Sexism is “Our Moral Challenge of the Twenty-First Century”

Yesterday, CNN featured a TED talk by Sheryl WuDunn, on the worldwide plight of women and girls. WuDunn is a former reporter for the New York Times (and the first Asian-American to win a Pullitzer Prize), who, along with Nicholas Kristoff, penned the book Half the Sky, which explores how empowering women can help solve global problems of class, education, violence and oppression.

With compelling anecdoes, WuDunn describes the stories of women who live in rural and impoverished towns, treated as disposable by their families. WuDunn recounts how in the so-called First World, women slightly out-number men (because women have a longer life expectancy); but how in the so-called Third World, demographers have shown that because of a combination of sex-based abortion, preferential resources being given to young boys over young girls, and cultural oppression, 60 to 100 million women are missing world-wide.

WuDunn talks about how small donations — if they make it to their intended destinations — can cause a ripple effect simply by elevating opportunities for women. She ends her talk with a powerful anecdote, urging those of us who have most our needs met to consider what moral responsibility we have to help others:

WuDunn told the story of an American aid worker in Darfur who had seen great suffering but never broke down.

On a vacation back in the United States, she visited her grandmother and noticed a bird feeder in the backyard.

“She was in her grandmother’s backyard and she basically broke down. And she realized that not only was she able to feed and clothe and house herself but also see that people in her country were able to feed wild birds so that they don’t go hungry in the winter. She knew that with that luck and fortune also comes great responsibility.”

I love this message of activism and hope — not victimization and defeat — and how it is particularly focused on the plight of Asian and African women. And I love how it is being championed by a confident, empowered, unapologetic Asian-American woman.

WuDunn’s talk — despite its unintentional Spiderman overtones — empowers women, and dosn’t merely tell just another tale of “poverty porn” (stories of abject poverty around the world told for the mere gratification of wealthy Westerners). Women, in “Half the Sky“, aren’t just victims — women can have the power to be “economic catalysts” for worldwide change, if only we in the First World provide the initial help to spark that revolution. It’s not about sheltering women like porcelain dolls, but about truly recognizing the worth and value of every daughter, sister, wife and mother around the world.

CNN’s article includes the following excerpt from the book:

“So let us be clear about this up front: We hope to recruit you to join an incipient movement to emancipate women and fight global poverty by unlocking women’s power as economic catalysts. That is the process under way — not a drama of victimization but of empowerment, the kind that transforms bubbly teenage girls from brothel slaves into successful businesswomen. This is a story of transformation. It is change that is already taking place, and change that can accelerate if you’ll just open your heart and join in. …

“The tide of history is turning women from beasts of burden and sexual playthings into full-fledged human beings. The economic advantages of empowering women are so vast as to persuade nations to move in that direction.

“Before long, we will consider sex slavery, honor killings and acid attacks as unfathomable as foot-binding. The question is how long that transformation will take and how many girls will be kidnapped into brothels before it is complete — and whether each of us will be part of that historical movement, or a bystander.”

Act Now! Here’s the book’s website — Half the Sky — which contains information about the upcoming book, as well as links if you want to start getting involved.

Margaret Cho on the Next Season of “DWTS”

Margaret Cho is going to be in the next season of Dancing with the Stars, along with Michael Bolton, Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino, David Hasselhoff and the mom from The Brady Bunch.

Do with that information what you will.

Kimberly Yee, First Asian American Woman to Serve in the Arizona State Legislature

Kimberly Yee, newly appointed AZ State Rep for District 10. She is the first Asian American woman to serve in the Arizona State Legislature.

Kimberly Yee made history in Arizona by becoming the first Asian American woman to serve in the Arizona State Legislature, nearly 50 years after the first Asian American — Wing F. Ong — was elected to the Arizona State Legislature in 1964.

Yee is a Republican who was appointed by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors to replace former Representative Doug Quelland as State Representative for District 10. While living in California, Yee served in Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Cabinet as Deputy Cabinet Secretary, and has been active in Arizona politics in Maricopa County since returning to Phoenix.

It’s great to see an Asian American woman making such headway in the political sphere, particular in a state with such regressive racial politics as Arizona. Sadly, I disagree with Yee on virtually all of her politics: she’s pro-life, pro-guns, pro-privatized healthcare, and pro-charter schools . Further, I’m kind of disappointed that the first Asian American woman to serve in the Arizona State Legislature fails to even acknowledge her racial and ethnic background on her official biography.

But, as I said when I was talking about Barry Wong, I have a soft spot for Asian American politicians, even if I completely disagree with their politic and would never, ever vote for them.

So, kudos, to Representative Yee. May you revise your political stances while serving in the State Legislature.

Cross-posted: Blog for Arizona

Domestic Violence Awareness in Eminem/Rihanna Music Video

I love pop music. A lot. Like, so much, that I’m often found dancing to the latest saccharine pop hit in the aisles of the grocery store or on the gym floor.

My latest guilty pleasure has been Eminem and Rihanna’s collaboration, “Love the Way You Lie“. To me, the song has the right mix of pop-y, I-can’t-get-it-out-of-my-head appeal with a surprising amount of gut-wrenching soulfulness. For a song written by a guy who brought us such high-brow audio fare as “The Real Slim Shady” and “Crack a Bottle“, “Love the Way You Lie” is refreshingly in line with Em’s more recent self-reflectiveness. (I think that Em’s Relapse album is one of the best thematic hip hop albums of the last few years.) 

In “Love the Way You Lie” Em’s lyrics are intermixed with the haunting vocals of Rihanna, who expresses both anger and pain as she sings the hook. For me, the song has appeal because you can feel how intensely personal the subject matter is for both artists. Both have made headlines for publicly being involved in abusive and self-destructive relationships — Eminem with his ex-wife Kim, and Rihanna with artist Chris Brown.

Moreover, the song — and associated music video — feels so honest in its exploration of domestic violence. Em’s “boyfriend”  alternates between rage and regret over his actions. He seeks forgiveness while in the same verse threatens assault and arson, reflecting the cyclical nature of abusive relationships. Rihanna’s “girlfriend” character acknowledges both the self-destructive nature of the relationship — he’s going to stand there and watch her burn — while she simultaneously explains her reluctance to leave — she loves him.

 

This video doesn’t hide the truth — relationships, particularly abusive ones, are messy and complicated. For me, the song strikes a deeply personal chord: it reminds me of abusive relationships I witnessed in my childhood. I remember the feelings of being trapped, afraid, and resentful of the anger and the violence, while at the same time wishing that the “good times” could last forever.

It’s tempting to simplify the issue of domestic violence into one where we villify the abuser and victimize the abused, but oftentimes, those simplifications only serve to blame the abused for being reluctant to leave the relationship. No relationship, not even an abusive one, is horrible and violent 100% of the time. How often have we heard Em’s first verse echoed by victims of domestic violence who are hesitant to abandon their partners: “‘Cause when it’s going good, it’s going great. / I’m Superman with the wind at his back, she’s Lois Lane. / But when it’s bad, it’s awful. I feel so ashamed, I snap.” In one scene, Monaghan and Fox kiss while sitting outside in lawn chairs, which reminds us how we even the most destructive relationships can appear, from the outside, to be loving and intimate.

Furthermore, sometimes it’s hard to remember that abusers don’t always wear the stereotypical black hat. Em reflects about how his rage transforms him into a different person, a person that even he doesn’t like. “Who’s that dude? I don’t even know his name. /I laid hands on her, I’ll never stoop so low again. /I guess I don’t know my own strength.” For people on the outside looking into an abusive relationship, it’s easy to forget that sometimes even the abuser knows his or her actions are wrong, and doesn’t know how to stop them.

Despite these lyrics, the video and the song make it crystal clear that this is not a relationship to be glorified. The music video, featuring Dominic Monaghan and Megan Fox, show both partners trapped in a cycle of violence, destruction, and passion — best exemplified by one of the last scenes that show Monaghan and Fox traveling through the set, going from a tender moment of forgiveness to another violent argument culminating in Fox locking herself in the bathroom to get away from Monaghan. Again, the video acknowledges why neither partner wants to leave — for all their abuses towards one another, and all the lies they tell to keep each other in the relationship, they love each other. But it also shows the viewer why the two must separate. The relationship is (in the form of a metaphorical fire) consuming everything within them, until it burns their house down in the climactic scene where Monaghan slaps Fox across the face.

Much in the same way that Em made a career out of connecting with disaffected White youths across America (which he cheekily acknowledges in “White America“), I think this song powerfully connects with those who have been affected by domestic violence. As I’ve blogged about before, domestic violence is a major, if not often talked about, issue in the Asian American community.

I hope that all men and women, particularly Asian Americans who struggle in abusive relationships, will be encouraged by a song like this to reflect on the health of their relationships and seek help.

Act Now! This is the DayOne domestic violence helpline included in the video above: 1-800-214-4150

Wanted: Queer/Korean Women in the L.A. Area

Yeah, I know. It's a total cliche to put a picture of Margaret Cho on a post about queer Korean women...

 Are you queer? Are you Korean? Are you a woman? Do you live in the L.A. area? Do you want to be in the movies?

If you answered yes to most of the questions above (or, you know someone who would), please read on!

Nina, one of this blog’s readers, is a filmmaker who is hoping to highlight the voices of queer/Korean women in a documentary she is making. In talking about her inspiration, Nina writes:

This project sort of focuses on giving a face/voice to the stories of queer Korean women (obviously, I suppose) through filmed interviews.  

I started working on this project after I realized that this is a part of the queer/Korean community that is oftentimes neglected and repressed, and growing up I found it really hard to find other queer Koreans, like me.  I am hoping to represent/build a community of queer Koreans through this documentary… but the reason why I am making this documentary is also the reason why I can’t seem to find very many to interview!

I’m hoping to find at least ten people to interview (I’m restricting myself to the LA county & surrounding areas) and meet with, and I would like to represent a variety of perspectives.  In particular I am having trouble finding queer Koreans who are much younger (younger than 20), much older, transgender, and mixed– though, of course, I would love to hear from any queer Korean women, even if they are living outside of this area.

Nina hits on an important problem within the APIA community: too often, the voices of queer APIAs are unheard within the larger mainstream of the pan-Asian political identity. The same is often true of the queer community: queer APIAs are either invisible, or dehumanizingly fetishized. We need more media that hope to shine the spotlight on queer APIAs, and let them tell their stories to us, unfettered.

Act Now! So, if you are interested in participating in Nina’s project, or you know someone who would be, please contact her ASAP at aperfectstrang3r@gmail.com. Also, feel free to forward this post to all of your friends and family.