Photo collage of an Asian woman taking a selfie with a white man, with various "Oxford study" TikTok comments behind them

Enough with the Oxford Study

Culture writer Vandana Pawa takes a look at the story behind the Internet-famous study and what it's actually about

Words by Vandana Pawa

If you’ve ever found yourself in the comments section of a TikTok where the subject of the video is an interracial relationship—specifically one involving positive representations of an Asian woman and a white man—then you’ve likely stumbled upon the phrase “Oxford study.” In these scenarios, little is said about the study itself, what its purpose was, or what the findings were, but it’s clear that the tone of these comments is meant to be derogatory towards the poster. So, what exactly is the elusive “Oxford study” referring to, and who is making these comments?

In 2010, Oxford University Press’s Communication, Culture and Critique journal published an article titled “The New Suzie Wong: Normative Assumptions of White Male and Asian Female Relationships,” by researchers Murali Balaji and Tina Worawongs. This study examines romantic relationships between white men and Asian women, using the context set by the 1960 film The World of Suzie Wong. According to the study, it’s generally believed that this film set the stereotypical standard of naive subservience paired with hypersexuality that follows Asian women in the Western world—especially when in relation to the white men that seek them out.

The study, however, actually has little to do with real-world relationships, and more to do with the ways these relationships are portrayed in media, with the researchers using TV commercials as their sample. Through these advertisements, the study concludes that this stereotypical Suzie Wong-esque representation of Asian females when associated romantically with white men has become internalized and normalized. It’s clear, though, that few who throw the term “Oxford study” around on social media have any clue what the study is about.

Despite a lack of understanding about the actual study, since the popularity of the term has increased over the last few months, TikTok scholars have been digging into other data from dating apps, including one creator who recently did a deep dive into an article published by the Daily Mail in 2013. Amongst a plethora of potentially outdated race-focused dating app data, this article stated that “most men prefer Asian women (with the exception of Asian men).”

Though both studies are now more than 10 years old, their impact on the current relationship zeitgeist is still holding strong and often encourages misplaced blame for the emasculation of Asian men on Asian women, as clearly evidenced by the “Men's Rights Asians” movement. In a 2021 exposé on Slate magazine that came after investigative writer Aaron Mak spent two years embedding himself into the group’s Reddit (r/aznidentity), it became clear that members of the community see Asian women as playing an active role in maintaining the stereotypes placed on Asian men. They often contended that choosing non-Asian partners means undermining and emasculating Asian men, therefore perpetuating white supremacy. “If a particular Asian woman has had any sort of history dating white men, r/aznidentity members will denounce her as a turncoat who hates herself and her race,” Mak said. “And that denouncement, historically, has been paired with harassment.”

@thatasiankim maybe it’s ur personality idk dont blame it on the oxford study LOL #oxfordstudy ♬ original sound - Kimmy

While the harassment happens online in this case, it usually doesn’t stay there. Rates of intimate partner violence in Asian American and Pacific Islander communities is high, and according to the Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence, up to 55 percent of Asian women in the United States have experienced some form of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. With the normalization of “Oxford study” as a response to positive portrayals of interracial relationships, Asian women are actively seeing their agency stripped when it comes to choosing who to date. In most of these cases, this perpetuation of negative stereotypes for interracial relationships on social media undermines the autonomy in an Asian woman’s romantic life, disallowing their sense of self and right to choice. Ultimately, this points to the more pervasive issue of gender-based violence faced by women in the AA+PI community.

Published on May 15, 2024

Words by Vandana Pawa

Vandana Pawa is a Bangkok-born, Brooklyn-based culture and fashion writer. You can find her on Twitter or Instagram @vandanaiscool.

Art by Ryan Quan

Ryan Quan is the Social Media Editor for JoySauce. This queer, half-Chinese, half-Filipino writer and graphic designer loves everything related to music, creative nonfiction, and art. Based in Brooklyn, he spends most of his time dancing to hyperpop and accidentally falling asleep on the subway. Follow him on Instagram at @ryanquans.