So how do you respond when someone tells you your child is a China doll? Have you explained the phrase to your child? How does your child feel about it? Any suggested responses for parents to make to people who are probably just being kind, but may need a little education? Any suggested responses for children to make when told they're a little China doll?
The term “China doll” unsettles me. It unsettles me because I’ve met people who coo and squee over Asian girls because “they are so cute”. I have trouble with the term because it ties into the whole “submissive Asian” trope. It bothers me because I am Chinese, and the term “China doll”, which could characterize all Chinese women who fit a certain physical look, effectively strips us of our agency in the eyes of others, rendering us, well, dolls.
I took a hard look at that set of pictures. I also thought back to other times I wore similar makeup. I generally avoid heavy makeup for this reason: looking like a China
doll. But even as I was avoiding the “China Doll” look, I neglected to ask what the hell, exactly, a “China doll” looks like.
Then I realized, no matter what makeup I wear, I will always look like a “China doll” to someone. I can’t help that – I’m Chinese! I can’t dictate that everyone think of me as a normal human being – there’s no way I can police that. I can’t help it that some people don’t think women should be wearing such striking makeup to begin with. I can’t help it that people stereotype Asians.
Like many other things, the term “China doll” refers to a construct, an idea of what something should be like. A China doll will look like what the viewer wants her to look like. She can range from simply being an Asian woman, to being a fetishly hyper-sexualized submissive. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that this is a stereotype, and one damaging to Asian women.
Sunday, September 6, 2009
I suspect we've all heard it -- someone "complimenting" our child by saying she looks just like a "China doll." We've all certainly read the China-adoptive parent discussion lists where APs describe their own children as China dolls. I've always hated the expression -- it's objectifying, stereotyping, and for adult women, infantalizing. Jha'Meia at Rebellious Jezebel Blogging, reacts to the phrase as applied to photos of her: