We are not alone. God, sometimes you might wish you were, though.
Once upon a time, in an unaffordable de-facto-feudal-wealth-disparity kingdom called Auckland, there lived a princess who always made a beeline to any clearance section, waiting for her prince to rescue her.
This is no kingdom, this is the place where men yell out “Hey sexy! Do you love me long time?” and touch you without your consent. In other words, this is the place where people are treated as outsiders and if there’s attention to you, it means someone wants something from you. The day I met a potential ‘sugardaddy’ was no exception…
It was my second year of university, in Warehouse Metro. I didn’t realise it straight away, but I realised I was being followed by a man who was touching everything I had touched in the store. He was a tall man in his 30s, wearing a distinctive vintage suit and rounded tortoiseshell glasses. Speaking in a slight Australian accent, he asked me about my interests, using that to segue into saying, “you have such an exotic Asian look”.
Sirens were going off in my head, for the only other time I had seen those words together was in how older men talked about their ‘mail order’ brides, or as a porn category. So, I did what any sensible lady would do, lap up the attention and see where this could go, so I could mock this guy later.
“Come on, a beautiful, exotic Asian lady like you shouldn’t have to save her pennies and shop in a place like this. I am part of a social enterprise where I want to make sure that a woman like you would never have to worry about money. You would be financially independent, and money would never be a problem for you.”
And with that, the bespectacled Frog Prince transformed into an amalgamation of the 90 Day Fiancé bachelors with a saviour complex. Was this the mysterious sugar daddy that people wistfully dream of? What the Frog Prince didn’t know is that part of what makes me ‘exotic’, being Filipina, is that I am descended from a kingdom. An ancient one at least, who fought off conquistadors and were sea-faring mercenaries. And a cardinal rule of being an ‘exotic Filipina’ is growing up with street smarts.
As Frog Prince kept asking me for my phone number, I asked, “So, if you have a business, what’s the business name and website? Any legitimate social enterprise would have these.”
“Uh….uhhh…hhip? Yes! Uh…hip.com.au”
And he tried to play it off, saying, “Getting a phone number is the website of the 21st Century! It’s ok!”
I suppose being racially fetishised in addition to being shamed for getting coathangers did it for me, so at that point, I decided to close my investigation of sorts, reporting Frog Prince to security, causing him to hop off. Clearly, exotic didn’t mean assertive, unique and spirited, but more like attractive and passive. Did I just pass up an opportunity to be able to have a Louis Vuitton Alma and never have to deal with Studylink’s music streaming service ever again?
The answer would come to me in my YouTube recommendations of a young woman with the username Katrena, talking about a close call of experiences human trafficking. Typical warning signs included being approached based on physical appearance with a business offer to a phony business, with scouts always demanding information with little transparency from their side.
This kind of sexual proposition is not unique to me. Asian women in particular are portrayed as passive, naïve and sexually available. This is a tale which has existed since colonialism, with Asian cultures looked upon as promiscuous compared to more repressive Christian states. This has evolved into the Dragon Lady trope, something reluctantly embodied by Hollywood’s first Asian star, Anna May Wong. This manipulative sexual temptress stereotype forced upon Wong nearly 100 years ago directly influenced the views of sex tourism and Asian portrayals in pornography today.
This treatment of Asian women extends into violent treatment of Asian women as sexual objects and racial violence, as we have seen with the tragedy of the Atlanta shooting and the stigma and victim-blaming of Asian migrant sex workers. To have awareness is to have power of those who may exploit you, or at least a sense of street smarts and decolonising knowledge.
The first time I had seen a Southeast Asian woman in Western Cinema was the sex worker in Full Metal Jacket, with the infamous line, “love you long time”. But with this scene and in making your way around the city dealing with creeps, remember the song in the background as Nancy Sinatra sings, “one of these days, these boots are gonna walk all over you…”