An Open Letter to the Asian American Men’s Rights Movement

From #FeministJohnCho (Photo Credit: Twitter / 18MR).
From #FeministJohnCho (Photo Credit: Twitter / 18MR).

By Guest Contributor: Evelyn Kim (@wordsfromevelyn)

Dear Asian American Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs):

I’ve come across your Reddit threads, your Twitter profiles, and your takes on pop culture. I’m writing to call you out on your take on masculinity, Asian American women, and feminism. Whether you choose to read on or not will reveal your willingness to hear out a fellow Asian American woman’s take on your opinions: it’s your call. 

Though you might not have labelled yourself as an MRA, if you agree that the feminist movement takes power away from men, this letter is for you. From what I’ve read, the MRA community began in the early 1970s as an assertion that gender equality had gone too far, and that women had actually started to, in Beyoncé’s words, run the world. The MRA movement has resurfaced online in Asian American digital circles. But the MRA perspective overlooks that men already possess rights and privileges that women do not. So here’s the first thing for you to consider: the point of feminism is not to take your power away.

The term “Men’s Rights Activists” demands that we prioritize the alleged victimization of men. It poses the question, “What about the oppression that we, Asian-American men face? What about our rights?” When this question is posed in opposition to feminism, it suggests that you see empowerment as a limited resource— what some would label as a scarcity mindsetwherein the more empowered that women (particularly Asian American women) are, the more “emasculated” you see yourselves as becoming. But feminism isn’t about taking anything away from people. Neither is it primarily about you (men) in the first place, but as men, your supporting role in feminism is an essential one. In a society that dismisses women’s opinions and complaints as insubstantial or overly emotional, you, as men, can leverage your gender privilege to help others listen to what women have to say.

Feminism is a movement whose purpose is to center the voices and experiences of women who, in the face of systemic patriarchy, experience disadvantages based on their gender. As I hope you can agree, mainstream society takes a dim view of women. The media portrays women as objects of desire rather than the subjects of our own stories. In life, we face an uphill battle of daily struggles to achieve some measure of economic, political and social parity with our male counterparts. We are objectified and lauded when possessed, and scrutinized and villainized when we defy possession. The street harassment we endure, for example, is a constant and demeaning reminder that men feel entitled to our bodies.

Feminism is a much-needed counterpoint to society’s profound disdain for women. Feminism gives women a space to be heard and to be seen as worthy of respect, not harassment; and, to be seen as worthy of dignity, not denigration. For Asian American women in particular, feminism can provide a counterpoint to the cultural expectations of gender that we might have internalized throughout our lives. For instance, I credit feminism for helping me to find my voice: to speak my mind during group discussions, to be unafraid about having opinions on the topics that interest me, and to become more comfortable with stating my wants– all traits that my native Korean culture doesn’t seem to encourage in women. Through feminism, I’ve come to understand that it’s okay for my thoughts and experiences to take center stage in a conversation, even though I’m used to functioning in an environment in which others expected me to prioritize others’ voices over my own. In this way, among many others, Asian American feminism speaks to the distinct experiences that Asian American women face based on their race (Asian) and gender identity that mainstream feminism cannot. This is why mainstream feminism, which caters to white women, is incompatible with discussing how toxic masculinity damages men of color. But that’s a process that Asian American feminism can speak to, because this specific type of feminism considers one’s racialized experiences and helps to dismantle white supremacy, which is the basis of our society’s idea of masculinity.

That needs to change, too. Specifically, the type of toxic masculinity that is pervasive throughout society and that thrives on deprecating men and objectifying women. We should challenge and dismantle that type of masculinity. Elements of the mainstream’s hostile version of masculinity have dominated the discourse about Asian American masculine identity: among the Asian American MRA, the Asian American male pursues validation as an “alpha male” who is defined by his aggressiveness, his physical stature, and his capacity to seduce women. Of course, Asian American men are fully capable of embodying these characteristics. But, we rarely ask: why must this be our community’s prized standard of manliness?

I’d argue that Asian American men who subscribe to the “alpha male” standard of masculinity, which white men often perpetuate, are submitting to a white supremacist view of gender. A White man’s respect of your idea of masculinity isn’t required for it to hold legitimacy. That’s why claiming to fight for Asian Americans while advocating for your brand of masculinity is a paradox: how can you simultaneously fight for people of color while subscribing to an idea of gender rooted in white supremacy?

Your Asian racial identity doesn’t erase your male privilege, just like my being a woman doesn’t erase my privilege as a cisgender person. This is something that John Cho didn’t seem to realize in his Vulture interview. Though, as people of color, you don’t have white privilege, your being male still comes with advantages that you do wrong by denying: A pay gap exists, with Asian American men earning more than Asian American women. Asian American men are less likely to experience street harassment and sexual assault. Asian American men also benefit from a culture that doesn’t view their masculinity as something to be demeaned, whereas we can use the phrase “like a girl” to insult another person.

When you focus your politic exclusively on Asian American men to the exclusion of Asian American women, you deny the fact of your male privilege. Further, you neutralize any pretense that you fight – often militantly — for justice for Asian Americans. Your politic demands “empowerment” of Asian American men, yet it seeks to materialize that “empowerment” through preserving system that perpetuates violent injustice against Asian American women.

That’s why I’ll ask: in seeking to preserve this system are you genuinely fighting for racial justice for all Asian Americans, or do you fight only for yourselves?

Sincerely,

Evelyn

Evelyn Kim
Evelyn Kim

Evelyn is a queer Korean American and emerging writer, and a yoga enthusiast with a sweet tooth. You can follow her on Twitter at @wordsfromevelyn.

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  • lindlberghline

    Hi Evelyn,

    Can you please elaborate on what alternative form of masculinity you wish us Asian men should subscribe to that would better suit your ideals? Would you also be able to provide evidence or studies to back your assertion that “mainstream’s hostile version of masculinity have dominated the discourse about Asian American masculine identity” asides from anecdotal examples that you might handpick from a few Reddit threads that do not necessarily reflect the views of most Asian males? Contrary to your claim, most discussions in the Asian male communities I partake in do not adhere or support toxic masculinity, and I have also come across studies that would refute your attempts to portray Asian men as such. I’m unclear how you arrived at this notion that Asian males largely exhibit traits of toxic masculinity when there are evidences that would affirm otherwise, such as Asian men committing the least amount of rape crimes or any crimes at all for that matter and studies like below showing that Asian American men are more gender egalitarian than by typical western standards. In addition, as a minority we are not beneficiaries or influencers of mainstream culture. Would you not agree that Hollywood and the entertainment industry (music/popculture) have much more of an impact in promoting toxic masculinity, yet remains unchallenged and consumed by the very people that decry toxic masculinity?

    http://scholarworks.sjsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1003&context=sociology_pub
    https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2012/crime-in-the-u.s.-2012/tables/43tabledatadecoverviewpdf

    I am not threatened by your feminism or pursuit of equality. I will gladly stand by your side and support my Asian sisters if it means progress for the entire Asian American community and women, as I hope you support us in our pursuit for equality as well. My concern lies in this recent spike in targeting asian men and their “hyper masculinity” when at the root, as you mentioned, is toxic “white” masculinity. The Asian men that do conform to this “alpha male” form of masculinity do so because they are attempting to combat the emasculation that Mainstream America and many females of our own community have propagated. Instead, of going after the lowest hanging fruit, as Asian males are easy target, why is it that you don’t confront the source of this toxicity which you proclaim derives from White Supremacy?

    I am curious to the purpose of your letter? Is it that you wish to create awareness or are you hoping to foster dialogue? Do you think this letter will do more harm than good for our community in that its accusatory tone can be divisive? This isn’t an attempt to silence you, but curiosity in your approach of making Asian men the culprit and villain of your oppression when you clearly stated that Asian men are victims to the influence of White Supremacy. The reality of it is, men are not the only ones who internalize and accept this toxic masculinity, women fall victim too. There is a reason why men that are deemed more masculine are typically more sought after by women. This is not so much an Asian man problem, but a societal one.

  • AMERIFATTY

    The difference between White and Asian misogynists? Whites CAN be misogynists, Asians ARE misogynists. White misogyny is perpetrated at an individual level, while Asian misogyny is at the root of their oppressive culture. So don’t be Asian; don’t be a White misogynist; BE a White individual.

    Read the fifth paragraph of this wonderful blog post so you can understand. To sum it all up, Asian culture = Backwards. So get with the freaking program already and shed that primitive culture and disgusting non-white mentality. and NO, there is no difference between Asian-Americans and Asians. All of you are simply one big monolith of static ‘traditional’ values and Beehive mentality, led by oppressive Asian parents and Asian males. The only way to make it progress is with the injection of White Liberalism and Progressivism.

    Ask any Black feminist what they think about primitive non-white cultures. They will tell you that Evelyn Kim is most assuredly a PROUD WOMAN OF COLOR!

  • AMERIFATTY

    MRAs are disgusting. That being said, Asian-American men have already, for nearly two decades, re-defined their masculinity.

    http://scholarworks.sjsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1003&context=sociology_pub

    “Given a history of emasculation and desexualization of U.S.-born
    Asian men, these men for the most part have been able to make a
    masculinity that does not completely resemble white hegemonic
    masculinity or a model minority masculinity that uses male privilege,
    power, and domination in relationship with a variety of racialized and
    class-stratified women and men.”

    Don’t try to diminish the significance of race from the issue, when it clearly is about race. What happened to intersectionality?

    You may not even realize this, but the vast majority of Asian-American men do not act like their parents or share the same mentality/cultural values as them. Asian-American women are not the only ones who break the mold. Maybe you could take a break from being a White-groupie, and try talking with real Asian human beings for once.

    Since you mentioned that you’re Korean, I thought you would like the videos on this Youtube channel:

    https://www.youtube.com/user/bobaepapa/videos

    How can you not watch that and not think any better of your own kind?

  • Panda Hugger

    This is a deliberate misrepresentation of reality.

    “But feminism isn’t about taking anything away from people”

    Asian feminism that follows Amy Tan styled Joy Luck Club feminism is taking something away from people. In this case, it’s taking away the humanity and quality of life away from Asian men by perpetually smearing them as disgusting, oppressive, violent, sexless, etc. This is not even true. Asian men are by the far the least violent and oppressive of all groups. They are the least likely to commit rape, murder, or domestic violence against women.

    http://i.imgur.com/ac43zR4.jpg

  • Panda Hugger

    That’s not even the worst of it.

    This false Asian feminism harms Af. Asian females [Af] glorify whiteness and by doing so uphold white
    supremacy at every POC’s expense including their own. There’s a reason why no POC takes Af
    seriously. Everyone can see the hypocrisy and self hating racism Af suffer. This is documented in every study of interracial relations between Af and wm. Self hate and white worship are the defining characteristics of such relationships. It is not progressive love. The afwm only serial rapists and murderers with white fathers bears this out. Elliot Rogers had a white father. Daniel Holtzclaw had a white father. Here is an actual study and its insights…

    most of my respondents struggled through their childhood and teenage years with an strong sense of racial ethnic cultural difference, including being “embarrassed” or “self conscious” about their culture, which produced powerful desires to “whiten.”

    development of powerful assimilative yearning, which seemed to be a common denominator among men and women of this study who eventually chose to marry interracially. Indeed, although every one of my respondents reported being a target of racist slurs and bullying when growing up—some endured these as a family unit—those who weathered these challenges most effectively were those who practiced as much distancing from the Asian “stereotypes” as possible. Relating that none of the second generation Chinese kids she knew of “wanted to be Chinese,”

    such desires for “white identification” to avoid racism seemed to have been typically accompanied by attraction to Caucasian boys from a young age.

    Children and the Shifting Engagement with Racial Ethnic Identity among Second Generation Interracially Married Asian Americans
    https://kuscholarworks.ku.edu/bitstream/handle/1808/14641/Chong_2013.pdf

  • Panda Hugger

    Here is more Asian women suffering from self hate

    Respondents’ descriptions of gender performances in ethnic settings were marked by self-disgust and referred to as a mere act not reflective of one’s true gendered nature.

    In mainstream settings, on the other hand, respondents often felt a pressure to comply with caricatured notions of Asian femininity or, conversely, to distance one’s self from derogatory images of Asian femininity to be accepted.

    In both cases, the subordination of Asian femininity is reproduced.

    Our findings illustrate the powerful interplay of controlling images and hegemonic femininity in promoting internalized oppression.

    Asian American Women And Racialized Femininities ‘Doing’ Gender across Cultural Worlds
    http://www.irows.ucr.edu/cd/courses/232/pyke/femininities.pdf

    Why does this happen?

    White men.

    White men have told you that Asians are inferior, Asian culture is inferior, Asian men are inferior. They conspire to brainwash you with a myriad of lies and by and large it worked. It’s very sad.

    White hegemonic ideologies of masculinity and femininity determine who gets to have sex with whom …We do not make choices of attraction in a vacuum…Hegemonic ideology becomes our commonsense notions.

    Women were painted as perpetually sexually available to white men while Asian American men were constructed as castrated or impotent…

    Asian American Sexual Politics: The Construction of Race, Gender, and Sexuality: Rosalind S. Chou
    http://www.amazon.com/Asian-American-Sexual-Politics-Construction/dp/1442209240

  • Panda Hugger

    It’s sad because it’s Asian women and their mentally unstable children who suffer the most.

    racialized images can cause Asian American women to believe they will find greater gender equality with white men and can cause white men to believe they will find greater subservience with Asian women. This dynamic promotes Asian American women’s availability to white men and makes them particularly vulnerable to mistreatment.

    Asian American Women And Racialized Femininities ‘Doing’ Gender across Cultural Worlds
    http://www.irows.ucr.edu/cd/courses/232/pyke/femininities.pdf

    Hapas on average have 100% higher mental illness rates the the ones who suffer the highest are Asian looking hapas especially the men. In their total disregard for Asian lives, Asian feminism harms both Asian women by subjugating themselves to white men and dooming their children to a record breaking 34% mental illness rate.

    ‘We cannot underestimate the importance of understanding the social, psychological and experiential differences that may increase the likelihood of psychological disorders among this fast growing segment of the population.’ Among the biracial individuals in their national survey the researchers found 34 percent had been diagnosed with a psychological disorder such as anxiety, depression or substance abuse compared to 17 percent of monoracial individuals. The higher rate held up even after the researchers controlled for differences between the groups in age, gender and life stress among other factors.

    Biracial Asian Americans and Mental Health :: UC Davis News & Information:
    http://news.ucdavis.edu/search/news_detail.lasso?id=8732

  • Panda Hugger

    In light of all the evidence, I hope readers will ask themselves, why this Mrs. Fang, continues to

    misrepresent the truth to smear Asian men as oppressive. Most tellingly, she never brings to attention the centuries of violence and especially sexual violence at the hands of white men. Here is what I mean.

    It was the imperialistic conquest of the islands by the Americans that jump started the sex entertainment industry in the Philippines. During the Vietnam War, five U.S. military bases stationed in Thailand sheltered at any given time 40,000 to 50,000 American GIs which ignited the sex industry in Thailand. R&R facilities have been and continue to be a vital component of the U.S. military policy. With pervasive disregard for human rights, the military grimly accepts and recognizes access to indigenous women’s bodies as a “necessity”.

    White Sexual Imperialism: A Theory of Asian Feminist Jurisprudence
    http://scholarlycommons.law.wlu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1243&context=crsj

    Sexual violence directed at Asian women by white men—and any Asian woman can tell you how unrelenting and commonplace such violence and sexualized racism are—is a direct result of Western imperialism

    No One Is Free Until All Are Free By Chris Hedges
    http://www.rapereliefshelter.bc.ca/learn/resources/no-one-free-until-all-are-free-chris-hedges

    the foreigners here–mainly US and Canada–are unreal. It’s a joke. And because of this, Korean women generally have a bad impression of western men. Add all of the ridiculous army assholes here…

    If you’re not an English teacher, you’re instantly higher value. Again, I cannot impress enough how deplorable the white man is here. It has to be seen…

    Thailand, Taiwan, Korea, China or Japan?
    https://www.rooshvforum.com/thread-28141-page-3.html

  • chrisredfield31

    So here’s the first thing for you to consider: the point of feminism is not to take your power away.

    So what was #HypermasculAzns about? Why were there attacks on Asian men? Why is it a constant challenge to Asian men? In fact, what does Asian men have to do with anything? If Asian feminism is about empowering Asian women then why are we targeted/criticized at all?

    In a society that dismisses women’s opinions and complaints as insubstantial or overly emotional, you, as men, can leverage your gender privilege to help others listen to what women have to say.

    It goes both ways. Asian women need to speak up for us but that has not happened. As a group, whether online or off, I have not seen this happen. Meanwhile, what we do see is overt pressure on Asian men.

    Feminism is a movement whose purpose is to center the voices and experiences of women who, in the face of systemic patriarchy, experience disadvantages based on their gender.

    Who is the patriarch? Who are the ones responsible for your disadvantages?

    But, we rarely ask: why must this be our community’s prized standard of manliness?

    Being a man is normal, accepted and even desired. Under the dictionary definition of masculinity, it reads: possession of the qualities traditionally associated with men. synonyms: virility, manliness, maleness, machismo, vigor, strength, muscularity, ruggedness, robustness.

    None of this is exactly negative or toxic. Masculinity is divorced from women and femininity. Masculinity stands on it’s own and belongs to our identity.

    Your Asian racial identity doesn’t erase your male privilege

    We have privilege? and being Asian on top of that? How is working longer hours, in more dangerous positions, being attacked on the streets by non-Asian people, manhood called into question if we choose not to have children or not get involved with romance, endless competition with men (there is no equivalent of “sisterhood” for men, outside our social circle), butt end of many sexist jokes, ridicule for being a virgin, and so on. There is no male privilege and definitely not Asian male privilege. There has been transgenders (from female to male) and realized the harsh bitter reality of being a man.

    When you focus your politic exclusively on Asian American men to the exclusion of Asian American women

    You exclude yourself. By not participating in the reddit subs and forums, you never put your ideas to the test and therefore more often than not, you’re preaching to the choir.

    yet it seeks to materialize that “empowerment” through preserving system that perpetuates violent injustice against Asian American women.

    Violent injustice against Asian American women? By whom? I’d like to see some real cases of Asian man on Asian female violence reported in the media. I don’t want to see Hapas who have their own unique brand of problems but I want to see some reports on how Asian men are violent.

  • Hi Panda,

    Please do not spam the blog. I understand you have a point of view that differs from the OP, but please do not post long strings of comments that violate this site’s comment policy against comments that 1) are ad hominem attack; 2) are pedantic (i.e. arguing a point repeatedly regardless of counterfacts — in this case, excessively arguing a point no one is arguing with you about); and 3) that fails to respect the humanity of other groups (which you are welcome to share on a different site). I have kept some of your comments up in order to reflect your viewpoint, but have also removed ones that appear to be more akin to spamming the site with memes and graphics that are essentially irrelevant to this post’s topic.

    In the future, images that may be of a graphic nature should be included as a link and a warning should be given to readers so they can have the option to click or not.

    If at a later time, the debate broaches the topics of those memes, you are welcome to repost an argument related to your opinion on that subject. But as of right now, please keep your comments in the general ballpark of this post’s topic, which is Asian American feminism and its perspectives on toxic masculinity.

    Thanks,
    Jenn

  • Hi Lindh, your comment was double-posted. I have deleted this version and preserved the other one so that you can have the benefit of the one that has more upvotes.

  • IgnoreThisComment OrDont

    Agree that MRAs are bad. Asian MRAs though seem like a very small subsection of society, but however their numbers, they are equally as unproductive.

    >But, we rarely ask: why must this be our community’s prized standard of manliness?
    >I’d argue that Asian American men who subscribe to the “alpha male” standard of masculinity, which white men often perpetuate, are submitting to a white supremacist view of gender.

    Good questions. You do highlight irksome qualities that define masculinity, but I don’t think you provide positive qualities of masculinity, or how masculinity can be positively expressed. You could argue that masculinity in itself should be eliminated, eliminating masculinity also erases femininity. Some feminists, including myself, would argue, that masculinity and femininity can be valuable and can be beautiful traits of human beings.

    I do think it’s unfair to criticize Asian males for attempting to reclaim, in society, some of their masculinity. The myth of emasculation in Western media that purports Asians in general to be devoid of masculinity. Rarely are Asian males portrayed as people capable of healthy relationships in Western culture (see Long Duk Dong). There was a semi-informal survey where 50% of Asian males reported hearing Asians had small penises as well as the phrase “I would never date an Asian male”. The lack of a male identity may be harmful; perhaps a less severe version that Transmen face when they attempt to express masculinity.

    Whether masculinity and femininity are useful social constructs is a topic for debate. But criticizing Asian males (exclusively) for trying to reclaim some of that masculinity is unfair (especially as I do not forsee the social constructs of masculinity and femininity changing anytime soon). Thus, it seems a silly situation for us feminists to berate Asian men for trying to assert their masculine identities, while simultaneously allowing White media to portray Asian males as eunuchs. Thus, I argue for supporting Asian males in the expression of masculinity, so long as it is not toxic and counter to the liberation of others.

  • Observer157

    This post, and blog in general, are a prime example of putting Asian Americans 4th, after female/gay/black/other issues first. Stop pretending you represent Asian Americans or are an Asian American blog. You happen to be Asian American but this is more a white feminist/black power/LBGT focused website. This blog is as representative of Asian Americans as Michelle Malkin is but extreme from the opposite direction