I still haven’t seen Linsanity, but I want to since I’ve been thinking about Asian American masculinity and sports culture. Lin seems like a positive kind of guy, not given to egoism or the kind of hypermasculine posturing that sometimes characterizes pro sports.
I went to school with this one guy. He played on the football team, wore collar-popped polo shirts, and played beer pong. What you’d commonly call a bro. He also said some sexist things and sent me awkward Facebook messages a few times. I found out he sent awkward messages to some of my friends, too. Whenever I saw him coming, I had to avoid eye contact and hope he didn’t say anything. He had the habit of coming into my space and saying “Hi!!” when I least expected it, or just staring. In general I found him pretty annoying.
He also happened to be Asian American. The white feminists at our school hated him. And they referred to him not by name, but only as “Asian Bro.”
I remember overhearing a group of white women giggling in the locker room, laughing at Asian Bro behind his back. I found my friend Emily and pulled her aside. “Did you hear that?” I hissed. She shook her head, yes, she did.
We stared down the other women as we left the locker room. I didn’t like the guy, but I was pissed. I also felt a little confused. I thought I didn’t like guys like that? Much less defend them? Am I a feminist or am I Asian American?
Am I critical of a masculinity that measures self worth in competitive sports and excessive drinking? That relies on male supremacy and heteronormativity? That assumes the sexual availability of female-performing bodies? Yes. No matter what kind of person is performing or enforcing it.
I am critical of Asian American masculinity that assimilates to white American ideals of manhood. This is not to say similar elements of masculinity are not also facets of Asian cultures. But I am referring to the particular conflation of American brands, sports culture, drinking games, and male hegemony that is privileged in white American patriarchy.
But I am also critical of white feminists who leave no space for men of color trying to navigate masculinity within white supremacy. “Asian Bro”–let’s call him Alex, to humanize him a bit. Alex was superlative in the way he performed straight, mainstream American masculinity. However, he was not alone. He just stood out on our relatively small, bookish, lefty campus. He stood out ten times more because he was Asian American. And the white feminists were incredibly open in the way they mocked him.
It’s not just that he was Asian American and bro-y. If he tried that much harder, was that much straighter, better at sports, aggressive with women, it was not an accident. It is one pretty reasonable reaction to being a straight Asian man in America. The unspoken tension the white feminists had with him, the reason they were allowed to laugh at him, was because the joke was ultimately on him. They might find him distasteful because he was trying really hard to emulate an unpalatable form of masculinity, but he was also worthy of their disdain because he would never achieve it. Asian American masculinity is never allowed to be hegemonic under white supremacy.
And feminism that mocks men of color based on their inability to live a white ideal of masculinity is not feminism at all.