|October 28, 2009
Submissive Asian Women and Why You Never Run Into Them
Mayumi Heene, Annie Le, Noriko Savoie
| No one has asked me to comment on the recent spate of US-based brouhahas
involving Asian women. I ought not to take that as a personal slight since,
as a general rule, no one ever asks me to comment on anything. Still, the
absence of any clamor for my thoughts is a tad hurtful these days seeing
as I am one of very few westerners who can claim to be the author of a book about Japanese women. So I’m going to proceed on the assumption that somewhere out there, someone
is quietly wondering, “Just what does that Muggins character make of all
this news?” but is too shy to ask.
This spate of sensationalism began with the murder of brilliant and beautiful
Yale grad student Annie Le in September. Hot on the heels of that item
came the case of the zany, divorced Savoies: mother Noriko spirited their two children from Tennessee back to her
native Japan, an act which provoked father Christopher to fly over and
kidnap the youngsters back again, only to be arrested before he could make
good his escape. And most recently, of course, we’ve all seen Balloon Boy
Mama Mayumi Heene standing silent partner to her madman spouse.
I could reach back to August and throw in the two Asian-American journalists who were picked up and brought home from North Korea by former President
Clinton, but I’m not going to: late-night comics have pretty much picked
that carcass clean.
Not that I plan to make light of any of these other cases--not the murder
of Annie Le, at least. What struck me most about that case as I watched
the inevitable over-coverage on CNN was the way the victim’s Asian-ness
and female-ness—and for that matter, her formidable hotness—kept bubbling
to the surface of the story as it was reported over there in supposedly
postracial America. To be sure, this was mainly accomplished through visual
cues: no opportunity was passed up to show Annie Le in photos wherein she
looked fetching, sexy, or adorable, whereas every effort to portray her
looking grad-studenty or lab-researcherish seemed to have been spared.
With the news that a suspect had been arrested there ran an interview with
an expert that unsettled me. I realize that the following summary is vague,
but one never knows what to Tivo—or how to Tivo for that matter, in my
case—until it’s too late. Anderson Cooper conducted the interview, and
the expert—I can’t help mentioning here that she was white and female—seemed
to be in law enforcement. Asked why the lowly male technician arrested for the murder might have focused on Annie, the expert barked with disgust that he might
have been one of these no-account sleazeballs who obsess over Asian girls
because their petiteness implies physical weakness and they lack the assertiveness
of western women that effectively fends off such losers.
If Richard Heene was watching the same broadcast I’m sure he was nodding vigorously. It
has been much reported that Richard and Mayumi Heene’s earlier claim to
fame came with their participation in a reality show called "Wife Swap." Forced by the show’s premise to cohabit with an American-born woman,
Richard famously screamed, "You're a man's nightmare! I'm so glad
my wife was born in Japan!" (Remarkably, this quotation would fail
to make a Top Five list of inane Richard Heene quotes compiled by any semi-studious
Heene scholar, for even a cursory examination of the man’s expansive jackassery
is enough to make one want to seek out and forgive the relatively restrained Kanye West.)
There has been a great deal of debate as to which aspect of the Balloon Boy Hoax is the most alarming. There are those who select the obviously unbalanced
mentality of the father and those who cite the initial dimness of investigating
authorities. For me, it was the fact that the discovery of the hoax hinged
entirely on the keen observational prowess and quick thinking of Wolf Blitzer.* And then there are those who cite as this mess’s most alarming aspect
the breathtakingly passive role of aforementioned Japan-born wife Mayumi.
Whatever else may be said about Richard Heene, you have to give him this: He deliberately set out to find a stereotypically pliant and docile Asian wife, and that’s just what he got. Not since Teddy Roosevelt went to Africa to kill a rhino has a man so successfully bagged precisely the trophy that he was looking
for. I mean, really: When a husband says “Let’s hide one of the kids and
then say he’s in a weird-looking balloon flying across the state! Trust
me, it’ll be great for our image!” and the wife says, “All right, dear;
I’m sure you know best,” it certainly doesn’t aid the cause of those of
us trying to break down the stereotype of the submissive and docile Japanese
Fortunately, we have Noriko Savoie to hold up as a counter-argument. Say
what you will about her ethics—and I gather that her media treatment in
the US differs starkly from the hero-victim status that she has acquired
back home in Japan—no one would dare call her pliant or docile. Personally,
I’ve never tried to corral two small children and escort them away from
their beloved father and the only home they’ve ever known to an alien land
halfway around the world, but I suspect that it’s the proverbial logistical
nightmare—even if you happen to be their mom.
Her every action in this abduction has been decisive, resourceful, and ruthlessly self-interested. Of course, much the same could have been said of Pol Pot. In a perfect world, Richard Heene and Noriko Savoie would be sentenced to marry each other and stay together until they have raised all of the Octomom’s kids to the age of majority. This, as we all know, is no such perfect world.
It is, however, a world in which women born and raised in conservative
Far Eastern societies somehow manage to develop characters and personalities
every bit as diverse as any other type of human, as the contrasting cases
of Noriko Savoie and Mayumi Heene attest. In pointing out this obvious
fact, I’m not denying that Asian women have a unique capacity to make themselves
incredibly charming in short doses. They do, and few heterosexual western
men that I know have proven immune to their spell.** In my memoir How to Pick Up Japanese Chicks And Doom Your Immortal Soul, I describe how I was quickly mesmerized by a trio of Narita Airport information
desk ladies within minutes of clearing customs when I first got to Japan.
But the remaining two hundred odd pages of the book make plain to the reader
(assuming I’ve done my job as a writer) that once that initial spell wears
off and you’ve been in various sorts of relationships with Japanese women,
they turn out to run the same gamuts of assertiveness and toughness as
their western counterparts. That doesn’t mean that one has to stop being
fascinated with them as a class—for lord knows, I certainly still am—but
it means that all that softly-tittering-at-your-jokes-with-palm-of-hand-over-mouth
crap no longer has much to do with it.
So then, if we accept the fact that most of the non-Mayumi-Heene females of Asian heritage are neither docile nor submissive, then just what is the big attraction? I’m sure that’s what the white lady on CNN wanted to know when she made that remark about the suspect in Annie Le’s killing. I keep coming back to that scene in my mind because, for a supposedly nonbiased CNN expert she was so uncommonly volatile. You got the impression that only half her anger was directed at shallow men attracted to submissive, cute and pleasant Asian women while the other half was directed at cute and pleasant—and supposedly submissive—Asian women.
It is this sometimes violent reaction from western women that puts we western
male aficionados of Asian women in a bind. We live in an age where men
and women have acquired a fair amount of immunity when it comes to talking
about the physical characteristics that attract them. White women openly
talk about preferring black men—or tall men, or men without back hair.
Men, too, can get away with saying that they prefer blond hair or full
lips or slender waists or whatever. About the only two taboos left are
that men can’t say without risk of reproach that they like (1) big boobs
or (2) Asian women—and they can even get around the first one nowadays
if they euphemize it as a preference for “full-figured gals” or some such.
Say out loud that you prefer Asian women, though, and you are walking into
a trap. “You only like them because they’re so submissive,” you will hear,
“like that poor Heene woman.” And then, when you make the sort of wholly
accurate defense of Asian women’s individuality that I have made above,
and you begin to feel triumphant and maybe even a wee bit feminist, they
will hit you with: “Well, what do you like about them, then?”
And then you realize that all you have left to put forward are the physical
aspects of Asian women: the softness of the skin, the silkiness of the
hair, the cheekbones, and yes, the petiteness. And if you dare to mention
any of these things, the western woman confronting you will be far more
displeased with you than if you had simply lied and said that, easily threatened
sleazebag that you are, you loved their "submissiveness." And
at that point, somewhere in the distance when the wind is just right, you
may be able to hear Richard Heene cackling, “Who’s a jackass now, eh, buddy?”
|* In the foreword to Summer of Marv I took a gratuitous shot at Wolf’s intellect. (And this was before his infamous Jeopardy debacle.) After noting that female readers might be put off by my book’s deliberately
male perspective, I tried to persuade those readers to press on anyway.
If nothing else, I argued, women could enjoy the same sense of intellectual
superiority while reading my narrative as I in turn enjoy while watching
Ironically, in the earlier draft of that foreword I had aimed the barb at Larry King, not Wolf. I subsequently realized that Larry is beloved and decrepit enough that he could very easily die just before the book came out, thereby making me look cruel, and so I substituted the more durable and less cuddly but (or so I thought) equally clueless Wolf. Then lo and behold, it turns out to be none other than Wolf, substitute-hosting on none other than "Larry King Live," who zeroes in like a laser on young Falcon Heene’s comment that “we did it for the show.”
I was watching live when Wolf seized on that comment and was duly impressed.
Lord knows that the child’s giddy remark would have blown right past Larry
like a fastball from his alleged childhood chum Sandy Koufax. And you know what? I bet it would have blown right by me as well had
I been the host that night .You’d be amazed to know what goes right by
me on any given day at this age. I know I would be if I ever found out.
I have chosen not to think about it. Anyway, give it up for Wolf Blitzer,
ladies and gentlemen. I owe him an apology.
|** Then again, the vast majority of heterosexual western men that I know are
living here in Japan, in no small part as a result of our lack of immunity
to said charm. So this observation carries about as much weight as a man
saying "Gee, seems like all the men I know are nuts about the Packers"
while sitting in Lambeau Field on a Sunday afternoon in the fall.