COLUMN: We all must be soldiers: The safety of Asian American women is not their battle to fight alone

The Atlanta shootings triggered the fears of Asian American women. One Asian American MU student highlights the connection between sexualisation and violence.

Cayli Yanagida is a freshman journalism major at MU. She is a guest columnist for The Maneater.

For women, our childhoods are preparation for a lifelong fight on the battlefield.

It’s a soldier’s life. My younger years were controlled by a list of unwavering guidelines: Never be unaware. Never trust a stranger. Never walk home without some way of protecting yourself. Therefore, my paranoia became my defense. As I grew older, I was given my weapons. My pepper spray became my sword, my keen senses my shield.

When I became a woman, I was forced to replace my armor. Never wear anything provocative. I complied. My clothing became my disguise. After all, it was my responsibility to stay hidden. It was my responsibility to not be harmed.

We are told this is how we stay safe. We are told that if we follow these guidelines, nothing will ever hurt us. The maintenance of our safety is placed upon our shoulders. The protection of our lives is our burden to bear alone.

In some ways, my precautions did protect me. My armor deflected racist remarks until they had no impact. My paranoia alerted me when men followed me home. And yet, it was never fully enough. I could never completely protect myself, not when so many sought to break through my armor, to flatter my defenses, until I let my guard down.

When I was 13, I learned about fetishes. When I was 15, I was told being called “pretty for an Asian” was a compliment. When I was 17, I learned the devastating news that my homecoming date lied to his friends and claimed we had been sexually involved, and my race played a large role in the positive responses to his apparent conquest.

Women are told to protect ourselves in every way possible. But what happens when we are targeted — not because of our lack of safety — but because of our race? What happens when we can’t avoid an attack — not because we were unsafe, but because we were simply living our lives as people of color, working at a spa to make ends meet?

What happens when our society makes us try in vain to prevent attacks instead of teaching men to control their feelings?

On March 16, eight people were shot dead in Atlanta in an Asian spa. Six of these people were Asian American women, and the killer had targeted them because of his “sex addiction” and fetishization of Asian women.

When I read the news, my heart sank. In the last year, COVID-19 and racist scapegoating sparked an increase in anti-Asian hate crimes. My heart had been aching for my community, but this crime was different. I no longer felt only anger and sadness.

Now, I feel endangered. I feel like prey.

I am an Asian woman. What happened to those women in Atlanta could have happened to me. I have met people who have thought in the way the shooter thought. I even dated a boy who proudly claimed to have an Asian fetish. At the time, I was too young to understand the true severity of his words, as everything was masked as a compliment.

You’re pretty for an Asian. Those words are burned into my mind.

The Model Minority Myth — a harmful stereotype painting Asians as submissive and docile — creates a deadly outcome for Asian women. “Asian” is one of the most searched keywords on Pornhub. According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, 41% to 61% of Asian women have reported experiencing violence by an intimate partner throughout their lifetime.

These two facts correlate. The sexualization of Asian women promotes the violence carried out against them. In the minds of the shooter and the boys I encountered in my life, I am not a person with feelings. In their minds, I was nothing more than an object to be used, belittled and fetishized.

Just as my experiences with fetishization were masked as “compliments,” people justified the shooter’s actions. According to the former spokesman for the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office, the shooter “had a bad day.”

My rage grew. Somehow, it is my job to ensure that my existence alone doesn’t provoke someone’s desires. Somehow, I am expected to pay the price for men who don’t have to fix their own problems, and can instead subject the world to their violence and instability.

Our very existence provokes racist, sexist attacks. The only thing we can do to keep ourselves safe is not exist at all.

Instead of preparing our daughters for their inevitable dehumanization, we must teach our sons not to see women as objects. Instead of teaching Asian girls that we must accept our roles as hyper-sexualised, subhuman versions of ourselves, we must teach men that Asian women do not exist to fulfill their sexual desires.

I do not exist to be dominated, devalued, or to be a conquest in a fictional story about homecoming night. I do not exist to be controlled by a partner, to live up to racist stereotypes or to be responsible for someone else’s actions or feelings.

To create real change, we all must prepare our children to be respectful human beings. To create real change, we cannot expect girls to don their armor and brandish their weapons in the hopes they will remain untouched by a poisoned society.

This is not only our responsibility. This is not our burden to bear alone.

In order to create real change, we must all fight back. We must all be soldiers.

To support the families of the victims in Atlanta, donate here:

Edited by Sofi Zeman |

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