12/16/13
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What is Asian American Feminism?

This is a question I have been chewing on for a few weeks. I don’t have a fully formed opinion yet. I’m typically clear on my opinions, so it has surprised me how hard it has been to get a sense of voice and perspective on this topic. Hence, why I want to start writing on the topic. I hope that you will consider joining this conversation with me.

I started this post a couple days ago, but yesterday I found out about a great hashtag #NotYourAsianSidekick that was started to open dialogue on this very topic. I’m a little intimidated to post in light of the trend. But isn’t part of feminism finding my voice? I have an inner angst that says I’m not academic enough to join this conversation, but that’s a fear I’m choosing to step through.

Some of you/ us may wonder if there is a need for an Asian American feminist perspective. Often we are clumped with white women in discussions of gender and power. But that doesn’t make sense to me. That doesn’t speak to the immigrant experience and the cultural influences of the countries our families emigrated from.  Most people do not include  Asian American woman when having discussions about Women of Color. We are invisible in many of these conversations and it seems time for that to change,

As Asian American women, we can learn from white feminism, but our connection to Asian culture means that our experience of gender and power and culture is different than white woman. We can learn form Black feminism, but we are not impacted by systemic class and race issues in the same way as Black women. ( Not to say that poverty and racism are not issues in our community.) I think that Asian American women and Latina women have a lot of shared experiences. And when facilitating conversations about race I have found Asian American women and Latinas are surprised by how much they share in common: traditional gender roles, the treatment of male and female children, immigrant experience, language issues, and duty to family. Sadly, there are very few bridges to conversations between our two communities. Since feminism is about giving women a voice and validating their story- I think it’s important that Asian American women step into their own feminist narrative.

These are some of the recent incidents and experiences that got me chewing on this topic.

– Why are there so many ads for Asian women giving massages? Every time I pick up Pasadena Weekly there are multiple pages dedicated- not just to massage- but massages given by Asian women. Places with very “Oriental” names and lots of references to Orchids. How is this fetishization of Asian American women still so prevalent in our culture?

– The multiple articles talking about Asian American women in the world of online dating. Here’s an example from Elaine Dove on Jezebel. 

  • The ad that said I was Asian generated approximately 80 responses in about 6 hours, after which Craiglist struck the ad as being a fake. Many if not most of the responses started with something like, “I love Asian” (I’m not kidding) or “Asian women are so sexy.” The content and feel of the responses was overtly sexual and made specific reference to my race as part of the appeal. Keep in mind that none of these ads contained a photo, so for all these guys knew, I could be a dwarf with missing teeth. But, apparently, being Asian is its own draw.

– Katy Perry’s performance on the American Music Awards.

– That piece of crap song Asian Girlz

– Watching the hashtag #solidarityisforwhitewomen. This hashtag was an awesome conversation about the way that mainstream white feminism overlooks the experiences of Black women, particularly intersections of  race, class, and gender. But as I watched the conversation progress, I felt like such an outsider. I had to wonder- what is the voice and perspective of Asian American women?

– I work closely with social justice issues and issue of race and multi-ethnicity. The academic conversation ignores the presence of Asian Americans almost completely. Of course I emphatically support a focus on Native Americans and Africans Americans as we talk about US history and issues of systemic injustice. I care deeply about what is happening with immigration- particularly as it affects the the Latino community. But immigration is clearly not just a Latino issues.The question keeps coming up. “Where are we in these conversations? Where is the voice and perspective of Asian American women?”  I know I’m here- near the conversations, but not in them.

So here are some of my first thoughts on Asian American Feminism.

I want to be in the conversation. I don’t want to watch White and Black women having a conversation on feminism. I want in. I don’t want to watch White and Black people have a conversation about race. I want a voice in the conversation. I don’t want to watch the Latino community speak about issues of immigration. I want Asian Americans to find the courage to speak up on the issue of immigration.

I don’t want to talk about the city, talk about social justice, engage with issues of poverty- and then get dismissed like my ethnicity is not important or told that it’s the same as the white experience.

I am not a geisha, a delicate flower, or a woman dying to meet the needs of her white Saviour. Can we move passed this ignorant hyper sexualized view of Asian women where we exist to meet male sexual desire?

Can we expand our views of Asian American women beyond newscaster, prostitute, masseuse, dragon lady, and war bride? Can we stop being the quirky sidekick friend whenever we are cast on TV shows?

Can we start talking about what it means that East Asian Americans have such a strong presence on many college campuses.

I am right here, and I’m tired of being dismissed, like the only thing we have to offer is a massage, some karate, or being a good listener.

Following #NotYourAsianSidekick I see other important themes emerging.

– The shame surrounding mental health in our communities

– Always being perceived as outside and foreign

– Giving voice to marginalized Asian groups, particularly SE Asians and Indians

– Underrepresentation in mainstream media

This conversations has additional layers as I look at it from a Christian perspective. White evangelicals so often view Asians as a mission field, and ignore the thriving and growing presence of the Asian American Evangelical community and the leadership we could offer. Traditional gender roles in the immigrant church are stifling to female leadership development. The vision of leadership among American evangelicals is loud, white, verbal, and  male. We are often shorter, sometimes smaller, our culture doesn’t validate being so verbal, and we are women. So put it together. What drives me nuts about the view of Asian American women as quiet subservient non-leaders is that the majority of Asian American women I know are crazy potent leaders. They are opinionated, strong willed, often loud as hell, and incredibly passionate leaders. There is a huge distance between the truth of the Asian American women I interact with and how the world sees us. And the church can be as ignorant and closed a place as the rest of the world.

My friend, Sarah, a potent ministry planter, talks about the fact that people literally look over and past her when she walks into a room of Christian ministers. Being a short Asian American woman puts her outside of white America’s leadership paradigms. They literally don’t look at her.

These are just opener thoughts. But even as I write I can feel my thoughts growing clearer and bolder. I’m excited to see where this goes. I’m very excited to see the conversation on twitter continue. Join me- I would love to see a broad community of Asian American women and others take this conversation to new places.