Womxn’s History Month 2019 hath ended its great stride, however, I want to take one extra day to celebrate a community I am beyond lucky and proud to be a part of; the community of Asian Womxn. I want to acknowledge my yellow and brown sisters, and those who support us. All of the anger, stress, tears and oh hell no’s we share; no words needed just a sheer glance in one another’s direction connects us beyond conversation. Watch us as we continue to crush barriers and expand the identity of Asian Womxn like you’ve never seen before. So to all my fellow Asian Womxn…Let’s Gyo Crazy!
What does being an Asian womxn in today’s climate mean to you?
In South Korea, living as an Asian womxn means to not live as a human, fighting for my right as a human is to risk my life. In America, living as Asian womxn, I feel like I am a display of “something else” that has only to say “yes” and nothing else.
Detaching self worth from achievement.
Understanding marginalized identities within privileges.
Understanding historic representations of Asian women among White Europeans.
Building networks and connections based in values.
I always feel that my being an Asian woman is the (white) elephant in the room. I notice this primarily in my career. Often times, I'm the only woman and not only that, the only woman of color in the room and I do feel that more often than not, I am not taken seriously. I don't like going there in thinking that it's because I am a woman, but many times I've gone home upset knowing that that is the reason. And more times than not, I've also asked myself "is it because I am an Asian woman?" -Annie
In the midst of the heightened attention in American politics and society surrounding diversity, equity, and inclusion, I feel pressured to be an exemplar of feminism, Asian American pride, liberal morality, and allyship. While I identify with and am motivated by each of those things, I feel as though I am increasingly self-aware of how I’m being judged through those lenses.
To answer this I have to situate myself where I physically am currently, and have come from – I’m Asian American because the US dabbled in my homeland and in the resulting upheaval and then military and economic oppression I was sent to the US where I became Asian American, by nature of being an Asian growing up in America. So while that identity isn’t one I fully embrace, understanding the origin helps me think through my experiences with race and gender and sexual identity in the US in a broader sense than I think white normative Americans would have me consider those things.
At any given point, I either feel a sense of pride and ownership or vulnerability. I feel lucky enough to be part of a world, a safe bubble, where I can exist as an Asian American woman mostly without fear of discrimination, objectification, and oppression. But occasionally I am reminded of how fragile that bubble is and that if I am just in the wrong place or if I encounter the wrong person how quickly that can change.
Living in America as an Asian woman seems like I have a lot of sticky notes with keywords that white people filled in and I have to fight to take those notes off my body. I can tell how Americans treat me like I'm invisible and assume that I have no opinion and should not have any opinions because simply I am Asian. -Sunny
For me, growing up around predominantly white people, then spending years in predominantly Latino cities, took me a long time to fully accept my Asian culture, which is sad, but it was part of my journey. I look at it now as a positive thing in that I was able to assimilate maybe more than if I had grown up around more Asians. This has helped me develop interpersonal skills that have helped me connect with a broader variety of people from all ethnic backgrounds and now incorporate and blend my Asian heritage with what I’ve learned from more Western culture, which I believe has made me relatable and more successful in life. I’m so happy that some people look to me as a positive, rational, and still assertive Asian woman. I hope more Asian women can at least acknowledge stereotypes and seek ways to break those without losing all ties to their Asian culture.
Ultimately, being a queer Asian American immigrant woman in today’s climate to me means understanding that belonging somewhere (a physical place) is something that may never happen, and maybe shouldn’t on just those terms, but belonging to each other across borders and learning how to take care of a place is really worthwhile.
When I make opinions and want people to listen, they start to avoid or treat me as a crazy, stubborn person because I am not the common Asian Woman who should be quiet and agreeing with what people saying, but someone who owns my own voice and opinion, expressing my thoughts that are different from theirs.
IT FUCKING SUCKS RIGHT NOW. Every manner of our life is under attack in today’s political climate: our reproductive rights, our immigration rights, our citizenship…
While I certainly believe the overall progress and advancement of Asian American Womxn in US society is well-earned by the talent and determination of these women, it may be despite the discrimination that continues to threaten us. -Laura
I moved to Hawaii, where my privileged location in Honolulu’s social stratification was drastically different than anywhere else. Being an Asian American woman in Hawaii is an experience and a responsibility I struggle to articulate to Asians in the US – the meaning of my identity and physical presence in today’s climate amidst ongoing US political, economic, military, cultural violence here and elsewhere. I feel a responsibility to the communities I left in the US to continue supporting their struggles while using the knowledge I’ve gained in Hawaii to flesh out some of the analysis we had, and I feel a responsibility to communities in Hawaii to support their varying stakes in Hawaii’s future and survival.
While I think there is still underrepresentation of women and Asian women in particular, in today’s climate, there is more of an opportunity than before to exist as a positive representation. With more of the cultural and traditional gender roles changing for Asian women, particularly those with more Western influence, it feels like people are more open to contributions of Asian women and representations that stray from traditional stereotypes. -Jenny
Is there a representation of Asian womxn in media (literature, film, tv, art, music, etc.) that you have whole heartedly disagreed with?
I think just anytime an Asian womxn is portrayed as a stereotype – submissive or nerdy or somehow a superhero that knows kung fu or karate – I just can’t help but roll my eyes.
The character Josie Packard in the television series Twin Peaks. I really wanted to love this character, especially because there were so few representations of Chinese women on American TV in the late 80s and early 90s. But I recall having a visceral reaction every time Josie was featured in an episode. My irritation had a lot to do with the sexualization of the show's ONLY non-white female. I felt that the show didn't do enough to unpack the complexities of the character in the same way that they were doing for some of the other characters. -Becky
One of the many frustrating representations I’ve seen of Asian womxn is the Asian Girlfriend-White boyfriend trope. While there isn’t anything inherently wrong about the idea of Asian Girlfriend-White boyfriend couple, it’s a bit annoying knowing that this is the few storytelling mechanisms that allow for and Asian Womxn to be seen at all – that the few times an Asian Woman is represented is only in tandem and within the context of a white boyfriend. This probably wouldn’t be as frustrating if there were just more, and diverse, overall representation.
A lot of the more recent portrayals haven’t bothered me too much but someone that sticks out to me, probably because she was one of the first representations I encountered as a child, was Phoebe from Hey Arnold. She is the submissive best friend to Helga, a white woman. She’s portrayed as sensitive, super studious except for that one episode where she “cheats” to win – a poetry contest at school! Only to have it haunt her – again going back to the stereotype of the good Asian girl. It’s tricky for me because while I do relate to a lot of those characteristics – I would have liked to see her grow more. Eventually, I recall her standing up for herself a few times – which was good for a young girl to see.
If I had to pick a standout offender, it’d be “Memoirs of a Geisha” by Arthur Golden, a southern white dude who for some reason thought the world needed his fetishizing take on a Japanese career. And then they made it into a movie! *facepalm* I remember doing a book report on it in high school and being exceptionally uncomfortable with having my classmates read it.
I think there is rarely a representation of Asian womxn in mainstream media that I have wholeheartedly agreed with. -Laura
From the deceitful dragon lady to exotic “geisha” girls to the meek and submissive girlfriend/wife to the perpetual caretaker or service worker – there have been a plethora of these caricatures of Asian womxn that have made me really critical of our representation in mainstream media.
Scarlet Johanssen as Major Motoko Kusanagi (Ghost in the Shell). Asian womxn are not Charlize Theron or Emma Stone or some other such nonsense Hollywood wants to portray. -Sarah
Why are we always sidekicks (at best)!? Dear god can we be a protagonist with real prerogatives for once, like eating the full value out of a buffet and trying to find work we enjoy and making the world a better place.
I would say in general, I’ve disagreed with the majority of portrayals of Asian women I used to see on TV or movies from my childhood unless they were some sort of superhero type character. It was either the docile, submissive portrayal or kind of the angry “bitchy” woman. Perhaps I wasn’t aware of other representations of more positive representations but that was mostly what I remember. While at the time, it used to annoy me, I realize now that was most of the stereotypes were based on war history or lack of exposure to Asian women/culture. I’m glad to say nowadays there are a growing number of decently represented Asian women in media.
These tropes perpetuate stereotypes of Asian womxn as an Other or objects to be won and conquered who are always shadowed by the main character’s story, denying us of our humanity and the complexities of our experiences. -Melanie
Which Asian womxn (either characters or real humans) have resonated with you? How has their work/existence helped you with your own identity?
I think with the emergence of Asians in tv, pop culture, and tech, more people are starting to realize that Asians are a diverse group of people—culturally and personally. I’ve never seen as many Asian women get recognized for their work as I have recently with the emergence of Asian artists and performers such as Yayoi Kusama, Sandra Oh, Constance Wu and the entire cast of CRA, Jenny Han, Lisa Ling, and Ali Wong. Maybe these people, the fact that they are all Asian women, resonate with me specifically, but I really hope that other people who aren’t Asian women also understand why their work is so special. They are breaking down barriers in their own way, on their own terms.
Someone who has helped me with my identity out of all the Asian women I know, it would definitely be my cousin. I relate a lot with her because we deal with a lot of the same issues (and love to talk shit to each other about what we deal with). I’ve learned a lot from her as well. Her writing and what she writes about inspires me to be proud of myself and true to myself.
I have no specific character or a person that resonates with me, but my experience meeting Asian American artists and the community in San Francisco was important. They helped me open my mind and realize racism and micro-aggressions that I did not know before. I always separated myself as simply an Asian from South Korea that has nothing to do with the "Asian American", but I was wrong. Slowly I had to respect to Asian Americans, especially Asian American women with strong voice. Being with them, I started to speak up even though there are going to be arguments in order to let people know what prejudice they have, what they are misunderstanding, what do they not know about, and what differences exists. -Sunny
Personally, women like Peggy Gou, and Yaeji have resonated with me. I just get excited when I see Asian women dominating spaces that are mostly filled with non-Asians. And, what I especially enjoy is their 100% unapologetic approach and there is no shying away from Asian culture. Peggy regularly incorporates Korean into her songs and so does Yaeji.
I’ve been following the work of comedian and writer Jenny Yang and I really admire what she’s doing. The Dis/orient/ed Comedy Tour is taking off and she’s making a mark in the comedy world while still being an outspoken political and social activist. I also admire Soleil Ho and how she’s challenging the elitism of food writing. She’s the new restaurant critic for The San Francisco Chronicle and her podcast Racist Sandwich, which she hosted along with Zahir Janmohamed, is among one of my favorites.
There happened to be an Asian American theater company in the nearest metro area to me as I was growing up, and going to see the shows they wrote and acted in – which centered their experiences and showcased their skills – really helped me visualize what I might be like as an adult. Which is not to say that I ended up in the arts; rather their very clear ownership of their work and choices and futures was really compelling.
Living in Hawai'i, I am surrounded by so many Asian women that work hard. There are so many women who are artists, dancers, writers, business owners striving to do the best they can. I think due to the fact that it is shared so much on social media, it motivates me to be the best that I can be, in whatever I choose to do presently and in the future because I see it everyday. -Jamie
Maya Erskine (Japanese-European) is everything. She plays her teenage self in the show PEN15, discovering masturbation and thongs to the soundtrack of Lifehouse and Sum41. She is shy and loud at the same time, bad at keeping a beat, passionate about Ace Ventura impersonations, etc. The show touches on racial politics but presents Maya’s character first and foremost as an endearing weirdo going through the emotional intensity of puberty. Her character reminds me that all of the emotions social media tries to deny – pessimism, anger, insecurity, confusion, arrogance – are valid.
I remember the first time I saw Lucy Liu on Ally Mcbeal and while she was a “bitchy” character, I was stoked to see an Asian woman on TV that wasn’t giggly and submissive. I did love her casted in the remake of the Charlie’s Angel movie because she was such a badass, but they subtly held onto the Asian stereotypes by having her be the “smart” tech-saavy angel. Coming from a traditional upbringing where the woman is considered successful if she marries well and is expected to reproduce, this was a refreshing idea.
Off the top of my head, womxn like Awkwafina, Ruby Ibarra, Ali Wong are killing it right now in mainstream media. I’d say they are ‘on the rise’ but really, they are all talented, hard-working artists who have been honing their crafts for years and have only recently received the opportunities to blow up. The common trait amongst these artists that I respect and admire the most is the fact that they are unabashedly themselves - they don’t serve any pretense of who they are or who other people think they should be. -Laura
A recent character that has resonated with me is Lara Jean Covey in All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. Lara Jean is just so charming and relatable, I can’t but help being reminded of my younger self and how much I would have loved watching this movie as a young teen with an Asian girl as the lead. She’s expressive and endearing and doesn’t shy away from being herself in all her quirky and awkward glory. But most of all, Lara Jean makes references to being Korean in unapologetic ways like how she drinks Yakult and there’s a scene where her family eats bossam with kimchi for dinner. I also enjoyed finding out that Han pushed for the film to cast an Asian American girl to play Lara Jean because that was essential to her character’s spirit, and for me it really made the difference.
Ali Wong’s (somewhat) meteoric rise in the standup and television world as an almost Margaret Cho-like no-nonsense humor takes all style, I find she is a particularly refreshing beacon that stands out amongst the outdated any stereotypes of Asian women in a way that turns them on its head…by being unabashedly, wholeheartedly her disgusting, sexual, intelligent self. She had me from the moment I saw her Netflix special “Baby Cobra”, from her first joke “When I see 18 year olds across the street I think…fuck you. Fuck you!” and I instantly related to her rather crass and crude humor being emoted by a tiny Asian American woman with thick red framed glasses and realized she was speaking my truth.
Of course, I also have to mention Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons and Chitose Abe of Sacai. I believe both of these women have created work that transcends cultures and styles. Quite frankly, work that expresses their vision without compromising. Personally, they've changed the way I view fashion and how I approach my own work. -Annie
Another one that resonated was Margaret Cho, who will always be one of my favorite Korean women. I will never forget how much she was judged for her looks and weight, especially by the superficial Korean community, but she still got up and did stand-up comedy poking fun of her mother and culture. I think both of these characters helped me be confident that it was okay to try and be badass and stand up for myself. I identified a lot with Margaret Cho for being able to laugh at myself and at out cultural stereotypes even though, traditionally, Koreans have to put up this demure, conservative front and many of the conservative values are driven by religions like Christianity (lots of ignorant Born-Agains). It made me happy to realize that there were other Asian women like me in the world, stuck in between Asian and western culture but able to take the best of both worlds and find a place to add value.
What do you hope to see in the future for the representation of Asian womxn?
I want people to recognize us as strong-willed people who will act when things need to be done, people that are not to be ignored but to be respected. -Sunny
Honestly, I just want to see Asian womxn portrayed as women. I want it to not be “oh she’s plays a strong Asian woman character” to just “oh she plays a strong woman character.” I know we are on the path towards this and I know race will always be a thing, but I still hope for it.
I know it may seem obvious, but it bears repeating that writers, artists and other creatives need to stop relying on the stereotypes and tropes that are used to dehumanize and oversimplify the experience of Asian womxn.
MOAR KELLY MARIE TRAN FIGHTING FASCISM IN SPACE.Less roles/characters that make Asian women perform yellowface / minstrelsy-Asian ourselves just to be included in something. Writing by us! A varied community of us, who may also be queer and disabled and fat and all kinds of things normative society likes to pretend don't exist and have interesting lives. They're really missing out. -CJ
Different body shapes and sizes.
I just hope to see more. More in terms of numbers, mediums, diversity and depth. While it’s great to see certain folks and projects like Crazy Rich Asians have such incredible successes, they only touch upon the surface of diversity and complexity of female Asian American experiences and identities, especially those beyond East Asian communities.
I’d like to see more subtle narratives that put Asian womxn’s stories at the front and center and the intersecting perspectives that come with that. I’d also like to see more explorations of Asian womxn as characters without them having to become any sort of archetype to represent an entire identity. I think that’s where the future is - where we can be portrayed as existing in all our multitudes in a matter-of-fact way. We’re Asian, and also womxn, but we’re so much more than that. -Melanie
I hope to continue to see more Asian women and women in general to be true and proud of who they are, run shit and work hard to get there, wherever that may be. And from there inspire whoever they come across.
I think opening the scope for Asian womxn across the LGBTQ AND body spectrum is important to see. Often, my biggest issues with representation of Asian womxn hasn't been because they're incapable or unintelligent or capable of being badass...but that they all still subscribe to traditional patriarchal notions of beauty and in bodies that I certainly never felt matched mine: thin, tall, slender legs, no bellies, perfect thigh gaps, long black flowing hair, perfect skin, large dewey eyes, pouty lips...the list goes on. Non-traditional, curvy larger Asian womxn bodies are seen as grotesque or the punchline to a joke, both in America and across the pond in Asia. It is so important to be seen and acknowledge for more than just a one size Asian Kpop beauty. -Sarah
As for the future, I hope to see continued diversity for representation. I have concern for many of the Asian women in Asia, as on social media, you see the obsession with money, plastic surgery and trying to all look like tiny, pale K-pop stars with round eye contact lenses and orange hair. As we see more Asian women in the media, I would like to see more capable, intelligent and reasonable Asian women in government and even in higher level management positions within organizations. I do stress capable, intelligent and reasonable because I don’t feel that we as women deserve special treatment or roles unless we deserve it and can add value. It does seem like the future is heading in the right direction (slowly) and I look forward to being a contributing Asian woman in as many areas as I can.
The hope is that more complex and compassionate representation, the understanding of the strength and potential of Asian womxn could grow that much more. -Laura