Emasculation and Castration

This video clip from the show “Two Broke Girls” displays an aspect of the relationship between title character, Kat Dennings and her boss, Han Lee, the owner of the restaurant that she works at. Han is often the subject of jokes due to his height, effeminate characteristics (despite his declaration to heterosexuality), and little knowledge of American culture. His character, as shown in this clip, exemplifies the media’s negative portrayal of Asian means emasculated, sexually perverse and subjected by the white (men and women) gaze.

In this comedy, Han, the restaurant owner, is a short man that Kat, the main character, is trying to convince to get a cat. She harasses (though in a funny way, so there’s nothing frightening about the act) him by slapping him gently on the behind and repeating, “kitty.” He rises up and asks “Why did I like that so much?” with desperation and innocence.

“I don’t know. Something with boobs was touching you?” Kat responds.

Han admits that the only person “with boobs” who touched him is his mother, showing his lack of sex life. Shown as unattractive, hopeless and ignorant, Han is a sexually deprived character. His lack of sex life is the punch line of every joke. Later, when he slaps Kat on the behind, mimicking her earlier actions, the laugh track is louder and longer because Han couldn’t possibly be sexually intimidating. Kat turns around with a dead-pan face, and say that he not only will not do that again, but that she owns the restaurant. She exerts her powers and influence over Han for violating her, although she doesn’t take this violation seriously.

America has a long history of emasculating Asian men and reducing them sexually and racially. The Page Act of 1875 was the first of the long list of restrictive immigrant laws that prevented the entrance of foreigners who were considered “undesirable.” At the time of the law, many Asian men came to the United States to work on the railroads during the California Gold Rush. The Page Act, however, forbade women who worked as prostitutes, but due to bias in the system, practically excluded all women. These Asian men lived in the early Chinatowns that consisted completely of bachelors. Sexually deprived, these Asian men were also confined to feminized jobs in America such as laundry workers and restaurant workers. Han, fulfilling America’s expectations of him, not only doesn’t have a sex life, but also serves as a restaurant-owner.

 

This scene does more than just formulate Han’s sexuality. It also informs us of his racial identity that reinforces his emasculation. Sexual and racial differences cannot be interpreted in isolation. In Racial Castration, David Eng observes “masculinity in Asian American literary and cultural productions with psychoanalytic, feminist, queer, postcolonial and critical race theories” (2). Through observing literature through interdisciplinary studies as listed above, Eng argues for the “impossibility of thinking racism and sexism as separate discourses or distinct spheres of analysis” (2). The word “Oriental” signified “feminine – weak, delicate, poor” in contrast to the West as “masculine – big guns, big industry, big money” (1). Given this history of cultural imagination rooted in sexuality, the Asian American male subjectivity has always been formulated within both racial and sexual contexts. Han not only is a sexually deprived human being, but also a stereotypical racial figure. His ignorance of American culture, dedicated work ethic, lack of originality and status as restaurant owner are qualities that perpetuate Asian stereotypes and white supremacy. Along with the physical characteristics of unattractive shortness, Han is a formulated narrative of the Asian male as emasculated, sexually inappropriate and ignorant of his environment. Kat, a lower class white woman, exerts her power over Han, showing that he lacks any kind of social power. In other words, white feminism trumps Asian men who do not exhibit masculine features.

When Han suggests that he likes being hit on the behind, he suggests an inclination to BDSM, suggesting although the Asian man is suppressed, he also has a hint of sexually perversity. This links directly with his racialized image. Eng cites Freud’s Totem and Taboo that outlines that relationship between “primitive” sexual acts and “civilized” acts (6). The figure of the “primitive” is a dark-skinned savage that contrast with the “civilized” European man who is the “primitive man’s unrealized psychic potential” (Eng 7). The “primitive” man can’t progress psychically or socially, having fallen outside the “chain of psychic evolution” (Eng 7). Similarly, Han is not developed socially due to his ignorance and his constant lack of American cultural knowledge equates to his permanent role as the ignorant fool. Furthermore, Freud sees sexual impropriety as a mark of primitively. He comments that the sexual life of the primitive result from their lack of restriction, resulting in a “heightened sexual instinct” (Eng 8). Freud’s racial narrative shows his “convergence of sexuality and race” that enters the center of psychoanalysis (Eng 10). While Han exhibits his sexual repression as a socially and romantically unwanted Asian man, he also has an instinct for the kinky sex acts.

As “Two Broke Girls” rose to fame as being a funny and feminist comedy, certain aspects of it still perpetuate unhealthy sexual characters that reinforce racial stereotypes at the expense of Asian men.

 

Works Cited:

“Two Broke Girls — Kitty Spanking Han!” Youtube Web. from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qMGb48ZPM9U

Eng, David. Racial Castration. Durham: Duke University Press, 2001. Print.

“Page Act of 1875.” Wikipedia. Web. from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Page_Act_of_1875