Feminization of Asian (American) Men in US Society
and the Mass Media:
An Analysis of The Ballad of Little Jo
Chiung Hwang Chen
School of Journalism and Mass Communication
University of Iowa
290 Hawkeye Ct. Iowa City, IA 52246
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AEJMC Conference Paper
Division of Minorities & Communication
April 1, 1996
Asian men have been feminized in the American media and society.
Based on arguments about racism, sexism, and Orientalism, this paper examines
the process of feminization of Asian men. Although American society and the
mass media these days rarely connect the Asian male to old stereotypes, Asian
men are still presented as feminine to the extent that they are silent and
obedient. An analysis of a film, The Ballad of Little Jo, is also included to
serve as an illustration of such feminization.
Feminization of Asian (American) Men in US Society
and the Mass Media:
An Analysis of The Ballad of Little Jo
In his article, "Beyond Bruce Lee," Shawn Wong (1993) describes a
teaching experiences in which he talked about the image of Asian American males.
He asked his female students for their opinions about having Asian American men
as lovers or dates. The feedback he got was that they were "nerdy, wishy-washy,
[and] domineering mama's boy[s]" because, compared to white men, they seem not
to be strong, independent, or masculine enough. In other words, to borrow
Wong's phrase, they are not "the Marlboro Man" (p. 64). In fact, portrayals of
Asian men have long been distorted and relied on stereotypes in both the media
and American society. Some research, although very limited, has been done on
the image of Asian men as corrupt and addicted to opium, as a dangerous yellow
peril, as the cunning Dr. Fu Manchu, and as Kung Fu fanatics like Bruce Lee.
However, little attention has been paid to the feminized stereotypes of Asian
This paper examines how the American media and public policies have
effected images of feminized Asian (American) men. I will first explore
racist, sexist, and Orientalist discourses. These come together to feminize
Asian men. Then I will analyze The Ballad of Little Jo (1993), a film about a
white female who reversed her gender in the frontier West and her secret romance
with a Chinese man. The narrative of the film illustrates the process of the
feminization of Asian men.
Weaving Racism, Sexism, and Orientalism: Feminization of Asian
The origin of the feminized image of Asian men in both American
society and the mass media can be traced to the nineteenth century. Two factors
contributed to this image: the physical appearance of Asian men and the work in
which they were engaged (Dicker, 1979; Mark and Chin, 1992; Goellnicht, 1992;
Lim, 1994). Beginning in the late 1840s, Chinese laborers were shipped as
laborers to the United States as the earliest Asian immigrants in this country.
Afraid of losing their national identity and later of being identified with
revolutionaries in China (Kingston, 1980), most Chinese immigrants refused to
give up their traditional customs and long queues. These "strangers from a
different shore" wore what sociologist Robert E. Park calls a "racial uniform,"
and were physically distinguishable from majority European immigrants (Takaki,
1989, p. 13). Because of this, they were largely viewed as human oddities in
the minds of whites. Hubert Howe Bancroft observed:
. . . [T]he fresh-imported and cleanly
scraped Chinaman, with his half-shaven head, his long
braided queue, his oblique almond eyes, his catgut voice,
his plain blue frock, or if a man of consequence, arrayed
in a flashy silk tunic. . . . [He] stand[s] before me
now, a mixture of the child, the slave, and the sphinx"
(Wong, 1978, p. vi).
Chinese males' "long braided queue," "oblique almond eyes," "catgut
voice," "flashy silk tunic" along with their short and slim figures were
characterized not only as novel but also as feminine by whites.
More importantly, the work that early Asian male immigrants engaged
in helped to construct their feminized image in the United States. These
"veritable god-send" immigrants (as white employers saw them) worked with whites
initially as gold miners and later railroad construction workers. The
subsequent decline of gold production and the completion of the Central Pacific
Railroad left hundreds of white and Asian laborers unemployed. They flooded
into western towns looking for jobs. At the same time, American society was
experiencing a period of economic depression. Plummeting stock markets, drought
in California, and economic depression motivated labor unions to fight for white
workers exploited by monopolies and other capitalist businesses. When white
workers struck and demanded higher pay, capitalists turned to cheaper Chinese
laborers. White workers accused the "heathen Chinee" of taking their jobs and
thus stirred up anti-Chinese sentiment. Although Chinese workers constituted
only .002 percent of the US population, this movement to protect white laborers'
rights made foreign laborers the objects of blame. In order to "defuse an issue
agitating white workers [and] to alleviate class tensions within white society"
(Takaki, 1989, p. 111), exclusionists in Congress supported the call that
"the-Chinese-must-go" and passed exclusionary legislation and laws limiting
aliens' occupations. Chinese men were turned away from factory production and
occupations in which they competed against whites, and thereby were forced into
occupations devalued by Euro-American men. Chinese men became restricted to
service positions such as cooks, waiters, dishwashers, and laundrymen.
According to Takaki (1989), one out of four employed Chinese males in the United
States in 1900 was a laundryman. They engaged in work traditionally perceived
as women's work; such jobs were available because of the paucity of women in
western states (Wong, 1978; Dicker, 1979; Oehling, 1980; Takaki, 1989; Mark and
Chin, 1992; Lim, 1994).
Images found in contemporary cartoons and pictures of Asian
Americans support this argument. Dicker (1979, p. 34) presents a cartoon from
the Wild West in which two Chinese laundrymen are caricatured as females,
dressed in gowns and with their queues prominently displayed, ironing and
mending (Figure 1). Another cartoon, entitled "Helena's Correct Standards of
Living" (Mark and Chin, 1993, p. 39), similarly shows two long-haired Chinese
men serving as cooks and "maids" at white people's dinner table (Figure 2).
Such feminized portrayals of the Chinese male are also found in such
commercial products as song sheet covers (Mark and Chih, 1993, p. 30). In this
case, the Chinese male is not only feminized, but also infantilized. Dressed in
a feminine gown and with hands demurely clasped, he is seen bowing in a
submissive posture. His slanted eyes are set in a chubby childish face above an
empty grin (Figure 3). In interpreting this picture, Lim (1994) argues that
like women, feminized Asian men are perceived to be incapable of achieving the
powers and positions of adulthood.
Not only mass culture, but also public policies, feminized Asian
males. In 1882, along with lunatics, idiots, and criminals, Chinese were the
first immigrants to be suspended by federal law from entry into the United
States. In 1884, the law was clarified to ensure that the wives of Asian
laborers would also be denied entrance to the United States. At the same time,
in order to preserve "white supremacy" and "racial purity," anti-miscegenation
laws prohibited Asian men from marrying white women. Such intermarriage was
punished in some states as a "gross misdemeanor" or "infamous crime;" Asian
husbands were subjected to severe fines ($500 in Nevada, for example) or up to
ten years' imprisonment in Maryland (Kim, 1982). Any American woman who married
an Asian man, according to the Cable Act of 1922, "cease[d] to be a citizen of
the United States" (quoted in Takaki, 1989, p. 15); Asian men were denied
naturalization regardless of length of residency in the United States. The
"victimized" (as American society saw it) white females could regain their
citizenship only if they divorced their Asian husbands (Wong, 1978). These
laws, in effect, made the Chinese community a bachelor society and condemned
Asian males in the United States to a life of bachelorhood. In other words,
these laws deprived heterosexual Asian American males of sexual expression and
potential fatherhood (Wang, 1988; Lim, 1994). Ironically, in preventing
interracial marriage, dominant white males had both made and broken the law.
They transgressed interracial sexual prohibitions with relative impunity, while
demanding that white females adhere rigidly to the prohibitions (Sickels, 1972).
Parallel to these public policies, the Motion Picture Production
Code was adopted in February 1930 to "protect moral values" of the film
industry. The Code stated that miscegenation in movies was undesirable, thereby
"building a color barrier in Hollywood's dream worlds as rigid as the color line
in America's real world" (Miller, 1980, p. 3). The Code represented an
assimilationist ideal for white ethnic groups and a segregationist ideal for the
"colored folks." Miller writes that long after the Code's demise, the fear of
miscegenation of white and colored races continued to influence the content of
In analyzing American films produced prior to the end of the Vietnam
War, Eugene Wong (1978) does find a few instances of white-Asian relationships,
however. He argues that a system of "double standardized miscegenation" was
transplanted into American popular culture and functioned to directly oppose the
sexuality of Asian males. According to Wong, the American mass media portrayed
three images of interracial sex between Asians and whites:
1. Interracial sex was allowed if the partners, both as actors and
screen characters, were a white male and an Asian female.
2. The media prohibited any depiction of interracial sex between an
actual Asian male actor and a white female actress.
3. It permitted interracial sex to be shown on screen so long as the
Asian male character was in fact a white man in cosmetics.
To emphasize the supremacy and masculine qualities of white males
and to forbid sexual relations of Asian males and white females, Asian males
have often been portrayed in the American mass media as either dangerous rapists
or eunuchs. As Wong (1978) points out, in romantic potential Asian male
characters are essentially feminized; in sexual potential their characters are
depicted primarily as rapists. The Old San Francisco (1927), for example,
portrays an Asian man's intentions to seduce and rape a young white woman from
California's Spanish-American aristocracy. In contrast to the portrayal of
Asian males on screen, white males are generally masculine and romantic and
attract both white and Asian female passion. Madame Butterfly (1915 and 1932)
probably is one of the best-known examples of this kind.
The feminization of the Asian male in US popular culture
demonstrates the intersection of race and gender discourses. The Asian male
immigrant was racially stereotyped in ways that placed him within a subservient
or dependent gender category.
Maxine Hong Kingston's China Men (1980) describes the feminization
or emasculation of the Asian male on entry into US culture. In the beginning
chapter, "On Discovery," Tang Ao, a Chinese man, enters a new world with the
assurance of his male identity. By a gradual process, a form of
de-masculinization (by eating women's food) or cross-gender acculturation (by
having his ears pierced, wearing women's clothes and threatening of sewing his
lips together--to make him silent), he is stripped of male power and is
transformed into a serving woman. The land of "Gold Mountain," "the country
with no women" (Hong, 1980, p. 54) where Asian men came for fame and fortune, at
the end turned them into "women." China Men indicates an allegorical portrayal
of the disempowerment of the Asian immigrant in US society. In this story,
becoming a women means to be disempowered, to be made subservient (Goellnicht,
1992; Lim, 1994).
Similarly, Etienne Balibar (1991) argues that sexism and racism
. . . historical system[s] of
complementary exclusions and dominations which are
mutually interconnected. In other words, it is not in
practice simply the case that an 'ethnic racism' and a
'sexual racism' exist in parallel; racism and sexism
function together and in particular, racism always
presupposes sexism (p. 49) [emphasis in original].
In interpreting China Men, Lim (1994) points out that Kingston uses
sexism (the oppression of gender roles that position the woman as inferior and
subservient) as a trope for racism (the oppression of racial roles that position
Asians as inferior and subservient) to illustrate the social condition of Asian
men in the United States. Alfred Wang (1988) writes, "No other racial groups
have been subjected to worse legalized personal, collective, and sexual
deprivation than the Chinese male immigrants between 1868 . . . and 1952" (p.
18). Kingston describes in China Men how the "Ruling Fathers" (dominant white
males) reserved positions of power while forcing Asian men into feminine subject
positions of inferiority. Lim (1994) asserts that Kingston "disarticulates
gender roles from biological essentialism, and underlines the notion that gender
is a cultural and political construct, not an innate biological quality" (p.
100). In the position of servitude, without the legislative power of the
citizen, the Asian male immigrant has historically been symbolically gendered as
In his influential book, Orientalism, Said (1994) supports this
argument, claiming that "the relationship between Occident and Orient is a
relationship of power, of domination, of varying degrees of a complex hegemony .
. ." (p. 5). The Orient is characterized by the West as feminine because it is
"depraved," "lacking control," "degenerate," "weak," "silent," "passive,"
"submissive," and an "object" to watch and examine. To the Western male mind,
the "non-active" and "non-autonomous" Orientals, like women, "never spoke of
[themselves], [they] never represented [their] emotions, presence, or history"
(p. 6). The Asian man is "first Oriental [with female attributes] and only
second a man" (p. 231). In Karl Marx's words, "'They cannot represent
themselves;'" therefore, "'they must be represented'" (quoted in Said, 1994, p.
293), presumably by the West. With its assumed essentialism, this feminine
characteristic of Asian men, in the dominant paradigm, is not subject to change.
As American-born Asian males, Chin and his colleagues (1974)
complain that they are stereotyped as "womanly" and "effeminate" in the American
society. They argue, "White America is . . . securely indifferent about us as
men," and that Asian American men have become "the white male's dream minority .
. . patient, submissive, esthetic, passive, accommodating, essentially feminine
in character" (Kim, 1982, p. 179). This group of Asian American male writers
also point out that they are seen, in both reality and stereotype, as
"characteristically timid and docile" and are denied of "traditionally masculine
qualities of originality, daring, physical courage, and creativity" by American
society (Chin and Chan, 1972, p. 68, 69). In white Americans' minds, Asian men,
"at their best, are effeminate closet queens like Charlie Chan and, at their
worst, are homosexual menaces like Fu Manchu" (Chan, et. al., 1991, p. xiii).
These writers view the Asian American experience as unique from that
of other racial minorities in the United States because of white racist attempts
to exclude Asian Americans not only from American culture and society, but also
from "the realm of manliness." They assert that reaffirmation of Asian American
cultural integrity necessarily requires the assertion of a "recognized style of
Asian American manhood in a society where a manly style is prerequisite to
respectability and note" (Chin and Chan, 1972, p. 72). These writers conclude
that manliness means "aggressiveness, creativity, individuality, just being
taken seriously," while femininity means "lacking daring, originality,
aggressiveness, assertiveness, [and] vitality" (Kim, 1982, p. 198). In
defending Asian American males' masculinity, they ironically reproduce the
sexist stereotypes of male superiority over women.
When not "disempowered" into a feminine figure, the Asian male was
associated with opium addiction or qualities of cunning, malevolence, spite, and
evil. In fact, the portrayal of dirty, crowded, degenerate, morally weakened,
diseased opium dens in the mass media was used and manipulated by some American
politicians to sustain their argument that Asians (especially Chinese) were
unassimilable and undesirable immigrants (Figure 4 exemplifies common attitudes
toward Chinese immigrants).
In reviewing Anglo-American literature, Kim (1982) finds two basic
kinds of stereotypes of Asian men in American popular culture: the "bad" and the
"good" Asian men. The "bad" Asian males are the sinister villains and brute
hordes, neither of which can be controlled by the Anglos and both of which must
therefore be destroyed. The Yellow Peril (1908), the long-running Fu Manchu
(1913-1930s) series, and the Broken Blossoms (1919) exemplify the images of
Asian men as dangerous and villainous. One cartoon entitled "In the Clutches of
the Chinese tiger" from The Wasp in 1885 (Mark and Chih 1993, p. 60) illustrates
the exclusionists' goal of blocking the growing and dangerous tiger (Asian
immigrants) from entering the United States; otherwise, white Americans, who
raise the tiger, will eventually be eaten by it (Figure 5).
The "good" Asian males, on the other hand, are the helpless heathens
to be saved by the Anglo heroes, loyal war allies, sidekicks, and cheerful
servants. The character of the asexual Charlie Chan is one of this kind. No
matter whether the portrayal of Asian male is "good" or "bad," argues Kim, such
depictions serve to define the Anglo as superior physically, spiritually, and
When the Asian male is heartless and
treacherous, the Anglo is shown indirectly as imbued with
integrity and humanity; when the Asian male is a cheerful
and docile inferior, he projects the Anglo's benevolence
and importance (1982, p. 4).
As a result, much of the American mass media offered Americans the
alternate images of Asians as "safe" and feminized, or corrupt, malevolent, and
male. To become an acceptable Asian in American culture, as the editors of
Aiiieeeee!: An Anthology of Asian-American Writers (1975, 1991) point out, the
Asian American male has to be made "safe." In other words, he has to be
demasculinized and characterized as feminine.
This argument reflects the stereotypes of Asians as a threatening
masculine "yellow peril" or harmless feminized "model minority." The concept of
"yellow peril" originates from Anglo-American novels (i.e. Louise Jordan Miln's
Mr. and Mrs. Sen, 1923) which indicate the risk about interracial marriage that
the yellow race would ultimately overwhelm and swallow up the white: "The
Mongolian is a persistent type; and such mixed marriages as ours, through some
inscrutable law of Nature, seem almost sure to perpetuate, and even to
emphasize, one racial type and ignore the other" (Kim, 1982, p. 10). With such
fear of potential genetic mixing of Anglo-Americans with Asians, considered
biologically inferior by many whites in the nineteenth and early twentieth
centuries, and a possible military invasion from Asia, white Americans mobilized
anti-Asian sentiment within the United States (Wu, 1982). This fear of the
"yellow peril," along with the belief of white superiority, later became
justification for the white expansion and colonization of the non-Western world.
Gary Y. Okihiro (1994) argues that to whites, the yellow peril denoted "a
masculine threat of military and sexual conquest" (p. 142) from the Asian, and
because of this, Asians needed to be vanquished.
With economic success, the social status of Asian Americans has
changed since World War II from "just like blacks" to "near whites." US News
and World Report describes this change as an evolution of Asian Americans'
plight "'from hardship and discrimination to becom[ing] a model of self-respect
and achievement in today's America'" (Okihiro, 1994, p. 33). During the
Vietnam War and the civil rights movement, the American media created the "model
minority" image of Asian Americans. Using Foucault's theory of social
production of discourse to control and explain social phenomena, Nakayama (1988)
asserts that the creation of the "model minority" is an attempt of white
Americans "to control and explain the 'place' of Asian Americans in American
society" (p. 67). Within this discourse, Asian Americans simply serve the role
of the "model" upon which other minorities are asked to base their behaviors.
Chin and Chan (1972) share the same view, saying that this "racist love" of
Asians is used merely as a trick by white Americans to show blacks and other
"troublesome" minority groups ("racist hate") an "acceptable way" to follow.
According to Okihiro (1994), this image of a "safe," "harmless"
model minority symbolizes a perception by white Americans of a feminized
position of passivity and malleability of Asian Americans today. Echoing
Nakayama, Chin and Chan, and Okihiro's arguments, Sau-ling Cynthia Wong (1992)
also notes that the emasculation (or effeminization) of the Asians is "an index
for the entire group's marginalization and its function as the 'good natives' in
American cultural myth" (p. 112).
The Ballad of Little Jo
As Said (1994) argues, television, films, and all the media's
resources have forced information into more and more standardized molds. In
other words, the mass media have reinforced the stereotypes. In this part of my
paper, I analyze a film, The Ballad of Little Jo (Fine Line Features & Polygram
Filmed Entertainment, 1993), to illustrate my argument that Asian men have been
discursively produced as feminine in American society and popular culture.
The Ballad of Little Jo is inspired by the intriguing historical
figure Jo Monaghan--about whom we know almost nothing other than the fact that
she worked as a rancher and for several decades passed herself off as a man.
This film (directed by Maggie Greenwald) attempts to fictionally fill in the
missing details of her life.
The setting of the movie is the United States during the late
nineteenth century. The story begins with Josephine Monaghan (Suzy Amis)
traveling through a prairie reflecting on the situation which brings her there.
She was born into and grew up in a well-to-do Eastern family. While unmarried,
she becomes pregnant by a family photographer. After she gives birth, her
family expels her from home; she deposits her child with a married sister and
heads westward. As a woman traveling alone, Josephine is once almost sold by an
old man who gives her a ride. She realizes that as a single woman traveling
alone, men will attempt to take advantage of her. In order to survive, she
decides to become a man. Therefore, she puts on men's clothes, although she
knows that this is against the law. She even cuts herself on the face to look
rougher and more "man-like."
She finally rids in a Western mining town, Ruby City, and settles
down with her new identity--Mr. Jo(e) Monaghan. Because of her small figure and
child-like face, people call her "Little Joe." As a newcomer, she faces
hostility from other townsmen. People mock her and tell her that she is too
delicate or too young to be in the frontier West. To gain acceptance, she
learns how to eat, talk, and behave like the men. By taking on and
accomplishing difficult tasks, she gradually earns people's trust, builds a
reputation, and acquires her own ranch. To avoid revealing her female identity,
she lives alone and refuses to become close to anyone. People respect her
privacy and leave her alone, holding no suspicion about her background.
A Chinese man, Tinman Wong (David Chung), comes to town one day and
is mocked and about to be hanged by men in town who accuses him of intending to
steal jobs from white men. Little Jo sees the situation and asks them to let
the Chinese man go. Frank Badger, a former employer of Little Jo, tells her
that they will not let Tinman go unless she hires the Chinese man as a cook.
Little Jo unwillingly takes Tinman home and has him perform all of the
housework. Tinman eventually finds out that Little Jo is not a man. They then
become lovers. Little Jo is always frightened that people will find out her
true identity and her relationship with an "alien Chinaman." She wants to sell
her ranch and move to a place where she can be herself and start a new life with
her Chinese lover. However, she quickly realizes that this is an unrealistic
dream because interracial marriage is forbidden and Tinman (as an Asian man)
will not be able to protect her in a white society. Yet, they are able to keep
the secret throughout their lives. Although people are surprised about how well
Little Jo gets along with a Chinese man, no one has discovered their
Tinman dies some years later. Little Jo also becomes weaker. While
coming to visit, Frank, Little Jo's former employer, sees the dying Little Jo
and intends to take her to a doctor. She dies on the road.and he therefore
takes her to a funeral home. When the undertaker is changing her clothes, he
finds to his surprise that Little Jo is a woman. Her identity is finally
revealed and her story makes headlines in newspapers.
There is yet another gender reversal hidden in this movie which film
critics overlook: the feminized Chinese man, Tinman. Examination and analysis
of the portrayal of this character's duties, personality, physical weakness, and
sexuality in the film provides an example of how the Asian male has been
feminized in American society.
Like many Asian male immigrants in the early days, Tinman engages in
types of housework traditionally seen as women's responsibilities. Asian men
had long been a threat to white men in competition for jobs in the frontier
West. The anti-Chinese movement pressured governments into passing laws
limiting aliens to certain occupations, thus reducing Asian men's opportunities
in the labor market and forcing them to go into kitchens and laundryrooms. In
this film, Tinman is almost hanged because the white men suspect that this
Chinese man is going to steal their jobs. In order to eliminate him as a
competitor, they ask Little Jo to take him home and have him do housework.
Tinman, like a maid or a housewife, cooks meals, bakes pies, cleans house,
washes laundry and mends clothes for his employer. A series of stereotyped
gender role reversals appear in the film to reinforce the femininity of Tinman
and the masculinity of Little Jo. For example, when Tinman gingerly prepares a
meal, Little Jo sits and waits for food at the table; when Tinman is silently
mending Little Jo's clothes in the far, dark corner, she writes and reads in the
brighter foreground; when he is washing clothes in a river, Little Jo is
shearing the sheep.in the ranch. Such images reflect the stereotyped life of a
frontier family, but with a reversal of traditional roles between men and women.
The false stereotype of the female's passive, submissive, obedient
traits and her inability to represent herself are also reflected in Tinman's
personality. When he first appears on screen, although unjustly mocked, he is
silent and does not complain about his mistreatment. When the white men ask
Little Jo to take Tinman as a cook, he says nothing. After he becomes the
servant of Little Jo, he is absolutely obedient. The phrase Tinman most
frequent utters in the film is, "Yes, Mr. Jo(e)." He fulfills every request
from Little Jo, even when she commands him to stay out of the house in severe
Little Jo's determination and open-minded characteristics are
contrasted against Tinman's passive and submissive traits. After living with
Little Jo for some time, Tinman confesses to her that he knows she is not "Mr.
Jo(e)." This "fact", however, does not change his femininity and Little Jo's
masculinity. Being afraid of Little Jo, Tinman shyly steps back to the corner,
bows his head and dares not to look at her. Little Jo, although shocked (or
mad) initially, calmly explains, "Jo stands for Josephine not Joseph."
After they become lovers, Little Jo worries that they will be killed
if people find out her true identity and her relationship with an "alien
Chinaman." Feminized Tinman can only increase Little Jo's anxiety by passively
saying that people would kill them "unquestionably and brutally." Unlike white
maverick heroes in western movies, Tinman is not "brave" and "manly" enough to
challenge the injustice and inequality in society.
Tinman is also portrayed as physically weak. To hide her female
identity at the beginning, Little Jo commands Tinman to build a shelter for
himself. Although he looks tanned and strong, Tinman is in fact too weak to
lift logs or do any work requiring physical strength. He explains that after 15
years in railroad construction, he is no longer strong enough to perform heavy
labor. (His weakness, whether intended to do so or not, serves as a symbol of
the de-masculinzation of the Asian male accomplished through paid employment in
the United States.) Therefore, he can only help with some trivial tasks, such
as delivering nails or holding the logs. Little Jo looks small and pale, but is
the one who lifts logs, climbs up ladders, and builds the shelter for Tinman.
Tinman's illness reinforces his image of being physically weak and
dependent. He is what Kim (1982) calls a "good" Asian who is the helpless
yellow man to be saved by the physically and spiritually "superior" whites.
Because of his illness, Tinman is seen as the dependent one in the marital
relationship and is reliant on Little Jo for support and security. Indeed,
Tinman can survive only if "his (white) man" (Little Jo) does not abandon him.
The sexuality of Tinman is characterized as female. First of all,
Tinman's long hair is used as a symbol of his femininity. According to John
Berger (1972, p. 55), "hair is associated with sexual power" in women. In one
scene, Tinman, with his hair flowing over his shoulders, stands half naked while
washing himself in a river. The sunlight shines from his back and makes his
hair shiny and attractive. At that moment, Little Jo rides slowly toward him,
looking intently at him. This scene reminds us of Laura Mulvey's notion of the
"male gaze," in which the woman figure in film is displayed merely as an erotic
object to be looked at. As Budd Boetticher puts it,
What counts is what the heroine provokes,
or rather what she represents. She is the one, or rather
the love or fear she inspires in the hero, or else the
concern he feels for her, who makes him act the way he
does. In herself the woman has not the slightest
importance" (Mulvey, 1989, p. 19).
This scene reinforces the active/male and passive/female stereotype.
"Men act and women appear. Men look at women . . ." (Berger, 1972, p. 87).
Like women in many other movies, photographs, and commercials, Tinman becomes an
erotic object for the visual pleasure of the "man" who wants him as well as the
spectators in the theater.
Stereotypes of sexual roles between men and women mark the film.
Said points out, "The West [male] is the actor, the Orient [female] a passive
reactor" (1994, p. 109). When they make love, Little Jo is always the initiator
and Tinman the responder; and he is always sexually ready when Little Jo makes
the move. He longs for Little Jo's kisses and waits for her to rip his clothes
off. The way that Little Jo touches Tinman's long hair reminds viewers about
the way men in many other movies play with women's hair.
Tinman's male's sexuality is denied on another level. This occurs
when Little Jo shows him her picture before she becomes a "man." She asks him
whether he likes her as a woman. Tinman answers, "I like you much better now"
because "this white girl would never do this [make love] to me." As mentioned
earlier, under the restriction of anti-miscegenation laws, interracial sex or
marriage between Asian men and Caucasian women was forbidden. Without her being
a "man," their relationship could never have happened. Tinman says to Little
Jo, "You find peace as a man; I find peace living with you." To maintain this
relationship, Tinman wants Little Jo to keep her male identity and is willing to
be her secret lover.
Being afraid of people uncovering her female identity and her
relationship with a Chinese man, Little Jo once decides to sell her ranch and
start a new life as a woman somewhere else. Tinman reacts hysterically, "What
man will want you?" and "You have no hair and have a scar on your face." Isn't
he himself a man? Why must he deny his male characteristics and identity?
Being given and depicted as female characters, Asian males are not considered
and recognized (even by themselves) as men in this white male dominated society.
The way the West deals with the East has shifted from manifest
Orientalism to latent Orientalism (Said, 1994). This means that Orientalists in
recent years have changed the way they write about the Orient. However,
unconsciously (or sometimes consciously) the way they perceive and treat the
East has not changed much since the eighteenth century. Orientalists nowadays
might not explicitly express the notion of the superior West and the inferior
East. Rather, they make the same point in more implicit and subtle ways. This
argument can be applied to the feminized stereotype of Asian (American) men.
Although American society and the mass media these days rarely connect the Asian
(American) male to long queues and loose silky gowns, they are still presented
as feminine to the extent that they are silent and obedient. To the dominant
whites, Asian Americans are minorities, they are merely Americanized Asians, and
they are, after all, essentially Orientals. Asian men are rarely portrayed as
as husbands, fathers, or lovers. Rather, they are often shown as housekeepers,
waiters, or ruthless foreign businessmen. Even if they are portrayed as lovers,
like Tinman in this movie, Asian men are not able to fulfill their role as "real
men" because they are weak, passive, and eunuch-like. The feminized image of
Asians (or the Asian male), sad to say, has not disappeared from either American
society or the mass media in the past century.
This paper contributes to our understanding in several areas.
First, it provides a brief history of how early Asian immigrants were
(mis)treated in American society and the mass media. Second, as I mentioned
earlier, literature about Asian Americans is limited. This paper expands not
only the literature on Asian Americans but also on mass communication by
examining how Orientalism, racism and sexism combine to produce feminized
portrayals of Asian men in the mass media. Third, this paper calls attention to
a problem within racial discourse by and about the mass media. More
specifically, although racial problems have been abundantly discussed in both
the media and academia, they are often framed in terms of black and white.
Because the experiences of ethnic minorities in the United States are different,
the experiences of African Americans cannot be adequately applied to Asian
Americans. Thus, more attention should be paid by the students of media to
minority groups other than African Americans.
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 The mainstream American media have collapsed culture into
race. To many American media organizations, all people with Asian racial
characteristics constitute a single type, no matter their countries of origin in
Asia or whether or not they were born in the United States. I do not
distinguish between different types of Asians (and Asian Americans) only so that
I can deal with racial stereotypes head on, not because I agree with such a
move. Because Chinese were the earliest Asian immigrants in the United States,
many stereotypes imposed on Asians derived from white/Chinese relations. This
paper thus relies heavily on depictions of early Chinese immigrants in American
literature and media images.
 Like people in other countries, there are variations in the
physical size of Chinese. Generally speaking, people in the southern part of
China are shorter and slimmer compared to people in the North. The majority of
early Chinese immigrants were from Canton, the Southernmost province of China.
To Europeans, the short and slim figures of the southern Chinese male evoke
image of females.
 Like blacks, Asians were viewed as threats to white racial
purity. At California's constitutional convention of 1878, John F. Miller
warned: "Were the Chinese to amalgamate at all with our people, it would be the
lowest, most vile and degraded of our race, and the result of that amalgamation
would be a hybrid of the most despicable, a mongrel of the most detestable that
has ever afflicted the earth." In 1880, California lawmakers ceased issuing
marriage licenses to any white person who wished to wed with a "negro, mulatto,
or Mongolian" (quoted in Takaki, 1989, p. 101-102).
 The Cable Act was amended in 1931, permitting American women
who married aliens to retain their US citizenship.
 To avoid government censorship, the film industry regulated
itself by adopting the Production Code in order to present a common standard on
sex and crime in the movies. The Code insisted that "evil and good are never
to be confused throughout the presentation" and good must prevail in the end.
It was originally drafted by a Catholic priest and a Catholic publisher in the
 Kingston describes that in order to make Tang Ao more
feminine, he was fed with thick tea "with white chrysanthemums [to stir] the
cool female winds inside his body; chicken wings [to make] his hair shine; [and]
vinegar soup [to improve] his womb" (1980, p. 2).
 Fu Manchu and Charlie Chan are both fictional characters. Fu
Manchu is a creation of novelist Sax Rohmer. With his Satanic power, medical
knowledge, and scientific equipment, this diabolical Chinese male intends to
overthrow the white race. Chan and his colleagues characterize the portrayal of
Fu Manchu as homosexual because he "wear[s] a long dress, bat[s] his eyelashes,
[is] surrounded by black servants in loin cloths, and [has a] habit of
caressingly touching white men on the leg, wrist, and face with his long
fingernails . . ." (quoted in Kim, 1982, p. 1979). Charlie Chan, created by
Earl Derr Biggers, is an over-weight Asian detective who speaks pidgin English
with pseudo-Confucian aphorisms, and with his beady eyes half-closed, uses his
"six sense" to solve mysterious murder cases. This character was extremely
popular in the United States. According to Biggers, Charlie Chan was created
"as a refutation of the unfortunate Fu Manchu characterization of the Chinese"
(quoted in Kim, 1982, p. 18) This character, however, imposes other stereotypes
of Chinese men: stupid, asexual, and "old-woman-like."