Strategies for young Asian women who want to avoid the traps set by American stereotypes.

by Annie Cheung


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Survival Guide for Asian American Women

hat are you complaining about? You Asian women are supposed to be the smart, successful exotic beauties that all the men are lusting after. What more do you want?"

     That's the reaction I typically got when I used to gripe about the problems of being an Asian woman in America.

     Sad, isn't it, that even fellow Asian Americans believe that we're flattered by our stereotypes? Most Asian American women I know don't like being seen as eager to abandon their heritages and embrace anything western, be it beauty standards, culture or men.

     Asian American woman with secure identities would be delighted to trade the supposedly advantageous stereotypes for:
  • having non-Asian men stop approaching us as though we're on the prowl for a sexual partner.
  • having non-Asian women understand that we aren't out to seduce their boyfriends or husbands.
  • having Asian men understand that they comprise our preferred pool of dating and marriage prospects.
  • having everyone understand that we love our Asian faces and cultures and haven't the least interest in trying to pass ourselves off as anything less.

     If the Federal Trade Commission established a Don't-Stereotype Registry like the Don't-Call Registry, mine would be the first name on it.


     Unfortunately, there is no such registry. So AA women like me face a lonely struggle that begins in our teens and continues into our thirties and forties. What are we struggling for? To be seen for what we are, not for what some people fantasize about or fear or suspect. Ironically, it's the most secure Asian American women who suffer the most angst in our youth as we struggle against insidious social pressures to doubt our own beauty, cultural values and men.

     What's wrong with just taking the easy road and accepting the role insinuated on us? Sadly, some Asian women do just that. They learn too late that it takes them ever farther from family, other Asians and, ultimately, their own self-respect. It's the easy road down to second-class status.

     That's why I'm writing this Survival Guide. For most of my teens, twenties and early thirties I struggled with the pressures that American society brings to bear on Asian women, especially the most ambitious and talented ones who aspire to success in the mainstream business world. We are the ones who face the brunt of American preconceptions in predominantly non-Asian settings. I was constantly whipsawed between a barrage of unwanted attention from presumptuous non-Asian men and the hostility of women threatened not by my actions but by the stereotypes in their heads. The blow that almost finished me off was the baffling distance maintained by Asian men who, it turned out, had trouble believing that I wasn't one of those creatures with weak, media-based self images.

     So, for all you proud young Asian American women, here are the coping strategies I developed to make myself properly known to all the right -- and wrong -- people. PAGE 2

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"They learn too late that it takes them ever farther from family, other Asians and, ultimately, their own self-respect."