When I was in a relationship, I remember thinking how hard it would be to have to start all over again. The dating world seemed so large, dangerous, and full of pitfalls that were just waiting to swallow you up and spit you out.
Eventually that relationship ended, and after I finished the obligatory mourning period, I decided to see what the big bad world of Tinder and dating profiles had in store. It was more or less what I expected, except for the fact that I kept wondering if my race played a role in the number of matches I was getting.
I’d like to acknowledge that I come at this from the perspective of a conventionally ‘attractive’, straight, Chinese woman, who doesn’t speak accented English. I’m also quite open about my sexual experiences, and what I like and don’t like in bed. I have no doubt that there are many other factors that might influence the chances of one person wanting to strike up a conversation with another, but it is not my place to speak on behalf of anyone else. These are purely my personal experiences.
I’ve talked and written a fair amount about racism in Australia – especially casual racism. It only seems natural, seeing as though it’s been something I’ve been dealing with for basically my entire life. And yet, the term ‘sexual racism’ has only recently entered my vocabulary – though I’m sure I’ve known about the phenomenon for quite a bit longer, even if I didn’t have the right terminology to explain it.
I’ve always had a niggling feeling that my race has played a part in men thinking I’m ‘hot’, and that includes assuming that I’ll perform a certain way in bed. Sexual racism doesn’t necessarily have to involve the act of sex, but more often than not, getting into someone’s pants seems to be the end goal.
This niggling feeling has been backed up by cold, hard facts. OkCupid used data from 25 million accounts that were active between 2009 and 2014 to show that women preferred men of their own race but were more likely to discount Asian and black men, and that all men, except those of Latino background, preferred Asian women over their own race.
In Australia, Denton Callandar, from the Kirby Institute at the University of New South Wales, has conducted research that has garnered similar results. From a survey of 2000 Australian men, Callandar found that white people rated as more attractive overall, with Asians, Indians, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders rounding out the lower rankings.
Asian women are fetishised, thanks to a Western media machine that continually perpetuates the idea of mail order brides, Asian prostitutes, and in a broader sense, the ‘exotic’ Asian woman. We are expected to behave in particular ways, and from what I’ve seen and experienced, there are two stereotypes when it comes to Asian women. We are either weak and submissive, or we are out to get you, seduce you, and rob you for everything you’ve got. There’s no space for us to just be human – we are seen and judged by our race, rather than our merits as human beings.
On top of this, sexual racism isn’t just confined to Western societies. Many Asian societies, especially those that have been colonised, may hold beliefs that privilege white people over those of their own, or other races. Racial bias and sexual racism, then, can be intergenerational – and it takes time to reverse this type of mindset. I don’t want to cast blame on any one person, or group of people. I just want more people to know that this type of thinking exists, and that it isn’t a funny quirk, or something to joke about with your friends.
The reality is that I never know if a guy has swiped right on Tinder because he has read my bio and is genuinely interested because of what I’ve written, or because he’s seen an Asian girl and lights have either consciously or unconsciously gone off in his head. The fact that I even have these thoughts in the first place is indicative of how insidious sexual racism has become.
I have no doubt that the rising popularity of dating apps and websites – of places that allow people to judge one another based purely on appearance – has brought more of this unconscious sexual racism to the fore.
I think programs like Date My Race, which look at tackling sexual racism in Australia in a very real and honest way, is a good place to start. It shows that sexual racism is prevalent throughout Australia, and can affect everyone, no matter your race.
I feel like we’re still in the very early stages of teasing out the intricacies and nuances of sexual racism. And I know that I, too, have biases. I’m trying to work on them, and I know it’s hard. I’m not expecting everyone to turn around and change their ways of thinking overnight. I’m just hoping that people will become more aware of these kinds of thoughts, and to think about ways in which they can challenge them.
And maybe, one day, if I’m still using dating websites or dating apps, I won’t have to wonder if someone has swiped right on me just because I’m Asian.