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Atlanta shootings symptomatic of larger issue of Asian women being oversexualized in media: experts

Last Updated Mar 17, 2021 at 8:08 pm PDT

OTTAWA — Asians across North America are in shock after a shooting outside Atlanta, Georgia killed eight people at spas.

Six of the victims were Asian women.

READ MORE: Suspect in Atlanta-area shootings charged with murder, assault

Some say this isn’t just part of the current wave of anti-Asian racism but is part of a longer trend of over-sexualization of Asian women in media.

“They’re shown as submissive people, or as a sex object,” said Anita Liu, human rights and gender equality specialist. “Lucy Liu? She’s always this femme fatale, wearing this leather skin-tight bodysuit. So, we’re either ninjas, or we’re these weak people in need of help of a white saviour.”

Liu says depictions of Asian women in popular media have historically lacked depth — portraying Asian women either as over-the-top dangerous seductresses or submissive stereotypes.

“The stereotype is also that we’re sexualized, we’re objectified, we are not human,” said Amy Go with the Chinese Canadian National Council for Social Justice. “We are sexual beings to be preyed [upon], to be serving the white man at their pleasure. That’s the whole portrayal of Asian women.”

The trend has been propagated for more than half a century. More nuanced, complex depictions of Asian women are only now beginning to emerge.

But many of those perceptions do real harm.

“You watch TV. You watch all these Asian women being sexualized, in terms of portrayal. Your day-to-day life is defined by those messages and that broader, society image of you,” said Go.

RELATED: B.C. politicians of Asian descent say U.S. deadly shooting has ripple effect

While American authorities say the Atlanta spa killings were motivated by sex addiction, a local Korean newspaper reports eyewitnesses said the shooter said he was there to kill Asians.

Amy Go says it’s not just one or the other — the two are inexorably linked.

“This is a racist, misogynist attack. No ifs, ands, or buts. He particularly picked those target places, knowing Asian women were there. Knowing targets were there. Don’t tell me that it is not both,” said Go.

Liu adds that there’s a clear class element to this crime. Though nominally spas, reviews on Google make it clear that at least one of the locations targeted was a brothel.

Liu says women in sex work — especially racialized women — are in a particularly vulnerable position: more prone to violence and sometimes without the ability to find help.

–with files from Xiaoli Li