Posting one’s romantic relationship on social media has become increasingly popular as the era of influencers and TikTok continue to thrive. While the audience never fails to share their thoughts (good and bad) about couples on social media, there is one comment that seems to consistently appear under certain couples. Whenever I come across a post featuring a couple made of an Asian woman and white man, I already know that at least a few people will refer to “the Oxford study” before I even open the comments section. And 9 out of 10 times, my prediction is correct.

The comment in question usually has multiple replies agreeing and a handful of likes, eventually leading to the original poster (almost always the Asian woman) having to essentially defend the relationship.  

These “Oxford study” comments refer to a journal article published in 2010 titled “The New Suzie Wong: Normative Assumptions of White Male and Asian Female Relationships.” The study is focused on understanding and interpreting the popular representation of Asian American females and white males in a relationship. Authors Murali Balaji and Tina Worawongs refer to this relationship as the “Suzie Wong” dynamic after the 1960 film The World of Suzie Wong. According to the study, the film featured a “subservient Asian female prostitute having a romantic relationship with a White man.” 

Balaji and Worawongs take the idea of the “Suzie Wong” dynamic to examine the implications of advertisements featuring these relationships. The study analyzes five commercials featuring an Asian American woman and white male in a relationship, accompanied by historical context and Edward Said’s theory of Orientalism. The authors discuss the history of the orientalized image of the hypersexualized and submissive Asian female under the dominance of a white male. They propose that the internalization of the model minority myth may lead to the belief that being with a white male is an attempt to assimilate. As their study is grounded in the analysis of television advertisements, Balaji and Worawongs conclude that the continuous representation of an Asian American woman and white male relationship in mainstream media may work to reinforce stereotypes of Asian American women. 

Apart from broad statements that situate the study’s analysis of media representations of AFWM (Asian female white male) relationships in Western society as a whole, the study does not directly speak on the real, everyday relationships between Asian American women and White men. Despite this, “the Oxford study” has become a permissible tool for people on the internet to judge and scrutinize the real life relationships of other human beings. What these “Oxford study” comments are insinuating are much more nasty than what may be typical hate comments; they are corralling people into a box of harmful assumptions based on race and stereotypes around Asian women.

This is problematic for a variety of reasons. The first and the most clear is the unwarranted and disproportionate hate Asian women have to deal with when it comes to comments by mostly Asian men on their personal relationships and “the Oxford study.” Instead of tackling issues of White dominant masculinity and the fetishization of Asian women (which has been going on for quite some time), Asian women who are in a romantic relationship with a white man have themselves become the target of hostile talk and speculation.

When an Asian man accuses an Asian woman of being in an “Oxford study relationship,” they are insinuating that Asian women are the problem. It is assumed that the Asian woman in a relationship with a white man is buying into the idea of being submissive to the dominant White male, or even desiring to be the subservient female partner to a white male. Accusations of internalized racism go hand in hand with “Oxford study” comments, and those who try to open up the conversation further usually end up leaning on the idea that the reason why Asian women are in relationships with white men and not Asian men is because of internalized racism. 

For example, a TikTok by user @izzyeternal made in response to an Asian American woman talking about the Oxford study opens with the line “Stop blaming Asian men for your internalized racism, because what you’re doing is you’re holding every single Asian man accountable for the dysfunction that you grew up with […] it’s not fair to the Asian men that are out here doing the work and that have identified the very same social issues that you take exception to.”

While I have no problem with men sharing their thoughts on the topic, I believe that throwing Asian women under the bus to uplift the “work” that Asian men have done to reconcile the social issues within AFWM relationships is not the most productive way to approach the conversation. Especially when thinking about the fact that Asian women are forced to defend themselves and their relationships by talking about their past and present experiences with romantic partners. These instances of thinly veiled misogyny need to be treated deeper than face value. It is not productive for Asian women to be immediately bombarded by “the Oxford study” comments by men, defend themselves and their romantic relationships, only to be greeted with accusations of internalized racism by men in response. 

There is also the question of the influence of the stereotypical emasculation of Asian men on the continuous harassment of Asian women in relationships with white men. Clearly, there are many layers to this conversation, and it should not be headlined by a study that was not only conducted over a decade ago, but based on media representation – not real life relationships. Whether it be the APIDA community or even the wider BIPOC community, we should be able to participate in difficult dialogues with each other without scrutinizing people’s personal life.  The community struggles enough with outsiders believing that they are in a position to judge and make assumptions about other people’s lives, and we don’t need to begin pointing fingers at each other on an issue that was not our creation. 

“Heart” by Sophia Louise

Comments are closed.