For many Asian women, ‘yellow fever’ or being fetishized and objectified based on ethnicity, is an unfortunate part of reality. It’s been enforced by representation in media over the years, and women are getting sick and tired of it.
Even Crazy Rich Asians’ star Constance Wu has spoken out against the fetishization and misrepresentation of Asians in the film industry, where Asian women have been portrayed as exotic, erotic and submissive damsels in distress who would jump at the chance of being rescued by a white man.
The latest iteration of yellow fever comes in the form of a German advertisement, and Asian women all over the world are not happy at all. A petition has begun to circulate online asking for a public apology from the firm behind the ad, with more than 5,000 signatories already supporting it.
The advertisement in question is from German do-it-yourself company Hornbach, which released a springtime ad on March 15. It runs for less than a minute, and at the beginning features white males working in a garden.
They are then asked by men in laboratory coats to throw their dirty and sweaty clothes, including their underwear, into a box.
The next scene of the ad is set in a grey city. The clothes that the men wore fall down a chute, and end up in a plastic bag in a vending machine in the grey city. An Asian woman purchases one of the bags, opens it, and smells the used clothing, and her eyes roll back in ecstasy, as moans can be heard in the background of the ad.
The ad ends with a slogan in German that says, “That’s how the spring smells.”
It’s easy to understand why the ad did not go over well with people.
Hornback uploaded the ad on its social media accounts on March 15. Almost immediately people commented on how offensive it is.
But the loudest voices of all are coming from Asian women, who refuse to take the ad sitting down. One man, a South Korean named Sung Un Gang who has lived in Germany since 2010, started a petition on change.org that is demanding for five things, including the immediate removal of the ad and a public apology from Hornbach “to Asian women living in countries where the ad was aired.”
Sung Un listed his reasons why he felt the advertisement was problematic. First, for him “the Asian woman is represented as a mere tool to make the white male customers feel better about themselves.”
Secondly, he writes that it can make life for Asian women in Germany even harder. “that Asian people in Germany are confronted daily with sexual violence and racial discrimination that often go hand in hand. I am sure that the Hornbach advertisement will cause another real challenge for Asian people living in Germany. Because the ad offers an additional reference that ridicules the imagery of Asian women.”
And third, he claims that “Hornbach knowingly picked Asian women because they are often consumed as sexual exotics with no voice.”
At first, Hornbach defended itself, denying that the ad was racist and saying that the company merely meant to show “decreasing quality of life in cities”. Furthermore, Hornbbach insists that the city portrayed in the commercial is not necessarily an Asian one.
Hornbach tweeted on March 26, “Our ad is not racist. View the ad as a discourse on the increasing urbanization and decreasing quality of life in cities. The smell of the spring only available in vending machines. (sic) For everyone. Not only asian people.”
However, people are not satisfied with the explanations, with Asian women seemingly leading the charge, lifting up their voices in protest online.
By March 28, Hornbach had begun to sing a different tune. Through its Twitter account the company invited netizens to talk about the issues.
“We want to listen, learn, have an open dialogues (sic) and understand the feelings and anger that arose through this advertisement.”