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									     Seeking “Single Asian Females”:
Consuming Class, Race and Desire in America

                Soo-Young Chin

             University of Southern California
               Department: Anthropology
                     (213) 740-1909

          Southern California Studies Center
          University of Southern California
Attractive, shapely Oriental lady, 26, desires
friendship & romantic adventure with a sincere gentleman.
Race, financial status unimportant.
—Los Angeles Times
                                                                         Meet fun-seeking Asian ladies in your area.
                                                                                     Send two first class stamps list.
                                                                                                        —USA Today
Asian woman, 25, seeks sincere gentleman for
Friendship and more. Willing to travel/relocate. Age,
financial status unimportant. Personality counts most.
—Active Singles’ Life, Seattle, WA

                                                                   Attractive Oriental woman likes submissive men.
                                                                        Send me a letter explaining what you would
                                                                                       like us to do together. SASE.
                                                                          —Dear      Singles Journal, Cherry Hill, NJ


        In today’s consumer society, the business of finding companions through market intermediaries has become
mainstreamed, and the personal ads in the classified sections in American newspapers, magazines and other publi-
cations are sites in which singles (and others) can seek out their desires for sex, romance, and companionship
(Ahuvia and Adelman 1992; Woll and Cozby 1987).         Personal ads fill a particular niche in the social introduction
industry—it is a site where the lonely can easily seek companionship without investing money for the more sophis-
ticated types of match making services that include videotaped interviews, filling out complicated forms, and com-
puter matching. While initial ads give wide berth for exaggeration and prevarication, the end-goal for the personal
ad user is to screen ads for in-person meetings.1 Unlike internet chat rooms, cyberworlds, or even writing to pen pals
that are activities carried out in virtual spaces where identities are not necessarily indexically tied to real-time
proximate bodies, the end-goal of personal ads generally precludes gross sex or race misrepresentation. Hence, the
remarkable thing about the four ads above is that they were the work of one African American man (hereafter to be
called the Dream Weaver) who advertised as numerous single Asian females (SAF) in over 150 newsprint publica-
tions nationwide and also responded to thousands of ads placed by men seeking SAF’s.2
        The Dream Weaver established a continuing correspondence with men to solicit small cash donations in a
number of ways, from asking correspondents to help “her” business, to sending $100 as a show of honorable
intention. The full set of exchanges was typically a nine letter exchange sustained over twelve to eighteen months,
replete with black and white photocopies of professionally produced prints of Asian women from pornographic
publications. At the time of his arrest for mail fraud, the Dream Weaver was corresponding with over 8,600 men
through computer driven data base and mail merge program. His computer database contained demographic
information and personal preferences for over 1,600 of the men.3 Selected letters sent in by ‘victims’ of Euro-

American background are the primary analyzed for this article.4 Analysis of these materials offers a set of interpre-
tive perspectives on how class, race, and desire configure in consuming personal ads in the regime of commodity
capitalism, and the manner in which social imaginaries of North American masculinities and Asian femininities are
engaged in everyday life.
        The social imaginaries referred to in this paper are not necessarily representative of broader social construc-
tions of North American masculinities or Asian femininities. Nor are they entirely determined by the socio-
historical and psychical process of creation or fantasy. Rather, they refer to quasi-fictive realms of shared images/
forms/languages/texts that are continually evolving (Castoriadis 1987:3). Social imaginaries are embedded discur-
sive practices that produce “a collective social intersubjectivitity” to which “the images of any creative human subject
are tied” (Kearney 1991:179). They can be stimulated by activators (in this case the advertisement or introductory
outgoing letters and photographs sent by the Dream Weaver) which provide a means for the subject (presumably a
heterosexual North American man) to insert him/herself into various fictionalized scenarios that might be plausible
within the range of possibilities inherent within the given social construction. This allows subjects to engage in a
free play between the activator and the imaginary, “making the imaginary accessible to experience outside its prag-
matic function” so as not deluge the mind as do dreams, fantasies or hallucinations (Iser, 1993:225). While there
is a delicate differentiation between the two that must be maintained, the interchange between the absent and the
present serves as a mode of discovery for engaging subjects.
         While those captivated by the Dream Weaver’s construction represent a group that responded to the
particular activators utilized by the Dream Weaver, the breadth of his reach is not insignificant. During his 12 years
of correspondences with authors who write as men, a conservative estimate of the number of correspondents he had
is over 60,000, which, if we can assume that the writers are men, would account for approximately one in every
thousand men in the United States. Additionally, postal authorities claim that for every mail fraud scam that is
apprehended, there are usually 20 other similar scam within the same vicinity that go undetected. Given the sheer
numbers of men that were drawn to the Asian femininities crafted by the Dream Weaver, the challenge for this work
is to examine the way that class configures into the men’s articulation of desire, what meanings correspondents
attach to “Velma,” “Carmel,” and Pearl,” three Oriental femininities crafted by the Dream Weaver, and what pat-
terns of masculinities emerge in the interchange.

Imagining North American Masculinities Against Asian Femininities
        In the latter part of the 20 century, hegemonic North American masculinity has come under both ideo-
logical and institutional attack. Despite the steady, incremental erosion to male privilege that the women’s move-
ment have brought upon men, some gay and feminist theorists continue to link heterosexual, mainstream masculin-
ity with power and “the exercise of power in its most naked forms,” asserting that masculinity is organized for
domination, and hence, resistant to change because of power relations” (Connell 1995:42).5 These ideological
assaults on heterosexual masculinity have occurred at the same time that global capitalist practices have altered the
positioning of the male protector/provider. With American manufacturing moving off shore and targeting a pre-
dominantly female labor pool (Nash 1983; Ong 1987, 1991), jobs that once marked working class American
masculinities have been reassigned, both re-located and re-gendered.6 Not only has decentralized production
rendered once-secure blue collar jobs almost extinct, over the past 15 years, wages for men in the unskilled-labor
market dropped over 25% (Swoboda 1992). The number of male white collar workers has also declined, and in the

American employment frontier, growing service sector jobs increasingly target women whose lower wages undercut
men’s employment opportunities.7 Indeed, statistics indicate that in 1984 only 42% of men between the ages of
twenty to twenty-four could keep a family of three out of poverty compared to the 60% in 1963 who could do so
(Pfeil, 1995). So despite women’s lagging wages, material conditions no longer permit men to construct and
valorize a protector/provider masculinity for themselves.
        These economic transformations have had an immediate affect on American heterosexual relations. Not
only has increased economic dependence on women diminished male authority, economic opportunities for women,
in conjunction with birth control, changed sexual norms, and other factors have lessened the pressure to marry or
stay married (Ahuvia and Adelman 1992). These changes have given rise to a dramatic increase in the number of
older singles in the workforce who will, given the capitalist imperative of employers to maximize profits, relocate
with employment opportunities. With accompanying disruptions to social networks, many older singles have fewer
opportunities to meet other singles and often seek companionship in personal ads, where the Dream Weaver set up
his money making scheme. It is here in the personal section of newsprint publications that some men first engage
with the Dream Weaver’s culturally undifferentiated representation of Asian women, Orientalist constructions that
rivets their attention to the nostalgic imaginary that made Asian women “the centerfolds of the imperial voyeur,”8
images still reified by media images thereof (Moy 1993; Marchetti 1993; Bernstein & Studlar 1997).
        While circumstances of location in the United States differ, Asian women, have been situated similarly to
other non-European women.9       Not only has American social structure been built on the racial and sexual legacies
of the colonial period, America’s dreams of empire also rely on sexual control to assert power and privilege.10 The
use of sexuality to draw distinctions has been, and still is, utilized in America’s involvement’s abroad—particularly
in Asia. The United States’ multiple military engagements and occupations throughout Asia have spawned an entire
industry around both American bases and R&R destinations that cater to needs and desires of young men sent
overseas on duty.   Predominantly female military support personnel— entertainers, dancers, hostesses, prostitutes,
and household helpers—work at fulfilling the sexualized desires of soldiers on the R&R breaks as well as tend to the
chores daily living for men stationed on foreign soil. (Enloe 1989, 1993; Sturdevant and Stoltzfus 1992; Nakashima
Brock and Thistlethwaite 1996; Takagi and Park 1996). That socio-economic circumstances often compel military-
support personnel to take on this line of work is often overlooked by soldiers who continue to bring back tales that
fuel the imaginary of the submissive Asian woman—ready and willing to please.11
        This, however, is not the only imaginary of Asian femininity. Asia’s rising eminence in the new world order
in the past 25 years has also left its mark, and new elements have also been incorporated. Asian women, once
constructed primarily in terms of subservience and service, now also personify the energy, intelligence and economic
vitality of the Pacific Rim. With nostalgic notions of Asian female passivity folded into new myths of power, the
positioning of Asian women has shifted. Constructed as objects of domination as well as marked as a commodity
that can confer status, she has entered the purview of some middle and upper class men (Walsh 1990) who, along
with some lower class men, have turned away from “American” women to seek solace in the imaginary of the Asian
woman.12 The consumption of the Dream Weaver’s SAF’s through personal ads, like the consumption of goods in
general, can be theorized as attempts to define and express self (Bloch and Bruce 1984; Belk 1995; Miller 1995).13
As commodities that serve as extensions of the self, the meanings that consumers attach to objects (SAF’s, in this
case) are as critical as advertising and other modes of portraying desirable lifestyles. The understanding that corre-
spondents brought to their communications with three SAF’s are stratified along class lines, with Velma attracting

more middle class correspondents, Carmel more lower class pen pals, and Pearl the majority of the upper class men.
The comparative analysis of correspondences between Velma, Carmel, and Pearl their suitors illustrates the ways in
which consumptive desire, articulated as expressions of taste, serves as a means of creating and maintaining social

Playing The Personals: Seeking Single Asian Female (SAF)
        The almost 1,000 letters and cards held at the Postal Inspectors’ evidence room represent about one week of
mail received by the Dream Weaver. While the letters are addressed to a variety of Asian women, the materials
examined here are selected letters addressed to three women
—Velma, Carmel, and Pearl who received a total of 478 letters and cards, almost half the total number of correspon-
dences.14 While there are letters from men at various stages of the letter writing sequence, of the 298 men who
directed correspondences to Velma, over half are continuing correspondents in the end stages of the exchange,
sending their seventh or eighth letters; over half of Carmel’s 46 pen pals are predominantly located in the middle of
the sequence, on their fourth, fifth, or sixth communications; three quarters of Pearl’s 134 suitors are in the start-up
phases, mailing their second and third letters.15
        Since first time correspondents tend to compose polite, tentative and brief notes, and late stage correspon-
dents’ messages rely on previous exchanges to convey their disappointment, confusion, frustration, and rage over
broken promises, all the letters selected for this examination here are either the second or third letters from
EuroAmerican men in their first flush of “love” or lust. It is at this point, after the “Asian woman” has assured her
correspondent of her interest in him in her first and second out-going letters and has revealed desires that conform
to male scripts of sexuality, that many men believe that they have met the “woman of their dreams.” Trusting that
this woman may accept them for who they are, men begin to open up to the women, sharing intimate details of
their lives as well as their desires and wishes for the relationship.   Indeed, their letters illustrate the ways in which
the correspondents tailor the representations of Asian woman they encounter to their own class-bound imaginaries
of masculinity.

Eliciting Desire: Crafted Women
        While correspondents played an active role in crafting fictionalized scenarios with Velma, Carmel, and
Pearl, for themselves, relying on intersubjective understandings of Asian women, it was the Dream Weaver’s activat-
ing materials that stimulated recipients into a free play about the women. As bait for lonely men, the Dream
Weaver carefully composed both conventional and sexually explicit copy to fit the publications in which he adver-
tised. Venues in which he advertised and responded to ads ranged from mainstream newspapers such as the Los
Angeles Times to alternative sidewalk tabloids like Cuff and Collar. While the sexually explicit copy might have
aroused the interest of readers, only 7 of 108 first contact letters preserved by postal authorities can be linked to
these advertisements. The rest of the correspondents are divided equally between men inquiring about the tamer
SAF advertisements, men whose ads he answered, and men solicited from singles’ mailing lists. The breakdown of
the correspondents would suggest that the tremendous appeal of these women emerged not from explicit copy but
from the Dream Weaver’s ability to represent a generic Asian women that correspondents could complete to their
own specifications (Moy 1996). Eric Jones,16 a seemingly troubled and sensitive 18-year-old college freshman from
Richmond, Virginia explains in a letter to “Velma”:

        I saw a movie recently called “Wayne’s World” and in it was an Asian girl. For some reason I
        thought of you. The character was Chinese.       I don’t know what country you’re from but that girl
        reminded me of you. Isn’t that unusual?

Similar to pornographic texts and photographs which are underdetermined to allow for readers to embellish, the
Dream Weaver’s advertisements as Velma, Carmel, and Pearl were crafted as unfinished templates for men to com-
plete. The only explicit information provided about the women was that they were all successful entrepreneurs who
managed mail order matchmaking business out of their homes. This is an important detail because it signals an
alternative to the reality that most women have to work outside the home. That the women were engaged in
procuring women for men is also significant as it belies a commitment to servicing men. The rest of the women’s
constructions were ambiguous by design so that men could finish the women with their personal projections.            A
middle class youth of suburban up-bringing, Eric brings his personal understanding of Asian womanhood to Velma.
The actress Tia Carrera as a sexy but nurturing foreign-born rockstar is one 1990’s embodiment of the Asian
femininity for the middle class suburban teens in “Wayne’s World.” This is but one of many ways to complete the
Dream Weaver’s Asian woman.
        Despite deliberate ambiguity of construction, and the indeterminate ethnic or cultural background of most
of his “women,” the Dream Weaver also maintained distinctions between them by using words that coded for
different readings. While the differences may seem negligible to the untrained consumer, they were effective for
targeting different market segments. The copy that lured men into correspondence with Velma—the submissive
and obedient one—in newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times, was:

                                Attractive Asian lady, 26 and shapely seeking a sin-
                                cere boyfriend who enjoys romance. Any race. Seri-
                                ous only. Let’s share life, love, fun & oneness.

Identifying her as more accessible by calling her “Asian,” (as opposed to Oriental which denotes the exotic) and
using the term “lady” to code for more traditional femininity, Velma requests only serious respondents. Indeed, in
the first letter, a master template sent to all of her correspondents, “Velma” presents as a stereotypical man-pleasing,
26 year old female of non-specific Asian origin who finds satisfaction in “arranging quality introductions between
Asian women (new to America) and the men who appreciate and desire them” (Velma, Outgoing letter #1). The
Dream Weaver also writes:

        As you probably already know, most Asian women are raised from birth and shown by example
        from their parents that in order for women to fulfill their purpose, they must ensure the happiness
        of their man by giving him the unconditional love and emotional support he needs to achieve his
        highest potentials and life long goals. And it is for this very reason so many Asian businessmen are
        successful in business and satisfied as a husband (Velma, Outgoing Letter #2).

Relying on well-worn stereotypes of the Asian women as trained to subordinate themselves to men, Velma is

constructed as the “ordinary,” well-trained, subservient woman. However, the Dream Weaver also contextualizes
Asian women within new visions of the East, placing her as the helpmate who enables Asia’s economic success. The
accompanying visual is a photocopy of a professionally crafted portrait of a sultry woman with carefully arranged
long hair.
        With Carmel, on the other hand, the Dream Weaver always maintained a more explicit sensuousness. His
copy for the New York Magazine read:

                                Beautiful, sensuous, Oriental lady, 24, sexy, seeks fun-
                                loving guy for romantic adventures.

The use of “Oriental” to identify Carmel signals self-exoticization, and the seeking “fun-loving” man for “romantic
adventures” denotes a penchant for non-binding erotic escapades. A pleasure-seeking 24 year old of unspecified
Oriental descent, Carmel is drawn as an sensuous woman with unfulfilled desires who writes that potential partners
“must be clean, VD & AIDS free and very health conscious” (Carmel, Outgoing Letter #1). Furthermore, she adds:

         Contained within the sealed envelope you will find photocopies of 18 women along with a brief
        description of each. Now if you’re serious about your relationship interest in me, and you find at
        least one among these 18 women to your liking, I will provide you with an opportunity to corre-
        spond with all of the women of your choice. I will give you this opportunity providing you are (1)
        seriously interested in a relationship with me, (2) you would consider at least one of them for a 3-
        way sexual relationship with me...(Carmel, Outgoing Letter #2).

Carmel is the archetypal “centerfold,” the wanton sex-kitten modeled after the image of the seemingly “fun-loving”
professional sex-workers for which Asia is allegedly renown. Again, the photocopied picture, of an erotic Asian
woman with her silk camisole strap falling off her shoulder, is obviously a professional photograph.
        The Dream Weaver never advertised Pearl. Instead he selected potential correspondents from the pool of
men who responded to the various other advertisements he placed. The advertisements he placed as “Sera Wong”,
“Gail”, “Vanessa Morano” and other women for whom there is no evidence of out-going or in-coming correspon-
dences may have been fronts for Pearl. In her first letter she writes:

        Hope you’re not terribly disappointed to discover that I’m not the person you responded to in the
        ad. The gal you wrote, who is a close friend of mine, was swamped with replies and granted me
        permission to respond to the one I like best (Pearl, Outgoing Letter #1).

Degreed and pedigreed, she is also too busy to waste her time with romantic longings. Instead, Pearl allegedly
selected the respondent she liked best from a friend’s letters. In keeping with this claim, the Dream Weaver
forwarded the longer and more complex initial letters to Pearl. This strategy increased the likelihood of continued
correspondence since the respondents were made to feel chosen from a large pool.
         Pearl is crafted with greater detail than either Velma or Carmel. An independent, educated, self-support-
ing, 25 year old Asian/Hispanic (Filipina) from Singapore, her family relocated to California when she was very

young. She states that she is from a traditional Asian family that still believed in arranged marriages. She continues
that “when I refused to marry the son of one of my father’s wealthy business associates back in Singapore, I was cast
out of my parent’s house, so I relocated to L.A. where I share a condo with a girlfriend” (Pearl, Outgoing Letter #1).
Pearl’s detailed specificity is designed to reassure men who might question more generic Asian or Orientalist con-
structions. She writes:

        Unlike most women, my relationship interest goes far beyond my desire for love and sexual fulfillment.
        NAME OF CORRESPONDENT, I don’t believe I could find total happiness if the man of my desires was
        not interested in the development of his fullest potential...for deeper love and greater financial indepen-
        dence (Pearl, Outgoing Letter #2).

A hard-driving, independent 1990’s Asian woman, a workaholic entrepreneur who wants a relationship with a man
who will work beside her, Pearl is fashioned to underscore the qualities that have brought phenomenal success to
Asians and Asian Americans in the past quarter century. The photocopied photograph that accompanies the letter,
an air-brushed professional shot of a voluptuous sex kitten in lingerie languishing in an lush chair, is in sharp
contrast to the business woman image presented.
        Similar to other consumptive practices (such as tourism) that have moved beyond utilitarian purposes and
revolve around imaginative pleasure-seeking (Urry 1990, 1995; Campbell 1995), correspondences with Velma,
Carmel and Pearl center around the pursuit of pleasure, not satisfaction. The Asian women that the Dream Weaver
constructed offered correspondents the opportunity to create new interpretations and narratives of their own North
American masculine identity by prompting them to interject their sense of self as tied to imaginary rather than
asking them to orient themselves to others. Played out through erotic scenarios of both male dominance and
submission, in their interactions with the Dream Weaver, erotic racial difference and imaginaries of Asian femininity
serve as the anchors for correspondents’ versions of masculinity. Interplay with these finely targeted fictions pro-
duced a doubling effect in which the correspondents were not only able to project themselves onto delimited yet
personalized scenarios about their interactions with “Asian women,” but also provided a springboard for engaging a
social imaginary closely tied to their gender identity without the correspondents’ conscious acknowledgement of
them as such (Iser 1993: 294, 225).

                                      Writing Down: Mapping Distinctions

        The letters to Velma, Pearl, and Carmel illustrate the ways in which differences are written into correspon-
dence. The letters to these three “women” reveal the ways in which cathexis is conditioned by class, and what object
choices say about the men and their construction of masculinity.17 A larger proportion of men who corresponded
with Velma, the submissive and obedient help-mate, state their occupations as in the lower managerial and lower
technical categories, 18 and write in ways that would suggest some college education. The average length of the
letters is just short of one typed page, and they are generally handwritten, although some are typed or computer
generated. Men who responded to Carmel’s overt sexuality more frequently identified their occupational categories
as skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled manual workers in vocational jobs, transportation services, and the enlisted

sectors of the military. The letters to Carmel are shorter than those to Velma, roughly half a typed page or less, with
frequent spelling and grammatical errors, and are all hand written. The distinguishing feature of Pearl’s correspon-
dents is the disproportionately high number of men in the upper occupational categories. Lawyers, college profes-
sors, physicians, dentists, engineers, corporate executives alike were drawn to Pearl. Letters from men in the upper
end of the occupational categories are distinctive; they are much longer, running two or three typed pages, generally
well-organized compositions, and typed or computer generated.

Filling the Vacancy: EuroAmerican Women Need Not Apply
        Generally of middle class backgrounds, the most common thread that ties letters to Velma are difficulties
that men have with EuroAmerican women, and the impact of this on their personal constructions of masculinity.
Eric Jones, the youth from Richmond, first apologizes for his previous letter to Velma which he describes as suspi-
cious and hurtful. He says in his defense, “I didn’t expect to hear from you again, but you seem to be a determined
woman when it comes to me.” He states that he has “the usual problems,”—loneliness and emptiness and that “lots
of times I’ve gone to counselors, and you don’t do that if you’re happy.” He goes on to confess, “I wasn’t going to
write you again because I didn’t think you’d do the same. You seem different from American girls. I can’t explain
it.” What is clear is that EuroAmericans are the “American girls” against whom he constructs Velma, women who
did not care enough to draw him out of his isolation. In receiving Velma’s response to his hurtful letter, Eric draws
upon a popular cultural icon—Tia Carrera’s caring, feminine character in Wayne’s World—to elevate Asian women
to a trustworthier category. He writes, “I gave up on our relationship & thats [sic] why I wrote what I did, but you
seem so concerned about me.”
        Without elaborating, he states that he “made some wrong choices and bad things happened.” Presenting
himself as changed since, he writes, “I want to do everything right.” Eric’s desire to do the right thing alludes to a
transformation in his construction of masculinity. First he expresses concern for human suffering, and although he
himself does not go to church, he muses that religion might be the only refuge from personal suffering. Rather than
presenting himself as a “manly” man, Eric then begins to open up to Velma, confiding that his parents’ divorce
started his present problems. Eric admits his difficulties with intimacy, and reveals that his problems are sometimes
so overwhelming that he has had thoughts of suicide. After sharing his problems with Velma, and apologizes for “all
the bad things” he said. While he clearly chooses to disregard the standards of hegemonic masculinity which might
cast such emotional admissions as effeminate or weak, Eric also seems unsure of the outcome of his “transgressive”
revelations. Repentant and vulnerable, he ends by saying, “its [sic] impossible to be perfect. It’s hard to explain.
Thanks for listening.” He signs the letter, “your friend.”
        Eric is not alone in locating his difficulties in EuroAmerican women. Peter Jones, who works in construc-
tion, starts his third letter to “my lovely Velma, I have longed for you ever since I started writing you over a year ago.”
He apprises her of his current situation, stating that he has not been able to stay in touch with her because he “has
been flying all over this country New Orleans, Indianapolis, Reno looking for a Saratoga Turbo airplane” for a
businessman who needs it for his construction business. Presenting himself as a successful and worldly, he indicates
that he is very busy, working two jobs. He encloses an airline coupon for Velma to join him on a trip to Jamaica,
detailing what the retail rates for the airline and hotel would be were he not lucky enough to know someone down
there. He indicates that he wants nothing but “the best” for his first experience with an Asian woman. Unlike Eric,
Peter locates himself as a player in the world of men—flying here and there, wheeling and dealing, springing for his

lover’s plane fare.
         However, the next paragraph provides a different window into his life situation, belying the content of his
introduction. He writes, “I just paid off my phonebill [sic] that my ex-wife ran up,” indicating the relatively recent
dissolution of his marriage, an admission that raises questions as to his marital status when he started his correspon-
dence with Velma over a year previous to this letter. Peter then reveals the extent of the disarray in his life when he
adds, “I will give you the number when I get the phone company to turn it back on.” Furthermore, in response to
Velma’s request for an additional $140 registration fee for a lifetime membership to her introductory service, Peter
asks, “Will you take the ticket as my down payment on my registration fees? If not I can sent you $40 first and the
rest later.” Despite the chaos in his life and what sound like cash flow problems, Peter appears confident that these
problems will resolve and asks her to send more photos and a video, a request that will cost more money.
         Peter then speculates about Velma’s sexual preferences for a full page. Statements like “Your mysterious eyes
tell me that you would want me to...” and “I can tell that you like to lick...” reveal the understandings about Asian
women which Peter brings to the photocopied photographs of Velma and the contents of the three or four letters
that he received from her. Telling her what she wants, Peter locates hypersexual desires in Velma and disavows of his
own. Peter presents his own desires as non-sexual—merely wanting to be held and have his hair stroked. However
he also intimates the importance of sexual performance to his understanding of masculinity as he suggests that he
would do anything to pleasure her. This is despite the fact that his construction of Velma’s fantasies place him in the
sexually aggressive and active position. Framed as duty, Peter’s veiled colonial desires pay deference to the new
economic power and status conferred on Asian women, even as he circumvents the possibility of having to discover
what one might want by mirroring his own sexual desires in Velma.
         While Eric and Peter refer to EuroAmerican women in passing, others framed their disappointment with
EuroAmerican women as positive renderings of Asian women. Implicit in statements such as “Asian women know
how to please a man,” “Orientals are still old-fashioned, one-man women” and “your kind don’t lie” are implicit
comparisons to EuroAmerican women who do not measure up to the men’s expectations. The middle class
EuroAmerican woman, once idealized as helpmates to men and moral upholders of the home and children, has
vacated that position.19 While there may be middle class women who aspire to be housewives, this possibility has
long since passed. Middle class womanhood is now predicated on bringing in that second income necessary for
maintaining the comforts associated with middle class affluence. It is simply not economically feasible for most
women to stay at home or to focus their energies on pleasing their partners.
         The Dream Weaver’s correspondents appear to have trouble adjusting to the realities in America in the late
20th century.    Relying on their own interpretations of media constructed notions about the Asian feminine and
their own fictionalize scenarios thereof, most construct Velma as a home-oriented women who must be carefully
courted. While they accept the economic realities that most women have to work, they are enamored of the idea
that Velma works out of the house, an arrangement that retains the structure of man-in-the-world and woman-in-
the-home. Jason Smith, in a short third letter to Velma, includes a clipping from the real estate section of the
classified ads for a 2 bedroom condominium and starts his letter with, “They open a new place we could share and
you can run your business, and if you do not want to get married? We can live together?” While Velma writes of her
sexual nature, since she is an “old fashioned” woman who also embodies the new symbols of Asian empowerment,
correspondents do not assume sexual access without the trappings of respectability. Jason continues, “Also can you
give me your ring-finger size so that I can send you...rings?” and encloses a ring sizing chart for her convenience.

Other men have also proposed marriage as indicated by such queries as, “Did you get the engagement ring?” “I am
hurt that you did not say anything about the RING, flowers and candy I sent you,” and “Well, I am still waiting
to hear if you will marry me.”
        A particularly poignant fact about Velma’s suitors is the number of them who have corresponded with her
for a year and longer. Their letters reveal that many of these men believed they were patiently wooing the woman of
their dreams. That so many men chose to correspond with Asian women (as opposed to seeking one out an in-the-
flesh) raises questions as to the reality of so-called submissive Asian women and correspondents’ possible disappoint-
ment with in-the-flesh Asian women vis-à-vis their own expectations and social imaginaries. Focusing on anticipa-
tion and the pursuit of intense pleasure, Velma’s correspondents engaged in an illusory hedonism. Nonetheless, in
their attempts to “court” Velma, the men also reveal the difficulties they face: Eric had trouble relating to “American
girls;” Peter had just separated from his EuroAmerican wife; other men’s disappointments with American women
can be inferred from the kinds of statements they make about Asian or Oriental women; and Jason longs for a wife.
After a measured, year-long correspondence within which many men sent Velma plane tickets, rings, flowers, and
other tokens of their love, many of the correspondents tired of consuming already experienced imagined pleasures
and wanted satisfaction. Unwilling or unable to craft alternative imaginary pleasures for them to consume, and not
willing to relinquish a paying client, the Dream Weaver continued to string the correspondents along. Some of
Velma’s correspondents felt hurt and betrayed and were unable to contain their rage toward her, while others started
suspecting foul play and brought complaints against her. It is not surprising that it was Velma who brought the
Dream Weaver down as the men she attracted were the ones with whom the Dream Weaver had the longest
correspondences, many of whom actually believed they could capture Velma the “old fashioned” way: through gifts,
sweet talk, and commitment.

Imperial Longings of the EuroAmerican Underclass
        While the overly sexual correspondences to Carmel are, in part, a response to her suggestive ad and her
overtly sexual first letter, the recurring themes for Carmel’s pen pals are their difficult economic and social condi-
tions and the significance of sexual prowess in their construction of masculinity. Alan Smith’s response to Carmel
represents one extreme in the spectrum of sexual responses. A self-professed gigolo, who has just started an escort
service in Los Angeles, he includes a completed information sheet with a brief second letter. He writes:

        Hi Carmel; Hi Sweetie! I was very pleased and thrilled to hear from you again! Yes, we both do
        enjoy the same interests for a compatible,exciting,loving [sic] and Sexual relationship! I’m eager for
        both of us to meet soon! I’m looking forward to both of us just enjoying a Romantic Dining
        experience for Fun!
        I do want to contact as many lovely Asian women as possible so we can enjoy many, many 3-somes!
        I’m happy to know that you are serious about a Fun Relationship with me! I’m sure we will please
        and satisfy each other, Love!

        Thanks again for sending me another letter!

        I’m waiting to receive more letters from you soon, Sweetie!

                                                           Alan Smith

While it is not clear what he actually does for a living, what we do know about Alan from the information
sheet enclosed with the letter is that in his line of work, it is his job to entertain women. The emphasis he
places on enjoyment and fun calls into question how much pleasure he derives from his other relationships
with women. Implicit in the privileging of “fun” relationships is the existence of the “not-fun.” Other
information he shares about his situation in the information sheet is that his income is “variable,” and that
“business is not so good right now.” Without resources to expend on entertainment, sexuality not only
serves a measure of masculinity, but an inexpensive form of recreation. In response to Carmel’s second letter
in which she states her penchant for threesomes, Alan writes that he wants “to contact as many Asian
women as possible.” The specification of Asian women may indicate that Alan comes to his correspondence
with Carmel with the notion that they are more sexually open than are non-Asian women.
        Alan, however, is one of the few correspondents who present themselves as interested in just sexual fun.
While the prospect of sexual adventure is what seduces men into correspondence with Carmel, and most of Carmel’s
pen pals aggressively assert their sexual suitability and stamina by their second or third letters, most men also begin
to reveal equally important, non-sexual desires. For example, Bill Mayers, a 42 year old brickmason from Nebraska,
starts his short second letter, “Dear Carmel, I was happy get another letter from you. Let me tell you, I am clean,
VD, and AIDS free, and very health conscious. Sexually speaking, I enjoy sex very mush [sic], several times a day,
every day if I could.”   Sexual availability and stamina are the masculine assets he offers. However, he goes on to
complain about financial difficulties, then confesses that it is not just sex that is wants. He writes, “I would very
mush [sic] like to have a chance at having a serious long term relationship with you ‘even marriage.’ I very mush [sic]
want an Asian or Oriental lady like you for a life time relationship. I’m hopeing [sic] you will like me and want me.”
        Joe North, a 34 year old truck driver from Texas, also starts his letter with his sexual history pertaining to
Asian women. He begins by stating that he has had previous experience with a “Thialand [sic] female” and “also
thought I had a real relationship with a Philipino lady” with whom he was corresponding. Collapsing Asian cultural
categories, he continues, “I know what it takes to please an Asian woman and hope that Asians will accept me.” Joe
then lists his sexual suitability, writing, “And to answer your question about being V.D. & AIDS free. I’m a
Professional Truck Driver and I’m required by federal law to tested [sic] for Aids & the HIV vires [sic] every 90-days.”
He then continues to describe his fantasy of making love with two Asian women. After he reveals his experience with
and desires for Asian women, he admits that he is “a single parent and my daughter & I are looking for an Asian who
will help me take care of me & my daughter.” The specification of an Asian draws upon his preconceived notion of
Asian women as nurturing care-givers and also suggests that women of other racialized groups might not suffice.
While the mother of his child is not mentioned, the blond toddler in an enclosed photograph is telling of
EuroAmerican parentage. While he pens in that his annual income is $15,000 per year, Joe writes that “I am a hard
working man and a good provider,” providing clues to his construction of masculinity. And despite a modest
income, it is a stay-at-home wife and mother he seeks in Carmel, the role that the mother of his child abandoned.
        Carmel’s correspondents also write more explicitly of their difficulties with “American” women.            In a
relatively short communication, Jack Erens, a produce clerk, writes of his excitement at receiving Velma’s letter and
the possibility of a long-term relationship with her. He states that he prefers Oriental women because “Asian
women are more understanding and work hard.” His hostility towards EuroAmerican women comes through when
he continues to praise Asian women by writing:

        They are more knowledgeable than American women who are lazy, overweight, think of money,
        have poor judgment, have poor sex, and are careless, disrespectful, and worthless.

Jack’s vehement declarations about Orientals and Americans might suggest considerable experience with women, a
mark of a worldly man. However, he goes on to state that he likes “Oriental sex of any positions with any Oriental
women.” That Jack assumes that Oriental sex could be a genre of activity that differs significantly from other
varieties of sex calls into question his experience. Obviously drawing from the social imaginary, Jack attributes
knowledge of Oriental sex secrets and skills to all Asian women. While he does not reveal his previous experience
with EuroAmerican woman, Jack also goes on to say that what he wants is to meet a woman who can accept him,
date him, and consider marrying him, a statement that says much about that which he has been unable to find.
        Clay Bundy, another of Carmel’s admirers, is a 31-year-old farm worker from Idaho. He writes:

        Here is my $5 dollars for your Home Alone Video, Yes! i [sic] like your dark eyes.
         i would like to see more of your chest! i am a breast man. i also like 3-some with other women of
         any race.
         if? [sic] you come to my area, you and your female friend is single, you can stay on my farm for the
         weekend for some fun.

After this introduction Clay reveals that he is 5’6 and 275 pounds, “not to [sic] fat, brown eyes and hair, and broke.”
He claims to be AIDS and VD free, asks Carmel to rush him the video, and to read the fictionalized sexual scenario
written on a separate page when she is “in bed, naked and horny wet and hot down under your pants [sic].” The tale
is quite a disturbing bedtime story: while Carmel is cast as a willing participant, the narrative takes a sadomasoch-
istic turn as Clay surprises her by sodomizing her until she “screams in pain (and you will like it)”20 and continues
to rape her (“you say STOP! but I will not STOP...).” Clay’s version of masculine eros is that of physical force and
domination, a notion that clearly oversteps the bounds of consensual pleasure.         When he writes, “I, hope you will
like to read this over and over...” it is evident that Clay believes his fictionalize scenario will excite Carmel. While his
sexual vision might suggest that he is aggressive and bold (perhaps a punitive measure against her upward mobility
in America), Clay ends his letter with “please write,” a plaintive entreaty which not only hints at his inability to
attract women, but the manner in which new myths of economic power have been twisted into both his fictional-
ized sexual scenarios with and approach to Carmel.
        Carmel’s correspondents are clearly in a different class from Velma’s. Most of the offer candidly appraisals of
their financial difficulties, and do not attempt to present themselves otherwise. With little else to offer, they
highlight their sexual prowess as their primary asset. Carmel’s correspondents are generally uninhibited about
writing down their sexual desires and fantasies and respond exuberantly to her sexual entreaties. However, there are
clearly other pressing needs that lie beneath their carnal expressions: Alan is looking for more joy in his life; Bill is
seeking a long term commitment; Joe is searching for a wife and mother for his child; and Jack and Clay seek
feminine companionship. While Carmel explicitly writes in her first and second letters that financial status is
unimportant to her, that these men could believe that the woman pictured in the enclosed photograph would be
unable to meet men provides some insight into way that race continues to configure their rank ordering of society.

It would appear that Carmel’s correspondents still assign their EuroAmerican male status considerable desirability
despite their personal powerlessness and oppressed positioning in the larger American social and economic order.

Entreaties of Entitlement
        While Pearl’s correspondents come from a wide spectrum of backgrounds, over one fourth of her paramours
are well-educated men of social standing. For example, Stan Turner, a 34-year-old electrical engineer from Wyo-
ming begins his second letter to Pearl:

        Dear Pearl (?):

        Judging by your recent letter, you would be a remarkable person were you to exist. Certainly, your
        creator has a flair for the telling detail, the well-measured phrase (and I am not talking about 36C-
        24-36). There is also something rather inventive in the way he/she springs “but I also like women
        on occasions” out of the blue. A rather nice touch.

A schooled consumer of text, Stan starts critiquing the Pearl letter. He continues, “Alas, all this work — and I’m
sure considerable thought went into the composition of your letter — is betrayed by the transparency of the final
two paragraphs.” Stan advises the author that he finds her disclosure about her failed relationship too abrupt, and
the paragraph introducing the information questionnaire a bit forced. After recommending different phrasing, he
also suggests that the request for “hot photos” in the P.S. should be cleaned up since “our friend Pearl is not a tramp.”
Stan’s construction of Pearl is as a sexually adventurous but monogamous woman who will reserves her sexual favors
for him. Finally, he counsels the writer to do mailings without the xeroxed photo sheet as it “adds to the overall
impression of the letter being a come-on or scam.”
        Offended by the representation that conflicts with his imagined completion of Pearl, Stan attempts to tutor
her creator to re-organize the letter to meet his specifications of his ideal Asian woman, an exercise which redirects
the critique to the feminine complement to Stan’s masculinity. Despite the lack of fit with his own construction of
an ideal Asian woman and his cognizance of purchasing a social imaginary—one that he could not acquire except
through consumerism in one form or another—Stan still buys what the Dream Weaver is selling, sending “two loose
stamps” and a $100 check since “the letter got [his] attention.” He adds, “I must tell you though, the only surprise
that would mean anything to me, Pearl, is if — despite my considerable skepticism (was it obvious?) — you turned
out to be real.” Stan’s letter reveals a disillusioned man who wants “Pearl” to renew his faith in love and his dreams.
Stan closes with “Ah, raven!” in reference to Lenore’s impossible love in Edgar Allen Poe’s poem.
        Unlike Stan, Kyle Mueller, a 47 year old college professor from the East Coast, does not express doubts
about Pearl’s self presentation. He starts his second communication:

        So nice to hear from you again - every time I pick my mail and see that envelope, my heart starts
        racing and shivers run up and down my spine. I am so relieved that you did find some areas of
        compatibility between us.

He then devotes a long paragraph to his difficulties with departmental politics, and another to the problematic

home-improvement projects, covering topics that inform Pearl of the status of his “masculine” undertakings. He
then returns to their correspondence, discussing the photographs they exchanged. He continues:

          It sure sounds like you are successful with your business. Maybe I should talk with you about that
          kind of business. At times I do get fed up with the small but steady salary of teaching. Making
          applications for new jobs in the administrative side of education. Of course putting in applications
          is a far cry from signing a contract. Should any of them come through, it will be a hard decision to
          leave the area for many reasons. Pearl - you are one of the reasons. While I enjoy new places, people
          and new things, that sometimes means leaving behind the old and familiar. It must be a great
          feeling to feel totally independent now, able to go and do whatever you may choose, whenever you
          want to. Congratulations on the condo and the 450SL - I’ll bet it’s a convertible in addition to
          being red.

While Kyle’s unquestioning belief in Pearl’s business success may seem uncritical, it may be grounded in experience.
Not only does he teach in a field that attracts predominantly Asian and Asian American students, statistics on the
student body at his university indicate that the majority of Asian descent are children of middle and upper middle
class backgrounds. Adding status to desire, he integrates the economic power of Asian and the Pacific Rim into his
understanding of Asian women.
          Power and status, however, do not diminish the old visions of Asian female sexuality, as revealed when Kyle

          I surely would like to try another new thing - to explore the various aspects of your sexuality. Liking
          to try new things I would anticipate great pleasure in trying new ways of relating to you and your
          friends, whether than be in a social setting or the intimacies between lovers and lovers friends. I
          certainly have no problems with your preference for women on occasion, and have myself fantasized
          about having a threesome. I have never been involved in a threesome... Somehow I had gotten the
          impression that you were already experienced in this kind of lovemaking.

Nor do the new economic dynamics alter the fundamental position of Asian women as objects of EuroAmerican
desire and domination. After an elaborate one page recounting of a sexual experience with a student to establish his
own sensual nature, he closes by informing Pearl that he would like to take her to a conference he is attending in
three weeks. While an academic conference is not the ideal setting for an initial meeting, it is a setting in which Kyle
would clearly have the upper hand, and a situation that would allow him to show her off to his colleagues.
          John Darrell, a 50-something year old physician from a small town in Alabama, takes a different tact. His
letter, an answer to Pearl’s letter responding to his newspaper ad, is an autocratic list of requirements written in
memo form. He informs Pearl of his intentions, and wants to know if she can comply with his wishes. John’s
typewritten memo delineates his wishes:

                                      1991 Dec.27/16
        from: John Darrell, Alabama, 00000-0000 U.S.A.

        Dear Pearl: Please see Par.6, etc., + see also other side of this page.

        Please forgive the impersonal nature of this initial communication. It is a base-line. I expect to make future
        letters more personalized.

        1. This tries to write sufficient & accurate essentials, about myself, so that, from them, you can judge
        whether further communications between us, may be in order.
             If you answer, I would appreciate more pertinent information about you, your wishes, etc. Photo,
        telephone #, full address, freedom to travel, information whatever else, are all most welcome.

John’s aims are clearly outlined, and he explains his initial formality, embedding it in upper middle class standards
for a first contact. After inquiring about information concerning Pearl, he describes his appearance in item two of
the memo and reveals, like most other correspondents of upper middle class background, that he is Anglo. He
continues in item 3:

        As to my personal habits, — I never touch alcohol or tobacco, and never street-drugs, of course; in fact, I do
        not drink more than a dozen cups of coffee per year (& extremely weak coffee when I do drink it; (I am wary
        of all drugs, including caffeine).
             In terms of educational background, —I have attained a high level of education, & am still very studi-
        ous, — but please do not assume that this might create a distance between us; I do not mean to be aloof. I
        am a medical doctor with specialties in 2 fields. As such I read a lot of materials on scientific subjects. I also
        read quite a bit on business, finance, and various other “how” & “why” subjects.
             I confess that I am not exactly adept socially, either among my own professional colleagues or among
        various laymen. I think the right woman could help me to be part of it all. I am somewhat of an individu-
        alist. My ideas are unique & good, but not the common garden variety.

        John’s completion of the Asian woman becomes apparent in the above two paragraphs. In his self-presenta-
tion as correct, honorable, and educated, he assumes that Pearl is not as learned, and cautions her against the
distance this might create. Furthermore, he implies that it is his background, so different from hers, might make
him appear aloof to Pearl. Then in point four, John describes himself as “fair, reliable, considerate, and willing and
able to do the right thing.” He then makes a statement about honesty which he attributes to Sherlock Holmes, and
superciliously references the character and author for Pearl. He continues, in item five, to explain that all his sisters
are college educated and married to men with graduate degrees, a definite commentary on the fortunes of his family.
John deliberately presents himself against what he imagines Pearl to be—of inferior social standing.

        Having elevated himself against Pearl, he writes:

        6. From these meet-by-mail contacts, I seek 2 things: a. I want to sire a child, or several children (better yet,
        — & soon; and b. I want to meet a suitable life-partner girl. Marriage is a possibility, but I think that at
        least the arrival of the 1st child should bless the relationship first; otherwise marriage could delay or defeat
        the child-siring goal, instead of facilitate it.
             If the child-siring is with a girl who does not wish marriage, I would be willing to make a generous
        business deal, of negotiable, flexible arrangements, fair as I see it.
             I think either arrangement, or combination of both, is potential good deal for right girl. I welcome any
        comments you may offer about this.

It is here that John reveals that his primary desire to “sire” a child, not find a partner. Sire is an interesting term that
evokes breeding practices of prized domesticated animals. And in his secondary request for a “life-partner girl,”
“girl” is the operative word. While many of men refer to Pearl as lady, woman, babe, and chick, and some write
about the desire of a girlfriend, very few refer to her as a girl. The correspondents that refer to her as a girl are
themselves in their teens. Since John is seeking a mother for his child, he, like most of the men, is seeking a sexually
mature woman. Hence the use of the term “girl” in this context can only refer to the diminutive, someone of low
status than the writer. In John’s case it is fitting that he would ask someone of “lower status” to sire his child since
the loan of a womb would be an unseemly request of a woman of his own background.
        With distinctions clearly established between himself and Pearl, John starts a new eight-point memo on the
reverse side. He starts item one with “you may be OK material, if interested.” However, his tone shifts more
dramatically in paragraph two. Constructing Pearl as a woman who is out for “fun, pleasure, thrill, ecstasy, sexual
highs,” an impression that conforms to contemporary military stereotypes of Asian women, he begins to lecture her
about her ways. While he does not castigate Pearl for being bi-sexual, he relies on medical logic to claim that same
sex erotics predisposes one to promiscuity and disease. He also adds that “God did not intend sex for JUST
pleasure,” attempting to reform her to the sexual standards for his version of proper womanhood, an effort that
would then re-establish his version of masculinity as reserved and rational. While Pearl does not conform to his
more prudish standards of womanhood, he still considers her a possible womb for his child since genetic testing can
reveal the child’s parentage. He adds, “ideally, if not permanent cohabitation, I would like to have custody of it
myself.” However, he notes:

        4. If compatible, long-term cohabitation with the right woman O.K. too. I may be too eccentric &/or too
        frugal, for most women.

        After distancing himself from Pearl, he narrows the gap by informing her that he could be of help in her
business ventures, noting:

        5. I have much education. I could write U.S.P., myself, probably; or other similar topics. It is great &
        accomplished that you can do that or anything else educational on worldwide scale. I suppose that means
        also translations into various languages.

John then returns to his proselytizing against the practice of sex outside procreative endeavors, thanks Pearl for her

letter of interest, and asks her to be honest regarding her assessment of his proposition. He ends his letter by
complimenting Pearl on her looks and offering a positive remark about Oriental culture, and signs his letter “Love,”
despite his conditional interest and colonial desire.
        Unlike Velma’s and Carmel’s correspondents who, for the most part, uncritically embrace their pen pals’
attentions, there is a sense of entitlement which allows Pearl’s correspondents to dictate their expectations of a
potential female companion. However, the ways in which men of more elite backgrounds complete Pearl reveals the
widespread dystopia that crosses class boundaries. Underlying Stan’s cynicism is an entreaty for Pearl to renew and
re-energize his faith in love and romance; Kyle longs for Pearl’s powerful and sensuous world as an escape from his
disillusionment with the academic dream; and John has given up hope of intimacy—although he is willing to
consider the trappings of marriage, he only requires a subservient woman for biological parentage. While financial
means may attract some women, it is evident that privilege does little to assuage the men’s isolation and loneliness,
and it is through the personal ads that these men hope to meet a woman commensurate with their social standing.

                                             Conclusion: Fueling Desire

        Charged with overt, obscured, and even unspeakable hungers that implicate a wider set of power relations,
the men use the sexual domain as a geography onto which they chart other struggles. Correspondents’ desires for
the “Asian woman” appear to be a conditioned response to that which is lacking in their lives. While they reveal
their fictionalized romantic and sexual scenarios with these “Asian women,” the majority of correspondents also
indicate that the actual practice of sexuality is much more problematic. Relationship histories that many men share
suggest that sexuality is more an area of terror and shame, rather than domination. Many correspondents also wrote
of their long standing celibacy and their masturbatory responses to the erotic photos of Asian women that the
Dream Weaver included with letters. Constructed as objects for consumption by both the Dream Weaver and his
correspondents, the fetishized “Asian women” are infused with a power not normally attributed to individual per-
sons—properties that are in addition to whatever companionship-value, income-generating potential, or status
conferring possibility that a woman might hold for a man. Representing the economic power and new social
prestige of the East, as well as the sexual secrets of the Orient, the Dream Weaver’s women come to stand for a
miracle cure-all for the men’s financial, social, and/or sexual woes.21 What is implicitly fetishized in this construc-
tion is the men’s loneliness, inadequacy, and impotence.22     That the Dream Weaver’s correspondents find their lives
lacking is no remarkable discovery in and of itself. After all, they were playing the personals to augment their social
fields. What is disconcerting about the men’s correspondences is the manner in which these men attempt to
mitigate their desolation, particularly for those for whom sexuality is but a “parade of triumphant brutality,”23 a
means to punish and dominate.
        The remarkable success of the mail fraud felon in drawing men into correspondence with his “women”
reflects the power of the dominant male discourse of Asian women on men, and how that imaginary is evoked in the
social-introductory market. The essential activity in the consumption of the Dream Weaver’s SAF’s is not the actual
selection of or engagement with a woman, but the imaginative pleasure-seeking to which these “women” lend
themselves. The real consumption is the “mentalistic hedonism” of trying out a new imaginary that takes place in
the minds of the men who pay to corresponded with “Velma,” “Carmel,” and “Pearl.”24 Clearly created to enhance

appeal to men of different social means and sensibilities, examination of letters to “Velma,” “Carmel,” and “Pearl”
reveals the ways that men of different class backgrounds appropriate historical and cultural imaginaries of the Asian
feminine to conform with their personal imaginaries of masculinity. Based on his own understanding of masculine
sexual proclivities, the Dream Weaver guided men into writing graphic details of their sexual desires—eliciting a
myriad of reactive masculinities rooted in social anxieties and insecurities.      It is between social imaginaries of
domination, submission, and desire, and the hopes of finding love and happiness that correspondents divulge their
failures and anxieties. The sources of distress, which include isolation, relationships, family, and job or occupation
cut across class lines. However, while all the men are unable to find companions within their social networks and
each revealed a unique configuration of life circumstances and experiences, patterns of reactive masculinity emerge
along class lines.
           For both middle and lower class men, reactive masculinity is, in large part, predicated on social and eco-
nomic conditions that prevent men from fully inhabiting the provider/protector role, a rapidly fading marker of
masculinity in the late twentieth century. However, still able to put a fair share of household income on the table,
middle class men still retain the illusion that if they find the “right” woman, they will be able to recapture the
position of the providing male regardless of economic realities. Disenchanted with “American” women whom the
men describe as demanding power and respect commensurate with their contributions to the household, they long
for women whose beliefs about social relations will conform to their construction of gender hierarchy: the feminine
as the world of caring, love, and home and the masculine as the world of the capitalist market-place.      Constructed
as a submissive Asian woman who would “supplement” household income working out of the home, Velma is a good
fit for men seeking relationship-focused and home-oriented women. Against such a woman, men are able to
envision themselves as “men-in-the-world” who brings the world back to the “woman-at-home.”
           Few lower class men have illusions about their ability to even play the provider. Many are brutally honest
about their circumstances, and do not equate masculinity with earning capacity.       Sexual prowess is the register for
masculinity, and men often described this in terms of frequency of arousal and sexual stamina—the ability to out-
perform partners. Particularly unsettling about this configuration of masculinity is the ease with which prowess
slides into dominance, and pleasure into pain. Not only masculinity defined by unrelenting sexual appetite, a
man’s prowess is also measured by his ability to continue when his partner is “finished”—a dynamic that blurs the
boundary between consensual and forced sexual acts.       Indeed, in fictionalized scenarios, lower class men tend to
extend their fictionalized sexual scenarios to brutally violent visions of rape, sodomy, and other forms of sexual
aggression even as they beg and plead for the women to write back to them. It is unclear if the correspondents even
consider the impact of these scenarios on the woman to whom they are addressing, but most write of their wonder
and delight at finding such a sexually compatible “Asian woman,” and include a vision of sexual escapades in their
           The letters written by men who reported to be elite Americans reveal that social and economic means
provide little insulation against relationship woes. What Pearl’s affluent correspondents tend to focus on is their
inability to find satisfactory companions despite all they have to offer. Confident of their ability to support a spouse
or partner, they are more concerned about their criteria for potential partners. These men are generally educated and
articulate, and convey in their letters the social settings in which Pearl would be expected to mingle (an academic
conference or a gathering of intellectual physicians). Implicit in the social scenarios they reveal is the expectations
that they hold for potential paramour’s self-presentation, an essential for this class of correspondent. While sexual-

ity is alluded to and important, it appears secondary to social partnering and the social skills assumed necessary for
their world. For these men, sexuality should be a smoldering sort, hinted at, but not revealed. Constructed as
accessories or accouterments of success, these men tend to emphasize the qualifications required of Pearl. The power
relation is implicit as many men envision themselves tutoring their sensual Asian companions to their ideal of
         It would appear that while the preoccupation with the sexualized Other serves as a veiled expression of
multiple other concerns which vary along class lines, it also serves a social imaginary of North American heterosexual
masculinity that attempts to “restore that which has been lost or damaged in the recent past” (Connell 1995; 207).
Emphasizing the various forms of power that men should ideally possess—mastery over technology, control of their
own bodies, power over other men, and domination over women (Segal 1990)—Asian femininity, and acquisition
thereof has come to be understood by some as symbol that signals the restoration of lost privileges and power, in
terms of both interpersonal gender relations and what the fetishized Asian woman signifies in terms of status and
social standing. In the social imaginary, Asian femininity has come to represent a nostalgic return to a world order
in which East acquiesces to West, and Woman submits to Man.
        Although the women were just phantoms and screens onto which men could project their myriad of unmet
needs, an imagined Other who would assuage correspondents’ sense of masculinity, many of the Dream Weaver’s
correspondents believed they had reached out to actual “Asian women.” When the postal inspector in charge of the
case attempted to contact “victims” to press charges against the Dream Weaver, only six came forth. While some of
the men were too embarrassed to speak up, more of them became irate and protective of Velma, insisting that
“Velma is as real as you are because I have a picture that proves it,” and even accusing the inspector of “maligning
[their] Velma.’” For many of the correspondents, their dalliance with Velma, Carmel, or Pearl may still linger as the
bittersweet memory of the one that got away. With that belief, they also carry with them and perpetuate new
misunderstandings of Asian women. The correspondents who consumed the Dream Weaver’s representations tai-
lored the “women” to their personal needs, reproducing and introducing multiple variations to the already disfig-
ured social imaginary of the Asian woman. It is in this fashion that misunderstandings attached to representations,
most often created by men to sell things to other men, continue to circulate and evolve.


        In the United States the sexualized Asian female is an Other necessary for supporting self-construction along
distinct class lines among a certain segment of the North American heterosexual male population. The Asian
woman, however, is by no means the only sexualized female Other. On October 26, 1996, the San Francisco
Chronicle ran a story about another dream weaver who operated out of Poland. The Polish dream weaver, a 38 year
old married man with two sons, advertised as an attractive, kind, but impoverished doctor, age 25, searching for
friendship and marriage. He also answered the ads of more than 3,000 mostly German men seeking Polish wives.
Before the Polish dream weaver was apprehended on charges of fraud, he had received a flood of sweets, coffee,
stockings, panties, and $32,000 in cash.25 While this paper illustrates the ways in which class-bound masculinities
are constructed against a sexualized Asian Other in the United States, the case involving the Polish dream weaver
suggests the degree to which cultural context shapes masculinities and constructions of the sexualized female Other.


  If the response to an ad, either by letter or phone, is acceptable, protocol dictates a relatively quick follow up appointment,
usually within weeks or even days of initial contact, although it may take more extended communications in some cases.
   While it is not clear that all correspondents were men, given the end-goal of personal ads, and that fact that over a third of
the men sent in amateurish home-mode photographs of themselves, providing something resembling evidence that many of
them were male, the assumption I make is that most of the correspondents were, in fact, men.
   While the Dream Weaver was convicted for a year-long scam involving a “Velma Tang” of unspecified Asian descent, his
records indicate that he had simultaneously corresponded as “Carmel,” “Pearl,” and a number of other “women.” An active
personal ads entrepreneur, the Dream Weaver noted his highest daily income as $24,985, evidence that might suggests that a
conservative estimate of his lifetime earnings from mail fraud endeavors would amount to millions. He was eventually con-
victed of mail fraud, and the evidence used to convict him were drawn from materials confiscated in a legal search of his
home office. That Postal authorities kept close tabs on this particular mail fraud scam when, in fact, there are numerous,
more egregious scams they could have pursued, has significant implications for the complex operation of (male) state power
in regulating and disciplining sex. This, however, is a topic of that deserves more in-depth analysis, and is the focus of an-
other article on which the author is currently working.
  The Dream Weaver sent out questionnaires for potential correspondents to fill out. The prompt that elicited ethnic/cul-
tural/racial identification was “Nationality.” Over 80% of the men reported that they were of EuroAmerican background.
These men frequently listed multiple ethnic affiliations such as “Irish/German/Hungarian” or by simply wrote in “American.”
As with cross gender intrigue, levels of ethnic impersonation are not known. However, photographs sent in by the men were
used to fit men in broad continentally-based racialized categories. This process was particularly important for those who re-
sponded as generically “American.” Among those who filled in the “Nationality” prompt and sent photos of themselves
(over 800 correspondents) 7.3% of claimed to be some version of African American, 6.4% listed some type of Latin back-
ground, 4.7% wrote that they were of Asian ancestry, and 1.5% asserted Native American status. While there is just a subtle
difference in content and construction between letters from men who reported differ be non-EuroAmerican and men who
claimed to be EuroAmerican, and these letters constitute the materials for a comparative racial analysis which is not taken up
in this article.
  For a more problematized perspective of masculinity and male power, see the works of Segal (1990), Hall (1991), Pfeil
(1995), and Connell (1995), for example.
  For additional examples of that trend, see Sun (1987) Gray, Bohlen, & Fernandez-Kelly (1987). Harroway (1985[1990])
takes this argument further, suggesting that displacement and destruction of the male-dominant working class indicates a
feminization of work and the workforce. According to Harroway, feminine is equated with the vulnerability to be “disas-
sembled, reassembled, exploited as a reserve labor force; seen less as workers than as servers...” (p.208)
  By 1991 the number of men working full-time was declining by 1.2 million each year while the number of women working
full-time increasing by 800,000 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1992).
  Phrase used by Stoler (1991). The use of the term nostalgic here refers particularly to constructions that hearken back to
the colonial context or to military experience which, by and large, implicates a certain social strata of the society. Relations
between colonizer and colonized or soldier and prostitute are predicated on power relations specific to time and location
which are not easily transposed to other settings. While not all relationships between soldiers and non-American women are
grounded in the economies of power and privilege, studies on servicemen’s wives corroborate the difficulties of sustaining
these relations outside the context of origin (Kim 1972; Simpson 1993).
   The removal of Native Americans from EuroAmerican landscapes was the initial strategy of boundary maintenance. How-
ever, sex was also used as a tool of domination. According to Green (1990), dominant images of Native American women as
virtuous princesses who save white men and savage squaws who share their beds with the colonizer are historically
grounded in the conquest of Native Americans in America. Given their removal to reservations, Native American women did
not invoke the same sexual apprehensions to EuroAmericans as African American women who were integrated into the daily
lives of Southern plantation owners and workers. Perhaps it was because of the fluidity of racial and class boundaries in this
context that legislation regulating sex came to be necessary, particularly in relation to African slave women who lived and
worked in close proximity to EuroAmericans (Jordon, 1968; Giddens, 1984; Takaki ,1977; hooks, 1992).
   While Stoler’s work (1991, 1992, 1995) does not deal directly with Asian women in America, her scholarship lays the
foundation for an interrogation of the sexual positioning of non-white women “at home.” Moving beyond iconography, she
examines sexual control and racial policies of imperial rule. Citing the figurative and literal use of imperial pornographies

by European colonial administrators to appease the colonizing ranks, she interrogates the historical and contemporary slip-
page between the sexual symbols of power and the politics of sex by exploring the multiple levels on which sexual control
secured colonial authority. Sexual policies and practices were “a fundamental class and racial marker implicated in a wider
set of relations of power” (1991:55) both between the colonizer and the colonized, and among the colonizers. While
Stoler’s earlier works (early 1990’s) focus on the management of sexual practices between the colonizer and the colonized,
her more recent work (1995) expands the field of sexual discourse to boundaries of citizenship and nationality located in
  In 1996 three American soldiers kidnapped and raped a Okinawan school girl. During the much publicized trail the
American assailants testified that they did not mean any harm. However, implicit in their testimony was the misunderstand
ing that Okinawan women were, in general, ready and available for their taking.
  While Asian women are the focus of this essay, a perusal of the personal ads publications such as the L.A. Weekly or the
L.A. Times indicates that other non-American women, particularly Latinas, are also sought after.
   The list of things that can stand as extensions of the self is numerous, and a partial list of objects includes clothes, motor
vehicles, homes, furniture, jewelry, as well as collections, companion animals, money, gifts, and body parts. Even other
people—household help, acquaintances, colleagues, children, and intimate companions can be viewed as extensions of the
self, as commodities for consumption.
  As the letters impounded at the Postal Inspectors’ Office represents only one week of mail received by the Dream Weaver,
the letters do not accurately reflect the proportion of mail that each woman received. In fact, while Carmel’s correspondence
load is low relative to those addressed to Velma and Pearl, the database that the Dream Weaver maintained on his “clients”
indicates that at the time of his arrest, Carmel had attracted more correspondents than Pearl.
   At the time of his arrest, the Dream Weaver was winding down his Velma correspondences, Carmel was in mid-cycle, and
Pearl was his new woman in the personals scene.
     All correspondents names are pseudonyms.
   While demographic and geographic information has been altered to protect the identities of the victims, the content of
the letters has not been changed.
   Lower technical includes skilled occupations such as nursing and other health related positions, audio-technics while
higher technical refers to highly skilled occupations such as chemical engineering, highly trained health professionals such
as physicians and surgeons, as well as scientists in a range of fields. Lower managerial refers to occupations managers and
assistant of franchise stores, administrative assistants, and lower level officials while higher managerial includes CEO’s,
higher level administrators, and high level officials. Income was used to separate those in lower and higher technical and
managerial occupational categories for ambiguous occupational designations.
  For historical example, see John Ruskin (1865). While his is not an accurate portrayal of the role of women in society, it
was certainly a popular perspective among his middle class readership.
     Parenthesis my addition.
   The men’s pornographic imaginaries of the Asian woman are remarkably similar to the patterns of porn-users for whom the
representation is but a substitute. See Harrock (1995) for more detailed analysis of porn-users. Also see Fung (1996) for the
objective manner in which Asian men are represented in gay porn.
   Perceptions of failure, inadequacy, and impotence in the world is often linked to male sexual dysfunction. In America
sexual impotence is increasing at almost epidemic proportions and affects over 20 million American men (Lafavore, 1993;
Kimbell, 1995). This issue is one that is often taken up in men’s studies, the study of masculinities, and the men’s move-
     Roger Horrock’s turn of phrase (1995;102).
     “Mental hedonism” is Campbell’s turn of phrase (1995; 118)
     My thanks to Andrei Simic and Ellen Lewin for sending me clippings of this article.


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