Asian Pacific Women and Feminism, cont’d

This week, our readings included an excerpt from “This Bridge Called My Back: writings by radical women of color.” The piece we discussed was written by a Japanese-American activist and feminist Mitsuye Yamada. In “Asian Pacific Women and Feminism,” Yamada denotes the struggle of Asian Pacific women to affirm their own culture while working within it to change it. She furthers her argument with experiences she has had with other American feminists:

 “When Third World women  are asked to speak representing our racial or ethnic group, we are expected to move, charm or entertain, but not to educate in ways that are threatening to our audiences. We speak to audiences that sift out those parts of our speech (if what we say does not fit the image they have of us)… and go home with the same mind they come in with.”

Even in my personal discussions about feminism, Asian women are left out, and I am partly to blame. I would claim that feminism in Korea is nonexistent and depict to my American friends the typical Korean female— submissive, passive and reserved. Yamada’s short piece made me realize just how ignorant I have been of my culture. In expanding my definition of ‘feminism,’ I tried to encompass the diversity I experienced with the other girls around me and yet I had left out my piece of the puzzle—my own culture. In viewing women through such a restrictive lens, I could only discuss what I saw superficially. I failed to look at the deeper picture. I failed to apply new variations to my definition of a feminist.


Cho Yoon–Sun, the current Minister of Gender Equality and Family of South Korea

Yamada’s reflections weren’t shocking and yet, I was surprised. This week made me reflect on the Korean women around me and realized with much embarrassment how I neglected to see any progress. I tried to fit many of the women I encountered to the idea of what I thought was the ideal American feminist. And since they didn’t fit this image, I had failed to see them as feminists. Take for example, my mother’s best friend Cho Yoon-Sun, the new Minister of Gender Equality and Family. Known for her passive mannerisms and inability to say ‘no,’ Ms. Cho takes on the stereotypical character of an Asian Pacific women. And yet her words and actions indicate otherwise. In the news, anchors and experts comment on her good looks and attempt to feminize her but that has not deterred her from her progressive goals. In a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal, she noted some of the faults with Sheryl Sandberg’s advice for women to “lean in.” Given individual situations and the system around us, she said, being proactive in one’s career is not the ‘one size fits all’ answer. She is currently focused on increasing the percentage of women in high-ranking government positions to 15% (at the moment, it is only 5%). Her demure character contrasted with her liberal views of women allow her to work within the system while changing it.

Relatively, Korea is not progressive and radical in terms of feminism. We have a long way to go, but that doesn’t mean the situation is hopeless. It’s time we begin to open up the discussion to these women and not only listen but also take to heart what they have to say. Because contrary to popular belief, Asian Pacific women are interested and active.

1 thought on “Asian Pacific Women and Feminism, cont’d

  1. Hm, your post helps me reflect on the importance not only of WHAT the activism has as its goal, but the HOW. I’m in the midst of a small volunteer activity helping craft some language for a project that hopes to jumpstart social capitalism in communities across the US. The team is global, mostly male. Two of us who are seen as “network weavers” were brought in to look at the language and see how it did (or didn’t) invite diverse participation.

    At one point one of the volunteers, a male from Ireland, suggested that the other woman and I were trying to soften the language and make it politically correct. He said, (and I’m not quoting directly so bear with me) “we should just say everything is F***** up.” I said, why should we use a word associated with sex? He was flummoxed. He never considered that the invitation he was offering might not attract the diversity the project needed. So the lesson of Ms. Cho resonates with me as we work to find bridges not only in language, but in action. DIVERSE action. I will be sharing your post/story. THANKS!!!


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