Discriminating Sex: White Leisure and the Making of the American “Oriental”

Friday, January 5, 2018: 8:30 AM
Washington Room 2 (Marriott Wardman Park)
Amy H. Sueyoshi, San Francisco State University
In the late 1890s, “wide open” San Francisco appeared to be a place where men and women could configure their intimate lives in expansive and unconventional ways. Rising rates of divorce, increasing sexual independence among women, and state condoned sex work defined the city. Yet as whites explored and enacted new norms of romance and womanhood, increasing freedoms would be less accessible for Asians in America. White writers, lyricists, illustrators, and other producers of leisure culture projected shifting norms of middle class gender and sexuality upon specifically Chinese and Japanese in newspapers, magazines, plays, and musicals. These characterizations would then conflate Chinese and Japanese, previously perceived as two separate races, into a single group. Discriminating Sex details how middle class white expansion of their own gender and sexual norms marked the formation of the pan-Asian “Oriental,” a deeply sexual racialized stereotype, more than a hundred years ago.
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