This week as a class we began to unpack the various stereotypes and myths surrounding Asian American Women and Asian Women in the media. Through various media presentations in movies, theater and television, two common roles can be seen that Asian women are often cast to play, the “dragon lady” or the the “lotus blossom”. Both of these roles play on Asian women’s femininity and racist stereotypes although they are different in various ways.
The dragon lady role stems from anti-Asian sediment and yellow peril. This trope depicts asian women as exotic and sexual while also cunning and thieving. One of the very first roles played by an Asian women in Cinema was Anna May Wong as a dangerous Mongol Slave who tricks the protagonist. This characterization as being sexual and conniving persists even in roles today such as Lucy Liu’s role in Charlie’s Angels
The next characterization often seen in roles that asian american women play is termed the “lotus flower”. This depiction shows asian women as docile, subservient, and even voiceless. the lotus flower character often is seen as the perfect women, catering to her mans every need, innocent and virginal and yet sexually knowledgeable. These highly demeaning roles can be seen in the example of the geisha girl who in movies is often seen pleasing white military men.
Both of these tropes can be seen as perverse and oppressive and yet they continue to thrive in modern day movies. What exactly can be done when these roles are often the only thing at Asian actresses are faced with? Celine Parrenas Shimizu introduces the idea of productive perversion as a way to conceptualize the problem at hand. In my own words, productive perversion is taking what is handed to you, and turning it into the best thing you possibly can. For example, when Asian men have to choose between Kung Fu super villains or wimpy nerdy business men, the actors would chose the one that shows more power and agency-the villain. In the same way, Asian women can choose the dragon lady role and show her ability to fight, and induce fear as a sign of power.
To conclude, productive perversion does not ignore the fact that these roles are oppressive and perverse but rather focuses on the agency that individuals have to combat these stereotypes.