March 26, 2008

Asian American Feminism


This is my opinion on an important topic, and it does not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of the owners, the admins, or any of the members of the Fighting 44's. It's the viewpoint of me, Jaehwan, and Jaehwan alone, and I leave it to the rest of you to form your own view. Read on, fellow 44's, and make your own decision.

A debate over feminism has come up on these two blogs:

The first blog is from our friend Jenn at Reappropriate, and the second is her partner James. You can see the original post here, you can see James's blog post here (and he references a quote that I made), and you can see a debate on Jenn's blog over here.

It's no secret that one of the biggest problems in Asian American activism is the rift between men and women, particularly when there are self-identified "Asian American feminists" involved. In my experiences, both on the web and on the ground in real life, whenever "Asian American feminists" get involved in any kind of Asian American activism, it creates a rift so big that it prevents the two genders from working together. They'll usually force out all the men and women who support the men, and then they'll complain that Asian Americans are apathetic. Here at the 44's, we have some women who self-identify as "feminists," but to the best of my knowledge, we have no "Asian American feminists." The reason is obvious. Women who identify as "feminists" usually fight against a system of sexism, while women who identify themselves as "Asian American feminists," people such as Maxine Hong Kingston and Amy Tan, usually fight against Asian American men. Feminists attack a system, while Asian American feminists attack people. More specifically, they attack people based on race and gender.

Maxine Hong Kingston, for example, shamed Asian people by making the false claim that the Chinese word for "slave" and "woman" was the same. She portrayed footbinding as some kind of ritual Chinese practice, despite the fact that it only took place among the upper class--which wasn't all that large in pre-modern China. A crime? Yes. An epidemic? Not by a long shot. Amy Tan made up orientalist stories where women cut their flesh to make soup, stories that her white audience bought up and cried tears over. She depicted Asian men as rapists and spendthrifts, much in contrast to the white Jesus figures with whom her Asian female characters fall in love. It's incredibly ironic that despite their claims to stand up for us as Asian Americans, these so-called Asian American feminists seem to rehash the age-old orientalist notions of a feminine orient and a masculine occident. Indeed, it seems that the ultimate path that the Kingstonians seem to preach is that Asian women can find themselves by embracing white men and Eurocentric culture.

Now it's hard for many Asian Americans to accept these "Asian American feminist" attacks.It's hard for us, both men and women, to sit back while people slander our ancestors in order to ingratiate themselves with the majority culture. The lies are so vicious that even modern "Asian American feminists" cannot acknowledge any truth in them. Jenn has defended Kingston, but while she stops short of calling them lies, even she has called Kingston's slave/woman mischaracterization "ill-advised."

Has Asian American feminism ever accomplished anything worthwhile? I'll be honest; I don't believe it has. Asian American women still get objectified more than other women of color, and they still face stereotypes that keep people thinking of them as submissive, sexual beings. The suicide rate is through the roof. I've never seen Kingston or Tan speaking out against objectification; the only time we ever see those two is if they're accepting awards from white people, giving diversity pep talks, or thinking of new ways to make money by selling orientalism to an ignorant public.

Asian American feminists write garbage like this.

Now despite our differences in opinion, both Jenn and James are fairly sensible on most issues, and they ask quite rightly whether it's possible that Asian American feminism can evolve. Our friend James--who is not Asian American--asks:

Lastly - and this is what really bothers me - why can't some Asian American men admit that minority feminism can evolve? What is the problem? I don't expect Black feminists to parrot Sojourner Truth at a Tavis Smiley conference in 2008.

Well, James, indeed, it's a good question. Yes, Asian American feminism can evolve. Or rather, it could have evolved. Most trends have the potential to evolve. However, the more important question is this--has it evolved? And the answer is an unequivocal NO. It was broken to begin with, and it remains broken today.

For example, has there ever been any tradition in the Asian American feminist movement that Asian Americans today can view with pride? Sojourner Truth, regardless of whether her issues are still relevant today, fought and won many battles against slavery, she helped recruit black soldiers, and she led an exemplary life that has been lionized by freedom fighters in civil rights. We could also list great achievements for people like Zora Neale Hurston, Rosa Parks, and Toni Morrison.

The same is not true of Asian American feminism. With the exception of Helen Zia, have any Asian American feminists done anything of note? (And no, Yuri Kochiyama was never an "Asian American feminist" until the Kingstonians put that label on her during the later years.) Do any intelligent and compassionate Asian American women point to any of these Asian American feminists as role models? The intelligent and compassionate ones admire Asian American women, but they never admire the AA feminists. As far as I know, not even reappropriate points to great role models in the Asian American feminist movement. Effective propagandists, yes. Role models? No.

Now returning to our friend James--what if Asian American feminism were to evolve? In the future, could it evolve?

I've reached a conclusion in just the last few days: I don't believe it can. There has been so much nonsense and lies spoken in the name of Asian American feminism that the name has been tarnished. If you call yourself an "Asian American feminist," you are unlikely to get support from any Asian American men or any Asian American women who support Asian American men. The symbolism is too strong. It's much the same with white Dixiecrats and black people--no matter how good a person you are, if you're a white guy claiming to be "Dixiecrat," prepare to get the cold shoulder from those whom the Dixiecrats have historically attacked. The Confederate flag still carries historical meaning, regardless of what modern "Southern pride" people claim, and the same is no less true for the Asian American men on the receiving end of the so-called Asian American feminist movement. White guys with low self-esteem love Asian American feminism because it raises them on a pedestal, but we Asian men usually find better things to do with our time.

Obviously sexism exists, but Asian American feminism, due to the wrongful actions of the misguided leaders during the late 20th century, is not the vehicle for the fight. It's dead, and the crooked legacy of Kingstonism lives on. Asian American women who move under this banner will find that everyone runs in the other direction. Everyone wants change. We want better gender relations, better empowerment, and more equality. We need to avoid the tarnished legacy of movements that divide us, and we need to fight together. I, for one, am tired from fielding the relentless attacks from Asian American feminists that dictate what I'm supposed to feel and how I'm supposed to be more like the white men whom most of them deify, even though they constantly remind us that I will never be as good as white.

In order to get along and to work together, we need for the Asian American feminists to switch sides. It's much easier for Asian American feminists to become non-Asian American feminists than it is for Asian men to become white men.

As the ever perspicacious (female) 44 nightshade said in another blog entry (#16),

I think if real Asian American feminism were to come about, it wouldn’t be about dogging Asian American men. It couldn’t because Asian American men don’t hold the oppressive patriarchal power in the US or in Canada–well at least, they don’t for the Asian Asian women who have access to feminist and post-colonial thought. I can’t speak for the women who are living in poverty and must depend on their fathers or husbands for everything.

If a real Asian American feminism were to come about, it would be centered on dismantling the white patriarchy, and it would include Asian American men in the fight. There can be no Asian American feminism without first addressing the fight for racial equality.

Nightshade is 100% correct. Let's fight for racial equality together. We can fight for racial equality, and we can fight for gender equality at the same time. Nightshade's approach is fifty times more powerful than anything the Asian American feminists have dreamed up, and the reason is simple: in her prescription, we fight together towards a common cause, rather than against one another. Let's move away from the crimes of the past. Let's create cultural power together and create a society where we all can thrive and raise one another up.


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