21 February
jroselkim's picture

A Call for Asian-Canadian Feminism


Feminism has guided the way I read, write, and live.

More specifically, feminism of colour has inspired me to think about oppression in ways I haven’t thought possible. Reading the likes of Chandra Mohanty, Audre Lorde, and bell hooks have taught me the valuable lessons of intersectionality and the personal being the political.  I have been influenced very much by Audre Lorde and bell hooks, as well as blogs like the Crunk Feminist Collective, and Racialicious.


Which makes me wonder: where is a forum for (young) Asian-Canadian and Asian-American feminist voices?


It seems to me such a movement is more necessary than ever, with the Canadian media (first Maclean's, and now the National Post) obsessing over how Asian students are taking over everyone else’s spots at universities, only to remain socially inept robots once they actually take those spots.




Then we have the spectre of Amy Chua – the now-infamous “Tiger mother” – vilifying Asian women with fanatic – and still robotic – zeal. Then, there are blanket statements being made about how Asian women are leaving the men behind by choosing interracial relationships and marriages instead.


Clearly, something needs to be done here. But what?


In a post called “Asian American Feminism” in the now-defunct site the Fighting 44s, author Jaehwan pointedly asks: “Has Asian American feminism ever accomplished anything worthwhile?” This criticism is troubling in many levels, since such worry had already been raised almost 15 years before Jaewhan’s post. Sonia Shah wrote about the de-politicization of Asian-American and Asian-American feminist identities in 1995: 


“The commercial world has used the bicultural identity touted by Asian American feminists to create their images of Asian American women. Yet they do so in a way that subverts its underlying political meaning. In the images created by commercial media, the bicultural woman’s condition is not one that runs head up against white supremacy and patriarchy. It’s.funny. It’s tragic. It’s an edge. In this way, the essential insight of the Asian American feminism -- that it necessitates struggle against American racism and Asian sexism -- becomes irrelevant, while the generic sensibility of biculturalism remains superficially intact.”


Reading Shah’s words now, I feel there's been a shift Asian American (and Canadian) women's identities, where the archetype has moved away from being “funny” and “tragic” to mostly being hyper-sexualized (think, the women portrayed in The Social Network) and shrill (Amy Chua). Luckily, critical analysis of Asian-American and Asian-Canadian portrayals have begun to emerge in light of Amy Chua’s sensationalist piece. But we need more.


There needs to be a more nuanced discussion of negative stereotypes and systemic oppression targeting Asian women. We need to reframe how our stories of exclusion and tension have contributed to the larger political picture of  nationalism and exclusion – like the recent Peter Hoekstra ad (now taken down, but the Racialicious article describes it in detail), featuring a Chinese woman speaking in a terrible “Chinese” accent did. There needs to be more talk about how Asian femininity is both fetishized and infantilized that render the women powerless and speechless


But perhaps, the first step is to self-identify as the member of a community I would like to see more in the future – so here it is: my name is Rosel Kim, and I am an Asian-Canadian feminist. It’s nice to meet you.



Rosel Kim is a first-year law student at McGill University. Before starting law school, she earned a Master’s in English and Cultural Studies. Her blog is What Are Years?


All opinions expressed on this blog post are her own.