The Relationship between Western Men and Eastern Women
East is East, and West is West and never the twain shall meet. Or said Rudyard Kipling. Always beware of the half truth; it trips people up, makes them swallow a half as if it were the whole.
The truth is in 2009 they do meet—online, chat rooms, Skype, bars, shopping malls, Starbucks, museums, bookstores, and through mutual friends. Why is that suddenly the whole concept of globalization shuts down the minute sex enters the equation? This is no longer Rudyard Kipling universe. But from the opinions and reviewers I’ve read about a recent book (see below) by IHT journalist Richard Bernstein, it is as if the sun still never set on the British Empire.
Men from the West date, marry, or live together women from Asia. It is a common sight to see a farang with a Thai girlfriend or wife. The problem for many people in the West is that all East/West relationships are tainted. Prostitution is the elephant in the room. And outsiders have great difficulty in distinguishing sexual services offered in entertainment areas from the usual boy meets girl world, which is often far removed from such areas.
One reviewer of Bernstein’s book wrote that: “What could be worse, one is tempted to ask, and only the sex trade in Bangkok comes to mind: just as sordid and exploitative, but without any drama offstage.” If one has such ill-founded, ignorant opinions, it would be best to keep them confined to a narrow circle of friends rather than parade them in newspaper reviews read across the globe. No offstage drama in Thailand? Where may one ask has such a person been living? I wasn’t aware that San Francisco had cave dwellers; but obviously I am wrong. Karen refugees streaming across the northern border with the Burmese army in hot pursuit; daily bombings, beheadings and shootings in the South; and military flare ups along the Cambodia border over a dispute involving a temple apparently don’t count as drama if you are in San Francisco. But from where we sit, it is drama enough.
Try to let a little light into the densely packed assumptions. That is hard. People love their guns. People love their religions. People love their fixed ideas about prostitution almost as much. Trying to have a rational discussion about prostitution is about as likely as having a rational discussion about evolution with a creationist. Nothing will change their mind.
When it comes to discussion of sex nuance is sacrificed. That would require accepting that complexity makes broad generalizations about farang and Asian relationships more akin to a child’s coloring book. There is a great deal of stupidity, conjecture, half-formed thoughts, and ignorance about cross-cultural relationships. Emotions cloud clear thinking and the discussion of sex across racial lines in Asia is Exhibit A.
Laura Miller in an essay titled “White male seeking sexy Asian women: What is the deal with Western men's erotic obsession with the East?” appears on Salon.
She has reviewed Richard Bernstein’s The East, the West, and Sex: A History of Erotic Encounters.
Here’s a flavour of Laura Miller’s take on Bernstein’s book:
“The most pervasive paradigm for the East-West erotic reverie, as even Bernstein is forced to realize as he roams the streets of Bangkok, interviewing 73-year-old American men with 22-year-old Thai "girlfriends," is prostitution. The power and wealth of Westerners -- officials of colonial Britain, American GIs stationed in Vietnam, European expats in Thailand -- when introduced into poor Asian societies where women have few other options, makes commercial sex pretty much inevitable. For all the rhapsodies about silken hair, "surrounding sensuousness," esoteric erotic arts and the ultrafemininity of Asian women, it is this economic imbalance that makes places like Bangkok so magnetic to Western men. A dollar goes much further there, whether you're buying hours of someone's labor at a sweatshop sewing machine or sexual services.”
There have been hundreds of comments posted on Salon about Laura Miller’s essay and Bernstein’s book.
Here is one example:
“Most Average American Women are unsuitable.
“After going through a long list of disappoints, terrors and what the hell was that abouts, a man wants to try something different. The hope is that perhaps another culture will be be more influential than american "culture" like Oprah, Dr. Phil and Sex in the City.
“Honestly, white women tend to creep me out. This is due to behavior. They are not like they used to be at all. I would say that everything went south when Dr. Phil went on the air.
“Before the 80s, people were sure a lot more human. What happened?”