|On Oppression, Feminism, and Living in the United States|
By Miki Fujiwara
Being Heard: Asian American Women Speak
Web site, circa 1998
Asian American women are stereotyped as being submissive, unassertive, and domestic in the United States. These stereotypes, no matter how much we try to fight it, deny it, or counter it, affect our daily lives greatly. Asian American women today are still, for the most part, invisible in the political arena. Whether it’s at the local, state or federal level, Asian American women are seen as polite, apolitical, and docile people.
Asian American women become invisible to many Americans because many Asian American women believe that they are not oppressed in the United States. They have not admitted to themselves that they are oppressed by the "white" majority in the United States. Major reason for this misinformation comes from their belief that general Americans perceive her as being different from Asian women from Asia, that their stereotypes are different from the so called "Asian, Asian" women (submissive, subservient, domestic, and eager to please). Naturally, these women feel no need to be heard. It also comes from their own stereotypes of Asian people from Asia, that in Asia, women are treated much worse, although this is not always true.
Many Asian American women have tried to make themselves more visible by speaking out on the condition of their race, ethnicity, gender, and other important issues that concern them through different media. However, Asian American women are often seen as tokens or a minority member fulfilling the affirmative action slot of politics. Their ideas and concerns are "for show" and not for actual policy implementation. Many outspoken Asian Women are used as show pieces to say to our greater Asian community in the United States, "Hey look, we have Asian women on our team, we really care and know what you need". Whether they are going to do anything with their brilliant ideas is another story. Many of Asian American artistic talents are also wasted to amuse those with enough money to buy, to hear, or to see something "different" and "exotic" in the United States.
Sadly, many outspoken Asian women choose to stay in the movement regardless of their low status. They often justify to themselves that any political exposure is better than none, that if they can somehow sneak in what they really mean here and there, it is better than not having a political platform at all. Whether that is truly advantageous to Asian American women, is hard to say.
Mitsuye Yamada, a well-known Japanese American feminist and social scientist, claims that "political views held by women of color are often misconstrued as being personal rather than ideological. Their views are often seen as expressions of personal angers against the dominant society." This, partially, is the reason why Asian American women’s ideas and concerns are used not for policy making but "for show." They are often used to warm up the crowd or to make them feel sorry for Asian American women. To make the crowd think, "How could any one treat our little innocent, submissive, and weak Asian women like that?" Or: "See that’s why they don’t get ahead, they are so emotional, they take everything personally!" or "Your men are so awful, I will help you." This attitude works to ensure the free rein of Caucasian women in the feminist movement.
Stereotypes often keep Asian women from speaking-up. Not because they feel awkward to speak up, but the people around them would feel awkward if they spoke-up. What is expected of African American and Caucasian American women (being outspoken) is not expected of Asian American women. Naturally, African American women have far more political power than Asian American women in the United States. Although in some situations the stereotype of African American women being outspoken does harm them in negative ways; in the Civil Rights and the Feminist Movement, it has worked to their advantage.
Although quiet, Asian American women are by no means weak and irrational people. We have inner strength that no other women in the world possess. It’s different from the in-your-face and very apparent strength of African American women. The Chinese women that immigrated to the United States in the mid 1800s came here with nothing but hopes of making it in the United States and survived. In the internment camps during WWII, it was the strength of Japanese American women that kept families together under harsh conditions of the concentration camps. Many women from Vietnam escaped their oppressors and left their country on tiny little row boats, and prayed to God that a larger boat would pick them up. Today, many wives of Korean merchants learn how to operate significantly sized stores by herself while her husband takes care of the other stores that they own. Many, successfully, take on the role of an accountant, sales clerk, janitor, and manager all by herself without speaking fluent English.
So what makes Asian American women so invisible although they are obviously competent, competitive, and strong women? They are invisible because not enough of them speak-up. Not just against injustice, racism, or sexism directed toward them, but to speak up about what they do everyday and what they have been doing for centuries. Many Asian women have been working their butts off in sweat shops for over 150 years, all over the United States, but Americans still hold stereotype of Asian American woman as docile housewives. Although Asian American women have survived the Anti-Asian sentiment, exclusion act, internment, etc. in the United States, they are still seen as weak vulnerable women.
However successful, their silence is often misunderstood by their western counterparts as a sign of weakness. In many Asian cultures silence is a sign of strength. To many Asians silence means to have patience, strength, and the intelligence to make it through any situation on their own without anyone’s help and without complaints. Asians must understand that as long as they choose to live in the US, they need to have their collective voices heard in order for them to gain political prominence. Knowing this difference in the cultures alone is not enough knowledge to break down the barriers that Asian American women face. Asian American women must take action. By letting others know of what we do on everyday basis, non-Asians will eventually realize that independent, strong, and successful Asian/Asian American women are not a rarity, but the norm.
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