Filed under: Nonfiction, Politics, Starring Local Feminists, Uncategorized
The Rise of the Asian-American Female Troll
Should I, as a long-silenced Asian-American female, be proud or horrified at the rise of the Asian-American female media troll? Yes troll, as in someone saying insane, oppositional, provocative things on any form of media, particularly social/internet-related, to gain attention, albeit negative in form?
Many are unfortunately familiar with the bipolar extreme stereotypes of the Asian American female personality: the quiet, submissive Lotus Flower Girl and the deathly, vampy Dragon Lady. Both types inhabit a subterranean space of mystery that can be easily digested and dismissed by other non-Asians, or better yet, used as sexual fantasy templates.
When it comes to the entertainment industry, there has been minimal progress in moving past these tropes for Asian women. As for the mainstream media, attractive TV journalism Connie Chung-clones aside, there haven’t been any significant Asian-American female (or even many male) thought leaders or public intellectuals. Until the rise of the Asian-American female troll.
One might argue that the first one was Filipina-American Michelle Malkin, the Clarence Thomas of Asian-Americans. Like Thomas, she rose through the conservative ranks by trolling in right-wing values at the cost of highly curated self-denial. Her heavily affected pseudo-WASP accent, her alliterative married surname, her defiant arrogance in spouting the party line of an old rich white male GOP’er, all successfully gave her the most political commentary screen time an Asian-American female has ever seen (if she’d even categorize herself as one). The banana queen proved that Borg-style assimilation can be richly rewarded.
Until something hotter came along. Tiger Mom, Amy Chua, upended everyone’s fear of an Asian planet and richly trafficked in the glory of it. Dragon Lady to the max, she married that trope with that of the enduring Mommie Dearest, resulting in a nightmarish hybrid that brought out the rage of coddling, academically indifferent American parents and children everywhere. Asian-Americans also cried out in horror at the unveiling of something they thought was their own hidden household secret, meant to be kept as an awkward inside joke. Yes there’s a dark reason behind those straight A’s and gold medal wins at competitions.
That controversy gave me mixed emotions. I never had to deal with a Tiger Mom (Tiger Dad in my case) but the single-minded pursuit of Ivy League admission perfection was very familiar to me, and it was interesting to see those values debated as popular public discourse. It was a form of brainwashing that I easily adopted, until I left the nest and realized it left me existentially empty. So I’m at Yale, and I have no social skills or inner confidence. Now what?
I also had to struggle with having been raised to actually be the Lotus Flower Girl. My father fell into another unfortunately common if less publicly known Asian stereotype, the chauvinist abusive father figure. I was berated for talking back or acting too “American” when I asserted my independence. I watched my mother insulted and mocked while being forced to be the perfect Stepford housewife.
So in the increasingly competitive arenas of college and medical school, my trained mousiness became a major handicap. I developed worsening social phobias around speaking in class and talking to teachers. In the gung-ho self-driven hospital learning culture, as a medical student at the bottom of the totem pole, I floundered, afraid of offending or doing something wrong or just being wrong. My evaluations repeatedly said, “quiet,” “needs to be more assertive,” “timid.” One supervisor outright said, “She’s just a shy Oriental girl.”
Frustrated, I started going to therapy and gradually built up my confidence, but not without some troubled forays to the other extreme: my own Dragon Lady started to come out. As I learned to suppress less emotion, some underlying anger started to leak out at inopportune moments, and I wasn’t allowed to wear mental Depends. As I rose in my professional career and had to take leadership roles, I overcompensated with aggression at times, and not always without reason. It was harder to get people to listen, to respect your authority, when in society, you aren’t considered a natural leader. I would see countless instances of even quiet men saying a few soft, deep-voiced phrases, and everyone bending over backwards to get it done. But when it came to my request, people often reacted like schoolkids throwing spitballs instead and looking the other way. Sometimes I’d wonder if the only way to get people to do what you want was to be a bitch.
Sadly, Amy Chua has used that tactic with great success, getting attention but also death threats. Not to be dissuaded, her second book is even more distasteful. The Triple Package turns self-aggrandizing racism into a happy cultural self-help perk. Now you too can achieve my brand of trashy single-minded success by following a mindless tripartite formula than only ten special ethnic groups have figured out! The rest of you, too bad!
Yet, despite what ought to be ambivalent shame towards her “success,” Yale’s Asian-American Alumni Association invited her this past April as a panel speaker to their first-ever alumni reunion event, alongside other luminaries like David Henry Hwang the famous playwright and Gary Locke the former Governor of Washington. Somehow, she is still considered an Asian-American celebrity role model, for trolling her way to the top on the carcasses of eugenics and child abuse.
Earlier this year, Suey Park, Twitter legend and social critic, added rocket fuel to her meteoric twenty-something rise by adding gasoline to the March #CancelColbert controversy. After starting an interesting Twitter feed called #NotyourAsiansidekick and promoting fresh dialogue on neglected Asian-American feminist issues, Suey Park was profiled in the Washington Post and the Guardian. My initial reaction was appreciative; she was using her hip Social Media savvy to bring attention to voices and issues that often don’t go mainstream. She was the new confident generation of Asian-American woman: smart and outspoken.
Until she decided to cheaply hijack the Colbert media storm. I will be blunt about how I feel about that “controversy”: Colbert was mocking racism with an ironic racist quote. To call that racist is wrong, even idiotic.
Instead, Suey Park went on a rant on Salon about the “white ally industrial complex” and rambled about how somehow the joke was still racist since a white man told it (albeit a very liberal one). She became the main ongoing momentum behind #CancelColbert. Her notoriety continues to climb.
But at what cost? She has every right to her opinions and to showcase them as she sees fit, as does Amy Chua and Michelle Malkin. But when our public Asian-American female voices are so few and far between, is this the only way to get mainstream American to hear us? By espousing extremist, reverse-racist, rabblerousing viewpoints? The American Media is highly complicit as well; they clearly relish and promote these women for the publicity storm they create, all the while having ignored the more moderate Asian-American, let alone any female, voices waiting in the wings, begging to be heard.
With time and experience, I’ve learned that balance is the way to go; that quiet strength is not an oxymoron, while speaking up when needed is a virtue. I would ask for similar Asian-American role models and messages to be heard by the mainstream media, in a room now full of senseless shouting.
Jean Kim works as a psychiatrist in Washington, DC and lives in Bethesda, MD. She is working on her M.A. in Nonfiction Writing at Johns Hopkins and has been a Nonfiction fellow at the Writers’ Institute of CUNY (City University of NY)’s Graduate Center. She will be published in an anthology on mental health by Creative Nonfiction, and has also been published in Bethesda Magazine, Medical Student JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association), Pharos, The New Physician, and Outside In Literary and Travel Magazine.
Filed under: Announcements, Contests, Fiction, News, Nonfiction, Opinion, Poetry, Starring Local Feminists
Like many people who love school (or have residual nightmares of it), for me, January 1st has never felt like the start of a new year. Rather it’s September, the time of backpacks and book buying, that signals a fresh start. Whether I’m a student, a teacher, or working in a non-academic job, the new school year signals a time for reflection. How do I want to be this year?
Now, as I begin my first autumn as Editor-in-Chief of So to Speak, I wonder, too: what kind of feminist do I want to be? Initially, answers are easy. I want to be a strong feminist. I want to treat others—women who are and are not self-identifying feminists, men, myself—equally and with respect. I want to challenge the patriarchy and stand up for equality. I want to spread the message of feminism with both gentleness and strength, through words, actions, and my own thoughts. I believe that feminism, though often made up of individual choices, is also a communal paradigm, movement, and experience. As with empathy, generosity, and random acts of loving kindness, individual feminism—my feminism, your feminism—increases through being a shared experience. It can inspire others, make them think. That is what I want to do: I want to be a “good, strong feminist,” to inspire others to consider or adopt or increase their own feminist lives. I want So to Speak to do that.
But here’s the reality: all through high school, Septembers passed and I never stopped procrastinating on my Spanish homework. New Januaries turn to Februaries and I never get around to eating more kale. And I know that, most likely, October of this year will enter with its orange leaves and swollen pumpkins and I will still be struggling to be the kind of feminist that I want to be.
I’ve identified as a feminist for going on fifteen years, since high school. I can speak of Helene Cixous and Simone deBeauvoir; I support pro-choice causes; I feel comfortable with the notion that one can be feminist and be a stay-at-home mom, and also that one can be a feminist and burn her bra. The concept of what feminism is, and how open it can be, is not especially troubling to me. What is troubling is doing it: turning beliefs and intellectual knowledge into action and attitude.
I am a feminist, but the other day I still thought nastily that another woman shouldn’t wear her short-shorts because of her body type. I routinely make stereotypical assumptions about what men want women to be—agreeable, needless, pretty objects—which are disrespectful and condescending toward all genders. I catch myself thinking that my female gym instructor is bossy and annoying, while accepting a similarly tough male instructor as motivational. But I want to be better. I want to not have these thoughts, and the first step to not having them is acknowledging that I do.
My point is that being a feminist is a journey. It’s filled with obstacles and struggles. Feminism as a movement struggles, and individual feminists struggle within their own minds. We are all on a journey to be better feminists and better people. As a new (school) year starts, I realize that that’s what I really want to be: someone who takes steps on her journey.
That’s also what I want So to Speak to do. Stories of empowerment and success are always welcome, but so are stories of struggle. I invite you, readers and writers, to share with us your stories of setbacks in your feminist lives. Perhaps you’ve taken steps to overcome your problems. Perhaps you’re just acknowledging them for the first time and beginning your walk toward being the type of feminist, the type of person, that you want to be.
So to Speak is a feminist journal, which to me means that at its core it is a human journal. It is a place that celebrates humanity in its various forms—the beautiful and good, the ugly and difficult. I look forward to hearing your stories and engaging with your art, however it explores the complexities of life, and wherever you are on your own journey.
Our reading period is currently in full swing. Click here for submission guidelines for our blog, fiction, nonfiction, and poetry categories. And don’t forget to enter our Spring 2015 Nonfiction Contest!
Filed under: Nonfiction, Opinion, Politics, Starring Local Feminists, Uncategorized, Women's Health
I’d like to weigh on matters of faith and reproductive rights.
The Supreme Court will soon decide whether to uphold the Affordable Care Act’s so-called “contraception mandate” or to offer exemptions for religious, for-profit businesses like Hobby Lobby. I’m content to let the justices interpret the Constitution; however, as a progressive Christian, I’m also entitled to my interpretation of the Bible.
I live in one of the wealthiest counties in the nation, yet my faith community puts me in regular contact with homeless people and families who live well below the poverty line. Nearly five years ago, an Afghan refugee family sought our community’s help. It was this experience that solidified my strong feelings on reproductive choice.
At the time I met her, Azin* was a 27-years-old mother of three children who had an eighth grade education. Her husband’s hourly wage barely covered the rent.
Azin wanted to attend school to learn English in order to find a better paying job to help support her family, but her youngest was an infant.
Being a small congregation, we didn’t have the means to address all of the family’s financial needs. Our outreach committee felt we could best help the family in the long term, by assisting with Azin’s education. We raised funds that were matched in part by a national religious non-profit organization. We paid tuition for ESL classes through the local community college. We covered babysitting expenses when county funds ran out.
While driving Azin to and from classes, I heard more of her story. She had married at 16 in Afghanistan, where the Taliban threatened to rape unmarried girls. After fleeing the country at 18, she and her husband lived in a refugee camp in Turkmenistan. While there, she had two children. The UN then relocated them to the United States where they had no family and didn’t know the language. After settling in the US, she made the decision not to wear the hijab in order to distance herself from the Taliban’s zealotry, a decision that inadvertently estranged her from many in the local Afghan refugee community.
Born a white woman in the United States to college-educated parents, I know that I had huge advantages over Azin. After earning a BA, I married and started working. My first employer did not cover contraception, but I had access to affordable options through the local Planned Parenthood. I left the workforce when my daughter was born and could afford to attend graduate school while staying home with her.
Azin was ten years younger than I with few material resources. I admired her tenacity and looked for ways to help. I passed down my son’s clothes as he outgrew them, so she could use them for her youngest son. I tutored her daughter in reading one summer. These acts seem small in comparison with the advantages I had by virtue of my birth and ethnicity. Every action that I took to help her humbled me; I did not deserve to have all of the privileges that I had anymore than she deserved her circumstances.
Azin appreciated every small sacrifice. And I discovered that when I had the opportunity to minister to her, I felt a sense a purpose that was far more rewarding than the everyday reality of changing dirty diapers and chauffeuring a preschooler – a reality that in and of itself was a privilege.
“Would you forgive me if I had an abortion?” she asked over the phone one afternoon, three years after I first met her. She feared she might be pregnant.
I paused, holding the phone between my shoulder and ear. I assessed the situation: having another child would stretch the family’s already meager resources and slow her already part time studies. Azin loved her children; she wanted more than anything to make their lives better. I knew how hard it was to attend classes with young children. She was working so hard in a world where the deck was stacked against her. I understood this.
Taking a deep breath, I reassured Azin that her body was her body, not mine. When we got off the phone, I went out and bought her a home pregnancy test to take until she could get an appointment to see a doctor in a low-income clinic.
She wasn’t pregnant. She didn’t have to face that decision, but it did bring to light a huge flaw in our congregation’s mission efforts. It’s nice to compartmentalize a person’s needs: food, shelter, healthcare, education; yet in the end, they are all connected. In order to get an education and find a job to help support her three children, Azin needed reproductive rights.
When I approached our pastor about the pregnancy scare, he offered to pay for condoms out of discretionary funds. I thanked him on Azin’s behalf, but silently wondered about how practical a form of contraception it was for a married couple. Eventually, I came up with a different solution: I would pay for an IUD device that would be effective for five years. I know in my heart that my pastor and outreach committee would have paid for this if I had asked; however, it was something I wanted to do – to offer Azin the same reproductive rights that I was afforded so easily.
Today, Azin is still attending ESL classes with the help of a Pell Grant. She hopes to eventually become a dental assistant. Her youngest son participates in Head Start and will begin kindergarten next fall. They have a long road ahead. Azin’s desire for an education has inspired her children to do well in school. In the coming years, I look forward to helping her prepare for job interviews and attending her children’s high school and college graduations. She is a blessing in my life.
Having Azin as a friend has solidified my views on faith and reproductive rights: access to birth control helps women shape their futures. For my Christian peers who feel that reproductive rights are contrary to what the Bible teaches, I would point to Jesus’s choice to heal the sick on the Sabbath against strict religious codes of conduct. When the Pharisees approached Jesus about stoning a woman accused of adultery, as per Jewish law, Jesus responded by saying that anyone without sin should cast the first stone. The New Testament contains many more examples of Christ ministering to people rather than upholding dogma.
Paying for Azin’s contraception was one of the most feminist and Christian acts of my adult life; and I will happily continue to support her as she exercises her reproductive rights.
*Not her given name
*opening photo by Kyle Brenner/News Tribune
Wendy Besel Hahn has an MFA in Creative Writing from GMU. Her nonfiction has appeared in Front Porch, Chaffey Review, and The Journal of the Virginia Writing Project. To find out more about her work, visit her website: www.wendybeselhahn.com.
Filed under: Literary Resources, Nonfiction, Opinion, Poetry, Politics, Post by: Sheila M, Starring Local Feminists
In 2012 The Paris Review dedicated a very small slice of its pie to writings by women. Fortunately, they took notice of their VIDA pie chart and rang the alarms. This past Count showed The Paris Review to acknowledge and celebrate more quality writing by women.
This is the work of The VIDA Count: to reveal an overall systemic problem and encourage a proactive change in how our leading publishing magazines and journals represent empathetic culture.
Former StS reader and blogger, now VIDA Count Coordinator, Sarah Marcus, says, “I believe that feminism is my responsibility, and being a part of VIDA has meant that I have another opportunity to support and advocate in a way that effectively changes public opinion and creates a positive academic support system for women and female identified people. We spend a great deal of time exposing the literary publishing reality, talking about inclusivity, and thinking about ways to bring our community into a compassionate and empathetic space where diverse and important voices are represented. I am accountable for ensuring that everyone has the same opportunities. Being part of VIDA also means that I am surrounded by a group of dedicated, inspiring, supportive, and empowered women, cisgender, and non-gender normative people who are working towards a meaningful and common goal. I see this as win, win, win for me personally and for the greater literary public.”
If you would like to be a part of the social revolution working toward gender parity in publishing, here are lots of things you can do:
● It’s an old saying, “Knowledge is power.” Now you know, how will you respond? First and foremost we need to start a dialogue about these numbers on large scale terms. That is why VIDA has recently launched our member-supported private forums, as a troll-free environment for people to speak about diversity, respond to the numbers, and also (maybe most importantly) meet new allies. To learn more about participating in our forums visit here.
● Some concerned writers have cancelled subscriptions and written letters demanding change to editors whose numbers showed to be very problematic. Read Lorraine Berry’s open letter to Harper’s for inspiration and tips on language usage.
● If writing a letter or cancelling your subscription isn’t for you, you might consider exercising your purchasing power to buy a subscription to a journal who IS actively concerned with gender parity and diversity within their pages. Consider Ninth Letter, The Missouri Review, n+1, and The Gettysburg Review, Callaloo, and the list goes on. Purchasing a subscription from these journals will help them continue to do their good work.
● Beware of the gender diversity on your own bookshelves. Be active in broadening the range of stories in your home.
● Read what others have to say about VIDA in the press and start forming your own unique opinions on how you would like to react to gender inequality in all sectors, not just within the literary community.
● VIDA’s mission focuses on gender diversity, but is also concerned with ethnic, racial, sexual (among many other identifications) diversity and wants you to contribute to the conversation of planning how to accurately count writers of these identifications in the journals VIDA currently tallies.
● Submit your work! This cannot be reinforced enough! Write your stories! Share your stories! Submit, revise, submit again women, men, trans*, people of color, EVERYBODY!
This past AWP Seattle, the Peripheral Visionaries: Taking Action to Cultivate Literary Diversity panel with The VIDA Count Director, Jen Fitzgerald, Tin House editor Rob Spillman, Laura E. Davis (of Weave Magazine and Submission Bombers), and poet Ross Gay spoke to our cultural obligation as editors, publishers, and readers to demand gender parity in the material we purchase.
Rob Spillman took a deeper look at our obligations as writers to challenge social constructs that may feel prohibitive when considering publication. This is a loose quote, but he said to the effect that when he sends out encouraging rejection letters (with a major emphasis on encouraging meaning: please, please submit again!) 100% of the men resubmitted work, while only around 50% of the women resubmitted.
We are facing multilayered, complex sexism deeply ingrained into our culture. Spillman wasn’t saying that women just need to submit more, and that’s that. He was speaking to a dark nurturing our society promotes in the psyches of many of our women. On large scales, women are not socialized to be as confident as men. This is not to say, women are not confident. Remember that.
Hearing Spillman’s anecdote shot me into submission action, and fellow women, I hope it does the same for you. Submitting takes bravery, and you are brave.
Stop by the VIDA website for our latest articles, which are published on a rolling basis (contact firstname.lastname@example.org with a proposal if you are interested in writing something for the site!) Introduce yourself, tell us about your publications, ask questions and for advice, participate and mentor! You are welcome at VIDA!
If you missed Part I, be sure to read Sheila McMullin’s Why We Should Number Up
Sheila McMullin runs the feminist and artist resource website, MoonSpit Poetry, where a list of her publications can also be found. She is the Website Assistant for VIDA: Women in Literary Arts and Contributing Editor of poetry and the blog for ROAR Magazine. Her chapbook, Like Water, was a finalist for the Ahsahta Press and New Delta Review chapbook competitions, as well as a semifinalist in the Black Lawrence Press chapbook competition. She works as an after-school creative writing and college prep instructor, and volunteers at her local animal rescue. She holds her M.F.A. from George Mason University. Follow her @smcmulli.
Filed under: Nonfiction, Opinion, Politics, Post by: Sheila M, Starring Local Feminists
Did you know that in 2013, 39 men and 33 women were published in Fence Magazine? Or that, in the same year, Conjunctions published 50 women and 51 men? How about that 55 women and 49 men appeared in New American Writing? And that Callaloo published 78 women and 65 men? Or that 2013 also saw the Paris Review publish 48 women and 47 men?
But why, you ask, are these numbers important?
Because literary publications that achieve near contributor gender parity are in a strict minority. Furthermore, the publications noted above who have actually featured more women than men in their pages are even more of a minority. It is not typical that a literary journal or magazine believed to be a “thought leader” within the arts community will publish or review an equal number of men- and women-identified writers. What is quite typical, though, is that a publication’s table of contents will skew heavily toward male writers. But see the numbers for yourself. Check out the pie charts graphing this male/female dichotomy of writers published and reviewed in our country’s leading creative journals and magazines.
All numbered out?
Some of these numbers are probably worse than what you expected, right? I felt the greatest devastation when seeing McSweeney’s publishing of 13 women compared to 43 men. We know sexism is not dead, but we always hope for the best in people, right? And when it comes to the artifacts we create, we want to believe it’s the art that speaks for itself, not the gender of the artist. But this isn’t the reality. Women’s voices have been and are consistently hidden, and because of this it is “easy” for a general public to believe/assume that the inequality doesn’t exist.
In Sarah Vap’s newest, The End of the Sentimental Journey, a vivisection of language, gender, and poetics, she writes at one point about the severing of a dog’s vocal cords during scientific experiments to prevent the dog from barking. In the silence, those conducting experiments were able to avoid hearing the dog express pain and fear and begin pretending it did not feel at all. She compares this to human to human interaction and to the way minority communities are forcibly silenced to offer the privileged majority a reprieve.
Silencing of a community on mass scales, in turn, encourages complacency and a denigration of our human rights. Bringing those voices back into the conversation is the work of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts and it is the tireless volunteer work of VIDAs who have brought you these statistics. For more in-depth reflection on The VIDA Count 2013 numbers read Amy King’s “Lie by Omission: The Rallying Few, The Rallying Masses.”
VIDA is changing the tide.
For four years now VIDA has tallied and published the results we’ve always suspected but did not yet have the hard data to back us up. (It is part of the reason why so many women have chosen to write under masculine pen names.) In the words of Count Director Jen Fitzgerald, “Each year women from across the country dedicate thousands of combined hours to perform an arduous task: we manually, painstakingly tally the gender disparity in major literary publications and book reviews. We do this to offer up concrete data and assure women authors (and wayward editors) that the sloped playing field is not going unnoticed. We do this to ignite and fan the flames of necessary discourse. We do this each year because our literary community can only benefit from a range of voices.” If you are curious as to how VIDA counts, you are welcome to review the methodologies.
The New Republic publisher and editor, Chris Hughes, responded to the latest VIDA Count saying, “VIDA [has] released a breakdown of the genders of contributors to the major literary magazines in the country, including The New Republic. Unfortunately, we were near the bottom of that list. Our print contributor breakdown looks more like what you would expect from 1964 than 2014, and it must change. We will hold ourselves to a much higher standard in 2014.”
This is tremendous news, and the actual goal of VIDA: to encourage all of us to hold ourselves to a higher standard.
Check back next week for Part II of VIDA: How We Can Number Up.