Orientalism and Western Feminism

There is a clear orientalist perspective in the way western culture views and others Asian and Middle Eastern women. For the most part, images of Asian and Middle Eastern women in western media and entertainment are within the context of sex or service. 

There are two main stereotypes of particularly eastern Asian women in western media, the China Doll/Geisha and the Dragon Lady. The China Doll or Geisha stereotypes are the view of eastern Asian women as sexual and “exotic” objects with the purpose of pleasuring men. This stereotype is based on male fantasy and has significantly contributed to the fetishization of Asian women in western culture. Popular examples of the China Doll or Geisha stereotype are Memoirs of a Geisha (2005), Miss Saigon (1989), and Full Metal Jacket (1987). Also perpetuating the fetishization and hypersexualization of Asian women, the Dragon Lady stereotype is the view of eastern Asian women as domineering, deceitful, and villainous, often shown as using sex as a weapon to trick and harm men. Popular examples of the Dragon Lady stereotype are Rush Hour 2 (2001), You Only Live Twice (1967), and perhaps most famously Alex Munday (Lucy Liu’s character) in Charlie’s Angels (2000).

This hypersexualized view of Asian women by western culture leads to discrimination and violence against Asian women, particularly in the United States. For example, the Atlanta spa shootings in March of 2021 where 8 people, 6 of whom were Asian women, were fatally shot by a white man whose actions, in his words, were caused by “sexual addiction”. These shootings were motivated by both race and gender. The gunman specifically targeted three Asian-owned spas and stated he was attempting to remove the “temptation” of “these places”.

This doesn’t just apply to western culture as a whole, western feminists often overlook Asian and Middle Eastern women in their activism. Western feminists often don’t include Asian and Middle Eastern women in their efforts, fight against stereotypes directed towards them, or recognize the different and intersectional experiences of Asian and Middle Eastern women. Additionally, western feminists often look down on Middle Eastern women for conforming to cultural or religious values. They view Middle Eastern women as people who need to be saved from their culture, specifically in regards to things like hijabs, without considering how Middle Eastern women actually feel about the cultural or religious practices that western feminists have deemed oppressive. 

Overall, the orientalist depiction of Asian and Middle Eastern women in western culture is extremely harmful, othering, and leads to exclusion, discrimination, and violence.

3 thoughts on “Orientalism and Western Feminism

  1. ariel m

    I really enjoyed reading this. I completely agree that women of Middle Eastern and Asian culture or descent are stereotyped and oversexualized. It’s such an important topic but I feel like it’s not talked about enough. Great job!


  2. Bella N.

    This is a very important point that needs to be talked about much more often and you did a very good job discussing it. I agree that feminism needs to become far more intersectional than it currently is and if your idea of feminism doesn’t extend to all women, it’s doing more harm than good.


  3. JOSIE H.

    Olivia, thank you for writing this important piece. The shooting in Atlanta and the racial biases specifically about the sexualization of Asian women need to be talked about. Feminism should be inclusive to all women.


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