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LIFTING OF THE PERFUMED SHROUD

Interview with Sheridan Prasso
Author of the book "The Asian Mystique"

In a land perceived by the Western world as filled "Mystery and Sex, Fear and Desire"
Perception of The 'Orient' that has always meant lands far away,
full of opulence and sensuality, danger, depravity, and opportunity in Western eyes"
(Taken from Sheridan Prasso's "The Asian Mystique")

 

 
EXISTING STATUS OF THE "ASIAN FEMALE MYSTIQUE"
US ASIANS: Recognizing that the UCLA (Ugly Caucasians Living with Asians) Syndrome exist in the U.S. - is the aura/temptation of the general public's perceived power and influence of White males make them satisfied with bad-looking/poor/non-influential men whose only "lure" is the color of their skin?

SHERIDAN PRASSO: I don't recognize that. I don't agree with the premise of this question.

US ASIANS: How do you account for Japanese women in Japan wanting to marry Western husbands? (As noted in the Christian Monitor article entitled "What Japanese Women Want: A Western Husband)

SHERIDAN PRASSO: I have a large section about it in my book. In cultures where there is little economic disparity between Western men and Asian women, such as in Japan and a few of the wealthier cities in Asia, Western men can represent is a kind of escape, a freedom from the constraints or confines of a traditional marriage. For a Japanese woman, he can represent a type of liberation. The problem lies when Western men end up in Asia searching for the concept of a "traditional" wife. This cultural clash is at the root of one of my chapters, called "Ten People, Ten Colors."

REASONS BEHIND THE "ASIAN FEMALE MYSTIQUE"
US ASIANS: Do you feel that it is a Western man's "need" (to have a female that they can control because they generally have a height advantage and/or the Asian female body type having a more pubescent/smaller breasts/straighter waist-to-hip lines and less body hair) and/or fantasy (fulfilling their "definition" of somebody that can fulfill their fantasy)?

SHERIDAN PRASSO: I think all men (all individuals) are different, and have different motivations for what they need in relationships, so it is not correct to categorize in this way.

US ASIANS: What do you feel are the factors (i.e. money, education, knowledge, influence, status, power, etc.) that have resulted in Asian females insisting on not adhering to Western men stereotypes?

SHERIDAN PRASSO: I don't think Asian women have ever adhered to stereotypes. I think the problem has been with our own Western misconceptions in the past. Perhaps with increasing education, knowledge, wealth and power in Asia we will be more able to overcome them now.

US ASIANS: Considering that the many similarities of sexual standards with females between Asia and Europe (i.e. France, Sweden, Netherlands, Holland, Norway, etc.), why would American males consider Asian females more "accessible?

UCLA Syndrome

Later in the discussion session after her lecture, I (Daniel Hong) raised several questions: "Who are those Western men or Americans chasing after Asian female? Aren't they what the Southern Californians would call, UCLA (Ugly Caucasians Living with Asians)?

AN ANGRY ASIAN MALE?
A Reader's Reply to Daniel Hong

I often hear this aggressive Asian male talk of, "All the white guys are stealing our Asian women from us." I can't help but wonder if this is what has happened to our friend Mr. Hong. Is he frustrated that he can't attract a lovely Asian girlfriend but the "UCLAs" of this world can? (For further info, click HERE)

Aren't they at the bottom of the Darwin's food chain that they couldn't get what they want in their own land because of their low social status and therefore only option left for them is to chase after those Asians? I know, without any empirical data, it'll be difficult to press the argument"

Prasso admitted that it is true partially and added, "Just street wisdom will give us a telling insight. In England where I used to live, they say that if you can't make it here, that is, to find your girlfriend, go to Hong Kong." (Excerpt from "The Asian Female Mystique" written by Korea Times' Daniel Hong - to read his article, click HERE.)

“The (above-listed) quote that is attributed to me by Mr. Hong during my talk at the University of Washington is incorrect. I believe that Mr. Hong misunderstood my remarks, because both quotes that he attributed to me and his interpretation of my remarks were inaccurate. Perhaps there was a language issue that interfered with his understanding, but he did not note my response to his question correctly.” (Sheridan Prasso)

SHERIDAN PRASSO: Much of the Western mythology of Asian women was conceived in the past, through the views of European missionaries and colonial traders of the Victorian era, when proper European ladies were admonished to "never move" while "performing their sacrifice for their husbands." The British, French and other European men of that era were engaging in prostitution in the ports of Canton, Malaya, Shanghai and elsewhere, and experienced what would be considered normal sexual relations today - in contrast to what they experienced with their Victorian-admonished wives. This is part of what led to the mythology about the sexuality of Asian women. That mythology became more entrenched with the experiences of American soldiers during the war years, from the occupation of Japan after World War II, through the Korean War and into the Vietnam War.

The remnants of red-light districts from that era - Hooker Hill in Seoul, Gate 8 in Okinawa, Patpong in Bangkok, Pattaya beach near U-tapao air base in the Gulf of Thailand, and Fields Avenue outside the old Clark Air Base in the Philippines - still thrive today, attracting sex tourists from around the world and a community of Internet-connected men who compare notes on this kind of "accessibility" that is not as easy to access or as cheap in the West.

US ASIANS: What was the degree of surprise upon your discovery of the broad spectrum and variety of Asian women - recognizing that your extensive experience and background in Asia?

SHERIDAN PRASSO: Well, I have been working on Asia and living there on and off for about 15 years now, so when I set out to write the book there was very little that was a surprise to me after all that time. What I expected to find, I guess, was that every woman I met would in some way be able to counter the stereotypes, but in fact there are some women who choose to conform in their dealings with foreigners - in other words, they choose a façade of submissiveness or adhering to stereotyped behavior because it suits their purposes, so perhaps that was the only surprise, because I was expecting that most people wish to be fully understood, and that is not always the case.

US ASIANS: Could you share your views on why Asian/Thai women long for "true love" with older European men with pot bellies with the ability to provide and care for them - especially considering that within Thai culture, it is mark of prosperity (similar to "Buddha")?

SHERIDAN PRASSO: This aspect of "Asian Mystique" is primarily the case among women from poorer rural areas working in the sex industry, not urban educated women or those from the middle class. In some aspects of Thai culture, particularly the rural north, a foreign man is considered more prosperous and able to provide for a woman and her family better than a local man. Because of the economic disparities between northern Thailand and the West, this can be true, but not always. A pot belly, in Thai culture, can be an indication that a man is prosperous and has money, and is not necessarily unappealing in a partner - after all, Buddha had a belly. Sometimes these women have had bad or abusive marriages with Thai men and are longing for someone stable, dependable and comparatively better off financially who can take care of them, their children, and their families - and that can mean an older man with the maturity to do that. I'm not sure that I would term it "true love," but more of a stable partnership in which both sides get something from the deal. One Thai prostitute put it best, and her quest is not too far from that of women I know in New York either. She told me, "I want nice guy, good heart, big ***, lots money, buy me everything."

US ASIANS: What are your thoughts on how many Asian women love control - noting your observations of a Japanese women stating "You know, the problem with you American women is you disagree far too quickly. I would never disagree with a man for at least three years…because control takes time?"

SHERIDAN PRASSO: Oh, I think women are the same the world over. I think it's a fallacy to say that Japanese women or Asian women are somehow fundamentally different from women in the West. Women are women. That's why I wrote my book.

HISTORY BEHIND THE "ASIAN FEMALE MYSTIQUE"
US ASIANS: Do you feel that the differing approaches to sex between the early Christian West and the Hindu/Buddhist-influenced East may have planted the seeds of the mystique that still haunts East-West relations?

SHERIDAN PRASSO: Yes, definitely. European missionaries went to the Far East to try to tame the savage sexual practices of the people that the first traders encountered there. Marco Polo brought back scandalous tales of promiscuity. Jesuits lauded the tedious learning of Chinese characters for keeping the homosexual practices of Chinese men in check, and were appalled that Japanese men and women bathed naked together in common areas. And then, of course, there were the Victorians which I have mentioned above. I have a whole chapter about this in my book.

US ASIANS: Before writing the book, what prompted your assumption that all Asian women were submissive and docile - considering your many years in Asia?

SHERIDAN PRASSO: I didn't assume that, of course, but I found the theme repeated over and over in Western literature, pop culture, Hollywood, media and TV - except when it is the opposite, that of Dragon Lady. We see it yet again in the movie Memoirs of a Geisha.

ASIAN FEMALE MYSTIQUE'S FUTURE
US ASIANS: You've shared that one of the reasons that our stereotypes about Asian women persist is that our interactions are too short. Given the great number of Asian American female actresses that has been seen in the media from Anna May Wong to Tatsu Aoki (Sessue Hayakawa's wife) to the many women in the famous "Forbidden City Night Club" to Nancy Kwan to Frances Nguyen to Margaret Cho to Tamlyn Tomita to Lea Salonga to Ming Na to Maggie Cheung to Lucy Liu to Yunjin Kim to Michelle Yeoh to Gong Li to Zhang Ziyi and others that have extensively worked in Hollywood. Add to this list Asian female reporters such as Connie Chung, Tritia Toyota, Christine Chang, Juju Chang, Julie Chen, Sonya Crawford, Ann Curry, Lila Feng, Janice Gin, Sohn Jie-ae, Sachi Koto, May Lee, Carol Lin, Lisa Ling, Betty Nguyen, Denise Quan, Maria Quiban, Karuna Shinso, Sharon Tay and others - how much more "interactions" is needed to motivate the general public to recognize a more complete picture of what the Asian/Asian Pacific American communities are?

SHERIDAN PRASSO: What is needed is activism. The APA communities have no Al Sharpton. The fear of having Al Sharpton show up with 200 picketers is what has helped tame rampant stereotyping of African-Americans in media and TV. Every Japanese American woman I know is outraged and upset by the portrayal of Japanese culture in Memoirs of a Geisha, yet the community is silent. Many won't go see the movie. But where is the organized protest? Where is the public voice?

US ASIANS: Could the ability to maintain superiority/power be the main factor in continuing the Western stereotypes of Asian women: the submissively sensuous (geisha and the like) and the severely domineering (dragon ladies) - off men, the femininely weak and the robotic martial arts warrior? (Side Note: In your analysis, was the success (in the long run) of Bruce Lee more or less beneficial for the Asian/Asian Pacific American communities?

SHERIDAN PRASSO: Once stereotypes have been created it is hard to get rid of them, particularly when there are superficial cultural practices and limited inter-personal interactions that help perpetuate them. Most Americans I know who believe them simply don't know any better, and when they meet Asians or Asian Americans who don't conform to the stereotypes, they think their friends are the exceptions (as in, "You're very outspoken for a Japanese," or "You don't seem very Asian.") not that the stereotypes are wrong.

US ASIANS: With your focus on the element of intimate relations (aka "yellow fever": the Caucasian male idolizing Asian women as the feminine ideal - demure, obedient and wise in the ways of pleasure), are there any similarities with Asian men's fascination with White women with blond hair?

SHERIDAN PRASSO: What's different is the thousands of years of East-West interaction that led to the "Asian Mystique" of the perfect Asian wife. Asian men don't come to America looking for blonde women as perfect wives. Thousands of Western men go to Asia with that intention, or seek them on Mail Order Bride websites, every year.

US ASIANS: What factors would motivate American media and general public to ignore noteworthy examples of Asian Pacific American females that break stereotypes such as Betty Ong (9/11 hero), Angela Oh (Civil Rights Advocate), Anna May Wong (Pioneering Actress), Anabella Lwin (of "Bow Wow Wow" fame), Karen O (of "Yeah Yeah Yeah" fame), Noel Toy (for "Forbidden City" Night Club fame) and Margaret Cho?

ANNA MAY WONG
 
Anna May Wong
 
The great tragedy of Wong's life was that she sought to break free of her tradition-bound community and join the world of modernity that the cinema represented, only to find herself lashed by that very industry to constraining racial stereotypes . . . . . . . All her life, Anna May Wong played the exotic villainess, vamp or victim, when all she ever wanted was to play a modern American woman . . . . . . . Bucking the system, even going into exile, she tried to broaden the portrayal of ethnic Asians from the stereotype-ghetto of the Asian as "foreign" or "exotic" or "inscrutable" or "treacherous" into real human beings with real emotions the same as the audience.
For more info on Anna May Wong, click HERE
For info on her legacy, click HERE.

SHERIDAN PRASSO: Anna May Wong played either the submissive China Doll/Lotus Flower role or the converse, the Dragon Lady, until the day she died. She complained vociferously about that when was denied the lead role in The Good Earth, which would have given her a chance to play a more in-depth character. Asian women are cast either as one side of the dichotomy or the other. Anybody who deviates from that is just considered out of the ordinary, not a role model.

US ASIANS: Considering that Chinese females were treated as slaves from the 1850's, where they were sold between $100 to $500, to WWI (where they were sold to sums up to $7,000) and faced extreme racial prejudiced that was seen in great laws - could this "Asian Female Fetish" be an extension and/or desire to continue their perceived role as the "Slave Owner?"

SHERIDAN PRASSO: Well, the Asian Female Fetish is the result of thousands of years of East-West interaction, starting with the ancient Greeks, so it has many components and its reasons are multiple.

US ASIANS: Why are not stories such as Madame Ah Toy (from the 1870's - http://us_asians.tripod.com/timeline-1600.html#ah-toy ) told and/or not having a greater impact on the American and/or Asian Pacific American communities resulting from learning about the success of a person who progressed from being a prostitute to being the most successful courtesan in San Francisco that manipulated a system designed to enslave people such as herself? Wouldn't success stories such as this that occurred in the 1800s provide ample evidence that Asian/Asian Pacific Americans enjoyed tangible success and exerted great influence in their communities?

SHERIDAN PRASSO: Well, her story is available for those who want to seek it out. I have read about her, and included her in my book.

US ASIANS: Do you feel that different Asian women (i.e. Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Cambodian, etc.) have a different perception to Western males - especially since they are achieving greater financial independence and that advertisers in Asia don't feel that the inclusion of American/Western males don't have the same lure?

SHERIDAN PRASSO: I think that Western culture views "Asian" as primarily one monolithic culture, and confuses and interchanges the unique components of each culture. As such, it views Japanese and Vietnamese as interchangeable as we saw in the transplanting of the Madame Butterfly story onto the Vietnamese context in Miss Saigon, a role played by a Filipina. The Memoirs of a Geisha movie perpetuates this by imposing Chinese style (loose flowing kimono, long flowing hair, kung-fu type dance choreography, and not least the use of Chinese actors) onto Japanese culture. Americans can't tell the difference, and so it all gets mixed up into an image of "Asian women" in the usual all-look-same filter of Western culture.

  Continue this interview by clicking HERE

 
Read about Sheridan's many perspectives on the "Asian Mystique" by clicking on the below-listed links
Note: "AFM" = Asian Female Mystique About Sheridan Prasso Accurate Portrayals Activism
Anna May Wong "AFM" - Conditions & Reasons "AFM" - History "AFM" - The Existing Status
Asian Pacific American Communities Asian Stereotypes Affecting APAs Balanced Media Portrayals Blind-Casting (Mr. Hwang)
Blind-Casting Business Changes? Course of Action
Daring AM/WF Films Difference Between European & Asian Divide Dr. Wen Ho Lee Films with AM/WF Romances
Historical Anti-Asian Racism History Images are Powerful Interracial Marriage Facts
Media's Bad Choices Memoirs of a Geisha Michelle Yeoh Multiracial Attitudes
Politics Purpose Behind the Book Sheridan's Recommendations Stereotyped Asian Males
Valid Commentary? U.S.' "Crotch-Forward/Chest-Out" Attitude UCLA Syndrome Western Mentality
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