Over the past few weeks, a 25-year-old named Tyrelle Shaw allegedly struck at least four Asian women in Manhattan in the face with heavy objects concealed inside a bag, in what appeared to be random attacks. On Monday, Shaw was found dead in an elevator shaft on the Upper East Side, a hanging that is being considered a suicide.
As the story unfolded, there was blowback on Twitter about how not enough people were paying attention.
Four Asian women in NYC actually get assaulted in the face with hard objects by a man who felt romantically rejected –> *crickets* 2/2
— Ninja Economics (@NinjaEconomics) June 18, 2015
It’s true, this case definitely deserves our attention. This case perfectly illustrates issues facing women today — and specifically women of colour. We need to examine why Shaw felt the need to hit random women in the face and the fact he apparently felt the need, specifically, to target Asian women.
It appears that Shaw may have had a blog. Before his death, it seems that he wrote about how he had been rejected too many times, and felt that he had no choice but to resort to violence:
I’ve been rejected by Women my entire life. I never understood why, but whenever I stopped to woo- I always ended up getting the same excuse every single time. Sorry I have a Boyfriend or Sorry I’m in a rush. Some Women even ignored me completely. It got really bad. This weekend I decided to talk to over 150 Asian Women [edit note: in another place on the blog it says 1,500], which ended horribly. I had to punch a White dude in the mouth for kicking me. I followed two asian girls around SoHo just to see why they’re lives are ten times more important than a Black Mans in America. Unfortunately that didn’t end well. By the end of the night I really decided to fight my battle using violence.
Shaw was making this a problem about race. To the extent that it is it’s about the Asian women he attacked.
Really, violence is about power. It is about a man who felt powerless directing his anger at a whole group of unsuspecting people, and believing that because they made him feel powerless, he had a right to use violence against them.
And this case is a whole bunch of issues wrapped up in one. It’s about why women are afraid to walk down the street. It’s about what women really fear when they get catcalled. There has been extensive recent debate about catcalling and street harassment. Defenders of the practice argue men who approach women on the street are “just being friendly,” but Shaw’s case shows the dark possibilities women face when strangers invade their space.
Let’s get one thing clear: romantic attention is a privilege, not a right. No one deserves it.
And it’s about the specific targeting of Asian women, just because they’re Asian and they are women.
But this is about even more than rejection. It’s about fetishizing a certain (fantasy) trait among a group of people, and violently lashing out when that trait turns out not to exist.
The idea that Asian women are more sexually open, as well as more submissive than other women, strangely persists as an openly accepted form of stereotyping.
It’s not ok, and it’s time to talk about it.
In a post on Refinery29, a woman who says she had met Shaw, and was friends with him on Facebook before a creepy comment prompted her to block him, wrote this:
And since I’m Asian and speak fluent English, people have assumed on more than one occasion that I only date white men, making me an easy target for people with “yellow fever” and the subject of ludicrous, demeaning essays, like this one. Instead of being seen as an individual, I’m a “Dragon Lady,” a “Lotus Flower,” or a “Banana” — yellow on the outside, white inside. The experience of being sexually relegated to a stereotype are utterly unpleasant, though most certainly not unique to me.
It was also a topic two weeks ago — before there was widespread reporting on the attacks in Manhattan — on the podcast Reply All. It was ostensibly a show about online dating, but quickly turned into a show about men who single out Asian women. At one point, the two hosts, Alex Goldman and PJ Vogt, are talking to the reporter on the story, Stephanie Foo, about her experience online dating. Foo asks the hosts to Google “Asian women” and they discover that almost all of the pictures play into one stereotype. All of the women are young-ish and standing in fields.
“The internet doesn’t help Asian women very much. Like look all these girls are really seen as really submissive and just sort of just solely there for your sexual gratification, so like this physical expectation is coupled with this really problematic cultural expectation,” Foo says.
It’s time to start talking about this cultural expectation Asian women are dealing with and we must continue the debate over street harassment.
No one has a right to make a person feel unsafe, particularly because of the way she looks. Once again, this is about power. And it’s unacceptable.
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