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Chapter 13: AAPI women: sex and power

The intersection of sexuality, race and gender is a complicated conversation. Add to that a group of marginalized people during a time of increased violence and you have a topic that raises a lot of questions. 

We’re talking about the hypersexualization and fetishization of Asian American and Asian women. It’s an issue across the globe and right here in Las Vegas. Dragon ladies ... exotic temptresses … or submissive servants.  

How do these stereotypes harm Asian American and Asian women? Can they lead to violence? Simultaneously, in what ways are some AAPI women taking control of their own sexual narratives? And how can we support the vulnerable, change the conversation, and move forward?  

Host Lorraine Moss sat down with UNLV professor Tessa Winkelmann to look at the history of the fetishization and hypersexualization of AAPI women. The professor offered some context. 

MOSS: Talk to us about the history of the fetishization of women of color in the U.S., in particular AAPI women.

WINKELMANN: This is a phenomenon that has been going on for over 150 years. And where I start, and where I kind of engage students, as one of the starting points, is the history of empires and imperialism. But they didn't just apply those ideas to the land and whatever mineral wealth that they were going to extract from the land. They applied those ideas to the people as well.

It was going to be about civilizing those that were considered backwards, that were considered hypersexual, barbaric, immoral. So, a lot of the burden of being labeled and thought of as immoral and sexually lascivious was on Asian women and women in colonized societies.

LM: Let's talk a little bit more about military occupation, combat operations. I had read some terms that I can't even say like, "little brown [expletive] machines, fueled by rice."

That's how some Filipina women were described by American soldiers. How do combat operations play a role in all of this?

TW: In the early 1950s, the U.S. military introduces what they call "R and R," or what we know as rest and recuperation. And this was kind of modeled after various forms of leisure activity spas and stuff. It really came to rely on the institutionalizing of the sexual exploitation of Asian women overseas. And it's no kind of coincidence, right? That some of the most notorious R and R places and places that are known for sexual trafficking and notorious red light districts are in places that have historically been heavily militarized by the U.S. military, in the Philippines, Guam and Okinawa and South Korea, etc. And these were deemed as military necessity.

You can listen to the full conversation with Winkelmann, as well as sex educator Angela Little and Amy Merrell, the executive director of The Cupcake Girls, in this episode of Exit Spring Mountain, Nevada Public Radio's Asian American Pacific Islander podcast.

Miss an episode? Catch up on the last season here!

The Exit Spring Mountain team includes  senior producer Nessa Concepcion, academic research consultant Mark Padoongpatt and assistant producer and social media manager Isabelle Chen Rice. Our sound editing, mixing and mastering is by Christopher Alvarez.

Lorraine Blanco Moss is the host and executive producer. 

Like and subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts and leave us a review. Also, follow us on Instagram  @ExitSpringMountain.


Tessa Winkelmann, assistant professor, University of Nevada, Las Vegas;  Angela Little, sex educator; Amy Merrell, executive director, The Cupcake Girls

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Lorraine Blanco Moss is the host of KNPR's award-winning Asian American Pacific Islander podcast, Exit Spring Mountain. She's also a former producer for State of Nevada, specializing in food and hospitality, women's issues, and sports.