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Meghan Markle's podcast tackles tropes that Asian women are 'submissive' or 'overbearing'

Margaret Cho and Lisa Ling opened up about their successes despite cultural depictions of Asian women that eventually became obstacles in their careers.
Meghan, Duchess of Sussex attends day two of the Invictus Games 2020 at Zuiderpark on April 17, 2022 in The Hague, Netherlands.
Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, at the second day of the Invictus Games at Zuiderpark in The Hague, Netherlands, on April 17.Samir Hussein / WireImage file

Meghan Markle’s podcast, “Archetypes,” returned this week after a temporary hiatus to explore tropes that often depict Asian women as either "submissive" or "overbearing."

The episode, which was released Oct. 4 and is the first since the death of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, included guests Nancy Wang Yuen, a sociologist, Margaret Cho, an Emmy-nominated actor and comedian, and Lisa Ling, a journalist.

Cho and Ling talked to Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex and the wife of Britain's Prince Harry, about their climb to success and the cultural depictions of Asian women that would eventually become hurdles in their respective careers.

“East and Southeast Asian women are either stereotyped as ‘lotus flowers,’ who are quite submissive and quiet, or ‘dragon ladies,’ who are overbearing and unlikeable,” Yuen said during the podcast.

The episode explores the caricatures of women of Asian descent who have long been a part of American culture, including characters like the Japanese sisters Fook Mi and Fook Yu in “Austin Powers” and the Vietnamese sex worker in the 1987 film, “Full Metal Jacket,” saying the famous line “me love you long time.”

Ling and Cho opened up about their experiences as Asian American women succeeding in their respective industries despite the stereotypes they endured.

Ling recounted a time in the 1990s when she was named “hot reporter” in Rolling Stone’s “hot” issue, which named people in various categories for being attractive. She said a colleague at the news station where she was working had cut out the article, drawn slanted eyes over her eyes in the photo and put it back in her mailbox.

“When I retrieved that from my mailbox, it was like every kernel of excitement that I possessed just withered away,” she said.

While Ling said she was never explicitly called a “dragon lady,” the stereotypes attached to it have been in her consciousness and have propelled her further in her career.

“On so many occasions, I’m the only Asian woman in the room,” she said. “I find myself not shying away from it and asserting myself even more and speaking louder and standing taller and claiming my space here.”

Cho starred in ABC’s 1994 show, “All-American Girl,” which was a slice-of-life sitcom about a Korean American family. 

Margaret Cho on "The Kelly Clarkson Show" on June 2, 2022.
Margaret Cho on "The Kelly Clarkson Show" on June 2.Weiss Eubanks / NBCUniversal

The prime-time sitcom, which only aired for one season, was the first to center an Asian American household. Margaret Kim, who was played by Cho, was more Americanized than the rest of her family and that was the center of many family conflicts — a common issue in some Asian American households.

“I’m not what Koreans necessarily wanted their representation to be, but unfortunately, I was there at that moment in time,” Cho said.

She said the negative response to the show from the Asian American community made her feel lonely and not enough.

When asked what three words Cho would describe herself at that age, she said, “shy, afraid and unseen.” 

“I was afraid of being too loud,” she said. She said she also feared “being too aggressive because I was always too aggressive.”

Cho said she has grown a lot since the show’s premiere and went on to do stand-up comedy, which helped develop her confidence.

When describing herself now, she said she is “joyful, growing and nurturing” and attributes that partly to society’s shifting depiction of Asian women, and the generation of Asian American and queer entertainers who inspired her journey.