by GRACE ALTENHOFEN
When one thinks of college life, it’s impossible to ignore one of the most ubiquitous aspects: the dating scene. However, negative stereotypes against different groups of people make navigating a dating life more difficult for some than others. One of the groups most affected by this: Asian-American men.
For sophomore Will Tsai, negative stereotypes surrounding Asian-American men became more apparent as he got older.
“I don’t think I consciously thought about it when I was in middle school or high school,” Tsai said. “Towards the end of high school I really started to be aware of it.”
Having grown up in a more open-minded community, the biases against him became more apparent when he moved to college.
“If someone told me ‘You’re just not my type’ or something like that, I never thought it was because I was Asian, I thought more like because it’s who I am. But I grew up in a pretty progressive, liberal place,” Tsai said. “Coming to Des Moines, people have been like ‘Oh yeah, Asians aren’t my type’, ‘I don’t date Asians’ type of deal, and that’s a little frustrating.”
Tsai partially attributes this to lower levels of diversity at Drake.
“In high school, I was surrounded by a lot more Asians, and it was kind of natural,” Tsai said. “If someone was like ‘Oh, you’re not my type’ I never assumed ‘Asian’, but people have explicitly said ‘Because you’re Asian, you’re not my type’ type of deal more so in college.”
Sophomore Anush Jain has faced similar rejection as a result of negative perceptions of Indian-American men.
“There have definitely been times I got shot down just because I was Indian,” Jain said. “I feel like most people like me to the friend extent, but when it goes to that relationship part…you can’t blame everyone as well, because when you have a boyfriend or husband or any significant other, the first thing you think about is ‘How will my family react to this? How will society react to this?’”
Tsai and Jain are not alone in their experiences: University of California Irvine Assistant Professor Cynthia Feliciano conducted research in the early 2000’s analyzing data from users of the Yahoo!Personals dating site and found that over 90 percent of non-Asian women would not consider dating an Asian man.
“Just because I’m my own individual, I’m pretty loud, I’m pretty outgoing, if you don’t like me for who I am that’s completely alright, but if you don’t like me because of my skin color, that kind of frustrates me,” Tsai said. “That’s not fair justification in my opinion.”
Societal views of interracial relationships could also play a role, research suggests. In a 2015 American Community Survey, 36 percent of Asian women reported being married to someone of another race, compared to only 21 percent of Asian men.
“I definitely have received stereotypes, I mean, that’s just like a given every now and then,” Jain said. “If I’m with one of my friends who’s a girl and we’re out, maybe we went to catch dinner or something like that, there’s always going to be those eyes, like ‘Oh, that’s something you don’t see’, especially in Iowa.”
Interracial relationships–and Asian-American men as potential partners–continue to go unnoticed in part because media and pop culture chooses to exclude them. In a 2017 study ‘Tokens on the Small Screen’, researchers found that out of 242 shows on cable, broadcast and streaming television, only about one third included an Asian-American or Pacific Islander character.
“Asian people as a whole are not represented well in entertainment, so as a result that kind of, it’s not really territory that’s been worked on in Hollywood,” Drake junior Luc Pham said. “People’s perceptions of the world around them are all about what they see on screen, so when something isn’t on screen, people don’t know anything about it and are afraid of it.”
When Asian-American men are given screen time, according to Pham, the roles they are given tend to exacerbate negative stereotypes.
“So like if you look at ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’, Mickey Rooney’s character is this perverted old [man] who in that movie is played by a white man. That does bad things for the culture,” Pham said. “It’s a rom-com and he’s sort of like an antagonist, if there’s one negative take away from that movie, it’s that character, it’s that Asian man. And there’s not a lot of Asian men at least in American entertainment as is, so when that’s one of the only examples of Asian men in media, that’s what people think of.”
Pham believes the stereotypical roles Asian-American men are confined to in media contribute to society’s view of them as being unfit romantic partners.
“Same with caricaturing gas station attendants, convenience store clerks tend to be South Pacific Asian or Indian American or Pakistani, they’re never the leads or the romantic love interests,” Pham said. “It’s a tertiary character or the person on the side, just irrelevant. Because Asian men are not really put at being romantic or being the object of affection in fictional works, in movies or TV, it’s hard for the public to kind of feel that way or feel okay thinking Asian men are worthy of romance.”
Tsai agrees that the dating lives of Asian-American men are often damaged by inaccurate portrayals in media.
“Media does a lot of damage to Asian men and I feel that there are repercussions because of that in regards to dating life specifically,” Tsai said. “Girls don’t necessarily want to date a very comedic type of guy, like the butt of all jokes and a very emasculated person, and that’s a big stereotype a lot of people have.”
Though there is no quick-fix for the issue of Asian-American representation in media, Pham believes acknowledging personal biases is an important first step in helping to minimize negative stereotypes.
“For everyday people, kind of trying to think about what your biases are when thinking about other people,” Pham said. “If you’re a person in a position of authority or with a platform to speak on, pass the mic. Let people whose stories aren’t normally told tell their stories and educate everyone on the plight of other people and just try to broaden people’s horizons. In doing so, we’ll alienate far less people and maybe people will be less racist in their assumptions of different fellow humans.”
According to Jain, it’s also important to remember that people have as many similarities as they do differences.
“I think it really just boils down to exposing yourself to new things and getting out of your comfort zone, actually learning about other people’s cultures,” Jain said. “Just seeing the Indian culture and American culture, I can list out ten million differences, but I can also give you ten million similarities. We choose to look at the differences a lot more than we tend to look at these similarities and bond over them.”