One of the characteristic ways that human beings process information is to organize it in categories and use those categories to make sense of the world. According to Robert Emtman (1996), these stored categories, or schemas, are like mental filing cabinets which allow individuals to assimilate new information into categories of old information. The problem with this is that schemas can be unflattering stereotypes that resist change. New data is simply assimilated with the old and seen as reinforcing it, in many instances.
The way that stereotypes operate is by organizing information about some racial group into a homogenous category, in which all, or most members of the group, are seen as possessing certain undesirable characteristics, in contradistinction to members of elite groups. In the United States, the dominant group is white and European-American; other groups are compared to white Americans and generally found lacking in certain respects. These stereotypes can be altered, or reinforced, by ongoing portrayals of minority group members in the media.
Portrayals of Asian and Asian-American women in the United States' media are much more rare than portrayals of European or European-American women. The question under consideration in this study is the nature of those portrayals, along with the reason for their rarity. An expectation is that Asian women will generally be portrayed in the media in one of two ways: (a) as "tiger" or "dragon" ladies or geishas, who are sexualized beings; or (b) as passive wives who have essentially no identity and are background figures. This is not very different than the Madonna/whore dichotomy that has characterized the general cultural image of European-American women and Hispanic women. However, more recently, the cultural images of European-American women has expanded to include some desexualized, or work-oriented images. Still, there remains the basic good girl/bad girl motif.