Let's End the 'Undesirable Asian Male' Stereotype

Aaron Kwok poster

Verywell / Madelyn Goodnight

I grew up in a predominately Caucasian community. So the only Asian male figures in my life were my dad, uncles, and those in the media. I never had an Asian male teacher, and there were only a few Asian male students in my class. 

For most of my elementary school years, I watched Chinese shows, so my first celebrity crush was Aaron Kwok, the most attractive Heavenly King of Hong Kong. I remember hanging his poster up and thinking he was the perfect man. 

As I entered high school, I started watching more Hollywood movies and television shows. From "She’s All That," "Can’t Hardly Wait" to "Notting Hill," I was obsessed with '90s rom-coms. I would put myself in the female lead’s position, dream of getting that makeover, catching the attention of the hot guy, and living happily ever after. My dreams of marrying Aaron Kwok were replaced by the tall, dark, and handsome Prince Charming that popped on my screen every weekend.

A recent study that conducted an analysis of films over the past 25 years showed that Asian American male representation of stereotypes such as emasculate, timid, or nerdy are prevalent in the media. The study suggests that this type of misrepresentation in the media may influence how Asian American young adults interact in groups and negatively affect social and cognitive development.

This was also around the time when folks my age started dating. In school, the guys who got all the dates were typically tall, popular, athletic, and white. My Asian friends and I had secret crushes on them, always hoping they could see our olive faces in the crowd of tall, popular, and athletic white girls. 

The infatuation tapered down when I began university. I grew into my own and started teasing out the Western and Eastern influences in my life and what my priorities were as a Canadian-born Asian woman. Being surrounded by more Asian males, I realized we had a lot in common. From values, beliefs, and the conditions we grew up with, there was a lot that connected us aside from the shape of our eyes.

While most of my friends dated outside their race, I stuck to my own. In the media, I would see jokes being made about how women don’t find Asian men attractive since they’re not manly, suggesting their small frames would also mean smaller penises and stereotyping them as weak and unathletic. Asian women would casually mention how they view Asian men as their family members and don’t find them sexually desirable. 

A 2011 study showed that Asian males were perceived as “less attractive” and “less masculine” than white and Black males. Specifically, the more Asian-looking a man is, the less attractive he is perceived as compared to white males.

Unflattering physical attributes and physical ability distortions were perceived to be Asian male stereotypes as identified by Asian American males. Asian American male participants reported feelings of confusion about what an ideal body image looks like due to negative stereotypes and lack of diverse representation in American media.

Although these types of stereotypes infiltrated the movies and TV shows I was watching, I preferred to date Chinese men; I found it easier to connect on a cultural, mental, and emotional level. Despite what the media says, I’m physically attracted to Asian-looking men. My husband is visually pleasing in my eyes. 

However, that wasn’t what most people assumed about me. When they see a picture of my husband or meet him in person, they’re usually surprised. They thought I would be married to a white person.

According to the Pew Research Center, there is a rise in the number of Asian females marrying outside their race, compared to Asian males. Specifically, from 1980 to 2008, the percentage of Asian female newlyweds marrying outside their race increased from 37% to 40%. However, that number decreased from 25% to 20% for Asian male newlyweds. Specifically, Asian women marrying white men occurred more often than Asian men marrying White women. 

Although these figures may be true, the stereotype that all Asian women desire White men creates a detrimental belief that Asians are an inferior race as it assumes we desire to have our culture washed.

I don’t know how being exposed to these stereotypes affected my decision in choosing a life partner who is of the same ethnicity and culture as me.

Perhaps it is because my experiences of being stereotyped as an Asian female allowed me to be more cognizant of unfair conclusions being drawn about an individual and made me empathize with those in similar situations? 

Perhaps it is because my rebellious nature as the youngest child made me want to defy social expectations and break the mold?

Perhaps never being sought after by the popular boys and struggling to belong drew me closer to those who give me a sense of comfort and familiarity?

Or perhaps it was of a simple, tried-and-true concept called love?

Whatever it was, I love my husband for who he is, whether he fits some or none of those stereotypes. He can relate and resonate with my dual identity struggles. He understands how our parents show their love through food and the value of preserving certain traditions. He can seamlessly join in on my family’s conversations without having me translate. We share inside jokes about Chinese idioms and phrases that lose their meaning when translated to English. 

When they see a picture of my husband or meet him in person, they’re usually surprised. They thought I would be married to a white person.

The stereotype that Asian men are misogynistic and don’t treat women well isn’t true. My husband and I divide our household chores and share childcare duties fairly and equitably. 

In reality, Asian American men born in the U.S. have a more modern view of masculinity that is free of male dominance and values gender equality. Specifically, U.S.-born Asian men were the only group willing to do domestic tasks, suggesting that they would also be more likely to share household responsibilities and not view them as women’s work. 

When I gave birth to my son, I started thinking about his future and how Asian male stereotypes will shape him. He is growing up in a very different time than me. Fortunately, the current media has become more inclusive in its representation of Asian men.

Teenagers are screaming for BTS and other K-pop stars, mimicking their dance moves and bopping their heads to their insanely addicting tunes.

Increased access to global streaming services, better subtitles, and improved English voiceovers have allowed more people to swoon over international East Asian drama actors. 

Social media has provided an opportunity for Asian male artists and content creators to showcase to the world a diverse range of talents, skills, and personalities.  

Actors like Henry Golding, Simi Liu, Jimmy O. Yang, John Cho, Randall Park, and Steven Yeun are being offered leading roles that stretch their character’s range, slowly replacing the one-dimensional nerd, martial arts master, or token sidekick. 

Although the current trend fares better than my childhood, it doesn’t mean stereotypes don’t exist. It’s important to be aware and recognize when stereotypes are being made and acknowledge the damaging effects it has on others.

Seemingly harmless comments and jokes that are based on harmful assumptions can cause ripples in how an individual views their self-worth and ultimately, negatively affect an entire group of people.

For those who are being stereotyped, speak up, share your story, and don’t be afraid to present yourself authentically. As Asians, we are uniquely different, but we are standing together in solidarity as we proudly break down stereotypes and discrimination.

7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Wilkins CL, Chan JF, Kaiser CR. Racial stereotypes and interracial attraction: Phenotypic prototypicality and perceived attractiveness of Asians. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology. 2011;17(4):427-431. doi:10.1037/a0024733

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  5. Pew Research Center. Social & Demographic Trends Project. One-in-seven new U.S. Marriages is interracial or interethnic.

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By Katharine Chan, MSc, BSc, PMP
Katharine is the author of three books (How To Deal With Asian Parents, A Brutally Honest Dating Guide and A Straight Up Guide to a Happy and Healthy Marriage) and the creator of 60 Feelings To Feel: A Journal To Identify Your Emotions. She has over 15 years of experience working in British Columbia's healthcare system.