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  • Rachel Egoian

Feminism: Confronting the Myths, Stigmas, and Stereotypes Southeast Asians Face

Photo by Jackie Huynh

“But what matters even more is our attitude, our mindset.

What if, in raising children, we focus on ability instead of gender?

What if we focus on interest instead of gender?”

In recent years, feminism has been placed in the spotlight of the public eye to which finally puts into perspective the need for feminism as a progressive movement to change within society’s strain on gender inequality and confronting the myths, stigmas, and stereotypes Southeast Asians face on what it means to be a feminist. In Confucian cultures, the patriarchal structure is upheld, where literal translations of the word feminism is interpreted differently than in American culture. In eastern views of women’s rights, feminism is the political, cultural, and social movement of defending and seeking equal rights for only women, and the western perspective is more inclusive to all sexes and marginalized groups struggling with inequality.

However, in today’s social media culture, the identity of an individual’s Southeast Asian culture becomes blurred with American culture. Now, the challenge is to think of the various definitions of feminism available from the different variations of social media and academic sources and possibly even outside of other cultures. How does social media play out in your knowledge and understanding of the definition of feminism? How does your environment or family dynamic play a role in your prior knowledge and experience? Academically, how does your education affect your definition of feminism? And, how do our cultures and social structures greatly influence our understanding of feminism?

The origin of the feminist movement has its challenges involving this true sense of unity in which the term womanist sheds light on the lack of voicing different perspectives especially its support for women of color. On the other hand, due to Trump’s presidency, progressive groups and movements like the Asian American feminists and intersectional feminism are more assertive in advocating for all of class, gender, and race, specifically being inclusive to marginalized groups dealing with issues of immigration and supporting the LGBTQ community, which has become one the firsts for change in allying with feminism, according to Gillis and Butler.

Now, why is there so much controversy with the word feminism and identifying yourself as a feminist? Thinking about the issues of socialization and gender roles, the word feminist raises issues by its own stereotypes developed from society’s patriarchal and male authoritative structure to its overwhelming fears to change and equality. In many ways, Southeast Asian cultures uphold these old fashioned structures. Our modern societies, whether they be American, Vietnamese, or Filipino, all struggle to dismantle these outdated structures. The patriarchal structure is so primitive and old fashioned where we are programmed to assume that it is the physically strong or fit that men are usually the strongest compared to women, thus determining who will outlast in survival; however, the present times call for a completely different idea where an individual should be able to provide extensive knowledge, creativity, and experience in order to succeed in life, according to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in We Should All Be Feminists.

Gender surfaces to the public’s attention with issues regarding the inequalities developed through socialization gravitating to social norms placed on gender roles that are instilled into a child’s learning development as part of their social behavior skills. Growing up, we become unconscious and unaware of our social behaviors and norms, which places harsh criticism towards women and reinforces shame and fear of emasculating men. The socialization with gender roles reinforces the negative attitude to women, instilling a sense of guilt and shame. Today, the #MeToo movement raises awareness in its efforts for women to establish an active voice that advocates against the misogynistic views of society: where it empowers women to rise against situations like catcalling that breaks away from society’s influences of consciously feeling guilty for telling a man “no”. On the other hand, Asian women have encountered many instances of being exoticized and fetishized, where stereotypes perceive them to be passive or submissive within relationships. Interestingly enough, there is not a large presence of Asian women within the #MeToo narrative.

Gender has its influences in culture and tradition, where these practices are derived generationally and consistently, distancing itself away from change as a result in establishing a distinct people or identity. However, culture and tradition are socialized concepts in which we need to stop trying to socialize gender, breaking these poor habits and practices, and finding ways to properly preserve one’s culture and tradition. Where does language contribute to gender inequality? Again, language is socialized throughout time, creating civilizations that typically present dominance, usually male authority. From Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s example, words like “marriage” and “respect” differ in meaning based on your gender in which marriage’s old fashioned and oppressed ways still holds a meaning to property, and respect is challenged differently for women than it is for men. That is where language in conversation with feminism is a positive approach in developing a dialog that is inclusive towards society’s growth in achieving gender equality.

Thinking about gender inequality, the challenges for feminism echo the discrimination and disadvantages to women, especially women of color, where we experience insufficient opportunities in our careers, education, and politics. That is why it is our duty to change the negative stigma and stereotypes of the social and political platform of feminism by being inclusive and accepting to individuals to break away from the gap developed inherently by society’s confined categories of class, gender, and race. By understanding the meaning of feminism to support equality for all human beings, regardless of sex, race, class, or ability, we can truly embrace what it really means to be a feminist that values unity as part of its progressive movement toward change.

How can we be more involved in feminism’s value of unity? You can be more involved by seeking out news and information as an educational standpoint in forming your own political opinions as well as being able to actively participate in events that allows you to have a voice. Often times, silence risks the powerful action in unity to which a revolution cannot stand without just one voice or opinion.

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Rachel Egoian - Pleasant Hill, CA


Originally from the Bay Area and a recent graduate from University of California, Santa Cruz in Literature and Education, Rachel has a profound interest in Asian American literature and communities. Coming from a mixed ethnic background as an Armenian, Irish and Filipina, she values the importance of culture and self-identity. Through the foundations of literary criticism, she encourages and stresses the need for diversity in literature.

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