“Angry Asian Aussies”: Asian-Australian Online Masculinities in the Meme Age


This decade has seen the rise of the alt-right, the “red-pill” movement and similar social trends. Typically associated with white nationalist sentiment, these discourses have also permeated elsewhere. I examined the extent and nature of these narratives among users of the popular online forum Reddit, analyzing forum posts written by those identifying as, or who can reasonably assumed to be Asian-Australian. I investigated the attitudes of posters towards gender and race relations and being an Asian male in modern day Australia, demonstrating the porosity of individual identities to global social trends. Ironically, the beliefs and values of online posters were themselves shaped by the powers that they resent.  I contended that there are significant implications of popular online cultures for Asian male self-imaginations in our current society.

I selected four of the most relevant discussion forums, or “subreddits” related to Asian male experiences (r/hapas, r/aznidentity, r/EasternSunRising and r/AsianMasculinity), encompassing 22 discussion threads involving about 25 Asian-Australian male users. From these discussions I detected some recurring patterns. Starting with the theme of gender relations, I noticed a prevailing attitude of misogyny, the objectification of women, and the centring of the male gaze. A recurring theme was AMWF (Asian Male, White Female) relationships. Such relationships were often depicted as a kind of achievement, with much discussion involving the encountering or achieving AMWF relationships. In contrast, WMAF coupling was met with overwhelming negativity.

There are also trends about how race relations are discussed. There was a preponderance of anti-black, anti-Indigenous and Islamophobic rhetoric. There was a strong sense of contempt towards Indigenous Australians, who were discussed in terms appropriated from old colonial discourses, such as the “dying race” trope. Ironically, many users were also only too happy to raise the treatment of Indigenous people by whites to highlight the cruelty and moral debasement of white people. Similarly, black Africans, Arabs and Muslims were associated with crime and violence. There was talk about “Muslimification” of “Eurostan” and the importance for “Asian culture” to resist Islam. Of course, this sense of Asianess and Islam being mutually exclusive fails to account for the many Asian cultures which are Muslim.

Although the redditors critiqued white masculinity, they ultimately failed to subvert the structural and discursive norms of white dominance, and indeed, often replicated them is a different guise.  For instance, the desexualisation of Asian men was commonly rejected through the expression of combativeness and sexual aggression. Likewise, frustrations about racial discrimination and loss of culture and identity were answered via the projection of vitriol against other minorities. The negation of threats towards Asian masculinity was defined by the success in performing hegemonic masculinity, rather than questioning it. In these online discourses, subversion was attempted through embracing hypersexuality and one’s threat potential.

Different processes of racialization according to gender might have been a factor influencing attitudes. In colonial white imaginations, Asian females were often looked upon as objects of pity or desire. Conversely, Asian males are stigmatised as either lacking desire or being full of it in a perverse way. In addition, current cultural trends and contexts might also play a role. For instance, Australian hegemonic masculinity and pop culture in general glorifies sexual conquest. The convergence of this cultural norm with the felt need to respond to a particular negative image may bias the response towards manifesting in aggressive misogyny.

One more observation was the presumption of a universal “Asianness”. This was often poorly defined and highly arbitrary. In practice, this functioned as a form of gatekeeping, used to define the in-crowd and isolate and reject those deemed outside of the pale. This draws artificial boundaries assigning immutable, innate characteristics to solidified groups. Though superficially transcending narrow ethnic identification in favour of a sort of pan-Asian unity, such a practice ultimately obfuscates diversity and replicates colonial white categories.

This study, though modest and exploratory in nature, has interesting implications, not least for inter-ethnic solidarity efforts. In an age where more young Asian-Australians are developing an awareness and interest in supporting Indigenous sovereignty and social justice in general, this study indicates how other Asian-Australians may be hostile to such movements. My data suggests that at least some Asian-Australian male hostility towards Indigenous peoples, Muslims, women and other minorities may be linked to a reaction against real or perceived anti-Asian discrimination, especially of a gendered nature. This is often manifested in adoption of a hyper-(ethno)nationalist stance, and/or exaggerated, compensatory masculinity which is often informed by alt-right politics and rhetoric.

Author: Austin Tseng

AUSTIN TSENG recently completed a MA in Asian Studies with the University of Auckland. For his thesis, he researched the cultural impact in New Zealand of the SS Ventnor shipwreck—an long-overlooked but compelling history involving the country’s Chinese and Māori inhabitants. Austin is interested in the history of and issues facing Chinese diasporas globally, particularly Chinese-Indigenous relations and activism against racism. He has written for various publications, including Blackmail Press online poetry magazine, Gen M zine, Craccum magazine, Hainamana online magazine and the ACRAWSA (Australian Critical Race and Whiteness Studies Association) blog.

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