Oriental sex is white man’s fantasy.

The origin of white men’s sexualization of Asian women can be traced back to the 1800s, at the latest. The assumption of white supremacy combined with cultural sexual repression led white Western European men to hope and believe that sexual freedom was possible and promised in what they called the “Orient”.

Europe identified itself with masculinity, rationality, civilization, and superiority, in contrast with the perceived femininity, emotionality, primitivism, and inferiority of the Orient. As white Western European men both felt and thought themselves restrained compared to the more “primitive” Other, they reasoned that the Orient was, in comparison, both sexually liberating and sexually unrestrained.

In Orientalism, literary critic and post-colonial theorist Edward Said explains (p.190) this literary tradition that became ubiquitous starting from the 1800s in writings on the Orient by Europeans:

In all of his novels, Flaubert associates the Orient with the escapism of sexual fantasy. Emma Bovary and Frédéric Moreau pine for what in their drab (or harried) bourgeois lives they do not have, and what they realize they want comes easily to their daydreams packed inside Oriental clichés: harems, princesses, princes, slaves, veils, dancing girls and boys, sherbets, ointments, and so on. The repertoire is familiar, not so much because it reminds us of Flaubert’s own voyages in and obsession with the Orient, but because, once again, the association is made between the Orient and the freedom of licentious sex. We may as well recognize that for nineteenth-century Europe, with its increasing embourgeoisement, sex had been institutionalized to a very considerable degree. On the one hand, there was no such thing as “free” sex, and on the other, sex in society entailed a web of legal, moral, even political and economic obligations of a detailed and certainly encumbering sort. Just as the various colonial possessions—quite apart from their economic benefit to metropolitan Europe—were useful as places to send wayward sons, superfluous populations of delinquents, poor people, and other undesirables, so the Orient was a place where one could look for sexual experience unobtainable in Europe. Virtually no European writer who wrote on or traveled to the Orient in the period after 1800 exempted himself or herself from this quest: Flaubert, Nerval, “Dirty Dick” Burton, and Lane are only the most notable. In the twentieth century one thinks of Gide, Conrad, Maugham, and dozens of others. What they looked for often—correctly , I think—was a different type of sexuality, perhaps more libertine and less guilt-ridden; but even that quest, if repeated by enough people, could (and did) become as regulated and uniform as learning itself. In time “Oriental sex” was as standard a commodity as any other available in the mass culture, with the result that readers and writers could have it if they wished without necessarily going to the Orient.

Asia is not the promised land of sexual liberation, although wealthy white men who travel there may find what they are looking for by exploiting the vulnerable.

References:

  • Said, Edward W. 1994. Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books

18 Responses to “Oriental sex is white man’s fantasy.”

  1. chinesecanuck Says:

    It’s also a power thing. Hong Kong Chinese men often had mistresses in the mainland back in the 80s and 90s (though now that the mainland is getting wealthier, the guys there are taking mistresses too).

  2. L.M. Says:

    IME, the best book on this is “The Oriental Mystique”, it goes over the long and ugly history of Asia fetishism and the author also visits the women who are supposed to “embody” the stereotypes of Asia fetishism (like airline stewardesses, bar girls, etc.). I’m an East Asian woman who’d guessed at a bit of this before, but I learned so much from this book!

  3. macon d Says:

    Yes, and a sad, often destructive fantasy at that. There’s so much to say about how it still lives.

    Of course, Said was writing about fantasies of what Americans now call “the Middle East,” not what Westerners now think of when they hear or use use the term “the Orient.” I remember Said’s book fairly well, and Culture and Imperialism is wonderful too, but I don’t remember how the shift of that fantasy’s geographical location occurred.

    Said wrote: “What they looked for often—correctly , I think—was a different type of sexuality, perhaps more libertine and less guilt-ridden. . . ” Interesting how, if that’s true, the “fantasy” is, or maybe just was, to some degree not a fantasy.

    There’s also much to be said about how this widespread fantasy hyper-feminizes not only Asian women, but men as well (which may in part account for what seems to be their lack of appeal, generally, for non-Asian, heterosexual women).

  4. Restructure! Says:

    I don’t think there has been a real ‘shift’ of the term ‘the Orient’ or ‘the East’. Said was talking about West Asia specifically, but who ‘the Asians’ are depends on where you are. In the United States, ‘Asians’ usually refers to East Asians, but in the UK, ‘Asians’ usually refers to South Asians. It’s not really so much about Asia as it is about Europeans’ idea of the ‘East’, which changes depending on who they are colonizing at the moment or interacting with. Yes, it’s important to note that many of those stereotypes are about Arabs and Muslims specifically, but it’s more about the fantasy rather than the reality, Orientalism rather than the Orient.

    Yes, I am still analyzing that point about what he meant by it being ‘correct’ in his opinion. It makes me think of white men feeling guiltless about having sexual relations with ‘Oriental’ women (whoever they are at the moment) because they don’t really view them as worthy. I don’t know what Said really meant by that, though.

    Yeah, it hyper-feminizes Asian men as well as Asian women, from West Asia to East Asia.

  5. PS Says:

    One word:

    HOLLYWOOD

  6. marcg Says:

    It’s not just Hollywood. The point made in the comment by Restructure! gets to the real root of this issue. The white fantasy is mostly focused on whichever group is in closest proximity to the last colonizing project. Come to the United States and you’ll see oh so many fair-skinned people of African descent, referred to as ‘red’ or ‘light-skinned’ in the Black community. How do you think all these African people came to be so brown if not by being the object of yet another white male sexual fetish.

    This is a global issue inseparable from white supremacist capitalist conquest.

  7. JohnF Says:

    This Fantasy is still alive and well, I don’t know why everyone seem to avoid the obvious. Ever heard of a enchanting place called Thailand? Well a lot of middle aged men sure did. As for the younger generation, I always thought Japanese animation was to blame for, with different morals and over sexed characters (most of the time underage). For many people it sure show a side about Asia that is different and exotic.
    There is also the simple fact that several white men really do prefer Asian women.

    But quite honestly I’m trying to find a problem whit this but just can’t seem to find one, perhaps there is none, perhaps in this new world of glabalisation where every culture is no longer as distinct as they were once, people are are still looking for exoticism.

  8. Restructure! Says:

    You don’t find a problem with human trafficking in Thailand?

    Japanese animation isn’t all pornography, and pornographic/sexualized animation is not representative of Japanese animation in general. Pornographic Japanese animation is overrepresented in the West, because American men on the Internet spend a lot of time looking at and looking for porn. There’s even an American saying: “The Internet is for porn.”

    In other words, Japanese animation is known in the West to be sexualized because (1) porn is overrepresented in Internet multimedia acquired by White American men; and (2) in the West, porn and animation are usually mutually exclusive.

    If this was all about globalization and not about the economic power of Whites over Asians, and the social power of men over women, then why aren’t there as many couplings of white women and Asian men?

  9. theboxman Says:

    Well put, Restructure.

  10. Eastern societies are not more sexually liberated than Western societies. « Restructure! Says:

    […] Oriental sex is white man’s fantasy. at Restructure! Posted in Debunking, White People Studies. Tags: asian, Bangkok, choice, class, colonialism, colonization, compliance, culture, Eastern, egocentricity, exploitation, freedom, liberation, love, male gaze, men, orientalism, prostitution, racism, sex, sexism, slavery, Southeast Asian, Thailand, the East, the West, Western, white, white gaze, women. Leave a Comment » […]

  11. Melungian Pride Says:

    if it makes you feel better Restructure, I think Asian women are revolting. Flat chested, curveless, flat assed, androgynal and cold.

    Caucasoid and caucasoid-mixed women are the most attractive by far. Italian, Russian, French, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Scandinavian, Persian. The round eyed people have it!

  12. Melungian Pride Says:

    …If this was all about globalization and not about the economic power of Whites over Asians, and the social power of men over women, then why aren’t there as many couplings of white women and Asian men?…

    Because white and other non-Asian women find Asian men effete and unmasculine.

  13. Lxy Says:

    This Fantasy is still alive and well, I don’t know why everyone seem to avoid the obvious. Ever heard of a enchanting place called Thailand? Well a lot of middle aged men sure did.

    Your delusional “fantasy” is based upon the exploitation of Thai girls, often barely in their teens.

    Human trafficking, sexual violence, not to mention thinly disguised rape and pedophilia…. Welcome to the world of creepy White sex tourists in all their pathetic glory.

    if it makes you feel better Restructure, I think Asian women are revolting. Flat chested, curveless, flat assed, androgynal and cold.

    Caucasoid and caucasoid-mixed women are the most attractive by far. Italian, Russian, French, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Scandinavian, Persian. The round eyed people have it!

    …If this was all about globalization and not about the economic power of Whites over Asians, and the social power of men over women, then why aren’t there as many couplings of white women and Asian men?…

    Because white and other non-Asian women find Asian men effete and unmasculine.

    So boasts “Melungian Pride,” head cheerleader for the Caucasoid master race. Seig Heil!

  14. jwbe Says:

    I think there are too many men in this world who consider the female body only as a place where they can stick their ‘most important part’ into it and then also blaming the victim of their sexual and other exploitation that they ‘provoced’ it or ‘like’ it.
    Dehumanizing women by exotism or finding any excuse for forced prostitution, finding any excuse for trafficking and also the exploitation of children, sex tourism to countries where children aren’t protected and have to endure white pedophiles – this is just sick, it is racist, sexist and disgusting.

  15. Raven’s Eye Says:

    […] the imagined licentiousness of Asian culture and Asian women—is the source of the West’s Orientalist perception that the East is sexually liberated. Share and […]

  16. Restructure! Says:

    I don’t understand why Asian women are stereotyped as having flat asses. I always thought that white women had the flattest asses.

    Anyway, Melungian Pride’s comment is yet another example of how physical characteristics are being projected on to people of colour. Some white men think that Asian women are ultra-feminine compared to white women, while other white men think that Asian women are androgynous compared to white women. Some white men think that Asian women are warm and white women are cold, while other white men think that Asian women are cold and white women are warm.

  17. Therese Says:

    Restructure! Says:
    June 21, 2009 at 10:52 pm

    I don’t understand why Asian women are stereotyped as having flat asses. I always thought that white women had the flattest asses.

    Naaahhhh, some Asian women have flat arses and some don’t. Some white women have flat arses and some don’t. I have even seen black women with flat arses and of course some don’t have flat butts.

  18. Sexual Racism (1): Fetishizing Asian Women « Sexuality Studies Says:

    […] them, apparently — who obsess about Asian women in sexual terms. There is of course a lengthy historical context for this racial fetish, as well as a term for what amounts to a common white male illness — […]


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