Earlier this week, Manuel Israel, a 20-year-old Manhattan-area purse-snatcher, was arrested and charged with 36 counts, including second-degree assault, second- and third-degree robbery and multiple assault-related hate crimes charges. All of the charges stem from a series of 6 muggings involving Chinese American female victims.
When arrested, Israel apparently said that he targeted Chinese American women because he perceived us to be “vulnerable to attack”.
Authorities say that in each of the attacks, Israel allegedly ambushed the women from behind and grabbed their purses while simultaneously pushing them to the ground. Many of Israel’s alleged victims suffered injuries, including bruises and cuts. In the most recent incident — which occurred on April 6th a few minutes after midnight — a witness claims they saw Israel grab a woman from behind, allegedly putting his arm around her neck as he took her purse. That witness called 911, and Israel was arrested 20 minutes later in the area of the attack.
District Attorney Ken Thompson said in a statement: “This defendant allegedly targeted Asian women walking alone because he believed he could overpower them. Such cowardly attacks – whether based on a person’s race, gender, sexuality or ethnicity, destroy the fabric of who we are as a community and won’t be tolerated.”
There is absolutely no dispute that misogyny is not one-size-fits-all; instead, all misogyny is racialized. What Asian American women face is a very particular and specific interplay between misogyny and the Model Minority Myth: “Model Minority Misogyny”, if you will.
(Previously, I labeled this idea “Misogynasian“, but wasn’t entirely happy with the word for reasons discussed in that linked post. So these days I favour the phrase, “Model Minority Misogyny”.)
We are stereotyped as unassertive, non-aggressive, submissive, while simultaneously hypersexual. We are posited to be well-behaved and eager-to-please in all spheres: whether professionally, or emotionally, or physically, or sexually. We are lifted up in both our appearance and our demeanor as a “model of femininity”, which becomes an implicit (or sometimes explicit) castigation of Western (re: White) feminism. We are positioned through misogyny as feminism’s “wedge women”.
There are lots of reasons why this brand of racialized anti-Asian misogyny is detrimental to Asian American women. But with regard to the case of Manuel Israel, the stereotype of the unassertive and submissive Asian American women becomes the presumption that we are physically weak and vulnerable; the presumption that we will not fight back; the presumption that we are a natural target for violence.
We must wonder: how pervasive is this particular facet of Model Minority Misogyny? Could the racist perception of Asian American women as easy targets have been in the back of the minds of the LAPD police officers who kidnapped 27-year-old Kim Nguyen and sexually assaulted her in the backseat of a police car (in an incident that also involved Nguyen falling out of the cruiser while it was still moving)? Could these stereotypes have emboldened the Chicago police who physically assaulted salon owner Jianqing Klyzek during a raid? Could the same reasoning that Israel used to conclude that Asian American women are “vulnerable to attack” be the same sort of implicit biases that result in 40-60% of Asian American women reporting being victims of some form of domestic violence?
And to what extent does Model Minority Misogyny’s forced positioning of Asian American women as feminism’s “wedge woman” result in heightened anger for the Asian American woman who refuses to perform as demanded? The Asian American feminist who stands up for herself defies not just the racial boundaries of the Model Minority Myth but also the gendered boundaries of Model Minority Misogyny: is she judged more harshly for it? Do women like Ellen Pao and Nan-Hui Jo (or pundits like Suey Park, Juliet Shen, or even myself) garner backlash because we are twice dissonant — our actions deemed too subversive because they go against both the logic of White supremacy and male privilege?
Instead, Asian American women are expected to silently inhabit the stereotype of the meek and the weak; the misogynist’s ideal woman. We are expected to covet this role, despite this being no desirable social or political status: when we can only be demure and always defer, we can have no empowerment or agency for ourselves. We can only ever walk with head bowed, two steps behind and to the left.
And for some predators who’s misogyny manifests in real and brutal violence, we apparently also become “easy prey”.