Council member Helen Gym address community members during a vigil to
mourn and confront the rising violence against Asian Americans at the
10th Street Plaza in Philadelphia, on March 17, 2021. A deadly rampage
at three Georgia massage businesses, where the employees were mostly of
Asian descent, has prompted Asian-American women to openly share stories
of being sexually harassed or demeaned based on their race. (Joe
Lamberti/Camden Courier-Post via AP)
Asian women say shootings point to relentless, racist
By Terry Tang and Christine Fernando
The Associated Press
March 20, 2021
For Christine Liwag Dixon and others, the bloodshed in Georgia — six
Asian women among the dead, allegedly killed by a man who blamed his
"sexual addiction" — was a new and horrible chapter in the shameful
history of Asian women being reduced to sex objects.
"I’ve had people either assume that I’m a sex worker or assume that,
as a Filipino woman, I will do anything for money because they assume
that I’m poor," said Dixon, a freelance writer and musician in New York
City. "I had an old boss who offered me money for sex once."
Tuesday’s rampage at three Atlanta-area massage businesses prompted
Asian-American women to share stories of being sexually harassed or
demeaned. They say they’ve often had to tolerate racist and misogynistic
men who cling to a narrative that Asian women are exotic and submissive.
Elaine Kim, who is Korean American and a professor emeritus in Asian
American studies at the University of California, Berkeley, recalled
being crassly harassed by white young men while she was in high school.
Later in life, one of her white students made sexualizing comments about
the Asian women in her class and lurked outside their apartments.
Kim was reminded of these moments when she heard that the man accused
in the Atlanta-area shootings had said he had acted because his targets
"I think it’s likely that the killer not only had a sex addiction but
also an addiction to fantasies about Asian women as sex objects," she
Two of the Georgia massage businesses had been repeatedly targeted in
prostitution investigations in the past 10 years, according to police
records. The documents show that 10 people had been arrested on
prostitution charges, but none since 2013.
The suspect in the shootings, a 21-year-old white man, considered the
women inside the spas "sources of temptation," police said.
Grace Pai, a director of organizing at Chicago’s Asian Americans
Advancing Justice branch, called that characterization of the attacks "a
real slap in the face to anyone who identifies as an Asian-American
"We know exactly what this racialized misogyny looks like," Pai said.
"And to think that someone targeted three Asian-owned businesses that
were staffed by Asian-American women … and didn’t have race or gender in
mind is just absurd."
Framing the women who were killed as "sources of temptation" places
blame on the women as the ones "who were there to tempt the shooter, who
is merely the victim of temptation," said Catherine Ceniza Choy, a
University of California, Berkeley, professor of ethnic studies and a
Filipino-American woman. She said this scenario echoes a long-running
stereotype that Asian women are immoral and hypersexual.
"That may be the way the alleged shooter and killer thinks of it,
that you can compartmentalize race in this box and sex addiction in a
separate box. But it doesn’t work that way," Choy said. "These things
are intertwined, and race is central to this conversation."
Stereotypes of Asian women as "dragon ladies" or sexually available
partners have been around for centuries. From the moment Asian women
began to migrate to the U.S., they were the targets of
hypersexualization, said Ellen Wu, a history professor at Indiana
The Page Act of 1875 prohibited women coming to the U.S. from
anywhere for "immoral purposes," but the law was largely enforced
against Chinese women.
"As early as the 1870s, white Americans were already making this
association, this assumption of Asian women being walking sex objects,"
Asian lives are seen as "interchangeable and disposable," she said.
"They are objectified, seen as less than human. That helps us understand
violence toward Asian women like we saw this week."
U.S. military deployments in Asia also played a role, according to
Kim. She said the military has long fuelled sex trafficking there,
starting after the Spanish-American War, when traffickers and brothel
owners in the Philippines bought and sold women and girls to meet the
demands of U.S. soldiers.
During the Vietnam War, women from Thailand and many other Asian
countries were used for sex by U.S. soldiers at various "rest and
recreation" spots. The bodies and perceived submissiveness of Asian
women were eroticized and hypersexualized, Kim said, and eventually
these racist stereotypes were brought back to the United States.
In American culture, Asian woman have been fetishized as submissive,
hypersexual, and exotic, said Christine Bacareza Balance, an
Asian-American studies professor at Cornell University and a Filipina
A prime example is the wildly popular 1887 novel, Madame
Chrysanthème, a French narrative, translated into English, in which
Japanese women are referred to as "playthings" and "China ornaments."
More recently, an Asian woman has generally been portrayed in films as
either "a manipulative, dragon lady temptress or the submissive,
innocent ‘lotus blossom’ meant to please a man," Balance said.
Choy, the ethnic studies professor at Berkeley, said Tuesday’s
shootings and subsequent efforts to remove race from the conversation is
yet another example of the denial of the racism and sexism Asian and
Asian-American women face.
"In American society, Asian Americans are not seen and listened to,"
she said. "We are seen in specific ways at times, as model minorities,
as projections of white, male fantasy, but we are not seen as
full-fledged Americans. We are not seen as full human beings. It’s a
kind of erasure and dehumanization."
Associated Press writer Noreen Nasir in Chicago contributed. Tang,
Fernando, and Nasir are members of The Associated Press’ Race and
Ethnicity team. Tang reported from Phoenix and Fernando from Chicago.
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