at home in... w| Gerald Zhang-Schmidt

Look Closer, Learn More, #GetAtHome In This World

Charisma Man and His Discontents

Being a male going to East Asia, one cannot escape those common ideas that it’s all about the special status afforded Western men there, and the Orientalist notions we supposedly harbor towards Asian women. I wrote about “yellow fever” before. Now, I want to deconstruct the ideas around “Charisma Man.”

What is happening, and what does it mean?

The usual notion is simple: Western – typically meaning “white” – men are seen as exotic, high value, charismatic, and therefore cannot but end up being chased by Asian women. Loser magically becomes transformed into Charisma Man, as the original cartoon so adroitly depicted.

There are two sides to this, but only one is commonly considered: Those silly Asian girls have no idea what losers they adore, to put it into simple, everyday language. Hence, Western woman as Charisma Man’s Kryptonite. The very words show just how much of a geek/loser issue this is, don’t they?

Now, there has apparently been a subset of Asian women who are into Western men. (Of course, you can probably find a subset of people who are into just about anyone and enything, if only you look close enough.) Whether influenced by romantic Hollywood movies, assuming income and purchasing power disparities, or chasing after a better life abroad, Westerners are oftentimes considered high value. Even here, though, one has to realize that the exalted position also comes as an exposed position: there is also a strong subset of people assuming they knew that Westerners had too cavalier an attitude towards relationships, were all “players” – if not worse…

Why there even is such a strong notion of Westerners being chased is because the unusual situation makes those differences all the more apparent: When you get the almost proverbial fat, old white guy with the hot Asian chick, stereotypes are reinforced immediately.
When you get a plain, geeky guy suddenly becoming popular with the (now, Asian) girls, something seems equally amiss.

The very extraordinaryness of such a situation serves to make it noticeable, and the scarcity of Westerners, even just of outsiders, in Asian society would make them exotic – hence, prized by some. Add in the “high-value” nature of them, even if only to some, and the numbers themselves make such pairings likely to exist and be noticed. Western women are given special status, too, cast in equally “speckled,” positive and negative, light. (Check out Jocelyn’s writings, for example, on the issue that the Chinese son may have fun with, but not marry, a Western woman…)

There is more, though, and I want to turn the perspective back on our Western selves:

What exactly is happening when a Western guy becomes a player, a true Charisma Man? That he will start to fool around seems to be the notion of what will happen, after all. Look at Matt’s “description” of life in China, for example (and please, know that it is under the section “humour”):

Two weeks back in country and it was raining girls…
“Here in China,” the teacher said, “you are like that blonde chick everybody [every male in America, that is] wants to fuck.” …
Now I am afraid that I am metamorphosing into an asshole.  I had been nice all my life — the kind of guy that finishes last, opens doors, and listens…

Here in China, I could be nice and have my cake too.
So now I’m back and a new problem set has blossomed before me.  Like, is it ethical to have more than one girlfriend in a country with 120 million surplus guys?

Suddenly special, suddenly popular, he who would have been just a plain, simple guy seems to turn (be turned?) into a player. What does it tell us when he is “really a loser”?

The story of Charisma Man is also the story of expectations. It seems to be that males who are not prized, who are losers, in the West, must naturally be true, total, natural losers.Arguing that he is really, factually, a loser imposes Western rules on a different situation. Even assuming that there are some universal rules for what makes a coveted male partner – think of the women some of the rich men are getting, also in the West – it must be clear that things may be different in different places, and for different people.

In some cases, one has to agree that it’s problematic. Suddenly popular, guys may think they are as great as they appear, find themselves able to follow the idea that  a real man is one who gets the most girls, and follow that idea… (as the post seems to show).

Coupled with different culturally-conditioned expectations, it’s particularly troubling: The discussion on Matt’s (tongue-in-cheek) post turned to the area often mentioned, too – isn’t sex a decision between two people, and therefore all good as long as the two agreed to it? Furthermore, isn’t the culture that  denies women their right to decide like that (and not be judged badly for it) wrong, and hence no concern for the foreigner?

Unfortunately, no. Just like the idea that a loser is  a loser, so the idea of agreement imposes Western values. The tacit implication of sex in much of China is as a precursor to marriage, so expectations about the meaning of the deed can be radically different. Seeing it as wrong is okay, as your opinion, but it does not give you a right to act according to your standards without regard for others’.

There is yet another twist.

The “losers” seem to often enough be the ones who are not the special, sought-after, confident guys, the players (according to home-turf rules), but the shy and responsible geeks.  What you also see, aside from those who do start to abuse their sudden popularity, unable to handle it well, are people who are put into a positon in which those traits are valued even in the dating game – when you are a loser in play, because the rules value lightness and quickness, you just may be a winner in the serious matter of building a relationship.

The post does point that out nicely, but it had to go down the different path, to asshole-ness, for comic effect. Which was immediately misunderstood, of course, to be the real deal. Nothing better, on both sides, than asshole behavior to reinforce preconceived notions…

We find surprisingly similar ideas on both sides, in the end: The non-loser being the guy who is somehow sought-after, who can have any girl he wants because he is so wanted, for whatever reason (bad boy-behavior, charm and money, chief among them). And the loser is the one who is shy and responsible.. It might be time, for both men and women, Chinese and Westerners, to decide whether we want assholes to rule our world or not…


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  1. You had a lot of points and thoughts in this post but I’m going to comment only on some of them. I think it is important that when starting a relationship, one night stand or anything, the two should both know where they are going.

    If both of them want to just have fun, it’s ok. But I am afraid that in many cases someone wants more than the other. And you should remember the cultural differences so you don’t end up hurting someone. I can understand that Chinese girls are after money because they make the decision with their heads. And in China you need money to survive. (In Finland for example you don’t, the goverment will help. So we can choose our partner with our heart.)

    I have seen that white guys are really popular here in China. It seems they don’t really have to do anything, just go to a bar and they will always find company. Guys just should be little bit more responsible. I see it all the time that the exchange students have their girlfriends back home and the one (or few) Chinese girlfriends here.

    I just hope that everyone coming to China (or going anywhere else) could respect the culture and the people of the country.

    I also have to add, that Jocelyn also writes about how Chinese man and Western woman can be a good match. Sure some don’t marry other than Chinese people and mostly because of the parents. But there are lots of Chinese guys that will (for example mine).

    (Ok, This comment is getting too long and messy so I’ll let others to have their say!)

    • Gerald

      Thanks for commenting.
      Good point that Jocelyn is also pointing out the good sides.
      Chinese women and Western men can also be a good match – and we could have a discussion on whose relationship is more troubled by stereotypes, that of Western man, Chinese woman or that of Western woman and Chinese man… or, for a counterpoint, foreign-born Chinese like here…

  2. I love this post, Gerald — you are truly one of the few Western men out there who dares to tackle this subject thoughtfully.

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