Elliot Rodger and the Effeminization of Asian Men

05/30/2014 12:40 pm ET Updated Jul 30, 2014

The shocking mass murders in Isla Vista near UC Santa Barbara have received a great deal of media attention. Many commentators have pointed to the inherent misogyny and entitlement within Elliot Rodger's manifesto. Michael Kimmel and Cliff Leek discuss the importance of race in their analysis of the shooting, and Jeff Yang discusses the important intersections of class and race in Rodger's life. I agree with both articles' points regarding the importance of race and class in Rodger's feelings of entitlement. However, I would like to argue that Rodger's rampage might also be a statement about the way in which our society often effeminizes Asian men.

Within American society, Asian women are considered the most desirable women in online dating forums, while Asian men are less popular in online dating markets than black or Latino men. Asian men's low ratings on dating websites points to how influential ideas of the effeminate Asian are. As one researcher on dating preferences points out, "Asian men are often depicted as geeky nerds with high intelligence but low charisma." Many people have discussed the fact that most Asian leading men in films, like Jackie Chan, are never paid with a romantic interest. Instead, Asian men are typecast as nerds, villains, or martial arts heroes, rarely ever as a romantic lead. (An important exception is Jet Li in Romeo Must Die.)

In popular culture, Asian men are considered "skinny," "petite," and "hairless" -- all things pointing to a lack of masculinity within our culture. The most effeminizing popular assumption made about Asian men is concerning their penis size. Since Asian men are considered petite, the same word is used to describe their "manhood." In fact, the feminization of Asian men and their genitalia is the exact opposite of African-American men, who are portrayed as overly sexual and hypermasculine, with extra-large genitalia. While Asian men's sexuality is invisibilized in our society, African-American sexuality is portrayed as dangerously attractive. In addition, Latino men are associated with sensuality and the stereotype of the Latin Lover. Thus, it is not surprising that Asian men are considered less desirable than their white, black, and Latino counterparts in online dating statistics.

The stereotypes of effeminate Asian men and hypersexual black men can be traced back to the racist legacies of colonialism. In order to "prove" to the world that colonialism was indeed a "civilizing" mission, Western theorists utilized discussions of others' aberrant sexualities to justify their interventions abroad. As white Europeans colonized large swaths of Asia, white masculinity was posited as the apex that men could potentially reach. Asian men were placed on the opposite side of the spectrum and constantly portrayed as feminine and weak in the face of European conquerors. The colonial stereotypes regarding Asian men's femininity continue to inform our current racial stereotypes. It would be hard to imagine that the history of feminization that most Asian men have endured did not influence Rodger's own feelings of undesirability.

Rodger's manifesto includes tirades against black men and full Asian men that he would see dating beautiful white women, the only women he claimed to find sexually appealing. Ironically enough, Rodger wanted the stereotypical beautiful blonde white woman to look past his Asian heritage, but he himself was not willingly to compromise his own ideals of racialized desirability. The racial loathing he expressed regarding his Asian heritage ultimately may have played a role in the murders of his roommates, who are barely mentioned in the media in comparison to his random female victims. Not to downplay the severe misogyny and entitlement that fueled Rodger's attacks, but the fact that he targeted his full Asian roommates may have represented an attempt to wipe out his own dissatisfaction and self-loathing with being identified as effeminate. Unfortunately, he attempted to reclaim his masculinity through violence.