MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Now it's time to take a visit to the Beauty Shop. That's where our panel of women commentators and journalists get a fresh cut on the week's hot topics. Sitting in the chairs for a new 'do this week are Demetria Lucas. She is a contributing editor for TheRoot.com and author of "A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-To Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Life." She's with us from New York. With us from NPR West is Anne Ishii. She's a freelance writer and translator. She's also editor-in-chief of "They're All So Beautiful." That's an online forum that looks at race and dating. With us from Philadelphia is Veronica Miller. She writes about fashion and race for xoJane.com. She's a former member of the TELL ME MORE staff. And with us from North Carolina is Deonna Kelli Sayed. She's a freelance writer and editor of the website LoveInshallah.com. Ladies, thank you all so much for joining us.
DEMETRIA LUCAS: Thank you for having me.
DEONNA KELLI SAYED: Hi. Thank you.
ANNE ISHII: Thank you.
MARTIN: And, you know, I kind of understand why people might be thinking, you know, war, famine, natural disaster - why are we talking about this? Well, a recent Pew study found that online dating is a significant - an increasingly significant and an already significant part of people's social lives now. And a recent Pew study found that millions of people are pursuing romance in this relatively new way through online dating. But it turns out they're bringing a lot of old ideas about race with them. The dating site AreYouInterested.com analyzed more than 2 million interactions on their site. They have something like 75 million installations of the site, which means 75 million people have at least signed up for the site. And they found that - analyzing these interactions - that Asian women are more likely to get a message from a man of any race, unless those men are Asian.
And the analysis also found that white men are pursued the most by women of all races except black women. And black women are the least likely to get a message from anybody. And this tracks with findings from previous surveys. For example, a researcher at the University of California San Diego analyzed messages by the site OKCupid, which has also done similar surveys. So we really wanted to talk about this. So I'll start with you, Anne Ishii. Your site "They're All So Beautiful" takes on some of these issues. And you say the findings don't surprise you. But you also say there's kind of an ick factor to this. Why don't you talk about that?
ISHII: Yeah. I mean, you know, this is purely personal anecdotal evidence, but I don't know a single Asian-American woman who hasn't been addressed or cat called or hit on based on her ethnicity. And, you know, like, I personally get a lot of ni hao's and sort of Chinese oriented things. And I don't know what's more offensive - that they've called me out for being Asian, or the fact that I'm not Chinese, you know? So it's like, OK, get it right. But then if they do, then it's not like it's any better, but...
MARTIN: Do they think it's flattering? Is that supposed to be flattering...
ISHII: Yeah, actually.
MARTIN: ...Or appealing to you?
ISHII: Absolutely. It sounds, 9 times out of 10, like they want to impress me with their quote-unquote tolerance for something. Oh, I actually love sushi - it's like, you know, welcome to the 21st century.
MARTIN: Well, so do I. And I'm not Asian, I have to say. So, Veronica, you've told us that you've actually tried online dating. And this kind of tracks with what you've experienced yourself. You say that, you know, you've been approached online by men of all races. But what is that experience like? Do you find it flattering, not?
VERONICA MILLER: It can be flattering, but then it's the weird thing when you get on to that first date. I found that I've sat across a man who's white or who's Latino or who's Asian, and I always get to the moment in the date where they're trying to prove how down they are. And so they ask me questions like, who's better, Tupac and Biggie? And I'm always like, well, I listened to Spice Girls when that happened, so I don't really know. Or, you know, or accosting me 'cause I hadn't seen "The Princess and the Frog" when it had come out - the Disney movie. And saying, what are you doing, it's Disney's first black princess. And I'm like, yeah, I was probably working. But it was just this weird thing of trying to connect, but not really having much to connect on and saying, well, maybe I'll impress her with my black card.
MARTIN: Interesting. What about you, Deonna Sayed? What about you?
SAYED: Well, my story's a little different. I'm a white woman, but I'm a Muslim. And I've encountered some really interesting scenarios in the online dating world. I actually reached out to one guy that, you know, he was local and I just wanted to say hello, what's up. And he responded immediately by saying, I've been to the Middle East and I really have zero interest in you because of your religion. So, you know, I'm othered - even though I'm white, I'm othered because I have a face that people perceive as being foreign.
MARTIN: Did you find that - how did you respond to that? I mean, on the one hand, one might say I - is it wrong for somebody to say, I'm not interested in dating outside my religion because, for whatever reason, I mean. But what - how did you interpret that?
SAYED: Well, I just don't respond to stupid. So I left it at that.
MARTIN: OK. Now, Demetria, you write about dating and relationships. What do you make of all this?
LUCAS: You know, I'm actually happy for Asian women, that they're actually getting some attention, you know, online. So many people go online and they have such terrible stories, so, you know, it's good that Asian women are winning in some respect. I do, however, think that it's for the wrong reasons. As all the other women have said, it seems that there's sort of a fetishizing of Asian women here. You know, probably throwing out some model minority ideas, or some, you know, some geisha, or something like that, ideas. And they think that all Asian women adhere to that. So that's where it's a huge problem. And it's unfortunate that the ignorance of the outside world, you know, it doesn't go away when it gets online. And perhaps it actually gets worse.
MARTIN: Anne, do you think that that's true?
ISHII: Yeah. Absolutely.
MARTIN: Do you think some of this is kind of fetishizing?
ISHII: Yeah. I mean, I have only to point out that stupid music video of Asian girls - I don't know if you all remember - that came out a couple months or few months ago. But there's this idea that, you know - the old school mentality is that, yeah, we absolutely represent some sort of meek ideal, even if it's just that subconscious level. There's this idea of the geisha, or the concubine or, you know, like a submissive wife and whatever. You know, the unfortunate thing, I think, is that Asian-American women have to prove themselves against that stereotype by outperforming as, you know, oh, we're actually quite aggressive or, you know, we have to actually counterbalance that some way. And it just makes it really difficult for us to be ourselves.
MARTIN: Veronica, you were telling us that you actually find these surveys distressing. And you wonder why people keep actually doing them at all.
MILLER: It's - yeah. It's not very encouraging if you are a woman of color dating online because if you're an Asian woman, as the women have already said, you're worried about somebody fetishizing you and telling you how much, you know, he loves karate. Or if you're a black woman, you're like, nobody likes me. You're kind of like the unpopular kid at the party. So it's like - I wonder why these studies keep being released and promoted because it's not terribly encouraging.
MARTIN: Well, I think I can make an argument that it is, in part, that there's just more interest in wondering whether - if you're willing to go outside the traditional boundary of having to know someone to introduce you, are you willing to go outside of other boundaries? I mean, that might be an argument. In fact, there's an interesting thing, the - this study that I read about - online, of course - it said that users from all racial backgrounds are equally likely or more likely to cross a racial boundary when reciprocating than when initiating romantic conduct.
I mean, contact, rather. This was in the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that utilized online dating data from OkCupid. And it says that, you know, if somebody is messaged by someone of a different race, they're more likely to respond even if they don't reach out themselves. And the researchers speculated that maybe it's because people are kind of used to the idea that they might be rejected, so they kind of stick to their own corner. But that if somebody else reaches out, they're likely to reciprocate. So could it be a question of, are you willing to expand your options like that?
MILLER: I think - yeah. I think that's a fair question. I think the men I responded to - I don't message anyone, when I was dating online. I didn't message anybody. I just waited for a message to come to me 'cause I'm a girl and that's how I operate. But when the men did message me, and if they did seem interesting, I did respond. You know, it was kind of interesting to see that it was a more diverse pool than I was used to.
MARTIN: Overall, can I just ask each of you, are you encouraged or discouraged by what you're hearing about - or even experienced yourself - about online dating? Deonna, maybe I'll start with you. You just think what?
MARTIN: Go ahead.
SAYED: Well, I'm a little discouraged because I think being - I'm 40 years old. I don't know how old everyone else is. But being at this age, and when you're working full-time and you have a child, you don't have a lot of time to hang out with losers. I mean, you need to know that the person you're going to spend time with, even if it's not romantically successful, at least you're going to get something out of it. You're going to enjoy the person. And I think it's really discouraging if you do have - if you are othered in some way or considered a minority, then do you really have time for all this?
MARTIN: Have you met anybody nice online?
SAYED: I've met a few people. I have met a few nice people, but no one that I felt I could really have a second date with.
MARTIN: Anne, what about you? Are you ultimately encouraged or discouraged by what you're seeing about the dating scene with the addition of the online piece?
ISHII: Right. I mean, as a consummate, monogamous, you know, serial monogamist, as they say, and somebody who's never done online dating, I guess I'm sort of encouraged at the metalevel, where it encourages a lot of discussion. I think it's actually kind of a strange privilege that women of, you know, my ethnic extraction or Asian women altogether are able to talk about this so that it explores sexuality in general because, you know, it's obviously not just a binary. I think a lot about the things I hear from gay Asian men and, you know, I mean, their experience is a little bit more similar to, I think, what Deonna is talking about, where it's just a categorical kibosh just because they're Asian. And so, you know, those things sort of being icky or unsavory, notwithstanding, just the ability for all of us to talk about all of it, I think, is really the only silver lining in the quote-unquote fetishism.
MARTIN: Demetria, what about you?
LUCAS: Yeah. I think it's very disheartening, especially for African-American women, just because, like a previous commenter said, every study comes out - they always do the same study. It always gets the same result. And it's always about how no one's reaching out for black women. Black women are rejected. And just as a black woman who, you know, is having a hard time dating in that realm, like, I totally get it. It's like, so, in person it's a problem. Online it's a problem. Like, it can get very depressing for someone who's looking for love.
MARTIN: I'm sorry I brought it up, then. I'm sorry.
LUCAS: Oh, no. I'm engaged but...
MARTIN: Oh, congratulations. That's wonderful.
LUCAS: Thank you, thank you. But no, I'm just thinking of my - like, I'm a life coach. So I'm speak of my clients. And, you know, there's a real frustration out there about, like, well, you know, black guys have issues with black women. And then white guys have issues. And then Asian guys have issues. Like, it's like, who's looking to love us? And so just another study coming out and sort of reinforcing what's already been said a million times before - it can be very disheartening.
MARTIN: Well, the one thing I will say about the study - it said that people from all ethnic groups seem to not want to be pursuing people from their own ethnic group. I mean, it said that Asian men are not the top responders to Asian women on these sites. That's kind of interesting. And it also said that, you know, white women are the ones who respond most often to white men. But other than that, it seems like everybody's kind of confused. I don't know that that makes anybody feel better. But if you're just joining us, we're in our Beauty Shop. We're catching up on the week's hot topics with Demetria Lucas of TheRoot.com, Anne Ishii of TheyreAllSoBeautiful.com, writer Veronica Miller, and blogger Deonna Kelli Sayed.
Well, you know what, this isn't going to make anybody feel better, either. But the web isn't a place just to find a mate. Apparently, it's also a place now where people are airing their dirty laundry. And there's a website called - actually, there are two. There's a website called ShesAHomewrecker.com that allows partners to air their grievances against, you know, women who they say have interfered in their relationships. And there's also a he's a homewrecker site. And I just - Demetria, why don't I start with you on this. What do you think about this?
LUCAS: You know, I saw that segment - I want to say it was on ABC last week, like, after "Scandal," oddly enough. And, you know, I get it on some level, how these women, you know, they want revenge. They feel wronged. But what I couldn't understand, like, there's so much anger directed at the other woman, but not at the husband. Like, one women very specifically said, you know, like, he left me with three kids and now he's living with this woman. And, you know, they have a child together. And she said that she would forgive her husband, but there was no way she was forgiving that woman, or taking that information down from the site.
And I'm like, your husband is the one that took vows for you. And just like he lied to you, he probably lied to this other woman, too. Like, he probably told her, you know, oh, I'm going to leave my wife and I'm unhappy. And I'm only there for the kids. And this woman's thinking something entirely different. He didn't really tell her that, you know, I like being with my wife and I like being with you. And I can't choose, and I'll only do so because you make me. I'm just a horrible person. But I'm like, you're not - we're directing all this energy to the other woman, but what about the man? I feel like he's getting let off the hook here.
MARTIN: They get their own site, though. What do you think, Veronica?
MILLER: You ever scroll Facebook and you come across someone's status who - someone has a really personal, depressing, melancholy status and then you're uncomfortable because you're like, that was really too much information. Now I'm sad. That's what I feel like when I read about these sites. I question the merit of even airing your dirty laundry like that in the first place. Like, I understand it's a release and, you know, it's a highly emotionally charged situation and people want to talk about it. But that's what your girlfriends are for. That's what your sisters and your cousins are for. You know, you can call them up and, you know, go on a hoo-ride and handle it that way. But I don't know if posting it publicly on the Internet is productive, or if it has any benefit for anybody involved.
MARTIN: Maybe, other than - I don't know. It seems to be therapeutic for some people. They seem to feel better. I don't know. Anne, what do you think?
ISHII: I hate to play devil's advocate, but I have to say two of my favorite shows are "Cheaters" and "Catfish." And there's little bit of the getting the rug pulled out from under your feet feeling when you see somebody get caught. And, you know, I actually enjoy that as entertainment. I tend to agree that it's really depressing to see it online when it's, you know, it comes directly from the so-called victim. Who's slut-shaming, as it were. But I have to say, I mean, at least when it's on television and it looks sort of more like, you know, professional wrestling - it looks staged. But I just love how corny it is and how emotional people get when there's a camera in front of them. And they're in nothing but, you know, a bed sheet.
MARTIN: Deonna, what about you? What do you think?
SAYED: Well, I think the whole thing is little bit 8th grade because you're not just hurting the person who committed, or who may have approached the husband or the wife, but you're also hurting, potentially, children who may get wind of it. And it's just - and we don't know the context of what was happening in the marriage and what deficiencies may have already been in place. I just - I feel it's inappropriate to handle things that way. It is slut-shaming. And it's hurtful to many more people involved.
MARTIN: What about the man? What about the he's a homewrecker site? I mean, one of the things that I found interesting in reading the comments there is that there were a lot of people who felt that these men were serial predators. And that was why they were enjoying calling them out. They said, oh, he knew how to get exactly what he wanted, that kind of thing. I mean, is there kind of a double standard here, where the men are always perceived to be in charge of the interaction, and the woman is always kind of the - I don't know. I mean, help me out here.
ISHII: Yeah, I...
MARTIN: Go ahead.
SAYED: I think it's wrong on both counts. I think it's wrong on both counts. People deserve a little bit of dignity, even when they screw up.
MARTIN: OK. Anne, what do you think? I'll give you the final word on this.
ISHII: I totally agree, except that with men, unfortunately, I don't think slut-shaming works. So, you know, that's the other thing is if it really is about vengeance, you know, their dignity notwithstanding, if somebody really wants to hurt them, I don't think calling them, well, maybe predator is a little bit more offensive. But a homewrecker I doubt really does anything to their ego.
MARTIN: Well, I'm sorry I couldn't make this a more uplifting Beauty Shop, ladies. Can we go out on a positive note? I'm happy for all the good stuff going on your life. You are all fabulous.
LUCAS: Thank you.
SAYED: Thank you.
MARTIN: Well-read and interesting and smart. And if any of you are kind of unattached and looking, there's some very fine women right here who, I think, would appreciate interesting conversation and an elegant date. No, you know, fetishizing allowed here.
LUCAS: That's important.
MARTIN: That's right. Demetria Lucas is the contributing editor for TheRoot.com and author of "A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-To Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life," with us from our bureau in New York. Anne Ishii is editor-in-chief of TheyreAllSoBeautiful.com, with us from our NPR West studios. That's in Culver City, California. Deonna Kelli Sayed is editor of the site LoveInshallah.com. She was with us from member station WFDD in Winston Salem, North Carolina. And Veronica Miller writes about fashion and race for xoJane.com, with us from Philadelphia. Thank you all, ladies. Thank you so much.
ISHII: Thank you.
SAYED: Thank you.
MILLER: Thank you.
MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.
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