In 2015, while researching extremism and online subcultures, Julia DeCook stumbled onto Reddit’s Asian-American forums. “Apparently, the Reddit algorithm figured out I was mixed Asian,” she jokes.
But what she discovered was more than cordial discourse around Asian identity and experience. Instead, she found thread after thread of angry, resentful narratives about the social oppression of Asian men, and fractious complaints that they were unattractive to women — including Asian women, who seemed to draw the ire of the most extreme voices.
One of those voices included EurasianTiger, a frequent poster and moderator of the r/Hapas (a term for mixed-Asian people) subreddit who gained notoriety for his screeds against women, including with his incel-favorite “Redpill Comics.” Snippets of his comics were a popular share on r/Hapas, which has roughly 26K subscribers, and DeCook noticed the group’s toxic fascination with Asian women who dated white men. It had hues of the “men’s rights activist” community, but with a fixation on racial hierarchy.
“There was just so much of a victim complex, especially believing that any Asian woman who’s with a white guy is a self-hating, white-supremacist whore. These comments were dead giveaways about how toxic this community could be,” DeCook tells me. “I’d heard about this kind of stuff, especially being mixed, but the extent of this intense self-hatred and projecting it onto women, that’s what shocked me more than anything else.”
These grievances didn’t end at r/Hapas, of course, and over the last half-decade, a vocal contingent of extremely online Asian-American men have migrated elsewhere on Reddit and beyond. They’ve continued to hone and spread the narrative that their lack of sexual and dating success is an indictment of their emasculation in America, symbolized best by Asian women turning toward men of other races. For these “MRAsians,” blame is easily laid upon a “woke” culture that champions feminism and focuses on the plight of other minorities.
There is no doubt that Asian men have been the subjects of historical oppression, again and again. But DeCook, now an assistant professor at Loyola University Chicago, argues that there is great harm in how online voices twist this history in chat rooms and forums, ultimately blaming women while battering their own self-worth. It’s a mentality that she says actively leads men to lash out; her ongoing research, for example, details how “MRAsians” have attempted to harass feminist Asian activists who are assisting sex workers and domestic violence victims. “A lot of this is really shocking to people who didn’t grow up in Asian-American circles, but [this] type of discourse has existed for decades,” she adds.
Like we see in other examples of the intersection of minority men and “redpill” communities, frustrated Asian-American men often find their lived experience is unique from that of white MRAs and incels. As DeCook and others have found, the struggle to square their place in society leads men to problematic conclusions about the benefits of assimilation and fetishization.
I recently spoke to DeCook about the intersection of Asian male and incel culture, why there’s such tension around mixed-race identities and why young Asian-American men are vulnerable to being radicalized by resentment.
Your PhD work led you to the manosphere, but why and how did you begin focusing the lens on Asian-American men and their particular grievances online?
I was originally just looking at the redpill and incel groups, mostly. But after I found r/Hapas, I was shocked by how much these men hated their Asian mothers. Some did reserve animosity for their fathers, blaming them for having “yellow fever” and stuff like that. But the vitriol they had for their mothers was notable to me. Elliot Rodger had just committed the Isla Vista killings the prior year, and this [community] blamed his mom for the rampage.
And as I got recommendations on Reddit to look at other groups like r/AZNIdentity and r/AsianMasculinity, I started seeing common narratives. It turns out, r/AsianMasculinity was started by a group of Asian men who used to be a part of the “redpill” community, but they were upset about the lack of discussion about race. And then r/AZNIdentity was started by a group of men who thought that the r/AsianMasculinity group wasn’t radical enough in the things that they were saying. And so, they started combining all the worst, most toxic parts of redpill and MRA ideology with the guise of racial liberation. Then there was a rift over whether to focus on East and Southeast Asian men, so another bunch broke off and created r/EasternSunRising.
Ironically, r/Hapas has changed quite a bit from when I first started looking at it in 2015 and 2016. It has become considerably less toxic. You can see the pipeline and how it’s changed over time.
There are lots of commonalities with mainstream MRA culture, but obviously, there are very real factors that played into the continued emasculation of Asian men in America. How does this distinction matter in terms of understanding their anger?
That’s the question that gets brought up when men of color get involved in white-supremacist organizations that claim not to be racist. It’s not just that they share misogyny. Misogyny is a melody that binds every single culture across the world. That’s not the most unique thing that ties them together.
The thing is a hegemonic masculinity that, in the United States and in much of the Western world, is dominated by white-supremacist standards of what it means to be a man. And so, often what we see with men of color joining these organizations and voicing their frustrations, is that it’s not just about a shared hatred of women. It’s a desire to have the same privileges as white men.
I think it’s that frustration, particularly for Asian men who have gotten close to that form of hegemonic masculinity and have been a model minority, but are still left out of it, that’s been a core part of their grieving.
How would you describe the defining shifts in this sector of the manosphere over the last decade? Is this new in any way?
I would say no. When you look at the writing of people like Frank Chin and others like him, these types of grievances have existed for a very long time with Asian-American men. But it’s always written about under the guise of Asian liberation. It’s not a coincidence that Frank targeted Asian women writers who were partnered with white men. This discourse on “mate guarding,” or the idea that Asian women should be with Asian men, has been around for a very long time, too. You see very similar discourse being echoed in Black spaces, with Hotep culture and stuff like that.
It also seems like in all kinds of MRA spaces, including Asian-American ones, there is this blaming of “wokeness,” feminism and social-justice movements as somehow empowering people in the wrong way, and taking the attention off aggrieved men.
Specifically talking about r/AZNIdentity: My God, they get so pissed about Black Lives Matter coverage and stuff like that. Because to them, they truly believe that Asian men are the most oppressed group of people in American society. And so, they feel that any attention given to any other movement detracts from their specific issues. That level of grievance, and this whole idea of winning the “Oppression Olympics,” is a problem.
They have a very basic understanding of what it means to be liberated, and I think that’s also influenced by how they understand equality and rights — basically, they just want to be equal to white men. And so, to them, it is a zero-sum game with other movements.
How have they responded to you being so vocal about them?
They harass me. I’m on lists for them. They just hate me. There are others who get harassed to the point where they just delete their accounts altogether and disappear or they make everything private or they stop publishing things under their real names. This has actual material impacts on your life.
I’ve tried to write articles under pseudonyms and stuff, but a lot of publications aren’t amenable to that. Also, if I do write something under a pseudonym, I have to keep documentation for my employers if I go up for promotions, to prove that I actually wrote the piece.
But if you’re transparent, the harassment just keeps coming?
Exactly. It’s a weird, double-edged sword. A lot of women in these spaces are super hesitant to talk about certain issues or write about them. They know that they’re being surveilled online and they don’t want to get harassed again. It’s really, really exhausting, especially for people whose ideas are their currency, like journalists and academics.
I saw a comment from a thread on one of these subreddits, suggesting that Asian men wouldn’t be angry if only society wasn’t racist and women were more “fair.” What do you make of that framing?
I mean, that’s the same argument that incels make: That if we completely eliminated beauty standards, they wouldn’t be in the situation they’re in.
[The comparison] isn’t to say that Asian men in particular haven’t suffered hundreds of years of emasculation in America and that this affects people’s perception of attractiveness toward them. And, of course, if we eliminated white-supremacist beauty standards, that would probably eliminate some of their problems. However their misogyny and gate-keeping of Asian women is tied up into something so much more than just, “If I get a girlfriend, I’ll be happy.” It’s about power and control and exerting that influence over somebody that they see as lesser or beneath them.
As someone who’s Asian American and a woman, navigating these spaces is complicated. It’s awful and unfair that Asian women are hypersexualized and Asian men are desexualized, and you see this in media and society all the time. But those struggles aren’t so different — they come from the same source.
Instead, these men just want to find narratives, snippets and anecdotes that only fit within their perception of what oppression really is. That’s how when the Atlanta shooting happened, some of these guys found a way to blame women: “That’s why Asian girls shouldn’t be dating white guys.”
What do you think ought to be done with these spaces? It’s obviously not as simple as banning a Reddit page after violence erupts in the real world.
The problem with a lot of these discussions is that these ideologies existed long before the internet and will continue to persist even after the internet. But the internet doesn’t exactly help in terms of spreading it.
Let’s say you’re a young Asian-American guy, 19, probably in college, probably pissed that you can’t get a date for whatever reason. You find this community and it gives you the vocabulary to describe your perceived oppression. That can be really radicalizing for people. Never do you think, “Hey, maybe I’m the asshole.” It’s everyone else’s problem, especially women. That’s the same thing that we see with a lot of MRA and incel spaces. And the men do tend to skew younger, for these reasons.
Clearly there’s a crisis of masculinity going on. Not in terms of “men aren’t men anymore,” but rather that patriarchy is actively preventing young men from leading full, robust emotional lives. We see that affecting men of all races, but what they choose to do with it varies wildly. And it can become a lot darker when it comes to men trying to force Asian women off the internet, so they can take over online discussions about these issues and become the most dominant voice.
It’s embracing something that seems like self-hate, in a way.
Asian families simply don’t talk about race the same way that other ethnic groups do, especially Black families. And there’s a lot of insecurity [from young men] around their own Asian identity and their place within the racial hierarchy in the U.S. A lack of introspection and education on this is how [they] fall into a trap of MRA logic.