Subjugating APA Women One Meal At A Time


‘Cuz when I go out to dinner, I’m looking for a little bit of racism with my sushi entree.

The Asian American community is no stranger to offensive Asian-themed restaurants. Here in Tucson, the Asian American community successfully lobbied a local restaurant named “Eggrolls, Etc.” to change multiple anti-Asian references in their menu. Last year, this blog was involved in lobbying a restaurant on the East Coast in an effort to raise awareness about advertisements that exotified and objectified the Asian female form.

But, here we go on: a restaurant that has yet to open in the Oakland area is raising more than mere eyebrows. This restaurant will be named “Geisha”.

Yes, you read that right: “Geisha”.

As an Asian American woman, I am deeply offended by the title of this proposed restaurant, and am even more insulted by the nerve of the restaurant owners to open such a derogatorily-named establishment in the heart of one of the nation’s more populous Asian American communities. The last thing that Asian American women and girls need is to be walking down the street and get exposed to yet another example of mainstream exotification and subjugation of our bodies. America’s fascination with the geisha image is not for merely due to the rampant sexuality of the stereotype; no, it is an obsession with a distinctly racialized image of an Asian woman as existing purely for pleasure and domination by men. We’re not merely talking about simply hypersexualizing the Asian/Asian American woman (as if that weren’t bad enough) — we’re talking about glorifying the sexual slavery of the Asian/Asian American female body by rendering her nothing more than a meek, demure and ultimately silent sexual plaything. The persistence of the geisha image in the American cultural landscape is a daily affront to strong and empowered Asian American women, and takes the cause of Asian/Asian American feminism several steps backwards.

But, before I go on waxing philosophical, check out this incredible letter by professor of Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley, Dianne Wu. Wu breaks down the argument against “Geisha” poignantly and eloquently in her letter to the Oakland Planning Commission, urging them to deny a permit for “Geisha”. You can read the full text at Angry Asian Man, but I’ll quote my favourite part regarding microaggressions:

A recent study conducted by Derald Wing Sue et al (2007) from the Teachers College at Columbia university identified 8 major types of microaggressions commonly experienced by Asian Americans. Of the 8, 2 are relevant to the issue at hand today.

First is the exotification of Asian women, where Asian and Asian American women are perceived as being available for sexual favors for men. As Jessica Tan and Jen-Mei Wu’s testimonials also concur, these incidents are not isolated to academic books and journals and radical social justice circles, but a salient feature of Asian American women’s lives in Oakland, in downtown, in the United States every day. I would hope and expect that the Oakland in which I live, work, love and play would absolutely reject any role in allowing this stereotype to live or become in any way a feature of the physical or psychological landscape of this city.

Second was the widespread denial of Asian Americans racial realities. This included messages being conveyed were that Asians are not an ethnic minority group, experience little or no discrimination, and that their racial concerns are unimportant. In this case, the group’s prior attempted exchanges with Perry were met with absolute denial that our concerns about the name of the bar-restaurant-lounge could possibly be reinforcing a racist and sexist stereotype, nor even that geisha itself was a racist and sexist stereotype in the US and Western context.

According to Wing Sue et al, microaggressions are brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to people of color because they belong to a racial – and this case, racial and sex-based – minority group. These exchanges are so pervasive and automatic in daily interactions that they are often dismissed and glossed over as being innocuous.

Sadly, the Oakland Planning Commission confirmed the perceived innocuousness of these kind of anti-Asian stereotypes by voting in favour of “Geisha”. Here are the names of the four commissioners who voted “yes” (kindly collected by spamfriedrice over at Asian Americans for Progress) —  Act Now! and write a letter expressing your displeasure at their votes:

Michael Colbruno
Clear Channel Outdoor
555 12th Street, Suite 950
Oakland, CA 94607
Fax: 663-4662

C. Blake Huntsman
SEIU, Local 1021
155 Myrtle Street
Oakland, CA 94607
452-2366, ext. 522
Fax: 452-2436

Douglas Boxer
Boxer & Associates, Inc.
300 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, Suite 500
Oakland, CA 94612
Fax: 835-0415

Vince Gibbs
City of Oakland
250 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza Ste. 3315
Oakland, CA 94612
(510) 903-9516

In addition, write about how you find the restaurant’s name offensive on Yelp, where the restaurant’s owners are trying to stir up some good press for their future establishment. And of course, if you live in the Oakland area, boycott the living hell out of the place.

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Categories Categories AANHPI, Act Now!, Feminism


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  • SayBlade

    The root of the problem with using the name “Geisha” lies with American — or at least western — understanding of who and what geisha are. These women are educated skilled artists, actors, musicians, singers, performers, comedians and educated communicators and do not usually provide sexual services. They are highly paid for their abilities. They are not prostitutes.

  • karen

    I had no idea some asians felt like this. I guess I’d never thought about it before. eye-opening, thanks

  • julia

    seriously?? I’m sorry, i have never known for an Asian woman to be specifically targeted because of them being there only for the ‘domination and sexual subjugation’ by men. that applies to “ALL WOMEN”. not just Asian and i can’t imagine what would make you think this way. i do not see a proliferation of Asian specific sex jokes…. if anything, it begins with blonde women, then black women, then hot sexy Latina. if anything, Asian women are seen as asexual, androgynous and most times, hyper focused and intelligent.

    any exploitation has been brought upon Asian women by Asian men. it is not mainstream. you should be fighting the exploitation of all women.

    also, you are going on the assumption that all Americans are too stupid to know what a geisha is. I have never viewed them as sexual objects. their very nature is that of a cherry blossom: delicate, beautiful, but untouchable. i don’t see many geisha porn videos… aside from the ones made in Asian countries.

    a restaurant called ‘geisha’ is not offensive in the least. it’s no worse than a Chinese restaurant called ‘the great wall’ or any other vague depiction to Asian countries. all names chosen by Asian people.

    if anything, I’ve seen more Asians look down on their own culture and turn their backs on their own people MORE than any American. most Americans love Asian culture for its peace and serenity inducing environs… not because Asian women are just so hot that we should all have one at the foot of our beds ready to service us.

    That seems to be your impression of Asian/Asian American women.

  • anon

    Seriously? This is offensive to you? Grow up. People are idiots, and they’ll never change. Get used to it. Do you really think the people that are guilty of these “trespasses” against Asian people will ever read this, or anything of the like? Not bloody likely.

    SayBlade is absolutely correct. “Geisha” women wear floor-length garments, and are not “exotified” any more than any other group of women out there. Put your race card back in the deck, focus on being a good human being, and stop wasting your time on this drivel. It’s people like you that are responsible for creating race/gender/ethnic rifts in the world.

    Find something more worthwhile to write about…try poverty or substance abuse or the literacy rate or conflict diamonds…you know, things that really matter. None of this “Poor Asians! People think we’re attractive” crap. Seriously…

  • Hi I found your article really interesting. I am currently writing about different attitudes to sex work, including legislation, from a UK perspective. I am a feminist and am very interested in all perspectives on pornography/sexwork, especially from other feminists. I agree that the geisha is a racial stereotype mobilised in service industries, including the sex industry. I don’t agree that this necessarily needs to be ‘outlawed’. Sexuality/pornography/sexwork uses stereotypes to function. I believe in supporting sex workers rights. If you would like more of a conversation about this please get in touch!

    My main response to the craigslist ad was, I hope they offer a decent payment for the evening’s work!


  • Savanah

    What you are saying is completely valid. If what I am reading in these posts is correct, that there are those who are unable to see the objectification of Asian/Asian American women, then Please tell me where you live, what you watch on television, who you associate with, and where you work- because SIGN ME UP! As a feminist I am always on alert for agressive behavior or language towards women- just yesterday it happened that one of my friends starting dating an Asian woman and BOYYYYY oh BOY did he get a lot of “ohhh brahhhh, c’mon… does she….INSERT SILLY FABLE ABOUT ASIAN WOMEN’S SEXUALITY AND BODIES.” As a white American woman I know how it feels when I see “Girls Gone Wild,” but I dont know what it feels like to see the proliferation of submissive, Asian sex slaves. I’ll keep my eyes open and be ready to make a move when I encounter my own Geisha restaurant! “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”

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  • Anon and Julia please go into a coma

    Fucking over-privileged trolls will never get it. Calling this the race card.

    Lets see how well things work out when I open the ss burgers and steaks.

    “try poverty or substance abuse or the literacy rate or conflict diamonds…you know, things that really matter” Ya, they do matter. Want to guess why those communities have these problems, dumb fuck?

    DeBeers has a virtual monopoly over diamonds. He jacks up the prices by artificially keeping the market supply low by doling them out a few pieces at a time. Diamonds are plentiful in some parts of the world, where they are seen as a nuisance.

    Want to know where inner cities have a drug problem and illiteracy issues?

    The same fucking assholes who have the nerve to blame people of color for “pulling the race card” when they bring up legitimate grievances.

    So, if you want to help out, then stfu and fight on their behalf. At the very least, you can fuck off this blog.

  • While I definitely appreciate the sentiment, ad hominems aren’t permitted on the blog, which is my one attempt to keep the discussion civil!

  • AL

    Julia sounds like a (non-Asian) dude.