The Un-Manly Man: How Media and Film De-Sexualize Asian American Men

Melody Erhuy (Originally posted on: 02/21/2013).

Racialized sexuality, where one’s sexual appeal solely relies on their ethnicity, is an unethical representation of manhood for some races who are not portrayed as manly as others. In Celine Shimizu’s book “Straightjacket Sexualities”, the author discusses how American film and media culture has racially unsexualized the Asian American male – castrated of his manhood because of his ethnic makeup. The unsexed hero, Asian American males are often portrayed as less manly to their Caucasian counterparts, namely because of their generally shorter height, softer features, and more fragile frame. The lack of muscular builds and defined attributes has de-sexualized Asian American men, moreover, as more ‘manly’ cues are frequently utilized in cinema to have the male actor exude a sense of attractiveness. “For Asian American men deprived of the romantic hero role in representation, the forming of subjectivity […] becomes an important goal in terms of what kind of manhood they can form.” (163) Shimizu discusses how subjective sexuality is the Asian American male’s saving grace – with a subjective standpoint, the film favorite brood male is not always the obvious champion. Subjectiveness can create a difference in opinions as one blanket ideal is not accepted as true. Therefore, the Asian American male could be viewed the just as attractive as his Caucasian counterparts, or perhaps even more so. Subjectiveness becomes power, yet it is not that powerful of a medium to shift the perceptions portrayed by American film and media. An Asian American man, moreover, who is shown sexually with a Caucasian woman is even more bizarre to see in American cinema, as Shimizu discusses. This interrelation shows a shifting of powers that can make a viewer, who is accustomed to seeing Caucasian sexuality, surprised or uncomfortable. Yet, here subjectivity can still make a difference, even if that difference can be small or large. I thought Shimizu’s discussion on subjectivity on the de-sexualization of Asian American men was an interesting sub-argument to combat American film and media, and gives Asian American men hope in finding sexual solace in the minds of viewers who are more aware of their personal perceptions versus the ideals brought forth by cinematic culture.

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