our big boisterous personalities. We say that they are too shy, too quiet, and we never, EVER get asked out on dates.
But then someone usually says something like this:
“You know, I’m not sure about dating a Japanese guy. They’re just…small and kind of feminine. I like masculine guys.”
This causes the group to nod in unison, thinking that it’s probably for the best that we aren’t dating men who spend more time on their hair than we do.
But hold the phone and wait just one minute, folks.
Is it OK to say that Japanese men are pretty much un-dateable because they are simply smaller than some of our western counterparts? Or that if a man takes care of his appearance then he’s feminine, which automatically means he’s unattractive or kind of weird? I know there are many blogs, tumblrs, and vlogs dedicated to how beautiful Japanese men (Asian men, in general) are, but that can also become problematic depending on how obsessive it is and can get a tad yellow-fevery (check out this excellent YouTube series on “yellow fever” and how creepy it is.)
Anyway, back to what I was saying.
Let me state the obvious first: There are some very tired and boring stereotypes of Asian people floating around in Western society. Many Asian characters on our beloved TV shows and movies are regulated to “Math Nerd” or “Awkward Sexually Perverted Exchange Student” (thanks John Hughes).
But really, the most ridiculous stereotype still being perpetuated is that Asian men are somehow less masculine. Remember a few years back when Lorde’s boyfriend who is of Asian descent got hated on by rabid One Direction fans? “Lorde can choke on her boyfriend’s cock…oh but he doesn’t have a cock big enough for that.”
Wow. Yes, that stereotype is still something that people believe. Don’t think it’s just manic 1D fans shouting into the void. The most well known Asian-American basketball player Jeremy Lin had something similar said about him but by a fully grown adult. On February 10, 2012, in the middle of Lin’s career game against the Lakers, Fox Sports columnist Jason Whiltock posted on Twitter, “Some lucky lady in NYC is gonna feel a couple inches of pain tonight,” in reference to Lin’s sexual prowess.
Many times Asian masculinity is called in to question because of this idea that they all possess the worlds’ smallest dicks. It is the most common insult thrown at Asian men, reminding them of their “less-than” status as sexually unappealing nerds.
I suppose the plucked eyebrows and the attention to fashionable details leave some western women with the impression that Japanese men are in fact very, very gay. Again, what does that say about our cultural values? Anything remotely feminine on the opposite gender is something that can’t be considered appealing to heterosexuals? The hair on your eyebrows is intrinsically full of straight-juice and to remove those makes you become a gay man? Not all Japanese men are adept at creating the perfect brow, but most of the time they are smaller and shorter than what is thought of as the masculine ideal. For many women it comes down to size and scale, how our own bodies compare to theirs. Our own culture landscape is filled with the wreckage of men who have “short man syndrome” or “alpha envy” (I just coined that one), men who don’t fit into some kind of ripped he-man.
Manliness has to be big, has to be able to contain us completely in its arms. Otherwise, we are left feeling wanting.
So what’s my stake in this? Well, I’m engaged to a Japanese man. At some point in the beginning of this whole thing I thought “he’s the same height as me and he’s, well, almost the same size as me too.” I’d always had boyfriends and partners who towered over me, lanky long limbs that always dwarfed mine. Then, like a punch in the face I realized how ridiculous it is to think like that. Apparently, how tall someone is makes them more or less manly. Being able to look into someone’s eyes without getting a crick in my neck means I just can’t see this person as attractive. I had to look at my cultural baggage, really look at how I had been dragging around this out-dated idea that men have to be big and tall to be masculine.
My concern is that people rarely think deeply about what is attractive to them. Why do we consider such things as skin color, height, and size to be something fixed in our mind in regards to attractiveness? Why do people think it’s OK to say “I don’t find Asians (or insert any ethnicity) attractive”? That’s a whole group of people. Perhaps behind our insistence of “preference” and “desirability” lurks something far more insidious, far uglier than we first thought. Racism is very much internalized, we all do it, and we all need to call each other out on it.
From my experience, foreign women who live here in Japan are always ready and willing to get angry about the sexist stereotypes that exist about western women. But, rarely is that anger directed at each other for perpetuating these old and very out-dated ideas of masculinity.
Bigger is not better; big is big and small is small. Both are equally attractive and deserving of love and attention.
Tessa is currently living in Japan’s frozen north and blogging about feminism, education and all things that make her excited or full of rage. This was cross posted on her blog I don’t wakaru. She is studying towards a Masters in Applied Linguistics and probably swears too much.