We Need to Talk About Eddie Huang’s Misogyny

8446059373_bd39bfe0ce_zA few months ago, I wrote a piece praising the runaway ABC hit Fresh Off The Boat for its refreshingly nuanced, relatable and colorful portrayal of Asian Americans on network television. As an Asian Pacific American (APA)-identified woman, I have a personal investment in seeing the show succeed. I do not, however, have a reason to silence my criticism of the show or the man who inspired it—Eddie Huang—when flagrant misogyny peppered with anti-Blackness becomes Huang’s way to assert his masculinity.

Huang—the restaurateur and ascending cultural fixture whose origin story the show is loosely based off of—was recently interviewed on Real Time With Bill Maher and said, “I feel like Asian men have been emasculated so much in America that we’re basically treated like Black women.” What followed was a flurry of tweets from Black Girl Dangerous blogger Mia McKenzie and other feminist writers who rightfully called upon Huang to unpack what he meant by his words. A defensive-turned-downright condescending Huang eventually dismissed McKenzie’s criticism by tweeting, “are we dating cause you wildin. lol”

It’s unfortunate and more than a little disheartening to see the inspiration for a show that means so much to the APA community continue to brand himself as an unapologetically misogynistic, black-culture appropriator jockeying for cultural cachet by throwing women of color under the bus. Even if I’m privy to the fact that Huang doesn’t watch the show or have any creative control over it now, he is the reason the show exists and so the man and the myth are linked. Unfortunately, that link is casting an ugly shade of misogynoir over Fresh Off The Boat.

Huang’s frustration over being racially emasculated is legitimate and speaks to centuries-old stereotypes and practices used to dehumanize and degrade Asian men and, conversely, bolster white masculinity. But his approach to grappling with this flawed (and internalized) representation is wrong, and we can bear witness to that notion taking on a life of its own on the show.

I bit my tongue when I watched episode three, “The Shunning,” of Fresh Off The Boat, in which the young fictionalized Eddie Huang conjures up a dream sequence in which scantily-clad women fawn over his 12-year-old self, fanning the prepubescent flames of his wildest imagination. I bit my tongue and I bit it hard because in some ways I thought, at least this is an Asian American kid being allowed the chance to display his “masculinity,” in a culture so fixated on the emasculation of my brothers and APA men. I tried, despite a growing sense of shame in my gut, to divorce my feminist mind from my “race” mind.

Too often individuals who come from multiple oppressed communities are forced to play musical chairs with their marginalization. What comes first? What do I wait to be angry about? Why do I have to wait?

I have a big problem with waiting for content to more accurately—and more responsibly—represent what I see around me. I have a big problem with Eddie Huang’s blatant misogynistic language being fashioned as a way to “reclaim Asian American masculinity” if it means sacrificing women’s rights and viewing their bodies as collateral damage in the perennial “race war.” But what I have the biggest problem with is my own compulsory reaction to let my feminist thinking take a backseat to my anti-racist thinking out of fear of tearing down a brother. As a blogger for Reappropriate.com wrote, “we are often asked to mute our feminism and decenter ourselves in the name of blind racial solidarity,” and this has to stop. We cannot stop sounding off so long as we cannot stop embodying multiple different identities—queer, Asian American, female, what have you.

This dignity race to the top that APA individuals know all too well doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. Asian American men can reclaim and rewrite masculinity without putting down women—particularly black women who, as McKenzie tweeted, already “fight every day to be seen even as human beings.”

I am thankful that Fresh Off The Boat has been renewed for a second season, but too often feeling thankful leads to self-silencing, and I—and fellow members of the APA community—cannot allow our internalization of being the “invisible minority” prevent us from publicly calling each other out and engaging in a productive dialogue about these issues.

I stand by what I said when I first saw myself in Fresh Off The Boat, and I don’t want to stop seeing myself on screen. But I do want to see better, less misogynistic, and more honest and dignified portrayals too. That’s a minority worth modeling ourselves after.

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Photo courtesy of Flickr user Gary Stevens licensed under Creative Commons 2.0

Jenevieve Ting

Jenevieve Ting is a student at the University of Southern California and an editorial intern at Ms. She has written for The Hollywood Reporter, Next Magazine and Thought Catalog. Find out about.me/jenevieve.ting

Comments

  1. ann marie says:

    i didnt read the book. im watching the show but im not enjoying. i cant blame anything i see on that show on eddie huang though because i havent read the books and dont know whats from him or whats coming from the showrunners. i have seen and read his interviews and my understanding was they didnt get context or almost anything of importance right from the book. i heard the book showed a lot of his pain. if the way they are portraying him in the show is somewhat true to the book, all i can say is he was a kid. he wrote about what he experienced. is all that up for criticism? criticize him for what he says now and how he acts yes. but id blame the racism etc of the show on the people responsible for the show. as for asian kids (or white kids) who appropriated black culture, again they are kids. some of them are just putting on armor trying to survive. i get it. can we find a way to educate and change things without blaming kids? i hope so.

  2. meh. Ok article. Not really convinced by your evidence (one joke and one tweet) that Eddie huang is a misogynistic pig. Good try though!

    • I love it when a man tries to tell a woman what is misogynistic or not. FYI Eddie Huang’s problematic behavior is not just “one joke” or just “one tweet”.

    • I’m with smdh, it doesn’t take much to verify that the authors depiction is relevant to just one isolated event. It’s called the internet…the thing you used to get here and read this article.

  3. I wasn’t wild about the comment either but if his model is black hip hoppers, his comment was gentle in comparison. Because I am very old, willing to cut him some slack n hope it is just growing pains. You, on the other hand, don’t have to. Not getting your anti-black comment, but haven’t followed his rise that closely. Did catch him on a panel at MOCA in NY shortly after Baohaus opened. Seriously good bao.

  4. Wow, he managed to be racist AND misogynistic. He could have made his point without carelessly denigrating black women.

  5. DATArapist says:

    Racist? Misogynistic? I thought POC couldn’t be racist?

    Absolutely ridiculous.

    All Chefs are vulgar, hence why hidden away behind the scenes. Female Chefs are vastly more depraved then men, as they feel they need to over compensate for their short comings in a male dominated industry.

    Not only is Eddie a great Chef, he’s a great business man and author/documentary host.

    I’ve seen slander video after slander video with people crying about this & that. We’re adults, it’s time to grow the fuck up & take jokes as they are…as satire.

  6. I loved this article. About time someone nailed Eddie for his insanity and bigotry. I love his sitcom but hate that he makes a penny from a show he has tried to get canceled. He should thank his lucky stars that smarter people than him are in charge of it. He’s just beyond putrid and I hope all of his personal success is behind him.

  7. “Wow, he managed to be racist AND misogynistic. He could have made his point without carelessly denigrating black women.”

    I didn’t see his interview, so I don’t know the context in which he said this, but I’m trying to figure out exactly what was so racist and sexist about his statement.

    He conveyed that black women are viewed as inferior compared to other races.
    He conveyed that Asian men are viewed as inferior compared to other races.

    BOTH OF THESE ARE TRUE.
    He didn’t say black women SHOULD be mistreated, he just implied that they ARE.

    People (most of whom aren’t even black) seem to jump at the chance to be sensitive about anything regarding race, and it doesn’t help anyone. It only makes matters worse because once TRULY offensive situations take place, they are downplayed due to way-too-frequent claims about situations that are insignificant by comparison.

    I am not a fan of his, I only found out about him today, so don’t think I’m biased.

    Also, I am a proud black female. I just don’t need to cry “racism” any time a non-black person breathes air.

  8. I found myself on Eddie’s wikipedia page and saw this under controversies but the entry in his wikipedia didn’t even remotely sound controversial. So here I am after following the link sources for this controversy and I’m still not convinced there’s anything controversial. Like the poster above me, he made a point and comparison that I’ve seen a lot of black women talk and write about themselves. BGD just seemed to twist things to have something to be offended about, and after that was just a whatever Twitter argument of no value whatsoever. This just cuts down on the legitimacy of Twitter and wikipedia.

  9. Thank you for this piece. A part of me is always torn with Eddie because he’s done some great interviews on his show but overall has said some problematic things. As a black woman, I want to see everyone success and I certainly can see how bad Asian American men are treated. However, after seeing the tweet storm that occurred there were some comments in which came off racists to the black women that called him out. Those that commented that couldn’t see how it was probably only read the one sentence from wikipedia and that alone. Not to mention, you can’t equate how Asian men are treated in comparison to black women because men will still receive that inch of respect women overall, especially black women aren’t always privileged to be on the receiving end of. As for saying that he’s mimicking rappers and it was tame then hey newsflash rappers don’t get a pass either so that point becomes invalid. Again, thank you Jenevieve for pointing this out and promoting solidarity. We all have to stand together regardless of our different backgrounds rather than give people a pass just because you weren’t on the receiving end of those comments or because they don’t look like you.

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