That said, stereotypes aren’t so much about people totally projecting things that completely aren’t there but about people having a framework with which they interpret things that actually are there. It’s not that racism causes people to see (for example) belligerent teenage boys where there are none, but that a white belligerent teenage boy is just seen as himself while a black belligerent teenage boy is part of a pattern, a script, and when people blindly follow the scripts in their head that leads to discrimination and prejudice. So yeah, it is a fact, I think, that I was a bit off-putting in my Jeopardy! appearance—hyper-focused on the game, had an intense stare, clicked madly on the buzzer, spat out answers super-fast, wasn’t too charming in the interviews, etc. But this may have taken root in people’s heads because I’m an Asian and the “Asian mastermind” is a meme in people’s heads that it wouldn’t have otherwise.Look, we all know that there’s a trope in the movies where someone of a minority race is flattened out into just being “good at X” and that the white protagonist is the one we root for because unlike the guy who’s just “good at X” the protagonist has human depth, human relationships, a human point of view—and this somehow makes him more worthy of success than the antagonist who seems to exist just to be good at X. So we root for Rocky against black guys who, by all appearances, really are better boxers than he is, because unlike them Rocky isn’t JUST a boxer, he has a girlfriend, he has hopes, he has dreams, etc. This comes up over and over again in movies where the athletic black competitor is set up as the “heel”—look at the black chick in Million Dollar Baby and how much we’re pushed to hate her. Look at all this “Great White Hope” stuff, historically, with Joe Louis. So is it any surprise that this trope comes into play with Asians? That the Asian character in the movie is the robotic, heartless, genius mastermind who is only pure intellect and whom we’re crying out to be defeated by some white guy who may not be as brainy but has more pluck, more heart, more humanity? It’s not just Flash Gordon vs. Ming the Merciless, it’s stuff like how in the pilot episode of Girls Hannah gets fired in favor of an overachieving Asian girl who’s genuinely better at her job than she is (the Asian girl knows Photoshop and she doesn’t) and we’re supposed to sympathize with Hannah. Okay, here’s one more comment from the Internet that kind of encapsulates it. The kind of un-self-awareness of what someone is saying when they say they’d prefer I not win because I try too hard at the game, work too hard at it, care too much about it, and that they’d prefer that a “likable average Joe” win. This is disturbing because it amounts to basically an attack on competence, a desire to bust people who work very hard and have very strong natural gifts down in favor of “likable average Joes”—and it’s disturbing because the subtext is frequently that to be “likable” and “average” you have to have other traits that are comforting and appealing to an “average Joe” audience, like white skin and an American accent.
The qualities that make up an abusive man are like the ingredients in a recipe: The basics are always present, but the relative amounts very greatly. One man may be so severely controlling that his partner can’t make a move without checking with him first, and yet, oddly, he contributes substantially to the domestic work and child care. Another man may allow his partner to come and go as she pleases, even accepting her friendships with men, but there is hell to pay if she fails to wait on him hand and foot, or if she makes the mistake of asking him to clean up after himself. Still other abusers are less overtly controlling and entitled than either of these men but mind-twisting in the severity of their manipulations.
The tactics and attitudes of abuser can vary from country to country, from ethnic group to ethnic group, from rich man to poor man. Abusers from each culture have their special areas of control or cruelty. Middle class white abusers, for example, tend to have strict rules about how a woman is allowed to argue. If she talks back to him, shows anger, or doesn’t shut up when she is told to, he is likely to make her pay. My clients from Latin American cultures typically permit their partners to be more forceful and “mouthy” in a conflict than my white clients but can be highly retaliatory if their partners give any attention to another male. Abusers select the pieces of turf they wish to stake out, influenced in those choices by their particular culture and background. Each woman who is involved with an abusive or controlling man has to deal with his unique blend of tactics and attitudes, his particular rhythm of good times and bad times, and his specific way of presenting to the outside world. No one should ever tell an abused woman, “I know just what you’re going through,” because the experience of each woman is different.
Viewed from another angle, however, abuse doesn’t vary that much. One man uses a little more of one ingredient and a little less of the other, but the overall flavor of the mistreatment has core similarities: assaults on the woman’s self-esteem, controlling behavior, undermining her independence, disrespect. Each abused woman has times of feeling that a riptide is dragging her under the sea, and she struggles for air. Confusion has been a part of the experience of almost every one of the hundreds abused women I have spoken with. Whether because of the abusers manipulativeness, his popularity, or simply the mind-bending contrast between his professions of love and his vicious psychological or physical assaults, every abused woman finds herself fighting to make sense of what is happening.