Cross-Cultural Relationships: Stereotyping, Assimilation, and Cultural Similarties and Differences
by New Dealer
This is a kind of flip side to Vikram Bath’s article on Racism and Cross-Racial Love and expands on some points I made in the essay.
I taught English in Japan from 2002-2003. During that time, there was a popular comic for ex-pats called Charisma Man. The comic was about a wimpy unnamed Canadian fast food worker who became a living Adonis when upon landing in Japan. The whole comic was a satire but like all satire based on an fair amount of truth. Lots of Westerners go teach English in Japan for a year or two and sometimes more and a lot of the guys seemingly go with the hope or chance of getting a very attractive Japanese girlfriend. There is also a belief that these guys would be able to level up in Japan. One popular expression among the ex-pats was something like “2 at Home, 9 in Japan” for the belief that being a Westerner in Japan made you exotic and therefore more desirable. The above link is the first Charisma Man comic from 1998.
I never asked my co-workers about their romantic success rates in their native countries. Nor did I ever have a Japanese girlfriend. I had a huge crush on an Australian woman with a boyfriend back home but that is my own melancholy story. I never really tried to hard to get a Japanese girlfriend. I think part of the reason for this is that I would cringe when a lot of Western guys talked about their love of Japanese or Asian women. A lot of guys that we would now call bro-dudes openly and loudly talked about how they had “Yellow Fever”. The racism of this comment made me cringe. They also had a lot of stereotypical reasons for wanting to date Asian women. They seemingly believed that Asian women were more likely to be submissive to their husbands and put the needs of the man first over their own. There was probably a sexual compliance undercurrent to this as well. On the flip side, Asian women allegedly believe that Western Men are more likely to practice “Ladies First” and be more attentive and courting partners. These stereotypes seem to largely come from Hollywood movies. It is an old book but for further reading, you can check out: The Modern Japanese Butterfly: Fantasy and Reality in Japanese Cross-Cultural Relationships by Karen Ma.
Vikram’s post was about how it can be bigoted and potentially limiting to refuse to date out of your religion, culture, race, ethnicity, socio-economic class, educational levels, etc. However, there are plenty of examples when it seems that people date outside of their culture and group for both benign and malignant stereotypes. A Malignant stereotype is the Yellow Fever/Madame Butterfly version.
A begin stereotype often seems to happen to Jewish men. We are seen as being economically successful but also very sensitive and docile. In Tablet Magazine, Rachel Shuket described this stereotype as being “a cross between Alan Alda and a never-empty ATM machine” in her article on billionaire Charles Saatchi strangling his wife in public. The article is called “What happens When the Myth of the Obedient Docile Jewish Husband Gets Busted”.
While the Jewish man stereotype is more benign than the Asian women stereotype it is not great because it does place pressure on Jewish men to live up to a high standard. Is a Jewish man less than great if he is still freelancing in his 30s and hasn’t made partner yet? Does it matter if he finished his education at a really bad moment in the economy or was he supposed to be able to rise above national trends? What about the Jewish guy who wants a more medium-chill lifestyle?
In short, I probably avoided dating Japanese women when I was in Japan because I was very aware of the “Yellow Fever” bro-dude and never wanted anyone to make that assumption about me. I am still conscious of this kind of thought pattern to this day. This is probably wrong and limiting in its own way but I have not been able to overcome my aversion to having someone judge me as being a Charisma Man relying on stereotypes to get romantic success. Charisma Man is a figure of mockery.
The other reason touched upon in Vikram’s essay is about assimilation and the loss of identity. I know many Jewish men and women who have dated and married non-Jewish men and women. I have also gone on dates with women who had one-Jewish parent and one non-Jewish parent. In my experience, these couples often try to make a good-faith effort (pun not intended) to give their children pride and awareness in both heritages but one culture or religion falls to the wayside pretty quickly because it is too much effort or one parent did not really care that much. It is usually Judaism that falls by the wayside or becomes a point of identity for nothing more than a kitschy bunch of Seth Rogan-esque jokes. This usually happens because of Christmas. Not religious Christmas, but secular Christmas. I’ve discovered that a lot of people really love all the trappings of Secular Christmas and my friends who are new parents are very big on putting on Christmas Magic for their children. While Judaism has Hannukah it is a much more subdued celebration. There is no Santa, no Tree, no mistletoe, no Carols, or mounds of sweets and food, songs constantly played on the radio, etc. Even a lot of Jewish people fall under the spell of Christmas and believe that it is a path to being more American and potentially less of an outsider. I’ve seen friends describe their husbands and fathers as being the “Most Christmas Loving Jew.” It is usually Jewish men who get that description.
A friend of mine is a big proponent of inter-faith marriages. She describes this as getting more holidays with great joy. Sometimes I wish I can be like her but I am not. I have strong opinions about how a person can be Jewish or they can celebrate Christmas but they cannot do both. Even though marketers try to make Christmas a completely secular and gift-giving holiday, it is still about the birth of Jesus Christ and this is always at the back of head. I’ve been encouraged by non-Jews to adopt super-secular Christmas and these non-Jews are often not-religious themselves. My temptation during the time is always to say “Christ Mass” instead of Christmas. Being Jewish does involve not accepting Jesus as the Messiah and to me civil liberty and free exercise of religion means that I have a right to be myself and not-assimilate to even secular Christmas.
I am not sure what the solution to the problem of stereotypes and cross-cultural love in terms of making sure you are not dating across cultural lines for stereotypical reasons or refusing to do so because of a fear of being seen as a stereotyper. One start is probably to limit references to your spouses ethnicity. Say my cute husband instead of my cute Jewish husband. Or my lovely wife instead of my lovely Asian wife.