[Classy Cats] Asian Cultural Appropriation: Discourse vs. Dissent

Note: I realize that this story is still developing and is spreading like wildfire. Right now, I want to focus on the original issue at hand. I cannot comment on the recent posts made as of 1/28/2017. I’m here to discuss how to get your point across by building bridges and not killing it with fire.


For many of us living in the states, we have been in an episode of Black Mirror. Facebook has not been the same; political post one after the other fills up the feed. Social issues are on everyone’s mind right now. However, there are the little things in life that keep us happy and make getting through this episode of Black Mirror bearable whether it be going to Disneyland on a rainy day or discussing fashion. Pinup netizens took notice when there was a controversial discussion on the Pinup Girl Clothing Customer Lounge Facebook group got flack for a print marketed towards Chinese New Year.

Vintage Shanghai posters from the 1930s and 1940s.


The Print

The print in question is a dragon themed print. On it’s own, it looks like colorful dragons atop a black background. Pinup Girl Clothing has had this for a while. It was marketed again in celebration of the Year of (fire) Rooster under a Chinese New Year marketing campaign. It was not brought to attention when a customer by the name of Jessica pointed out that it was problematic. Black colors mean death, dragons might seem stereotypical, colors don’t line up with the traditional red and gold, no Asian models were used, and the fact that “Chinese New Year” was used instead of “Lunar New Year.” The discussion was brought on the forum where it escalated to Jessica being banned. I admit, I was not there for the first part of the discussion. I just knew a long time customer was banned for bringing this issue to light.

The print in question.

In my opinion, it just seems like a generic dragon print. I’m not really into novelty prints. Usually, Lunar New Year colors are bright red and gold to symbolize to live long and prosper. This probably was an honest mistake on Pinup Girl Clothing’s part to market these for Lunar New Year.


The Discourse

Laura Byrnes, founder of Pinup Girl Clothing, apologized for what had gone down. This is the part that I did catch. In her apology the designer admitted to her ignorance and wanted to begin discourse. The thread was mostly a healthy discussion of sharing photos of women of color from the 1920s-1950s. Women of color started sharing photos of Dortohy Dandrige and Josephine Baker. Not only the thread was being flooded with pretty pictures for the liking, but we were also educating each other. We were showing visibility during a time period where people of color were being pushed out. As an Asian American woman, I shared my love for “China Girls” by Lisa See. I also took the opportunity to share photos of the various Asian American (Chinese passing) performers at Forbidden City USA such as Noel Toy and Dottie Sun. At the end of the day, I had good feelings about pinup netizens. I’ve had mostly negative experience in other fashion communities heeded by women. People listening and sharing. I applauded that the discussion was going somewhere. I turned off my phone and went to bed happy.

Dottie Sun, performer and pinup, from Forbidden City USA


The Dissent

The original poster (OP), Jessica, was let back in the discussion forum. It seemed like everyone was ready to continue the conversation. It was not the original intent. The OP demanded apology from the brand name. Additionally, more people were being brought into the discussion about cultural appropriation. The previous apology thread by Laura had comments closed off because the discussion went out of hand overnight. This particular discussion did not go well. The OP and women of color were venting their frustrations against white supremacy and cultural appropriation, expecting more from Laura and her brand name. The OP did mention she was harassed by trolls which is never cool, but at the same time, it was outside of Pinup Girl Clothing’s jurisdiction. The discussion stopped being a discussion. “Sit down,” “Becky,” and “Stay in Your Lane” was repeated in every other discussion point. People were even telling off (white) women that did believe in feminism off and even gave white passing women of color a hard time. The conversation seemed more divisive between feminists than making any progress. While intersectionality is important in all aspects of progress, preaching like an evangelical with the same fervor of fire and brimstone is not going to help your cause or get your message across. As an Asian American, I find it hard to have a voice or even to be heard in discussions about progress. I can understand where the “stay on your lane” mentality is coming from, but at the end of the day, wearing down the group becomes bullying and downright abusive.

From Kitten D’Amour’s “Memoirs of a Kitten” line that is quite questionable using Chinese dress style cuts to promote a Japanese inspired line and a title that calls back to an Orientalist book / movie.

Once upon a time in another career wherein I worked with urban African American and Latinx youth, much of their upbringing did not teach them how to accept LBGT’s as human beings. I wanted to punish these teens and tell them off, call in their parents, and tell them they were wrong and they should feel like horrible people. My mentor at the time told me that this was not the way to go. It’s better to create teaching moments from a place of concern and care. In this case, Laura admitted she was in the wrong and she wanted to learn. Pinup Girl Clothing was ready to let the OP back in. Yet, the OP’s only intentions was to make the brand name and those associated feel like they are associated with white supremacy.

Internet Drama: bring on the screenshots and popcorn!


So, About Asian Representation and Pinup

I love pinup style and retro revival. I’m also Asian American (specifically Pinxy…but you can call me Vicky). I’ve been used to media having a lack of Asian representation, hence I went to international sources for my Asian fix. Hence, when Lisa See came out with “China Dolls,” I was all over it. In my pinup instgram, I’ll occasionally post #WCW (women crush Wednesdays) highlighting the headliners of San Francisco’s Forbidden City USA to bring talented burlesque performers like Noel Toy to light. I love Dita too, but I want people to also to also enjoy Noel Toy too! I don’t expect American media – small or large – to cater to my needs. In the case of Pinup Girl Clothing, I’m just happy that I can rock fashion I’ve always wanted to wear since I’ve been in love with the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance in Back to the Future when I was five years old. I’m happy they have a multitude of sizes. For the past few years, shopping at Forever 21 and related stores, I hated having to find clothes that only flatter one body type.

There’s also the issue of the non-use of Asian models in the dragon print line. I don’t think it’s necessary. I’ve seen a lot of pinups of instagram of non-Asian descent wear far east Asian inspired clothes in their photoshoots whether it be a cheongsam or a Qi Pao. Other lines like Stop Starring and Kitten D’Amour have had Asian inspired lines, but did not receive the same flack as Pinup Girl Clothing. There’s also the counter argument that using Asian models might be fetishizing. I realize where this is coming from because it’s a double edged sword when you’re dealing with Asian Americans. There’s an unspoken double standard when it comes to Asian women – don’t be sexy, you’re giving into the Dragon Lady Orientalist stereotype. As an Asian pinup, I go through this all the time. While I see myself as a subject rather than an object whenever I’m featured on Asian Pinups, I still get creepy PM’s from all over the world, yet I’m told it’s only white men that fetishize Asian women. I’m also told by people who stand for social justice that my partnership promotes misogyny because I’m dating an Irish-Swiss-Greek-American gent. Then again, like any other pinup girl, I don’t care too much about opinions. I block / ignore gross people from Instagram, Pinup photography as a hobby has always been for my vanity and no one else.

MTV thinks we promote misogyny for poorly researched reasons.


We Listen to Reply, Yet Not to Understand

I do agree that people who don’t normally have a voice should be listened to be understood. Change takes time. When I worked with urban youth, I didn’t expect them to change their views on LBGT peers overnight, but rather, I wanted them to reflect and keep my door open if they wanted to discuss it further. I invite conversation and discourse to continue. Yet, if I keep using “stay in your lane” or “sit down!” or call my white friends “Becky,” as these conversations can be taxing. It’s no different than people yelling over each other in real life where neither side has a chance to listen. It becomes an online pissing contest than discourse for positive change. It’s been said before, the more we divide, the further down we fall. Aggressive types like Jessica do not speak for me, neither should this OpEd speak on behalf of Asian women. I’m just throwing my two cents into the discourse.

In other words, we can be #NastyWomen, but we have to stop being nasty towards each other if we’re going to be stronger together in the next couple of years.

And remember be the change YOU want to see. Don’t entitle others to do it for you.

Written by A Miss Called Vicky


Related Links

Pinterest: Forbidden City Nightclub

Instagram: Asian Pinups


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