The Asian Mystique by Sheridan Prasso

by David Pullar

27 October 2006


If ignorance breeds prejudice, then a well-informed, comprehensive survey of racial perceptions is a good antidote. This is certainly Sheridan Prasso’s intention with The Asian Mystique, a book that seeks to put to bed every last misunderstanding Westerners have about Asians, particularly those of Asian women as either submissive or sadistic.

Mystique is essentially two books with a similar theme. The first is a critical examination of perceptions of Asian people, as developed through historical interaction, colonialism, war and television. The second is an anthropological study of a sample of modern Asian women to determine how well they fit the stereotypes.

cover art

The Asian Mystique

Sheridan Prasso

Dragon Ladies, Geisha Girls and Our Fantasies of the Orient

(Public Affair)

The analysis of Asian stereotypes past and present is illuminating. Prasso is no historian and sometimes her analysis of events and interactions appears slight. However, in a polemical work, a certain amount of assertion and selectiveness is only to be expected. Where Prasso shines is in her look at the highly circumscribed roles available to Asians in popular culture. The fact that most people consider the idea of an Asian romantic lead in a Hollywood film ludicrous gives some indication of the state of affairs.

The oral sociology presented in the book’s second half is less revolutionary, if only because its observations are not surprising after the dissection of stereotypes in the early chapters. Prasso first points out how narrow and absurd the caricatures are given the sheer number and diversity of Asian peoples (are Koreans and Cambodians any more similar than French and Finns?) She then proceeds to give example after example of how the women behind the clichés (bar girl, housewife, prostitute, martial arts mistress) diverge from expectations.

Overall, Prasso makes a compelling and well-researched point. Her message to Westerners to address their mythologising of the East is nothing less than a wake-up-call. The only shame is that those most in need of a reality check will never read it.

We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work. We are a wholly independent, women-owned, small company. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing, challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. PopMatters needs your help to keep publishing. Thank you.

//Mixed media

Jason Molina's Mythological Palette, Warts and All

// Re:Print

"Osmon lights the oil lamps on the process of Molina’s creative wonder, from toddling on the shores of Lake Erie to the indie folk pedestal he so deservedly sits upon today.

READ the article