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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 female.

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 Wolf Blitzer.

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.