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
Mitsuye Yamada, ‘Invisibility is an Unnatural Disaster: Reflections of an Asian American Woman’, in Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua (eds), This Bridge Called my Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (New York: Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, 1981), p. 71.
Delta Phi Lambda Sorority, Inc. is challenging YOU to defy stereotypes. The sorority has launched a national photo campaign through its 15 chapters at 15 universities using the hashtag #IDefyStereotypes. Shoutout to Emory University for getting the campaign started. Y’all are some badass fierce womxn!
Today’s society is plagued by labels of race, skin colors, even clothing preference. It is up to us to stop these stereotypes. And I do more than just stand up to stereotypes, I defy them. I challenge you to show what stereotype you defy! #IDefyStereotypes
[M]any of the first Asian women to come to the United States in the mid -1800s were disadvantaged Chinese women, who were tricked, kidnapped, or smuggled into the country to serve as the predominantly male Chinese community as prostitutes. The impression that all Asian women were prostitutes, born at that time, colored the public perception of, attitude towered, and action against all Chinese women for almost a century. Police and legislators singled out Chinese women for special restrictions and opprobriums, not so because they were prostitutes as such (since there were also many white prostitutes around playing their trade) but because – as Chinese – they allegedly brought in especially virulent strains of venereal diseases introduced opium addiction, and enticed white boys to a life of sin […] Chinese women who were not prostitutes ended up bearing the brunt of Chinese exclusion laws that passed in the late 1800s, engendered by the missionaries’ and other anti-Chinese campaigns.
Sonia Shah in “Slaying the Dragon Lady: Toward an Asian American feminism”
“Patsy Mink was the first woman of color and Asian-American elected to Congress; she served five consecutive terms representing Hawaii. She was the principal author and sponsor of the Title IX bill, which required gender equality in every educational program that received federal funding, and had its most enduring effect on funding women in sports.
Mink was also the first Asian-American to run for president in 1972, campaigning on an anti-war platform. Later, she was appointed Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International and Environmental Scientific Affairs by President Jimmy Carter.”
Back in December, you helped take Twitter by storm by participating in #NotYourAsianSidekick – the hashtag that showed up in over 95 million Twitter feeds.1
Started by activist Suey Park (with help from fellow social justice movers and shakers, Juliet Shen and 18MR’s own Cayden Mak), #NotYourAsianSidekick began as a digital exploration of Asian American feminism – but thanks to you and millions more around the world, the conversation has grown to cover issues of race, ethnicity, identity, class, and culture.
18MillionRising invites you to help channel our incredible Twitter energy into other spaces and places – starting by participating in 18MR’s first #NotYourAsianSidekick Google Hangout next week Thursday. Will you join us?
We know many of you are eager to take #NotYourAsianSidekick to the next level. Stickers are a good start. Now, we believe a series of public conversations about AAPIs, our history, and our activism can help set the stage for more local and national organizing. We hope you’ll be inspired by the panel of incredible AAPI women who will share their experiences and perspectives on the #NotYourAsianSidekick Google Hangout next week. If folks are inspired by the movement-building work of other AAPIs, everyone is more likely to stay engaged for the long haul!
Please tune into next week’s #NotYourAsianSidekick Google Hangout. In addition to listening, participants will also have the chance to submit questions to the panelists, so come ready to tell us what’s on your mind. You can RSVP for the hangout here.
Here’s to kicking things up a notch!
In solidarity, PaKou, Samala, Cayden, and Cynthia The 18MR Team
Thousands of Americans tweeting #NotYourAsianSidekick have sparked a global debate about the way Asian women are thought of.
“Be warned,” the Chicago-based rights activist and freelance writer Suey Park tweeted early on Sunday. “Tomorrow morning we will be having a conversation about Asian American Feminism with hashtag #NotYourAsianSidekick. Spread the word!!!!!!!” Her very deliberate attempt to create a debate about the way Asian-American women “have to be SMART and PRETTY to be heard and "are objectified by Asian men and White men” was hugely successful. In less than 24 hours, the hashtag has been used more than 45,000 times around the world.
The conversation, which started with discussion of how Asian women are stereotyped, soon spread to cover racism (“Oh look. More bitter liberal non-whites expressing anti-white attitudes,” tweeted one user, who was roundly criticised), the under-representation of Asian-Americans in media, dating patterns between racial groups and attitudes towards mental health. Cartoons and humour were shared and the debate also spread around the world, having particular resonance in other Western countries with large Asian minorities. One user in Toronto quoted men who say “I’ve always wanted a Chinese woman to cook for me” with the reply “I’ve always wanted laser beam eyes, sadly you’re still alive.” Another An L in Sydney tweeted: “Change in social attitudes towards Asian women is a long way off, but opening up the conversation is a great start.” The British-Asian blogger Sunny Hundal said the debate had resonance in the UK because just like Asian-Americans “we see our faces on social media, but when we turn on the TV we see only limited stereotypes.”
Suey Park said the hashtag had arisen out of her frustration at the narrow ways in which the label “Asian-American” was defined, saying #NotYourAsianSidekick would allow marginalized Asian-Americans to voice their grievances. The topic trended in both US and worldwide on Sunday, in part because of Park’s own prolific tweeting. “How much longer can we get #NotYourAsianSidekick to trend?” she asked at one point. “I’m getting tired! Fresh voices, please speak now! We need you to keep it going!”
Aside from reasons #1 (I guess……. s/o to Asians with skin problems, I feel it and I have love for you) and #10, this article is pretty much trash. But since the author is filled to the brim with yellow fever, this article is entirely trash.
While I appreciate that she calls out stereotypes that Asian men are “effeminate, passive, docile, and submissive” her list is pretty much racist and classist. It ranges from “Asians make more money than whites!” to “Asians are more gentle than others!” Like?????? Doesn’t that just perpetuate the stereotypes you were trying to disprove?
This article reeks of fetishization/yellow fever and model minority myth praises. I would even go as far to say that it is anti-Black and Brown POC. Not blatantly of course, and I know she makes a point to compare Asians specifically to “Western Men” but there are underlying messages that get communicated nevertheless.
ALSO THIS. LIKE????????????????????????????????? PLEASE UNPACK THIS FOR ME SIS.
I begin this post hesitant and a little scared. Wait, me? Scared? I know I flaunt how I’m a fierce and fearless feminist online, especially here and on Angry Asian Girls United, but I’m hoping most of you realize there’s a human behind this blog. I haven’t been very active in the past few months, whether it’s posting original articles or even sharing content relating to Asian and Pacific Islander American issues. I’ve been scared of the physical toll stress and tension takes on my body (which I unfortunately discovered this winter). I’ve been scared of retribution and online harassment for daring to speak out on anything.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I was inspired partly by my good friend Vanessa Teck’s article on why she pulled out of a panel with Suey Park and her thoughts on social media activism. It made me think about the past year, and all that’s happened that’s led us to this point.
I first met Suey in 2013 when I was approached to serve on the board for an Asian American student organization in the Midwest. We met in person at a conference in Michigan and immediately bonded over our opinions, beliefs, and shared love for dressing cute while kicking ass. I admired her fire, her ability to stand and walk for hours in heels because it allowed her to look men in the eye as an equal, and her articulate voice in her writing. We talked about what it was like to blog as Asian American feminists and complained about the heteronormative patriarchal culture in many organizations and communities we had been a part of. We honestly thought that we had found a kindred spirit in each other.
Throughout the summer and fall, we supported each other through tumultuous events, like leaving the organization we had met in and my firing - along with two other interns - from OCA. We were more than just collaborators and co-authors, we were friends who talked about relationship problems and life decisions and insecurity. We had a trust and faith that wasn’t easily found in most of my friendships. We were in love with a quote from poet Warsan Shire: “There is no intimacy like that between two women who have chosen to be sisters”.
Somewhere along the line, the differences in our tactics started to become clear. I was at a point in my activism where I was tired of being relentlessly angry. I was tired of fighting every single battle that I came across and having everything I do revolve around hatred and enemy-making. Especially after the OCA termination where I felt the very painful sting of being burned by an organization and community that I felt had become my family, I started thinking about love. I wanted to do things out of love, I wanted to support others through love, I wanted to have tough conversations and help spread education and awareness with love. The OCA termination was the result of reckless actions and no amount of rhetoric or justifying can make up for that, at least for me. I wanted to be deliberate and conscious with my activism and win the war, even if that meant losing a few battles.
So what happened? I think that to many, the “beef” between me and Suey came as a surprise. We were each other’s biggest cheerleaders during #NotYourAsianSidekick, but few knew the reality of what happened. I always hesitated in bringing it up because it seemed divisive. I struggled with my own ego, and ultimately realized that #NYAS succeeded BECAUSE everyone had a stake in it.
Suey approached me the the night before we started the hashtag asking me to collaborate and be an equal partner with her. We were hoping for a conversation, but never expected how large and fast it grew. The day #NotYourAsianSidekick happened, Suey and I decided through GChat on a number of questions and topics we wanted to introduce to the conversation to facilitate discussion and try and steer the hashtag. We reached out to several others, including Cayden Mak of 18MillionRising, to be co-facilitators and designated “tweeters” for specific topics like Asian American masculinity and queer politics. Suey had to go offline during the buildup and peak of #NYAS, which I completely understood and encouraged because the massive amount of traffic was incredibly overwhelming. I also ended up leaving the conversation to breathe and take a break from the anxiety and barrage of tweets.
To me, #NotYourAsianSidekick served its purpose. It was a focus point for people to talk about their experiences and empower themselves through hearing others’ stories. That’s exactly what we wanted – for Asian American feminists, womxn of color, and typically oppressed voices to seize the opportunity to tell their own stories and be their own heroes. But still, as someone who was part of it from the beginning and facilitated the conversation and did my best to push for it to trend, the following erasure of my contributions hurt. I think that now is a good time as any to talk about the aftermath and media circus following #NYAS. Almost every time someone reached out to me to talk about #NotYourAsianSidekick, they dropped me or stopped responding because they got an interview with Suey. Media is always hungry for a hero, and they found one in Suey Park. The stress from being in the public eye and the confusion when I realized #NotYourAsianSidekick was being credited to a single person caused health problems for me, another reason I haven’t been as outspoken lately.
Finally, February 2014. I have been involved with the East Coast Asian American Student Union for three years. ECAASU is something I’ve spent many a late night thinking about, because it isn’t something that completely aligns with my beliefs, but I respect it for the opportunities & resources it provides to AAPI students. At this year’s ECAASU Conference in Washington D.C., I held a workshop on #NotYourAsianSidekick and Asian American feminism. Although Suey had previously expressed support and excitement that I was speaking on #NYAS on the East Coast while she was touring schools in California, I started seeing tweets by her criticizing ECAASU and stating “She wouldn’t be caught dead there” while tagging me. I reached out to her to check in on her change of heart and received messages accusing me of using her, of being part of “mainstream Asian America,” with anger that I wasn’t supporting her. She had decided that my decision to work with nonprofits and organizations who did not match my ideals perfectly was intolerable. It was like some switch flipped in the span of a few weeks.
It felt like a bad breakup; I had been dumped on Twitter and officially burned. I was left with a phone full of angry messages, a broken heart, and a confusion for how we had reached this point. When did #NotYourAsianSidekick become unrecognizable? When did Twitter become, as a friend put it, one giant comments section? When did being an Asian American activist turn into a “whose side are you on” ultimatum?
I’ve been active on Twitter for as long as I’ve been an active blogger. I’ve spoken at workshops on social media and how to incorporate hashtags and mentions into community organizing. In my opinion, “Twitter Activism” reminds me of Occupy Wall Street: it provides platforms for those who may not be comfortable speaking or acting in other ways. It helps those with social anxiety and disabilities get involved in a way that is comfortable and accessible. Both Twitter Activism and Occupy gave a voice to a movement people don’t always see. Both brings awareness and attention to very important issues and provides a space to talk about it. Is it the best space to hold very complicated and controversial conversations? Probably not. I’d love to live in an ideal world where conversations like this can happen without flame wars or trolls, but that’s just not the reality we live in. There are endless pros to using social media as a tool, but I think Vanessa put it best:
Social media activism is great, but not when it transforms into entertainment. When we turn people into celebrities, we forget to be critical of them. And isn’t it our responsibility to nurture one another by challenging each other to be better? The dialogue that has come from these hashtags are needed, but the issues we truly need to face have been overshadowed by their virality. It has become more and more common to attack each other via mentions and question each others character. That’s easy to do. What is difficult is looking beyond that and realizing that these issues affect all of us. I am tired of all this centering/decentering bullshit, because you cannot address one issue with realizing how it intersects with another (not to mention all the academic elitism that comes with using terminology like that). I want to build environments that allow for individuals like myself who want to be a part of the movement to feel SAFE to grow… to create relationships without having to worry about automatically labeled as us vs. them.
It’s been surreal watching the past two weeks unfold. Thousands of people are pitting themselves against one another in a messy and dirty war, many of whom are people I looked to for guidance when getting started as a blogger. The hope and idealism I had when I first started out in Hashtag-Land is gone. I never thought that the internet, this magical whirlwind of open forums and platforms, would turn into this dichotomous hell.
Let’s call this what it is: cyberbullying. I’m not saying it’s Suey, but I am saying that it’s her followers. There is a large group of people who have created an echo chamber that repeatedly enables and reinforces bad behavior. Harassment. Stalking. Name-calling. Character assassination. Misinformation. Emotional manipulation. Propaganda. This isn’t calling people out for racist, sexist, homophobic behavior – it’s using these terms so freely that we lose sight of the actual racists and sexists and bigots. It’s hurling the term gaslighting so often at other people and inaccurately while actually gaslighting the same people. I think that there are a lot of people who follow Suey for her politics while not knowing her tactics. I’d probably do the same if I wasn’t aware of the way she treated people.
I guess this all leads to one question: what now? I’m still hesitant and I’m still scared. I don’t want to post anything and I don’t want to write about politics or feminism or racism. I have seriously considered going completely offline, just getting a job, moving to California, and pretending there aren’t a million things I want to say about the institutional and individual oppression we face every single day. Every time I tweet something relatively political, someone comes after me with academic rhetoric, claims of homophobia and racism, and accusations of being a sell-out. I’ve gone from confident and optimistic speaker glowing about the magic of social media in community organizing to scared and increasingly apathetic college student contemplating leaving activism behind. And I think that is one of the saddest things that’s come of all this: people who feel like they’ve lost their voice because our wonderful online world turned into a cesspool of hostility and harassment.
I end this piece feeling more hesitant and anxious than when I started it. But at the same time, I stand here hand in hand with too many others who feel the same way. I am blessed to be surrounded by a loving and supportive community that is always ready to push me to be better and critique me in a constructive way. I don’t feel alone, and as scared as I am of what may follow, that means the world to me.
I don’t give a fuck what you are. I don’t give a shit if your political views try to make my words seem like I actually DO give a fuck who you are. I don’t care if you clash with me on any topic. I don’t care if we’re literally polar opposites of one another. If someone tells you, specifically, that you don’t deserve equality, your life doesn’t matter, or you don’t need positivity, erase them from your circle.
If I tell you I don’t support a movement, I don’t support it. Opinions are not binary. There is no “Yes” and “No” to how people think. It’s a giant grey ocean of possibilities, thoughts, rationalities, logical processes, emotional processes, and experiences that form answers to the things we want to think. When we group these into an ideology, we create a massive faceted opinion that tries to combines the thoughts of many into the thought of one. You don’t need to agree with everything something says in order to be a part of a movement, and you don’t need to disagree with everything a movement says in order to not be a part of it. Hell, you can completely agree and simply not want to call yourself something.
Ideologies are personal. They are a part of you and you only. No two people feel the same way about the same issue, regardless of how they express it. Opinions are easily changed, too. You might wake up one day and feel differently about a topic than you did the other day. Express how you feel in the boundaries of your own expectations and words, not the limitations that group-mindsets put on people.
And along with that, do something with your ideology. Don’t be like all of us shitty keyboard warriors who yell at each other every day and tell eachother that we’re wrong. Educate yourself, educate your friends, donate, participate, discuss, work, play, communicate. Speak to people and work with people, be a real member of society with your opinions. If you have enough time to tell someone you believe in something, you have enough time to fight for what you believe in, right?
“The hashtag #NotYourAsianSidekick erupted over Twitter… started by freelance writer Suey Park in support of Asian American feminism. In one of her tweets, she says that she started the movement because she is "tired of the patriarchy in Asian American spaces and sick of the racism in white feminism”.
Both of Suey Park’s reasons for starting the movement are real and part of a two-fold process: patriarchy creates a non-supportive environment for Asian American women at home; that makes it even harder for them to overcome the second, the discrimination in the public sphere.
There are people in the Hollywood crowd who make jokes that are meant to be funny or compliment me. The standout was when an acquaintance exclaimed in response to my outbursts:
Asian girls are supposed to be quiet and obedient!
It was meant to be a good-natured joke. And it wasn’t coming from an executive or casting director or anyone who would otherwise give me a job in the industry.
Mansplaining, whitesplaining,—the way you can tell someone who’s ‘privileged’ is the unconscious belief that they have something to say, and that everyone will listen.
Season One, Episode 10 of Game of Thrones, “Fire and Blood,” was one of the most memorable season finales in TV history. The long-suffering eternal victim Daenerys Targaryen emerges miraculously unharmed from the flames of her dead husband’s funeral pyre; the savage Dothraki, in an unprecedented moment for their culture, kneel before their new Khaleesi, a queen who rules over them in her own right; and a newly hatched dragon roars an announcement of the fiery rebirth of the Mother of Dragons. We realize this is the kind of story Game of Thrones is, one where even in the midst of wretched injustice and brutality sudden shifts are possible, the powerless becoming powerful, the victim becoming victor, and we thrill with hope and inspiration—at a white princess surrounded by kneeling, rapturous brown savage people.
Oh my, oh dear. Haven’t we seen this exact trope before, and, err, isn’t it supposed to be a bad thing now? Haven’t we condemned the idea of a white person installing themselves as the leader of a whole non-white civilization? Aren’t we supposed to have moved past this?
Well, apparently not. We repeatedly tell stories about a white protagonist who goes on a journey of self-discovery by mingling with exotic brown foreigners and becoming better at said foreigners’ culture than they themselves are. We eat it up in the form of faux-historical epics, splashy science-fiction special effects extravaganzas, and earnest nonfiction projects about writers paid by their publishers to take exotic vacations.
The frustrating thing about being annoyed by the Mighty Whitey trope—and there are a ton of people upset— is that it’s so frequently employed by the well-meaning “good guys.” The whole point of “going native” is that the familiar Western civilization is portrayed as inauthentic, ugly, broken, flawed. The “exotic” foreign civilization is somehow more natural, more primal, more sensual, the way people really ought to live. You know, hearing the wolf cry to the blue corn moon, painting with all the colors of the wind, like you do. Even though the Dothraki in Game of Thrones are painted in a decidedly uglier light than the noble savages of Dances with Wolves and Pocahontas, from the beginning they’re certainly more likable than the conniving, hypocritical Lannisters and Tyrells of the Seven Kingdoms.
What’s the root of this trope? Is it just that we get sick of living in modern society with McDonald’s and McMansions and mandatory vaccinations so we develop intricate fantasies about how much better life would be if we had to hunt our own food, build our own shelter, and develop our own resistance to dangerous microorganisms?
Sure, that’s part of it. But it’s less common that the “bad” Western civilization in these stories is something to be passively fled, a la Eat, Pray, Love. More often it’s an enemy to be actively resisted.
A movie like Avatar doesn’t just get people on the left wing rolling their eyes at the Mighty Whitey trope, it also gets the right wing freaking out about the fact that Mighty Whitey is leading the noble savages to kill the American military. Whether it’s John Smith turning against his fellow colonists in Pocahontas or the title character of Dances with Wolves taking up arms against the US military or Jake Sully in Avatar laying waste to the RDA mercenary forces—the most compelling, crowd-pleasing, and consistently award-winning form of this narrative requires a climactic explosion of white-on-white violence.
It’s hard to avoid the feeling that this repeated fantasy—of a white person shedding their whiteness, abandoning their home culture, joining the oppressed, and finally taking up arms against all the other, still-racist white people and killing them all—stems from a desire to be absolved of guilt. White guilt, that dreaded emotion that’s been inflicted on countless white Americans through social studies classes, Black History month TV specials, and lectures from left-wing non-white bloggers like myself at this very moment.
Here’s another question: Is it actually possible for men to be feminists?
Well, I have some personal stake in trying to answer that question “Yes.” I mean, the “male feminist” brand identity is what got my fading post-Jeopardy! 15 minutes of fame a second shot of life after I wrote that article with the Mario reference in the title that got shared like 400,000 times. “Male feminist” is what they called me when they pulled me onto a CNN panel . “Male feminist” is what I keep getting called in e-mails sent to me over the “Your Princess Is in Another Castle” piece, interviews about that piece, and (hopefully) ironic marriage proposals inspired by that piece.
But there’s a reason self-identified “male feminists” have gotten a bad rap.
When #YesAllWomen was trending in the wake of the Isla Vista shooting, there was another stir brewing in feminist Twitter-land over #StopClymer, a drive to get HuffPo and PolicyMic to stop paying prominent “male feminist” Charles Clymer to write about women’s issues for them. This seems to have less to do with the general idea that men shouldn’t be feminists and more specifically with Clymer being an abusive power-tripping control freak. Strip out all the context from Clymer’s posts and what you see is an angry, entitled man whose approach to talking to women seems to be demanding total agreement and obedience lest they face tongue-lashing and expulsion from society.
That’s, you know, the kind of behavior we call “patriarchy.” The whole point of feminism is theoretically to get men to stop doing that to women, on both the large scale and the small. But here’s Charles Clymer crowning himself a “leader” within feminism and utterly unaware of the irony.
But this isn’t a new conversation. Feeling entitled to power, leadership, and control is a general description of patriarchy. There are more specific and ugly things that we associate with the term, like men in positions of authority abusing their power to prey on their female students or subordinates sexually. Or men trying to murder their girlfriends because they can’t deal with the emotions they’re feeling. Or men earnestly attempting to persuade women that there’s nothing wrong with pornography’s obsession with guys ejaculating on girls’ faces because it’s just a way to make men feel validated and accepted. Well, prominent “male feminist” professor Hugo Schwyzer did all of those things and admitted all of it shortly before his explosive public breakdown last year.
It’s not hard to see why this kind of blatant hypocrisy and public self-immolation drives feminist women to despair while providing plentiful schadenfreude fodder for anti-feminist men on the sidelines. Plenty of dudes have used #StopClymer as an argument for why guys shouldn’t even try to be feminists at all and just sincerely, straightforwardly be sexist assholes instead of being all hypocritical and two-faced about it. And sure, Clymer and Schwyzer clearly both have their own issues as individual human beings that hopefully do not translate to all men (yes, I slipped a #NotAllMen in there).
Being used to being deferred to and having your opinion listened to and having your feelings matter is very pleasant. Actually giving that up and stepping aside to become the unimportant one for once is very unpleasant, even painful.
But here’s the thing—sexism, like racism, is defined by actions, not beliefs. When you’re a girl you’re taught to sit down and when you’re a boy you’re taught to stand up—not just in restroom situations, but in all of life. Teachers call on boysmore than girls and don’t even realize they’re doing it. Women are so routinely ignored that people, both men and women, perceive crowd scenes as having a balanced mix of the sexes when they’re in fact 83 percent male, 17 percent female. Men get so used to their opinion and expertise being deferred to that they will “mansplain” the content of a book to the woman who wrote it.
This doesn’t just happen on the axis of gender. Mansplaining, whitesplaining, richsplaining—the way you can tell someone who’s “privileged” is the unconscious belief that they naturally should take center stage, that whatever they have on their mind they have the right to speak up about, that everyone will listen to them. You know, the trait the Grim Reaper points out is endemic to Americans traveling abroad in Monty Python and the Meaning of Life in a scene that I too often cringingly identify with.
People of privilege making an effort to be better people face a difficult quandary. You get inundated by all these examples and studies and historical anecdotes and moral arguments about the tremendous destructiveness and evil of the sexist or racist system you grew up in. You really want to not be a horrible person.
At the same time, being used to being deferred to and having your opinion listened to and having your feelings matter is very pleasant. Actually giving that up and stepping aside to become the unimportant one for once is very unpleasant, even painful. When you’re used to being in charge you perceive any balancing of the scales as an attack, any leveling of the playing field as something being stolen from you.
And one critical, central thing to learn about human nature? Is that we will doanything to have our cake and eat it too.
Daenerys as Khaleesi is, in a way, an amplified version of this. Daenerys doesn’t just represent the white people of Westeros, vaguely analogous to medieval Europe, she represents the whitest of the white people of Westeros—the platinum-blonde Targaryen dynasty that oppressed everyone else with an iron fist, known for their effete decadence, corruption, and eventual descent into madness. The ultimate aristocrats, against whom red-blooded, dark-haired lesser nobles like Ned Stark and Robert Baratheon were ultimately pushed to rebel.
The slimy, childish, petulant Viserys starts off as a symbol of everything about Targaryen rule Westeros has rejected. He and his sister, at the beginning of the story, are the last people we should be sympathizing with, the polar opposite of the honest, unpretentious, unambitious Stark clan.
And what does Daenerys do? She turns it all around. She goes from being a helpless bargaining chip used to acquire barbarian soldiers to being a barbarian soldier-queen herself—as un-Targaryen as un-Targaryen can be, riding a galloping horse in the wilderness with no need of civilization. She reverses the Targaryen reputation for arrogance and cruelty, her own life experiences pulling her into a mission of liberating slaves.
The heir to the hated, overthrown Targaryen dynasty transforms into someone totally different, into a wild savage freed from the shackles of civilization and of her past, into someone that we can and do root for as an underdog standing up to oppression rather than a symbol of past oppression making a comeback.
And the best part? She doesn’t even have to stop being the heir to the Targaryen dynasty! She still is the rightful queen of Westeros! She even has the dragons to prove it!
Just like Jake Sully goes from what is, honestly, a pretty crappy life as a wheelchair-bound former Marine living in the cramped barracks of a human colony to an idyllic life as a Na’vi warrior. Becoming a Na’vi gives him back his legs, it gives him a hot girlfriend, and it even gives him greatly elevated social status—“Toruk Makto” is a way cooler job title than “Corporal.” And best of all, now he gets the self-righteousness of being the underdog!
Want to hold on to the power and privilege of being a pompous male academic with female undergrads holding onto your every word and willing to sleep with you for your prestige? But want to do it without feeling like a sexist jerk? Just be a feminist academic. Now you’re one of the good guys, and you’ll find it even easier to pressure younger women into sleeping with you. No downside!
Want to be a domineering jerk and take charge of things on the Internet and yell at people who disagree with you? Just form a Facebook organization called “Equality for Women” and say you’re doing it for feminism, and suddenly you’ll get people defending and protecting you for behavior that anywhere else would make you a sexist douchebag! No downside!
Like most other “have your cake and eat it too” no-downside choices, the choice to do this is founded on hypocrisy and bullshit, and you will eventually be found out and called out.
She represents the
whitest of the white people of Westeros—the platinum-blonde Targaryen dynasty that oppressed everyone else with an iron fist, known for their effete decadence, corruption, and eventual descent into madness.
So is it possible for men to be feminists? Or for white people to be allies of non-whites? Is it possible to actually confront your privilege and set it aside, to try to be one of the “good guys”?
Well, I hope so. But it’s not going to be that easy.
Becoming one of the good guys should hurt. It should be painful. It should involve seeing uncomfortable and ugly things about yourself that you’d rather not see. It should involve changing your behavior in ways that you’d honestly rather not do.
One of the great injustices of the world is how much more money and attention Avatar got than District 9, a film that came out in the same year about the same themes but was pretty much better in every way. As reviewers at the time pointed out, the important thing District 9 focused on is that being a human in a world where aliens are oppressed is actually pretty awesome. Giving that up wouldn’t be an act of liberation, it would be painful and terrifying and humiliating. Wikus’s nightmare of being plunged into an unfamiliar challenge where he keeps screwing up and being confronted with his own guilt rings far truer to my experience of what being a male feminist is like than Jake Sully’s awesome-adventure wet dream.
Descending into the world of those who lack your privileges and seeing it from their perspective shouldn’t be like coming home, or discovering a beautiful new wonderland. If you’re honestly actually trying to see what the comfortable world you live in looks like from the perspective of one of the people that world shits on, you should feel like Gregor Samsa—you should feel like you woke up one day and realized you are in fact a giant bug. You should look at yourself in the mirror and at the world around you and feel sick. Your motivation to try to fix the world should not be the prestige, or the money, or the sense of satisfaction that Clymeradmitted to chasing. It should be because the state of the world makes you feel sick and you want to stop being sick.
So no, even though I remain enormously glad I did write that article everyone shared and hopeful that it makes a difference, I don’t feel personally pleased or gratified that people liked it. I get worried when I catch myself feeling that way, because feeling gratified and validated and lapping up the praise—as Chris Rock would put it, eagerly accepting “cookies” for doing and saying shit everyone should be doing and saying—would be easy. And the easy path is the path to the Dark Side—male feminists who get off on female fans telling them how awesome they are should keep the horrible visage of Hugo Schwyzer in their mind to remind themselves where that path of temptation leads, the way Luke Skywalker does with Darth Vader’s mask or Frodo does with the Ringwraiths.
Because even though we applaud Daenerys successfully transforming from a mere scion of the hated, corrupt Targaryens into her own woman, champion of the oppressed, Breaker of Chains, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, those of us who’ve read the books know that it’s not that easy to stay on that path and there’s no guarantee that, in the end, she will succeed.
And remember how she got there. Remember what enabled her transformation to Mother of Dragons, why she succeeded where her brother, with all his schemes and plots and desperate desire, failed.
Because she walked into the fire, of her own free will. She went through Hell, and let herself be burned by the flames, and lived.
To all my fellow male feminists out there who feel the temptation to pull a Charles Clymer and deny that they are privileged, claim that they’re a “good guy,” post on the #NotAllMen hashtag, yell “But I do all the right things! I’ve written articles, I’ve posted supportive tweets, I’ve been a shoulder to cry on, I’ve donated money,” and then, quoting Clymer, quoting Jake Sully becoming Toruk Makto, “I’ve earned this!”:
Be honest. No bullshit. How much have you actually earned? Read the stories that have multiplied throughout the media these past few weeks in response to the #YesAllWomen hashtag. How much of that pain have you tasted, how much of that hurt have you swallowed? How much have you taken upon yourself—how much could you ever take upon yourself if you really had to?
I think that Suey has displayed over the last year an unwillingness to discover the community. This, I think, has very little to do with her age, and everything to do with hubris. She arrived on the scene and believed she was the first, because she didn’t know the things she didn’t know. She doesn’t know who we are and what we have done, and further never expressed interest in finding out. I fundamentally believe she didn’t know who Michelle Malkin was, and had no idea about the internment book; it was published when she was 13.
It’s not that anyone needs to kiss the ring. You don’t have to like your elders or not want to forge a different path, but you should know of their existence. You should know the people who are around you, doing work in your vicinity. You should have the wherewithal to situate yourself in this thing that is larger than yourself. Most of us at some point did that, and we did it when we were Suey’s age.
There is a huge part of me that really wants to give Suey a benefit of a doubt. Still. Even after all this. Monday’s Colbert Report show was equal parts hysterical and horrifying to me; I would NOT want to be pilloried on national television at the age of 23 for doing something I might regret by the age of 33.
But I think ultimately Jeff is right. We all started in our early 20’s, and we all did it with the brashness and idealism of youth. It’s not that Suey is young, or queer, or a woman of colour. It’s that she has a very rigid idea of “how things should be”, and I just don’t think that’s conducive to community organizing.
There are some of her followers who are comparing Suey to Yuri Kochiyama for doing anti-blackness work. I don’t think the parallel could be farther off. Yuri and her contemporaries were about listening to people, and about trying to sow harmonic disagreement; basically, finding ways to bring people’s disparate identities towards common goals while still maintaining distinctiveness. I like to think that the AAM – which is the legacy we’re now maintaining, folks – is all about that message of finding momentary political harmony in dissonance. I like to think that under other circumstances, Suey would’ve found a home among us other bloggers. It’s sad to me that she rejected what could have been in favour of this hate-fueled rhetoric that seems to categorize people’s importance based solely on their -isms.
Y'all, I’ve held back from posting about Suey because of my own complicated former friendship with her. But I’ve seen too many people hurt and too much bullying and harassment to stay quiet. Here is some excellent commentary from one of my mentors that I wanted to share.
“Jo Chiang is a Taiwanese-American actor, writer, and filmmaker born in California, raised in China, and based in New York City. She is currently pursuing a major degree in Theatre at Barnard College and will be completing her thesis by investigating the racialized and gendered performativity of singer-songwriter Janelle Monáe.”
The Nami Project is a diversity initiative for Asian American women performers and creative minds seeking to make art that celebrates identity and challenges stereotypes. It unites emerging and established artists in conversations on professional development and artistic integrity, and strives to cultivate a community of interdisciplinary collaboration. Through a mentorship and performance intensive published online for all to follow, The Nami Project creates a pipeline for Asian American women artists to hear each other’s stories, to share their own, and to feel empowered in their work.
“Blank Slate” is Women and Hollywood’s take on the 2015 Oscars - we can do better. Upworthy’s Franchesca Ramsey shares, “when I stumbled upon this Taylor Swift parody on the sad state of the 2015 Oscars, I couldn’t help but think, ‘I wish this wasn’t so truthful, but damn it, it’s so, so good.’"
Her newest project is Edge of the Woods, “a dystopic retelling of Little Red Riding Hood (starring WOC and lowkey pretty queer)”