Asian American Feminisms

Yuri Kochiyama

I’m embarrassed to admit that until this year, I didn’t know who Grace Lee Boggs or Yuri Kochiyama were. Excuses are like assholes, everybody’s got ‘em, so I’ll spare you the I’m adopted and grew up in white suburbia story.

I came across Grace and Yuri’s names because I’ve been schooling myself on all things Asian lately—an attempt to embrace the Asian aspect of my identity; yada, yada. Well, having minored in Women’s Studies in college (my alma mater now calls the department Feminist & Gender Studies), a question that arose for me during my “All things Asian” research was “Why the cuss haven’t I heard of any Asian feminists?”

I think there’s a handful of answers to my question. I want to take us back. Way, way back. Sayyyy 169 years, to 1848. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott organized the Seneca Falls Convention in Seneca Falls, New York. AKA the first women’s rights convention, this momentous occasion is well known to most people who are interested in the women’s rights movement. You know who wasn’t at the Seneca Falls Convention? ASIANS. And do you know the shit that they were going through at the end of the 19th century? Discrimination. That shit. And history is mos def repeating itself as I type this, because Trump’s Muslim ban feels eerily familiar to the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. Maybe in the year 2186 a Syrian American Feminist will write about why there was a lack of feminism activism by their people at the beginning of the 2000s. Is this starting to feel too hot tub time machine to you? It is to me and I haven’t even seen that movie, so let me bring us back to the now.

Everybody’s path and pace is different. I think the same can be said for feminisms. So although I believe that all feminists strive to recognize structural and cultural conditions that obstruct justice for all humans, I also believe that the histories of various ethnicities (and all categories that influence how one experiences being in America) inform potential entry points into the greater, mainstream of feminism. Why try to DJ the party if I know I’ve got string lights to make the mood right? If food is covered by a friend and someone else insists on bringing the booze, there’s no need for me to expect myself to get the party going all by myself. If I lost you with comparing mainstream feminism to a party, I’m sorry/not sorry (because I’m an Asian feminist and you just need to keep up, okay? Please and thanks because I do have manners).

At the risk of perpetuating stereotypical thinking, I want to go with this party metaphor for a moment and say that Black feminists bring the music. White feminists bring the booze. You can throw a great party with just these two elements, and when I see party scenes in movies, these two factors are usually most visible. HOWEVER. I have this string of lights that can really light up a dance floor. Literally. And I know that the Latinx feminists attending traditionally bring a mix of music and beverages, but I have a hunch they have some party embellishments we have yet to see. This party is so fun! See what happens when there’s contributions from everyone?

If dignity and respect for all humans is the goal, we can work together to get there, but the strategy for Asian Americans will look different (sometimes slightly, other times dramatically—I never said this would be easy!), than that of White, Black, and Latinx feminists. What are we dealing with? What issues inform our strategy to dismantle the patriarchy? To dissolve the conventions that insist on assimilation instead of multiculturalism? For starters, the myth of “Model Minority;” stereotypes of submission; over-sexualization and exoticism of women, emasculation of men; stereotypes of immigrants fresh off the boat; and inquiries about origin (where are you really from?).

I’ve checked out some books from the library so I can learn more about Grace Lee Boggs and Yuri Kochiyama than what I can find on the internet; Living for Change an autobiography by Grace Lee Boggs; Dragon Ladies: Asian American Feminists Breathe Fire, Yuri Kochiyama wrote the Preface: Trailblazing in a White World. My feminism is a work in progress, as is Asian American feminism. There’s a lot of evidence that the force is strong with Asian American feminisms, even if not everyone involved is openly claiming to be a feminist—that is, someone who is for dignity and respect for all.


  Here’s what Asian American feminism looks like to me:

This is what Asian American feminism looks like: Margaret Cho is a stand up comedian who writes race, gender, sexuality and belonging into her jokes. Her television show, “All-American Girl,” was the first Asian American family sitcom (It aired for one season, in 1994).
This is what Asian American feminism looks like: Lucy Liu is an actress who plays Dr. Joan Watson on Elementary, an adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
This is what Asian American feminism looks like: Mari Matsuda is a law professor, activist, founding Critical Race Theorist, and author of several books
This is what Asian American feminism looks like: Aziz Ansari is a stand up comedian and a co-creator of the Netflix series Master of None—a show that covers issues like race, immigration, and human rights.
This is what Asian American feminism looks like: Nora Lum (aka Awkwafina) raps about vaginas and queefing, among other more “intellectual” things.
This is what Asian American feminism looks like: Anita Yavich (aka Resistance Auntie) gave President Trump the middle fingers during his inauguration.
This is what Asian American feminism looks like: Ali Wong is a comedian (watch her Netflix special Baby Cobra) , actress on American Housewife, and writer for Fresh Off the Boat (only Asian American sitcom since 1994—thank Jebus it’s lasted more than one season).
Helen Zia, from the portfolio The Family, An Rong Xu for Hyphen.
This is what Asian American feminism looks like: Helen Zia is a journalist and the author of several books including Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People (which I start reading TODAY—my city library didn’t have copies, I had to SPECIAL ORDER It from another library in the state)

Fortunately there are many more examples of Asian American feminisms. Feel free to share them in the comments.


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