Fetishization misses personality, focuses instead on superficiality

Illustration by Aida Irving

Italian guys are super hot, right? What about Russian girls? Do you not want a Latino boyfriend who knows how to dance or a French girlfriend who knows how to kiss?

If you said yes, there is a good chance that you are fetishizing people. But what is fetishization? In very simple terms, fetishization happens when you find someone’s accent, heritage, identity, accent, etc. more important than their personality. It is not always easy to understand, as we do not know what is going on in other people’s heads, but we can definitely see its outcomes in our social lives.

Anyone on the planet can be fetishized, but in any given country, minority groups are always more likely to be fetishized. Initially, this might not seem very annoying but imagine that it is happening on a daily basis. To make it more tangible for everyone, imagine that you are going on an overseas program and someone wants to be with you only because of where you are from. Your emotions, ideas and feelings do not matter as you are an object of their desires and they expect you to perform your stereotypes. That is what being fetishized feels like. 

“I feel like fetishization is almost akin to telling someone that they are a cartoon character,” Andrea Lewis ’21 said. “Like the caricature. No one wants to be that. That has a very diminutive feeling to it. Parts of who you are commodified in this very immature way.” 

Obviously it is not always black and white, and we prefer some things over others. You might like blue eyes or curly hair and that is okay. Our ideas of aesthetics and beauty is shaped by the social dynamics and the culture we grew up in and those ideas define what we find attractive. It is okay to have preferences, and denying it would be a big lie as we all have them, but it is not okay to put people in boxes or expect them to behave in a certain way just because they have a specific culture or way of looking. 

“What becomes problematic in fetishization is you take this stereotypes of Asian girls being meek and small and submissive and you put that on every single Asian girl you see,” Alys Chang ’22 added. “And you assume that it is like that and you only go after them because you believe they are meek, small and submissive.” 

Relations between countries, immigration and reduction of cultures play a big role in fetishization. Chang mentioned that fetishization of Asian women happened as they were forced into prostitution by rich tycoons as the exotic forbidden fruit in extravagant ways. Even though the Chinese, according to Chang, “took a lot of bullets” initially, it was not only the Chinese that were fetishized, but because of the reduction of people to one “Asian” culture, other Asian communities were fetishized like Chang’s Korean American community. 

Fetishization, of course, has different effects on different people. It is more likely that being fetishized as a male might not seem as bad as being fetishized as a female for certain individuals. It might even make them feel better about themselves within the community as they feel more valued.

“I definitely feel more fetishized here in Oregon than other places in the U.S.,” Abdulrahman Al Rayyis ‘22 said. “It’s like I am never going to escape being a Middle Eastern man, so I might as well live with it. To be honest, here in Oregon, being fetishized is a lot better than receiving racist comments down in Texas or in Virginia.” 

I, personally, still believe that being fetishized is bad no matter what, as you are being objectified and dissected into pieces where one of them is found to be valuable and the rest does not matter. Even though fetishizing does not always appear or is not always intended to be problematic, in the long run it ignores people’s personality and, by making them a “cool” token, excludes them from the rest of society. 

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