What is Fetishization and What Is Not?

How an Article On “Hot Asian Men” Broke the Comment Section

I’ve never been quick to villainize people over sexuality; it’s just not my style. I don’t know about you, but when it comes to kinks, I don’t think it’s anyone’s place to judge sexuality, sexual preferences, or fantasies, even ones that would make most of us cringe. Nor is it okay to tell other people what they’re allowed to be attracted to. Actions are a whole other matter, but fantasy is private. It may be un-PC of me, but I don’t think sexuality and desire will ever be things that will fit into a tiny, polite box. Desire is offensive by virtue of its own attributes.

That’s the mental place I was coming from when I saw a link on Facebook to an article on the Huffington Post called “21 Fine-As-Hell Asian Men Who Will Make You Swoon and Then Some.” Notably, the author is an Asian woman. As someone who finds Harry Shum Jr. and Daniel Dae Kim both errhrm… “fine as hell”, I was excited to read more, especially since the media has been flooded lately with articles written by Asian men saying they don’t feel attractive to white women. Let’s celebrate sexy Asian men, yay! But was my thinking correct?

The comment section on Facebook was a hot mess. There were many comments about how the article was fetishizing Asian men, how the author needed to be stripped of her credentials, etc, and then the other half of the comments were arguing with the people who said it was fetishization- split between those who genuinely didn’t think so and those who think ‘them fancy liberal words’ don’t really mean anything anyway. Ugh.

I jumped into the fray with my own opinion and tried to explain my perspective to the “fetishization” side of the argument. To me, it was easy:

“I want to be with an Asian woman because they’re all submissive and obedient” = fetishizing and stereotypical

“I want to be with an Asian woman because I think she is pretty and I’m particularly sexually attracted to her type” = perfectly fine

“I want to go on a date with an Asian man because they’re all good at math and I need help understanding it” = fetishizing and stereotypical

“I want to read this article because I think these men are hot” = perfectly fine

Not everyone agreed with my take.

Yet we know fetishization exists and it’s dangerous. Many believe it played a major role in the Atlanta murders of 6 Asian women. Tonya Mosley and Serena McMahon for wbur state that “a century of objectifying Asian women” influenced the shooter’s opinions about the women who worked at the massage parlors. He saw them as a temptation he needed to eliminate. And there’s no question plenty of European men wrongly see Asian women as submissive.

That, combined with ragged emotions over Covid-19 and 15 months of masks, arguments, and worry have contributed to multiple instances of Asian hate, including attacking Asian people on the street.

Back to the comments, I started to study them on both sides of the argument and most of all, who was saying what. If Asians thought I was wrong, then I would consider myself wrong. On the contrary, only one Asian person weighed in, a woman, who like me, had no problem with the article.

As I studied the comments, I noticed a few things. Over 90% of those saying it was fetishization were men, none of them Asian. One particular man fumed, “You can think someone is attractive without describing him like he’s the blue plate special at the local sushi restaurant!!” That got me thinking again. If this were “21 Hot Asian Women”, would they still be big mad or instead, would they be mocking any woman who was offended by it? Is this true concern about the fetishization of Asian men, or a bunch of butt hurt, jealous guys mad because they’re not the one currently being ogled? Hmmmm.

Then I noticed something else. This article was written by a woman, but it was written LIKE a man. She took a very alpha-stance on the topic. She said what she liked, and she showed us examples.

And then a lot of other men lost their minds, leading me to wonder if their problem was jealousy or fury that a woman dared to choose rather be chosen in the first place. Were they furious she didn’t choose them or because she dared to choose to begin with? Or was it genuine concern?

For me, the article was a “we see you” response to Asian men who feel unseen in America, but I accept it may have felt offensive to others. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if you’re part of the problem or part of the solution.

Since I can’t read minds, I’m can’t say for certain how much of their concern was genuine and how much was something else. I’m sure some of it was genuine, but I tend to think that’s not what drove most men’s anger.

Let me know what you think! Do you think this was fetishization or male jealousy? Or something else entirely? How do you feel about the concept of “fetishization?”


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