A Different Kind of Feminism

In the United States, some attach a negative connotation to the term “feminism.” When we hear the term ‘feminazis’, images of raging nude women parading the streets of New York City come to mind. This is usually in the context of white women in the United States. But I can tell you that feminism is not limited to one race, one culture, or one nation. Women’s rights is an international affair and, in my experience, Asians have a different story than what you’re used to.
In Asian culture, it is not uncommon to encounter families who value sons over daughters. This deep-rooted cultural preference lies on the basis that males are able-bodied in manual labor, an obsolete necessity for most families today. However, this concept has carried into today’s belief that sons are more capable in the modern, cognitive workforce. This absurd idea has been the main reason for the continent’s gender crisis, a situation known as “Asia’s missing daughters”. According to the Washington Post, men outnumber women by a total of 70 million in Asia’s most populated nations: China and India.
China’s one-child policy has played an enormous factor in this gender imbalance, as millions of parents resolved to have a son as their only child. However, intra-family discrimination does not end there. Daughters are expected to be meek and submissive, especially for the purpose of finding a husband – a lifelong caregiver. Even after forming a family, Asian women are expected to relinquish their careers and ambitions to take care of domestic needs such as childcare. This lack of women in the labor force is especially prominent in Southeast Asian nations. According to Catalyst, an international non-profit focused on workplace equity, women make up 46.9% of the workforce in the U.S., while that number drops to 43.8% in China, 38.4% in the Philippines and Malaysia, and 21.9% in India.
The U.S. in recent years has witnessed the population of Asian-Americans increase dramatically due to educational and economic opportunities. However, this ethnic identity has been met with racism and ignorance. Light-skinned East Asians are rarely considered people of color, and our diverse stories and backgrounds are overlooked – our experiences include the immigration process, language barriers, and multi-generational households, realities that are not always shared by women of other racial identities. Asian women have different cultural experiences and values compared to Black or White women, so of course, feminism should be viewed separately.
Additionally, there is underrepresentation and even misrepresentation of Asian women in the media. We remain largely unrepresented in films, and when we do appear, we are represented with the same expectations our culture casts on us – often those same expectations we fled our country to escape. In the American workforce, Asian women still find obstacles, mostly because of what society expects of us. We are considered to be “good workers, bad managers” and forever-foreign. Families five generations American-born still are asked “Do you speak English?” and “Were you born here?”
Asian feminism is significantly different from movements like Western and media-portrayed feminism. Discrimination begins at birth and only grows from there when we are faced with societal standards on top of those imposed by our families and culture. So how can we change this? Topics we can concern ourselves with include protection for immigrants, affirmative action on college campuses, representation in the media, battling the stigma of being perpetual foreigners, and even intra-racial racism among Asians. Most importantly, though, we need to ensure that all Asian women’s voices are heard and not drowned out by traditional, mainstream views or brushed off as trivial.