Comment Editor Hanna Pham on the Atlanta spa shootings and racialised misogyny towards Asian women
On March 17 Robert Aaron Long, a white man, went on a killing spree at several spas in the Atlanta area resulting in the death of eight people, six of whom were Asian women. Long was a sex addict and claimed that the reason for the rampage was to eliminate temptation. While law enforcement is hesitant to call this a hate crime, as an Asian-American woman I am unfortunately not very surprised about this tragic event. This senseless killing presents itself as the culmination of increased racial violence as well as historical racism against Asian-Americans.
Crimes against Asian-American have been on the rise, often linked to the incorrect presumption that all Asian people are to blame for Covid-19. President Trump fueled the flames of racism towards Asians by referring to Covid-19 as the ‘Kung Flu’ or the ‘China virus’ which civil liberty groups warned could lead to increased racism and violence towards Asians.
A Filipino-American man was slashed across the face with a box cutter. An elderly Thai man was pushed down violently, resulting in his death. An 89-year-old Chinese woman was slapped and set on fire. According to the advocacy group Stop AAPI Hate last year there were 2,800 reports of hate incidents. Who knows how many more hate crimes occurred but went unreported.
However, the tragic murder of six Asian women is not just another tragedy that stems from the inflammatory, racist rhetoric of Trump—it encapsulates a very sinister history that goes beyond general racism against Asian-Americans. Asian women in the United States hold a precarious position in society. The racism they experience being Asian-American and the sexism they face as women evolved into a unique strand of racialised misogyny. This can be traced back to US military operations in the latter half of the 20th century in Asia. Following the conflict in both Japan and Korea, brothels had a constant stream of American servicemen and sex workers were frequent visitors of bases. The American military hero essentially conquers the savage enemy by using their women as objects of pleasure. The gendered perception that Asian women are subservient sex objects was brought back to the United States and remain prevalent today. As a result, there is a delicate balance between the two main themes that emerge as a result of this racialized misogyny—purity and hypersexuality.
“Me so horny, me love you long time.”
This line from a Vietnamese prostitute in the Vietnam war film Full Metal Jacket memorialized on screen and generally encapsulates the hypersexuality that has been forced upon Asian-American women. Whereas, the musical Miss Saigon pushes forth the idea of a helpless, pure Asian woman whose livelihood revolves around being subservient to American military men. In popular culture, racialised misogyny is a tool used to strip us of our individuality and identity to accommodate the male gaze and fit into recycled tropes whether that be “lotus blossoms” and manipulative “dragon ladies”.
As an Asian-American woman, I am perceived solely based on how my sexuality can serve the gaze of the White patriarchy. When I walk down the street I wonder if yet again I will be cat-called and told that I an exotic beauty. In dating, I am forced to confront the same dilemma over and over again: does he like me or does he like that I am Asian? Now more than ever is it possible that I could get killed because my race and body represent sexual temptation that needs to be eliminated.
Naturally, when you objectify an entire group of people and their bodies, they hold no value. They’re inferior and undeserving of the right to live. Once you’ve been completely dehumanized by a group, killing becomes easy, almost like a natural response. This line of reasoning was unfortunately proven true with the Atlanta spa shootings. There is no doubt in my mind that this crime was racially motivated. When taking into account the shooter had a sex addiction, and targeted spas one of which is named ‘Young’s Asian Massage’ and the pervasive narrative of the hypersexuality of women it is clear that this was a hate crime against Asian-American women.
At the end of the day, I am either a nameless prostitute or Madam Butterfly. A whore or a virgin. I am fetishized and dehumanized.