Updated: Dec 30, 2020
What’s wrong with having a type?
A lot, if your type is based on stereotypes and objectification
“Tall, dark and handsome”
When describing an ideal partner, using these kinds of generic terms doesn’t really ruffle any feathers. But what if someone’s stated—or more likely unstated— preference involves something deeper. What if someone of a majority culture exclusively dates someone of a minority culture? What if they are only attracted to someone who has physical features of a particular minority culture? Is this any different? And if so, is it wrong?
The reason I think it’s important to differentiate and define minority and majority cultures is because someone of a minority culture is inevitably going to be exposed to the dominant culture just by virtue of living in it on a daily basis. For example the son or daughter of immigrants in America is going to be highly exposed to American culture (despite his or her parent’s best intentions) and this would be the same of any transplant into another culture.
But what do we make of someone who just prefers people with physical characteristics of a different culture? As an Indian American heterosexual woman, the most common situation I come across is white men who prefer Indian and Indian American women. Somehow the word “exotic” comes up a lot. When I think of the word “exotic” I tend to think of the words bird or fish after it. Exotic refers to something from a place far away or something rare, but the key word here is some-thing. Exotic doesn’t refer to a person or experience because people and experiences are multi-dimensional, while things can be one-dimensional objects to be in awe of or fantasize about. And that’s my biggest issue with someone of a majority culture only being attracted to someone of a minority culture. Every person is different, so if the commonality is their culture, it’s not the person you are attracted to, it’s the one-dimensional perception of this culture and what it represents that you are attracted to, and that’s the problem. Exotic means something different or other, and the hyperfocus on this otherness overshadows everything else.
“Every person is different, so if the commonality is their culture, it’s not the person you are attracted to, it’s the one-dimensional perception of this culture that you are attracted to”
For me, clues that someone doesn’t see me as a person but sees me as an Indian first, and person second, are comments like “where are you from. . .no where are you really from;” random questions about anything Indian they have ever heard of—from turmeric to Priyanka Chopra; or generalizations like “boy, you Indians sure do like whiskey.” I mean, I really like whiskey, but does that mean all other Indians do?? Definitely not! Also in this category are unnecessary and uncalled for comparisons-“You and the other Indian girl in this room are both brown, but you’re slightly thinner so that makes you better.” So, we were both in a two-person beauty contest that neither of us knew about, and you are the only judge? Thank you so very much!
Like everything else in the world, these stereotypes are rooted in history. Historically, as Europeans explored or conquered the world, they would send souvenirs back to where they came from to denote culture and sophistication. Sometimes this was a fashion contribution, like silk from China, or maybe a valuable object, like the Koh-i-noor diamond from India. Europeans took aspects of the cultures they conquered as tokens and embellishments in order to show wealth and worldliness, but as such reduced the millennia of ancient cultures to small portable objects. In the same way, perceptions of complex and ancient cultures are often reduced to specific characteristics that Western cultures find pleasing. For example, the importance of community in Japanese cultures may be seen as subservience, leading to the stereotype that Asian women want to please men. And the vast diversity of Indian culture and history is often reduced to two words that are often said with a leer-“Kama Sutra.”
The exoticism associated with Asian women often has the alternate effect on Asian men. Exoticism is associated with objects of affection and only women are supposed to be objects, so where does this leave Asian men? Well, nowhere really. In TV and movies, Asian men are often denoted as stereotypical nerds or sidekicks, not even in the same league as and definitely no threat to the mighty and virile men of European descent! One study done by OkCupid showed that among heterosexuals, Black women and Asian men were ranked less attractive than other ethnicities by the opposite gender, and this is likely influenced by how both groups are portrayed in the media. One striking exception to this is the movie Crazy Rich Asians which, from the very first minutes, showed that Asian men can be attractive, desirable, and most importantly—diverse. Some of the men in that movie were very attractive and some were not. Some were great guys and some were jerks. Kind of like in real-life, imagine that!
The problem with liking someone for how they physically fit into a specific ethnic category is that you are reducing them to a set of stereotypes to fulfill your own needs. “Asian women are so nice” becomes “they will probably agree with all my fantastic ideas.” “Black women are very assertive” becomes “I definitely don’t want someone to question anything I say.” “Indian women are spicy” becomes “she will probably smell like the incense I buy at the store and make me seem cooler.” Reducing people to stereotypes doesn’t appreciate any of their unique characteristics, qualities or quirks. People are complex, flawed and ever-changing and that’s the beauty of being a human. To reduce anyone to a one dimensional idea of what society thinks they are, or should be, is short-changing that individual, and in the end short-changing everyone for missing all the beautiful nuances that make us who we are.
Preeti Roy is an Indian American author who is soon publishing her first book “Adventures in Datingland” which is a comic exploration of modern dating featuring a sassy and independent feminist and her puppy companion. She also works in the healthcare field and is passionate about improving access to healthcare and women’s rights. In her free time, she experiments with vegetarian recipes and tries to keep her feisty furbaby Lucy out of trouble.
You can see more about her and excerpts from the book at preetybyrd.com.