Asian Women Need Feminism Too
On Friday, online contributor, Anne Gus penned an article to online Thought Catalog titled ‘Asian Women Need to Stop Dating White Men.’ In the article, Gus - whose ‘feminist’ essays have addressed Asians, African Americans and Android users alike - expresses an extreme frustration with the ‘WMAW (White Men-Asian Woman) couples’ that affront her eyes.
‘Asian women,’ she writes, ‘are you too narrow-sighted to realize that the only reason the most privileged and devious group on this side of the Milky Way, White men, are trying to get all up in your wonton soup, is that they are heavily fetishizing you?’
While Anne Gus is indeed a pseudonym for an anonymous contributor – reportedly attributed to a bodybuilding website – ‘she’ sparked the attention and outrage one could only expect from an article that drew their only knowledge of the Asian culture from Chinese takeaway menus and kung fu films.
Readers were shocked at the audacity of the publication for posting such an article, chastising its ‘poorly (RE: Abysmally) executed’ racist satire. Nevertheless, however misguided, Gus has highlighted an issue that has become lost in the mainstream feminist discourse, Asian feminism.
Little progress has been made to challenge the persistent stereotypes of submissive Asian women or the barrage of racial jokes Asians are expected to accept.
Looking for an expert to shed light on the issue of Asian feminism is indicative of the issue itself. While academics from Sydney’s leading universities list their expertise in multiculturalism, gender and cultural studies and modern feminism, none offer any confidence in knowing anything about the issue of the amalgam of Asian feminism.
Racism and feminism have each been in the headlines over recent months, as Australia’s racism has been brought to question with proposed changes to the Anti Discrimination Act and Senator Penny Wong called for all women to join the feminist cause. But in Australia, the combined issue has gained little attention.
Three Asian Australian women were interviewed for this article: Krystal, a 23-year-old marketing assistant; Belinda, a 20-year-old law student; and Vivien, a 19-year old activist and student.
While all their respective parents emigrated to Australia from China or Hong Kong, they have all been born and raised in Sydney, speak English as their first language and have been privy to the same stress of the HSC and university assignments as any other Australian student.
But the difficulty of embodying the identity of Asian Australian is epitomised when they are asked the simple question, ‘Where are you from?’
‘That’s a tricky one,’ Krystal says.
‘I always find that’s a bit of a loaded question,’ says Vivien.
‘Australia. Saying China doesn’t even cross my mind…until they frown at my answer,’ says Belinda.
With high levels of emigration from Asia as the White Australia policy was dismantled in the mid-50s and again in the 70s, a new generation of Asian Australians are growing more prominent. According to the Asian Century Institute, Asian Australians now make up over 10% of the nation’s population.
Yet it has not been easy to reconcile with an Asian Australian identity – one that cannot separate Asian culture with from? an Australian upbringing.
‘I feel like I was kind of confused. I wasn’t raised as an ‘Asian’ Asian or as a white person. I was like a White-cultured Asian. It didn’t really make a lot of sense,’ says Belinda. ‘It was also like there weren’t a lot of Asian people in the public eye to look up to.’
The limited media representation of Asian women was particularly championed in the #NotYourAsianSidekick movement that swept Twitter late last year. Hashtag activist Suey Park aimed to open up a discourse on the stereotypes of Asian women circulated by mainstream media.
The hashtag saw over 50 000 tweets from more than 60 countries around the world, in its first 72 hours. Park gained recent notoriety for targeting late night show The Colbert Report for an anti-Asian joke aired on their March 26 show.
The subsequent #CancelColbert protest ignored the satirical nature of the Comedy Central show with Park saying that all racist jokes come from an inherent racism.
For Vivien, the jokes about ‘yellow fever’ that Anne Gus cites in his/her article were underpinned by the stigma surrounding people’s limited perception of Asian women.
‘There’s the stereotype of a girl who’s quite submissive and obedient and doesn’t really question anything too much and is stereotypically very intentional about being a good girl,’ she says.
Belinda has been troubled by the stereotypes that restrain her Asian Australian identity. ‘I don’t understand how they are perceived as meek and quiet and soft,’ she says. ‘ It just really bugs me that Asian women are seen as being submissive and useless. I think we just need more Asians in the public who are doing what they want to do.’
Moreover, public figures of Asian women are rarely in the successful and powerful roles reserved for men and White females.
‘All the people that were being talked about were always white. There was nothing to be like “yes I can be that person, I have places to go,”’ says Belinda. ‘I don’t want the fact that I am Asian to be in my way. Although I’m obviously Asian – let’s face it. Being white is an advantage and I feel like if I show some characteristics of being white it will be easier to go places and be accepted.’
The hashtag has started to go beyond the 140 characters to allow for the Asian American and Asian Australian women to challenge the very stereotypes that push them into the shadows of submission. Its expansion into a number of affiliated hashtags - #SolidarityisforWhiteWomen, #NotYourModelMinority to name two – has united other minorities to also challenge their role in the feminist discourse. Park intends for this to start a greater civil rights movement to change the perceptions and structural barriers that still exist for minority women.
‘This is not a trend, this is a movement,’ she wrote on her Twitter account. ‘Everybody calm down and buckle down for the long haul, please.’
Written for MECO3606 News Feature Assessment. Intended for Lip Magazine. Intended Date of Publication: April 2, 2014