Yesterday was my first de-virginizing speakers’ experience as the BF called it. There were a lot of great things and lot of challenges. I’m so glad I did it and that I let my good friend Karen Young convince me I should do this. She “pitched” me to the committee heads and apparently they were eager to have me. (One of them knew me from high school!)
It was a really great experience overall because I was able to stand in front of a group of thirty strangers (25 minus my friends) and talk about my life struggles and put my heart out there and share some of my deepest emotions and difficult childhood experiences. Stories that I couldn’t even share with my closest counselors before a few years ago I was now able to share in front of a large group of strangers. There was one moment that I joked—“Hey, I could get used to this— Speaking for 45 minutes straight and not letting anyone jump in edgewise.” Though I forgot a Q+A might have been nice. I had people participate in a Stand Up/Sit Down game, then told my life story for 15 minutes (until it got too hard and I couldn’t do it without feeling distant and had to cut it short) then read from a few sections from the Manifesto (Speaking Out, Harassment, and Men and Dating), then performed a couple spoken word poetry pieces (Asian Heroines, I don’t feel very lyrical), and finally ended with a hula dance.
I also had several good friends who attended and were all really sweet supporters. One videotaped, one worked the door, another beamed at me from the front seat with her broken foot, and of course Karen emceed.
The main challenge of the night was speaking up as women in a group where the men, who were comfortable and had been in the space several times before, talked much of the time and did not realize they were dominating the space and the tone. Sure, they were well-intentioned and had Asian American activist backgrounds. However, anyone in the oppressor group always needs education and awareness of how the oppression works of which they are in the oppressor role.
Which is why racism is so difficult to talk about and explain to white people and why men don’t particularly like being reminded that sexism still exists. We don’t like being in the oppressor role towards any group. We certainly didn’t choose it. As I’ve heard some defensive white folks say, “Slavery ended a long time ago and I had nothing to do with it. So why should I be blamed for racism now? Why aren’t you over it already?”
We aren’t over it because racism still exists (though slavery does not exist in its old legal form it is now illegal and underground and rampant) and so does sexism for that matter.
What I also realized that night was why I had such a difficult time with Asian American activism all those years. Sure, it was amazing and exactly what I needed in the beginning. It saved me and I’m glad I majored in it. However, I now realize what was missing and why I started feeling disconnected and distant though I couldn’t pinpoint anything at the time. It was because sexism was left out.
I was grateful to have an Asian American community and a place where a discussion of racism was accepted and I was with other like-minded activists. However, what I learned later (especially after my abusive relationship) was that a discussion of sexism was blatantly absent beyond possibly a mention of sexism here or there. The community was great but still led and dominated by men and so they chose the discussion topics. And sexism was not at the top of their list. Even if it was mentioned, it was briefly and did not give women the mic, so to speak, in terms of really leading that discussion. My own awareness of sexism then was lacking too so I didn’t speak up about it either. But now that it’s my daily professional environment and main issue I notice it all the time.
I mentioned this on Friday night too. That I first chose to perform spoken word because I saw a lack of women on stage performing and also a lack of women of color specifically and within that especially Asian women. So, I thought, fuck it, that means I have to make myself go up. We can’t all be looking around waiting for someone else to get the guts to go on stage. Because the spoken word scene is male dominated. Why is that? Because sexism—male domination—exists in every industry, even traditionally female ones, like most chefs are male though women are traditionally expected to cook at home and spoken word poets or screenwriters are mostly male though growing up in school writing is traditionally seen as a female past-time or hobby.
So, somehow we women of color need to learn how to start talking about sexism in our own communities. To talk about sexism to our Asian men. The purpose is not to condemn them or attack them or even criticize them. But we will get stronger as a community if we are able to talk to our men about sexism and not pretend that racism is the only issue on the table. It’s absolutely necessary not only for our own empowerment as Asian women, but also for our community to stay strong and stay close.