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.

Wanted: APIA Women with Ink

margaret-cho

I just received an email from a student named Doris Zhang, a senior at Pitzer College. Doris is looking for some help with her Gender/Feminist Studies senior project. Doris has identified a disturbing lack of representation of APIA women in media for the tattoo community, and hopes to rectify the situation by developing her own tattoo magazine specifically focused on Asian American women with tattoos.

Here is the text of the email:

I’m a senior at Pitzer College and was wondering if you could help me out a bit with a favor. For my Gender/Feminist Studies senior project, I’d like to interview and photograph self-identified tattooed Asian American women. My intention is to create my own ‘tattoo magazine’ – think “Tattoos For Women”, but with an Asian American focus. I don’t see a lot of Asian American women being represented in the media, let alone in tattoo magazines and in the tattoo community. In addition, I think it would be so interesting to see how gender and race (amongst other factors) intersect to shape the artistic and expressive choices of Asian American women.

If you are a tattooed Asian American woman and are interested in being interviewed for this project, please email doris.zhang.2010@gmail.com.

I think this is a great project and wish Doris the best of luck in it! I hope to post about the magazine when it is released.

Patsy Mink: Ahead of the Majority

PatsyMink

It’s not too often that I get to attend an Asian American-related event in Tucson. Yesterday, I got the opportunity to watch a screening of the documentary Patsy Mink: Ahead of the Majority and attend a Q&A with filmmaker Kimberlee Bassford, afterwards. The screening was sponsored by several local feminist progresive groups, and proceeds from the event went towards funding female progressive candidates in the next election cycle.

As you can imagine, Patsy Mink is one of my all-time heroes. Mink was the first woman of colour (let alone the first Asian American woman) to be elected to the House of Representatives, and is among the feminist movement’s most influential figures for  being the principal author of Title IX, which established equality for women in academics and sports. Quite simply, Title IX states:

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance… 

Ahead of the Majority is a thorough documentary that follows Mink’s rise through the political ranks in Hawai’i to her election as congresswoman when she lobbied to pass Title IX, and finally to the end of her life in 2002.

 

From the documentary, I learned quite a bit about Mink’s legacy that I didn’t previously know. For example, I had no idea Mink ran for president in Oregon on an anti-Vietnam War platform in 1972. Though she only garnered 2% of the vote in the Oregon primary (her candidacy was a political anti-war statement), Mink is the first Asian-American to run for president of the United States of America.

I was also struck by how often racism and sexism placed obstacles in front of Mink, and how she powered through each and every challenge without ever appearing defeated or weakened. When Hawai’i first achieved statehood in 1959, Mink and fellow politico Daniel Inouye ran for House of Representatives and Senate respectively. The documentary noted how Mink and Inouye initially hoped to both be elected and to work together in Washington D.C .to represent Hawai’i. However, Democratic party leaders in Hawai’i pressured Inouye to drop out of the Senate race a month before the election and challenge Mink for Congressman. Already a popular political figure in Hawai’i, Inouye ran essentially on the platform that voters should choose a man, not a woman, as their representative — and Mink lost the seat overwhelmingly.

Mink ran again in 1965 and was finally elected to the House of Representatives, where she ultimately served 6 terms and worked tirelessly to author and pass Title IX. Mink was an outspoken advocate for women, children, and the poor, and the documentary includes many clips of Mink speaking passionately on these issues in interviews and on the floor of the House.

In 1976, after serving as a Congressman for 11 years, Mink gave up her seat to run for Senate. Again, her opponent, Spark Matsunaga, launched character attacks against Mink  causing her to eventually lose the race. Returning to Honolulu, Mink was elected to City Council. After failed races for Mayor and Governor of Hawai’i, Mink again ran for her House of Representatives seat in 1990, winning on a platform of experience and dedication. She won in a landslide victory, and returned to Washington where she advocated tirelessly on behalf of poor people and women until her death in 2002.

Ahead of the Majority is eye-opening and well-researched; no easy task for filmmaker Kimberlee Bassford considering no full-length biography of Patsy Mink has ever been written. And it is this one simple fact that is perhaps most striking about Ahead of the Majority. After viewing this film, I couln’t help but wonder: Why is it that we remember Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Tubman, Shirley Chisholm, and feminist theorists like Gloria Steinam and Andrea Dworkin, but most people are unaware of Patsy Mink and her legacy? Why has her story been ignored for so long by biographers, filmmakers, and modern historians?

As an Asian American and as a feminist, Patsy Mink is the quintessential role model. As alluded to by Ahead of the Majority‘s tagline, Mink would not be defeated by oppression and discrimination: rather, she changed the rules. The documentary notes that in the less than fifty years since the passage of Title IX, the number of higher education degrees awarded to women went from roughly 7% to almost 50%. It is amazing to realize that a woman like Mink, who did so much to forward the cause of women’s rights, was an Asian American and a feminist — her lasting legacy to the Asian American community is that we, too, can aspire to be more than society would limit us to be. We can and should be fighters for the equality that all people (regardless of gender, class, colour or creed) are deserving of. We, too, are part of America.

Unfortunately, even after her death, inklings of the racism and discrimination that Mink faced during her political career remain apparent. Although Mink was a strong feminist figure, she faced endless sexism and racism throughout her life. The film opens with a clip from the Mike Douglas show, where Patsy Mink, then a sitting U.S. Congressman, is asked to dance the hula with a girl clad in a Hawai’ian grass skirt — no male sitting Congressman would be expected to do something so kitschy and degrading, both then and now. The documentary also includes a newspaper headline reporting Mink’s election to the House of Representatives; it reads: “Pert and Pretty Patsy Mink Also Has A Lot of Serious Ideas” — diminishing her status as a newly-elected member of the U.S. House of Representatives to little more than a novelty. And, time and again throughout Mink’s life, the Democratic Party of Hawai’i preferentially awarded opportunities to “haoles” despite the dedication that Asian American politicians like Mink (and Inouye) showed to the party.

And while it would be nice to hope that the kind of racism and sexism that Mink faced in her lifetime had decreased, I was appalled by some of the general ignorance I witnessed during the event’s Q&A. As if unable to grasp the fact that Mink was a Japanese American woman, some in yesterday’s audience seemed unable to consider Mink anything but Japanese. With no mention made of Mink’s religion in any part of the film, audience members were convinced that Mink — based purely on her Japanese ancestry — must be a devout Buddhist (because all Japanese people are Buddhist, right?). One audience member asked Bassford whether, in her research, she uncovered evidence that Mink was Buddhist. Bassford replied, clear as day, that while Mink’s grandparents were Buddhist, Mink was not devoutly religious. However, Bassford added, Mink was likely Christian, not Buddhist.

Not five minutes later, a second person raised their hand and asked whether, outside of the public burial and memorial service held for Mink after her death, there was a private, Buddhist ceremony. 

Cue eyeroll.

It was this generally awkward (mis)treatment of Mink’s racial identity that I encountered while attending the event. Event organizers touted the film entirely from a feminist perspective and only to Tucson’s feminist community, practically ignoring her place in Asian American history. Consequently, outside of myself and one or two others, there were no Asian/Asian Americans to attend yesterday’s screening of Ahead of the Majority. When Electroman questioned event organizers as to why there didn’t seem to be any representatives of Tucson’s Asian American community participating in the event, he was told that organizers didn’t know where to find politicized Asian Americans in this town. While the documentary fairly addressed Mink’s relationship with her racial identity, it felt as if event organizers weren’t sure how to honour Patsy Mink as not just a feminist figure, but as a feminist of colour.

That being said, the conflict between feminism and racial activism reared its head even in Mink’s life. One audience member asked during the Q&A whether Bassford intended to make such a starry-eyed tribute to Mink’s career, or whether she had deliberately excluded criticisms of Mink. Bassford said that, in general, it was hard to find things to criticize about Mink; yet, despite my general hero worship of Mink, I think she can be fairly criticized on her lack of interest in helping to elevate other Asian Americans to elected office, or in championing Asian American issues. Unlike her colleagues, including Senator Daniel Inouye (who comes out somewhat like a villain in the documentary), Mink focused on women’s issues and poverty during her political career, and did little to encourage other Asian Americans to become more politically educated. Since Patsy Mink’s time as a Congressman, the number of women in elected positions has increased dramatically, yet there still remain only a handful of Asian Americans in higher office. As Bassford put it when I asked her about Mink’s lack of involvement in Asian American politics, she replied that while Mink is considered a role model for Asian Americans, she is not considered one of our political leaders.

Bassford hits on an important point: many of the Asian American community’s political leaders are men (Councilman and current candidate for NYC comptroller John C. Liu, Senator Daniel Inouye, and Senator Daniel Akaka to name just a few). Why was it that Patsy Mink, a woman who faced so much racism in her life, and who clearly considered herself an Asian American, did not include the Asian American community as one of her political priorities? And does this abject underrepresentation of Asian American women amongst the leadership roles of our community result in a lack of attention given to Asian American feminist concerns?

A woman came up to me after the event and asked me about my question regarding Patsy Mink and the Asian American community. I suggested that many feminists of colour often face sexism within their racial communities (and racism within the feminist community) that often leads to ostracization. Despite Professor Gary Okihiro’s appropriation of the phrase “when and where I enter” to describe the critical importance of eliminating sexism within the Asian American community to achieve equality for all Asian Americans, in our community as well as in other communities of colour, male leaders often emphasize an expectation that women should act in a supporting role to elevate male community leaders, rather than to seek prominence or equality themselves. Feminist issues are frequently seen as distractions from the struggle for racial equality, and too often, sexist attacks are lobbed against empowered feminists of colour from both within and outside the community when those feminists speak out against intraracial sexism.

But that should not be the status quo. After watching Ahead of the Majority and witnessing the passion with which Mink challenged injustice, I wish some of her incredible energy had been used to specifically help the Asian American community. Compared to the emphasis Mink placed on sexism and women’s rights, Mink rarely spoke about the racism she encountered as an Asian American. And while Mink’s contribution towards women’s rights  in this country cannot be denied, the Asian American community needs Asian American political leaders who are willing to break the silence regarding Asian American issues of all kinds, including gender issues.

To that end, Patsy Mink is an amazing pioneer. She is an example to the Asian American community that we can (and should) make a difference. But Mink can certainly be criticized for the lack of attention she paid to Asian American issues, and I hope that from her life, we can remember that while Mink’s accomplishments cannot be overstated, there is much more work still left to be done. I hope that we can learn to be inclusive of feminist concerns within the Asian American community, and reduce the mistrust that seems to exist between Asian American race activists and Asian American feminists.

And above all, I hope that we can take inspiration from Patsy Mink’s story to encourage more young Asian Americans to enter into politics — so that they, too, can change the rules for the better.

“Geisha”: Blog Wars?

Yikes — looks like we might have a blog war a-brewin’ between APAP and 8Asians.

I blogged earlier this afternoon about the “Geisha” bar opening in Oakland, linking a post from APAP for some of my sources. It turns out that Moye, over at 8Asians, also read the APAP post and has a different take on the “Geisha” fiasco.

Aside from the heavy cultural significance of the word, the leaders of this protest also cite that giving the bar with such a name would help support sexual harassment, mental illness, and a negative economic impact with its indirect support for the sex trade and/or pornography. Oh yeah, and don’t forget that rapist in the area who was targeting Asian women. Wait, what? These are all related?

I hate to be the one to say this, but I can’t help think these folks are overreacting in this situation, and wrongly defining the history of Japanese geisha. They were dancing and musical entertainers, and nowhere did violence and overt sexuality come to play in their formal occupation. No, geishas aren’t prostitutes. Maybe some of them were but hey, it’s the oldest job in the world.  If anything, they should be focusing their outrage on two Asian American businessmen with a tired and unoriginal idea for a new bar, or at least ask why someone would want to go to a Geisha bar in the heart of Chinatown. Wrong culture, people.

Also, what does the NorCal rapist have to do with this? Did he have a geisha fetish or something and this bar is his one chance to finally hang out in the open? I don’t see the connection.

I think the problem here is a question of interpretation: is the criticism of “Geisha” a reaction to the negative connotations of the geisha profession? Or how the term “geisha” is interpreted by American audiences.

As Moye points out, the traditional geisha was not a prostitute. Geisha would be best described as artisans, trained in music and dance and hired by wealthy men to entertain at dinner parties by playing songs, singing, and socializing. Some prostituted themselves, but the profession, as a whole, is oversimplified by the term “prostitute”.

But that’s looking at geisha from a strictly historical perspective, and not in the context of America’s sociopolitical landscape — which is the way most restaurant patrons and passersby will view the restaurant name. Here, the term “geisha” refers to an archetype that fits hand-in-hand with other images of the hypersexualized, demure Asian female “lotus blossom” prevalent in historical and contemporary American media. Asian and Asian American women are — and have been — predominantly depicted in hypersexualized and subjugated roles in American film and literature, and this directly counteracts efforts to empower Asian American women with a positive and healthy image of ourselves and our sexuality. To that end, failing to criticize a local establishment, opening in a heavily Asian American community, that draws upon and glorifies this negative stereotype of Asian women would be irresponsible.

Moreover, while the link between a bar named “geisha” and depression is not direct, dehumanizing stereotypes left unchallenged in mainstream media often lead to conflicted and unhealthy self-image problems. After all, no one questions that our society’s predilection for super-skinny images of beauty are contributing factors to high rates of anorexia and bullemia specifically amongst teenaged girls of all races.

That being said, I’m not sure I co-sign the Norcal rapist connection; mainly because I don’t think we know the specific motivations for that dude.