Crazy, Rich, “Hegemonically Masculine” Asians?

crazy rich asians

By Jane Hatfield

Although attempting to be progressive as the first Hollywood film with an all Asian cast in over 25 years, Crazy Rich Asians perpetuates traditional gender norms of hegemonic masculinity and femininity. The texts Everyday Women and Gender Studies and Gender Inequality help display the implications of the movie’s differing portrayal of both genders.

The bachelor and bachelorette party scenes in the film define typical gender roles as the men party, drink, and shoot guns while the women shop, gossip, and tan on the beach. At the bachelor party, the men are constantly surrounded by beautiful female models, all of whom sit around them or on their laps in tiny bikinis. This portrayal of women reinforces the belief that women exist only in order to appeal to men, to be seen as sexual, beautiful objects for the taking. As Judith Lorber explains in Gender Inequality, “one of the manifestations of men’s objectification of women is the male gaze, the cultural creation of women as the objects of men’s sexual fantasies” (174). The scene further supports traditional masculinity when one bachelor takes a bazooka gun and fires it off of the ship. Since this act of aggression and the use of guns is seen as stereotypically male, Crazy Rich Asians supports traditional gender norms. In “Racializing the Glass Escalator,” Adia Wingfield concludes, “contemporary hegemonic masculine ideals emphasize toughness, strength, aggressiveness, heterosexuality, and a clear sense of femininity as different from and subordinate to masculinity” (266). Through its bachelor party scene, Crazy Rich Asians perpetuates hegemonic qualities of masculinity and depictions of women as subordinate to men.

On the flip side, the Asian women in the bachelorette party spend most of their time on a shopping spree, squealing with joy at the thought of buying new clothes and products. The portrayal of characters Araminta, Amanda, and Francesca as product-crazy consumerists redefines the stereotype that femininity is defined by an interest and dedication to beauty. In “The Muslim Women,” Lila Abu-Luhgod states that America is “a nation that exploits women like consumer products or advertising tools, calling upon customers to purchase them”  (31). While reinforcing the idea that women are the primary consumer of beauty products, the film also suggests that women themselves are a product to be consumed, as evident in the sexualization and objectification in Crazy Rich Asians’ bachelor party scene. Further, when Amanda and some of the other girls leave a dead fish on Rachel’s bed with the words “gold-digging bitch” written on the mirror, Crazy Rich Asians perpetuates the stereotype that women are inherently bitchy and love to gossip, especially when it comes to their boyfriends.

Overall, whether overt or not, the differing portrayal of females and males in Crazy Rich Asians reinforces hegemonic masculinity, As Braithwaite and Orr state in Everyday Women and Gender Studies, “these are the characteristics of real men constantly              re-presented around us, in everything from popular culture (film, TV, music videos) to the workplace; indeed there is a long history of such representations of what has been called hegemonic masculinity” (311). Since the film constantly switches back between shots from the bachelor and bachelorette parties, Crazy Rich Asians helps to contrast and define what it means to be feminine and masculine.

 


Note: This essay was written by a student in Dr. Heidi R. Lewis’ First-Year Experience (FYE) course FG110 Introduction to Feminist and Gender Studies. FG110 teaches students how to examine, power, inequality, and privilege along the lines of gender, sexuality, race, socioeconomic status, age, physicality, and other social, cultural, and political markers using multi-, inter-, and transdisciplinary approaches. The students visited a local theatre to screen Crazy Rich Asians, and this essay was written in response.

Glitter and Gold: Glorification of Marriage in Crazy Rich Asians

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By Jasmine Linder

Crazy Rich Asians portrays a familiar story of a woman seeking acceptance into a family. After introduced to the Young family through her prospective spouse, Rachel Chu finds herself negotiating the lives of the Youngs and her background. Although she faces scrutiny and judgement by the Young family, Rachel eventually wins acceptance through Nick Young’s proposal. Although this ending is positive for the audience of the film it can be viewed as problematic. By casting Nick and Rachel’s marriage as the “happily ever after” ending of the film, Crazy Rich Asians glorifies marriage as the ideal, devaluing Rachel’s independence and dignity.

Despite the couple’s clear happiness and affection, the Young family rejects the idea of their marriage. The reasoning behind their disapproval, as Aunt Eleanor explains, is that they are “not of the same people”. Through this, Eleanor is referring to the economic gap between the Chu and Young family, as well as the fact that Rachel spent the majority of her life living in America. Rachel is seen as different due to her individuality at home, not fitting into what Judith Lorber would describe as “gendered structures” (Lorber, 219) which fit into social order of China. Due to the Young’s emphasis on Chinese tradition, Rachel would fail her job as a married woman. Additionally, Kumiko Nemoto explains the social aspect of marriage stating, “Images and discourses of interracial relationships make some couples more socially acceptable than others” (Kemoto, 230). Although this quote is referring to the social implications of interracial couples, it can be applied because Rachel is seen as an “other” due to her American upbringing and cultural identity. Her background makes her less ideal in the eyes of Nick’s traditional family. Furthermore, Rachel is villainized by Nick’s family friends. Nick’s mom goes as far as to tell Rachel that she will “never be good enough” for Nick. This scene exemplifies the ways that the Youngs scrutinized Rachel for who she was. Keeping this in mind, it is interesting how happily Rachel accepts the Young family as her own.

Despite this humiliation and judgement, Rachel quickly accepts her invitation to join the Young family. This acceptance completely dismisses the main conflict of the film—the Young family doesn’t embrace Rachel for who she is or where she comes from. It also diminishes the empowerment that Rachel felt after leaving the Youngs in the first place. The film leaves many questions unanswered, such as where the couple will live (will they remain in New York, allowing Rachel to continue her career, or follow Nick’s family to Singapore?) By failing to answer key questions of the plot, the film re-affirms the idea that marriage is of upmost importance. In “One Is Not Born a Bride”, Chys Ingraham describes the nature of marriage stating, “identity in relation to marriage is universal and in no need of explanation” (Ingraham, 43). Ingraham suggests that marriage is seen as vital in the formation of identity and asks no explanation.  Rather than looking back on the questions that complicated their marriage in the first place, Rachel and Nick engage without question.

On the surface, Crazy Rich Asians looks to be a positive movie about a couple’s victorious romance. However, when looked at through a critical lens, it becomes apparent that the film re-enforces the idea that marriage is the ideal. Through this idealization, Crazy Rich Asians conveys the message that marriage is the solution, leading to a happy life. This is not always the case. In the “Lesbian Feminism” section of Gender Inequality, Lorber describes the empowerment that women feel in rejecting societal norms regarding relationships.  Keeping this in mind, it is important to question what the storyline would have been life if Rachel chose what empowered her, leaving the family which disrespected her identity, rather than settling for what is expected—marriage.

 


Note: This essay was written by a student in Dr. Heidi R. Lewis’ First-Year Experience (FYE) course FG110 Introduction to Feminist and Gender Studies. FG110 teaches students how to examine, power, inequality, and privilege along the lines of gender, sexuality, race, socioeconomic status, age, physicality, and other social, cultural, and political markers using multi-, inter-, and transdisciplinary approaches. The students visited a local theatre to screen Crazy Rich Asians, and this essay was written in response.

Complicated Positionalities of Asian Women in Crazy Rich Asians

crazy rich asians

By Avia Hailey

This film is categorized as a romantic comedy, but as it delves deeper into societal and cultural issues it becomes so much more. The film begins with a flash back to an “old-timey” 1995 London. Eleanor Young arrives with her children, all soaked from the rain, to the hotel where she reserved a suite. They are turned down their suite by an all white, condescending male hotel staff. From the body language and speech that the staff give, the watcher is eluded to the fact that Mrs. Young and her family’s presentation, is the reason they are denied service (that being both their race, gender, and appearances). After watching that part of the movie I immediately thought about Judith Lorber’s definition of male hegemony in Gender Inequality. She defined it as “men’s dominance in values, knowledge, culture, and politics”. By denying the Young’s service, the male staff at the hotel were asserting their idea of the “ideal” customer for the hotel and then projecting it on the Young’s to make them feel lesser than. The irony of that moment is that the Youngs own the hotel (unbeknown to the hotel staff) so they are the ones that “truly” belong there.

As the film continues you are introduced to the main character Rachel Chu. She is an economic professor at New York University (NYU). Through a game theory demonstration she is able to show both her intelligence as well as cunning manner. Later on in the film the watcher finds out, she is a self-made women from a single mother household, that worked hard to get where she currently is. The character of Rachel is a prime example of feminist theories in action. For example, Liberal Feminism’s focus on deconstructing the “glass ceiling”. The “glass ceiling” can be described as “an intangible barrier that prevents the advancement in a profession, especially affecting women and members of minoritized groups.” Rachel becoming an economics professor at a prestigious institution such as New York University is a direct result of feminist theory. Her story is a testimony to change and the deconstruction of corrupt structures and narratives.

Let’s take a look at another strong female character in the movie, Mrs. Young. She also went to a prestigious university, but instead of finishing her degree and becoming lawyer, she dropped out to put her family first. This was expected of her because of her culture and the family she married into. It was required of her to be a “dutiful” wife, and even at her best she was never seen as enough by the matriarch of the family. This idea of Asian women being dutiful and subservient to their husbands in not new. In “Interracial Romance” Kumiko Nemoto explains that Asian women are seen as “good wives,” because of the dominant narratives saying they are “submissive, subservient, passive, and/or hypersexual”. These characteristic in a women supposedly help reinforce masculinity, which is why Asian women are popular to marry. It is interesting how even after all these year males dominance over women and the pressure to be a “good” wife is deeply ingrained not just into Asian cultures, but in cultures worldwide. In the essay “Disability, Embodiment and the Meaning of the Home” Rob Imrie talks about the home being a potential place of repression and confinement for women. If we hold onto the hundred year old idea of women solely being fit to serve their husbands and their “homes”, then that is exactly what it will become. We need more Rachel Chu stories in the spotlight to help propel change. Stories that deconstruct structures within society that keep women below men.

 


Note: This essay was written by a student in Dr. Heidi R. Lewis’ First-Year Experience (FYE) course FG110 Introduction to Feminist and Gender Studies. FG110 teaches students how to examine, power, inequality, and privilege along the lines of gender, sexuality, race, socioeconomic status, age, physicality, and other social, cultural, and political markers using multi-, inter-, and transdisciplinary approaches. The students visited a local theatre to screen Crazy Rich Asians, and this essay was written in response.