by Erin Chew
Asian American and Pacific Islander women face a long history of sexual objectification. In 1875, the Page Act banned Chinese women from entering the USA on the grounds of sexual deviance. Then came World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War which reinforced the stereotype that Asian women were sexual objects for Western soldiers. This image was further perpetuated by Hollywood in popular culture.
In 2020, the Stop AAPI Hate Reporting Centre reported that almost 70% of anti-Asian hate crimes in the USA were reported by AAPI women. Around 52% of these reports stated that the experience impacted their lives; 17% felt unsafe in public; 16% experienced sexual harassment and 13% experienced violence due to their race or gender. The 2021 Atlanta spa shootings that claimed the lives of eight people, including six AAPI women, highlighted the significance of racial and gendered stereotypes.
To delve more into the issue of sexual violence against AAPI women, AsAmNews sat down to talk with Rowena Chiu, a former assistant and victim of ex-Hollywood producer and convicted sex offender Harvey Weinstein. Chiu is now an advocate against sexual violence and is currently writing a book about her experience.
According to Chiu, when AAPI women are stereotyped as sexual objects, they are dehumanized and designated as easy victims.
“Race was an element in my own sexual assault experience with Harvey Weinstein,” Chiu said. “Harvey told me he liked Chinese girls because they were discrete, and this horrified me and made me feel less of a woman and exploited.”
In Weisntein’s eyes, she was easy prey—submissive and compliant.
“When I think deeper into what he said to me, it is clear that he wanted to prey on me because I was an Asian woman, and that meant no matter what he did to me, I would just accept it and never complain,” said Chiu. “This over sexualization of AAPI women is a volatile package which Hollywood and Western media have been perpetuating for decades.”
Chiu came forward about her sexual assault not long after the #MeToo movement. She worked as an assistant at Miramax in the 1990s and had only met Weinstein two times before she claimed he attempted to rape her on a business trip to the 1998 Venice Film Festival. She has said that during a late-night meeting to discuss scripts, Weinstein asked her to massage him, then pushed her against the bed and removed her tights before she managed to escape.
Chiu’s traumatic experience was one of the stories featured in the film “She Said,” released last October. The film details the journey of reporters covering the Weinstein case. Actresses Ashley Chiu and Angela Yeoh play Rowena Chiu as her younger and current self, respectively.
In an interview with AsAmNews, both actresses said that speaking to and playing Chiu enlightened them to the severity of the issue and made them more aware of their own experiences of harassment.
“As a young woman in New York City, I have always been catcalled or had ‘Konichiwa’ and ‘Ni Hao’ casually called out to me in the street by non-Asian men. I used to brush them off as nothing, but ever since I got to know Rowena and was able to play a younger her, I realize how these little experiences were all interconnected to the sexual stereotypes we as Asian women get subjected to,” said Ashley Chiu.
Yeoh was similarly impacted by her role in the movie.
“Having the opportunity to play the current Rowena has made me think of the times I got hustled on the street with sexual remarks and how this is due to the sexualized stereotyping of Asian women,” added Yeoh. “Until we think deeply, we don’t really realize how dehumanizing it is to be treated this way in public.”
For Chiu, the decision to go public with her sexual assault required some reflection. One of her hopes was that her decision would encourage more AAPI women to talk about their experiences and remove the stigma around being a victim.
“It is time we change the tide. As AAPI women, we have been silent about being targets of sexual violence for way too long,” said Chiu. “My decision to tell my experience is to help other AAPI women to realize they are not invisible and that we can work to take down these sexual stereotypes which have been placed upon us.”
To learn more about the anti-Asian hate and sexual violence against AAPI women, please refer to the Stop AAPI Hate Report. The film “She Said” can be viewed on streaming platforms.
AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on Facebook, X, Instagram, TikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.