Popular media and social structures still code Asian women as being submissive, delicate, soft-spoken and respectful
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Written by Roslyn Talusan & Joe Andre Alam

PLAYBOY ASIA - In 2019, and we’re still calling women “crazy” to invalidate their emotions
Days before Mad Queen Daenerys Targaryen and her rage saturated the think piece market, social media was busy obsessing over the rage of another figure in pop culture. Constance Wu, star of Crazy Rich Asians, expressed her own work-related frustrations in two concise and deeply relatable tweets. “So upset right now that I’m literally crying. Ugh. Fuck,” she wrote. “Fucking hell.”

These tweets coincided with ABC’s announcement that Fresh Off the Boat, starring Wu as matriarch Jessica Huang, was renewed for a sixth season. She explicitly “disliked” the renewal, insisting that it was not good news in response to a fan congratulating her. Praised as the breakout star of the series, Wu’s nuanced and authentic portrayal of Jessica humanized the traditional Tiger Mom archetype. After six years, I’d imagine becoming exhausted of playing the same character, and given the current trajectory of the show, it’s not surprising Wu’s ready to move on.

While its first season was refreshing, Fresh Off the Boat is now a shell of its former self, watered down to appeal to wider and whiter audiences. Writer Inkoo Kang points to the infantilization and butchering of Jessica’s character as a sign of the downturn in the show’s quality. Jessica, once unapologetically confident in herself, is now annoyingly self-absorbed to her own detriment. Even Eddie Huang, whose memoir makes up the show’s premise, was unable to recognize any true resemblance to his real life and distanced himself shortly after it premiered.

Wanting to move on from a shitty job to do better and greater things is obviously a universal experience, so I was shocked at how strongly people jumped at the chance to condemn Wu’s actions. HuffPost contributor Yashar Ali was not surprised by her tweets, alluding to industry gossip regarding her “reputation for being rude, petty, mean-spirited, and ungrateful.” It’s astounding that it’s 2019, and we’re still out here painting women as “divas” to minimize and invalidate their emotions.

I couldn’t expect much better coming from the man who sicced his hundreds of thousands of followers on a traumatized college student in defense of Chelsea Clinton. As the story of Wu’s Twitter outburst spread, more people began to regurgitate Ali’s casually sexist argument. The backlash boils down to this: *Fresh Off the Boat *“made” Constance Wu the star she is today, and she should be grateful for the opportunity. She’s a spoiled diva, difficult to work with. So many people lost their jobs when their shows got cancelled, so Wu should keep her mouth shut and be happy for the rest of the cast and crew.

This intensely negative reaction to Wu vocalizing her frustration is rooted in her identity as an Asian-American woman. Popular media and social structures still code Asian women as being submissive, delicate, soft-spoken and respectful. Culture writer Clara Mae points to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s portrayal of Mantis (Pom Klementieff) as an example of the “Lotus Blossom” stereotype.

According to the comics, Mantis is a powerful celestial being and a capable martial artist with telekinetic abilities. Despite her strength, James Gunn completely nerfs her in his adaptation of her character. In the films, Mantis is introduced as a white man’s servant, whose only power is sensing and manipulating emotions. By reducing her to a socially awkward empath, the MCU perpetuates the harmful notion that Asian women are fragile and docile.

As visible Others, Asian women face nasty consequences when we refuse to conform to the one-dimensional ideals projected onto us. After Ariana Grande callously came for “all them blogs” last month and noticed my shitposts where I called her a “bitchass buzzard,” her fans spent over a week harassing me, flooding my mentions with disturbingly racist, misogynist comments. Using much more violent words, they demanded my silence and that I apologize to her. When I refused to back down, the hate only intensified—I should’ve been grateful that she was so benevolent so as to message me in the first place.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Of course, this wasn’t the first time I’ve been punished for standing up for myself, nor will it be the last. Even though I did directly apologize to Grande, it wasn’t enough to satiate her fans. Their issue wasn’t about accountability, it was that I needed to “learn my place.” Similarly, people continued to berate Wu after she posted a lengthy note clarifying her comments, and apologizing for her “insensitivity.” *Fresh Off the Boat* ’s renewal meant Wu had to pass on a project that she was passionate about, one that she saw as a challenge. She meant to express her disappointment at missing an exciting opportunity, and not necessarily her dislike of the show.

Even if Wu was actually vocalizing her dissatisfaction with the show, so what? Like the rest of us, the cast of Game of Thrones has been forthright about their disdain for the show’s ham-fisted and nonsensical final season. Lots of people lost their jobs when filming wrapped last year, and for many of the actors, this was their first big role. Yet no one has dared to brand Kit Harrington or Emilia Clarke as ungrateful or spoiled.

Regarding her so-called reputation on set, I think Natalie Portman did a better job of summing up my thoughts: “If a man says to you that a woman is crazy or difficult… That’s a code word. He’s trying to discredit her reputation.” Wu has a track record of being outspoken about social issues, speaking up for more diverse media representation (her understanding of blackface leaves much to be desired), and calling out the Academy for awarding known sexual harassers like Casey Affleck and Matt Damon. I wouldn’t be surprised if these rumors were just gossip to retaliate against Wu for refusing to tolerate someone’s bullshit.

The harshness behind the overall reaction to Wu’s tweets demonstrates the implicit yet widely-held hostility towards Asian women. It’s unreasonable to expect anyone to sacrifice their ambitions for the sake of their community, and punishing someone for safely vocalizing their frustration is outright dehumanizing. The egregious insinuation that Fresh Off the Boat “made” Wu, as if she has no talent or creativity of her own, simply reeks of sexism. Gratitude can exist alongside frustration—the existence of one doesn’t subtract from the other. Emotions are a complex part of the human experience after all, but as it stands, humanity isn’t afforded to angry, insubordinate Asian women.

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