Last Saturday night, I came across a Yik Yak post on the Bowdoin feed that read “White guys with yellow fever, this ain’t the school for you. please leave some asian girls for the poor asian guys here.” Less than 24 hours later, the post had been removed.

Aside from the troubling sentiment expressed by the user that Asian women (or any women for that matter) belong in some way to Asian men, I was interested in what the post might reveal at large about the state of Asian masculinity in America. In many ways, interracial dating (or hook ups) can provide an interesting framework for understanding how Asian men may measure their masculinity against western standards of beauty and manliness.

At center stage is the observation that Asian women have significantly higher rates of interracial marriage than Asian men. An  analysis by the Pew Research Center found that among newlyweds in 2013, “37 percent of Asian women married someone who was not Asian, while 16 percent of Asian men married outside of their race.” The observation raises the question, “Why the discrepancy?” Perhaps for the Yik Yak user, a follow-up question might be ,“why are so many Asian women not choosing to be with Asian men?”

Of course, intimate relationships are highly complex and personal, and no one explanation is likely to fully encapsulate the experiences of an entire racial group. But here’s a start: In America, Asians as a group are perceived to be more feminine than whites and blacks. Research done by Adam Galinsky, a social psychologist at Columbia Business School, has found that associations of racial and gender stereotypes overlap in meaningful ways. In one study, participants who were asked to assign the femininity or masculinity of certain traits to Asians, whites and blacks consistently associated Asians as the least masculine.

The idea that Asians are perceived to be the least masculine has significant implications in the dating market. Given a heterosexual dating market where men generally prefer women who are feminine and women like men who are masculine, Galinsky showed that “the more a man valued femininity the more likely he was attracted to an Asian woman.” It also worked the other way: Women who valued traditional western norms of masculinity more demonstrated lower preferences for Asian men. 

Whether by racial stereotypes or personal preferences, it seems fairly clear that Asian men get short-changed in the dating market. In some cases, western conventions of beauty and masculinity become internalized by Asian men, resulting in thought pieces on how to become more masculine. In a Thought Catalog post titled “How To Survive Being an Asian Male,” the author Gavin McInnes provides tips such as growing out your facial hair or getting a tattoo. And in a feature for New York Magazine, author Wesley Yang writes about the growing popularity of boot camps on attraction for Asian men run by JT Tran, also known as The Asian Playboy.

While in principle I disagree with the approaches of McInnes and Yang to define Asian masculinity within notions of western masculinity, I can see how in practice the dating realities of being an Asian man can sometimes be difficult. In a now-retracted post, Details magazine ran a full-page feature in its anthropology section titled “Gay or Asian?” that sought to draw attention to the similarities between stereotypes of gay men and Asian men. “Whether you’re into shrimp balls or shaved balls, entering the dragon requires imperial taste. So choke up on your chopsticks, and make sure your labels are showing.... A sharp eye will always take home the plumpest eel,” the introduction of the post read.

With satire like that, it’s no surprise that Tran has been invited to speak and share his insights at campuses including Yale, University of Chicago and the Wharton School of Business. Asian men, particularly young Asian men, are living the realities of a dating market that has decidedly turned its back on them.

To be clear, in no way am I supporting using the misogynistic practices of JT Tran’s boot camp to attract women. But I also don’t think that the solution is as easy as telling Asian men to “just be yourself,” or be your own version of masculinity. The impetus for changing how we understand masculinity should not fall solely on Asian men. But until that societal change does occur, it’ll take more than a little self-confidence for me to just be myself.