Equal Opportunity Objectification

One of my friends is really into Korean and Japanese culture. She likes to joke she’s going to marry an Asian pretty-boy and have a trophy husband. Recently she asked me for recommendations on romance novels featuring Asian heroes.

It was pretty sad I couldn’t think of any.

There’s been more chatter of late about the lack of racial diversity in romance. We’re starting to see more m/m stories, it seems, and a major publisher even released a f/f story in January. But when it comes to differing racial ethnicities, the go-tos are black or Latino. Not Asian.

Growing up in Seattle, I’d always thought our Asian population was large. Turns out it only makes up around 14% of the total population (according to the most recent census data). Of all the major cities on the West Coast, Seattle ranks second, with San Fransisco taking first place at 17%.

So maybe there aren’t as many of them as I thought there were. But they’ve still managed to exert influence over our city’s culture and surrounding environs (well, Americanized versions of it, anyway), so to my thinking, there’s got to be more romance readers out there like her, right?

(Warning: Objectification ahead.)

Now, the BF is as white-boy as they come, and I love him. That doesn’t stop me from finding, and appreciating, other people beautiful. There are some truly beautiful Asian men out there, and I’ve been drooling over them for years.

I’ve raved about Andy Lau’s amazing cheekbones in the past. He really does have the most incredible bone structure. Add that to him being 53 and looking fifteen years younger and you have some serious yumminess going on.

Takeshi Kaneshiro’s another favorite (and he’s worked with Lau in several movies, which makes me super happy that I can get a double dose of hotness in one go). This is an older picture, but that mouth? Damn.

Before Netflix lost the contract, I was slowly making my way through MI-5 (aka Spooks), a popular show originally from the BBC. Detailing the inner workings of, you guessed it, MI-5, the cast changed every couple of seasons. I managed to finish season 4 before the show was dropped, and that was the season Raza Jaffrey was introduced. And he wears a suit just fine.

Fans of Lost and Hawaii 5-0 are familiar with Korean-American actor Daniel Dae Kim, but in case you’re not, here you go. I wouldn’t kick him out of bed for eating crackers, that’s for sure.

If you prefer your men bearded, there’s Tadanobu Asano (oh, and yes, he was in the Thor movies).

Prefer athletes? Have a look at Japanese footballer Hidetoshi Nakata. When he’s not on the pitch, you might catch him on the runway for the likes of Armani.

Have a secret love of Bollywood films you’re certain no one will understand? Trust me, one look at Vidyut Jamwal and we will.

There are more. A lot more. Ordinary and celebrity alike, these men are absolutely worthy of our shallow objectification. I want these men as leading men. Hollywood’s sort of starting to catch up – fans of The Walking Dead are well acquainted with Steven Yeun, and while a recent network show starring the adorkable John Cho tried, and failed, to find an audience with Cho as a romantic lead, I give them props for trying. I wish they’d done it sooner, but hey, they tried, and I hope they’ll try again.

When securing funding for his fantastic movie Better Luck Tomorrow, director Justin Lin was asked to change the cast from Asian to something else. Anything else. Just not Asian. The plot, centering around a group of overachieving Asian high-school boys, played into certain stereotypes people, specifically white people, have about Asians. He refused. His point? Yes, it does play to stereotypes, but they are not limited to Asian and Asian-American teenagers. Teens of all races would be able to identify with the themes. And he’s right – I knew plenty of overachieving white teens in high school. Some of them were downright scary.

One of the more recent conversations about racial diversity in romance had to do with authors being afraid to create a character who happened to be a person of color. There’s a legitimacy to that fear, at least for me. Sure, there are cultural differences, but I don’t know where to look. Do Asian men not date white women for a reason? Are there proclivities I’d need to be aware of to create an authentic person of color? How much do you need to include to avoid readers seeing it as you just slapped the label Japanese American on there to make it diverse?

How the hell do you research something like this? That’s my question. How do you approach someone without offending them to ask about their dating preferences? Am I creating a HEA or a HFN? If I throw in a meet-the-parents scene, are their differences between Asian-American parents and parents from the old country? When it comes to the bedroom, are they like any other male, with quirks and kinks and desires, or does their cultural upbringing repress those?

A quick google search doesn’t turn up much, and what it does turn up is overwhelmingly negative. We’ve emasculated these men throughout history, and it seems that it’s just now that we’re trying to undo some of that damage. It will take time, as Ranier Maningding points out (and his blog, though it hasn’t been updated in several months, was one of the few I found that provided some thoughtful, concise suppositions on interracial dating and the Asian man in particular.)

We’ve seen how slow society is to accept change. Me wishing for romance covers with hot Filipino men, abs bared, water dripping over all that luscious skin, isn’t going to make it so. Romance authors shouldn’t let the fear hold them back, either. We’re only going to attain that desired diversity by creating it. It’s a process of trial and error, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see more error than not. We shouldn’t let this conversation die while we figure it out. Go ahead, make your hero Chinese. Make him Thai. Sometimes you might succeed. Sometimes you might fail. But letting the criticism prevent you from going forward with your next multicultural romance is only a detriment to the genre. You’ll learn. We all will.

As for me, somehow, I’ll figure out how to get past this research roadblock and find the answers I need to create a hero I can be proud of. And if it means I end up looking at lots of lovely men in the process, well, I’m not about to complain.

5 thoughts on “Equal Opportunity Objectification

  1. I’m working on this, I swear. It’s becoming the focus of my fiction, but I’m a very slow writer. Also, not a popular one.

    As with taking any risks, mistakes are going to be made. I wrote a blog post about how I’ll probably be embarrassed by some cultural mix-ups in the future. But the solution shouldn’t be giving up. Just accepting the fact that you’ll have to humbly ask for forgiveness sometimes.

    1. It’s an ongoing process! I would hope that if/when mistakes are caught, it’s used as a way to educate, rather than berate, because otherwise, how will we learn for the future?

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