by Lauren Dubravec
April 1st, 2021

The cutesy yet hypersexualized, exotic yet non-threatening “Harajuku Girl'' archetype was introduced to American mainstream media in Gwen Stefani’s 2004 album, Love. Angel. Music. Baby.

The “Harajuku Girls” wore matching caricatured versions of Japanese schoolgirl uniforms and silently followed Stefani around, smiling and giggling on cue. Appropriated Japanese women’s fashion is one of the most recognizable examples of racialized fashion, and Stefani’s “Harajuku girls'' are simply one of the many examples of the western fetishization of Asian femininity. The “Harajuku Girl’s” submission to the western male gaze gives the archetype a non-threatening sex appeal that is easily commodified across the globe, where it is simplified and packaged to promote an orientalist construction and fetishization of Asian women. Hypersexualizing women like the “Harajuku Girls” by infantilizing them subjugates Asian women by associating their attractiveness and sexuality with powerlessness and innocence. They are not seen as sexually attractive despite their perceived infantility and powerlessness, but rather because of it. They are constantly told to make themselves small to be appealing. Valuing Asian women for innocence and powerlessness promotes the idea that they can only be accepted if they do not challenge the pre-existing racial hierarchy and Western cultural dominance.

Anti-Asian racism tends to be a more socially “acceptable” form of racism in the US, which has contributed to the widespread hatred during the COVID-19 pandemic. People feel “comfortable” saying and promoting racist ideas about Asian Americans and referring to COVID-19 as the “Chinese Virus” or “Kung-Flu,” without social repercussions. “Accepted” racism is nothing new for Asian American women. Nancy Wang Yuen, a sociology professor at Biola University who specializes in race and ethnicity in media, told NPR that, “For Asian American women, misogyny and racism are inseparable.” In the US, Asian women are hypersexualized and reduced to a small, childlike, and submissive orientalist stereotype like Stefani’s “Harajuku Girls.” They are fetishized and expected to conform to the western image of Asian women promoted by popular culture influences like anime and Hello Kitty. Unfortunately, it took the horrifying hate crime we saw on March 16th at the Gold Spa in Atlanta to bring national attention to the hatred and dehumanization that Asian American women have been subjected to for centuries. It should not take an act of unthinkable violence for us to recognize the humanity of a massive group of Americans. Anti-racism is not selective. No forms of prejudice are acceptable and, now more than ever, it is incredibly important to speak up for the rights of Asian Americans to their narratives, bodies, and citizenship.