“You’re so pretty, you look like Mulan! Normally Chinese people are ass-ugly, no offense. Do you wanna go on a date sometime?”
So said an eager frat boy who had been circling my group of friends all night, moving like a worm with wings. He’d finally landed and made his move. I wasn’t drunk enough to slap him. Instead, I suppressed the rage I felt bubbling up in order to preserve his feelings.
I smiled politely and moved a few steps away, hoping he’d get the hint. He didn’t. No, he grinded closer and breathed on my neck, thinking that his subtly racist remark had successfully been disguised as a backhanded compliment. Sadly for his neglected dick, I immediately recognized this as a tactic designed to lower my self-esteem and make me more likely to accept his advances. But I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing. Instead, I pretended I needed to use the bathroom — because at that time, I still felt like I needed an excuse to say no.
Well, it’s more than that. I knew what I wanted to say. But I didn’t know how to overcome the societal programming in my head that shamed me for wanting to speak up. I wanted to ask him: “Oh, really? Is the dick you’re thinking with so small that you only have two brain cells? Is that why you can’t possibly fathom why I wouldn’t be flattered by you calling my entire ethnicity ugly? ”
Mostly, I just wanted to tell him to fuck off. But I convinced myself that I didn’t know what to say for the sake of not appearing a bitch. So I said nothing.
That wasn’t the only time that I’ve had this wonderful experience. Men often treat me like a pretty plaything. To them, I am a fetish, a possession that’s already theirs. It happens so often that I can predict exactly what will come next in situations like these.
Over-the-top backhanded compliments come first, the type that insinuate that a woman like me should be grateful for any attention at all. Then, when I reject them, they lash out. This takes form in many lines of attack, ranging from weight to sluttiness to looks to general worth as a person. But these attacks are linked together by one common thread: They’re all violently emotional attempts to punish me for not acting properly. They’re tantrums thrown to make me feel guilty enough to try to please them despite myself.
This isn’t to say that men are the only perpetrators of unhealthy reactions to rejection. I’ve experienced the aforementioned toxic phenomenon with women, too. A woman said to me while she was fingering me, “I love fucking Asian girls the most over any other race — you’re the quietest, which means you’re the kinkiest.” I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing. Another woman said to me, “I think you’re insecure, but you mask it well and overcompensate for it.” I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing. A man yelled at me, “Look at that Asian girl’s tits!” I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing.
I allowed myself to be violated, offended, objectified, dissected, because I didn’t think I held enough worth to deserve to live my life on my own terms.
My favorite experience so far has been an Instagram comment from a man whose opening line was: “You’re hot. Want sex now?” On a summer picture of me looking fine in a bikini, he self-righteously commented, “Did you gain weight for the summer?” That was only my favorite experience because of the literal army of girls (and one girl’s boyfriend) who immediately jumped on his dick. Best comment award goes to “You slimy limp dick, she gets more girls than you fuckin thirsty ass bitch lmao.”
I learned from that experience because there were so many women who supported me unconditionally. They reported him. They texted me to make sure I was all right. They reminded me that I was not responsible for his feelings or the cause of his lashing out. They inspired me to speak up in my own life, to take responsibility for my own pleasure.
Some parts of Chinese culture are used to try to keep women down. Confucianism instructs women to be subservient to the men in their lives. Friends from similar backgrounds learned to enforce that, to advise you not to be the bitch in the relationship, not to be so clingy. My mother reminded me to be polite and not make a fuss at the table just because my uncle commented on how well my breasts were growing. This mindset is so saturated that it became this voice in my head that dictated my entire life.
When I encounter racism or fetishization, these are the voices I need to rebel against.
People in power use the passivity of women of color to exploit us. Don’t let anyone discourage you from speaking up in the moment. It’s scary, and there are times when safety is more important. Maybe you stand up for yourself by blocking the person or cutting off contact. Maybe you send your friends after them, or report them, or just tell them a simple “no.”
But no matter what form standing up for yourself takes, make sure you’re doing it. You are always worth defending. If a situation makes you uncomfortable, you have the right to call it out.
Astrid Liu writes the Tuesday column on sex. Contact her at [email protected].