State House Representative Gerald Brady at a press conference. Screenshot of footage by NBC10.
Content warning: Racist and sexist slurs
In late June, Delaware State Representative Gerald Brady (D) sparked backlash after an email he wrote was published by Delaware Online / The News Journal. In the email (which Brady sent from his official government email address to the email sender rather than to its intended recipient), Brady criticized efforts to protect sex workers using racist and sexist slurs referring to Asian women.
The email sender had forwarded to Brady a Princeton study that had found that decriminalization of sex work in New York City had led to a reduction in sex crimes, and had called on Brady to support efforts to decriminalize sex work in Delaware. Neither the original email nor the attached study made any mention of Asian or Asian American women.
In an exchange on the House floor that might otherwise have gone entirely overlooked, Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington, 7th District) — the first Indian American woman to be elected to Congress — shut down her colleague, Representative Don Young (R-Alaska) for addressing her as “young lady” and saying that she “doesn’t know a damn thing what she’s talking about.” (Transcript of the exchange available here related to Amendment No. 43.)
The exchange took place Thursday on the floor of the House of Representatives during a debate over an amendment sponsored by Representative Young that would repeal federal regulations against controversial hunting practices in wildlife reserves, such as the use of artificial lights and certain forms of bait to lure animals towards areas where they can be shot at point-blank range, as well as the shooting of bear cubs or wolf pups during denning season. Jayapal, who is 51 years old and a former civil rights attorney currently serving her first term in the House, gave remarks on the floor outlining her concerns with the proposed amendment. Reports The Seattle Times:
“These national lands are intended to be enjoyed by all Americans, including those who visit and hope to have the rare opportunity to see bears and wolves in their natural habitats,” Jayapal said. “These are reasonable regulations that prevent cruel hunting practices.”
Young, however, took issue with those comments, and took to the floor to attempt a patronizing, sexist takedown of Representative Jayapal. While dismissing her as a “young lady”, Young chastised Jayapal as someone who “doesn’t know a damn thing what she’s talking about.” Deriding her commentary as “really nonsense”, Young accused Jayapal of parroting talking points written for her by animal rights groups.
This is easily one of my favourite crowd-funded projects I’ve ever had the privilege of being able to support.
Have you ever been accused of playing your [race/gender/other form of oppression] card? Now, the next time someone treats you to some unrelentingly microaggressive behaviour, you can whip out your real life, actual oppression card and use it to help communicate your feelings about your most aggravating -isms!
There’s this presumption that we as minority women can divorce our feminism from our race advocacy, and — more importantly — that we should. Among White feminists, the sticky issues of race and racism are rarely addressed; or when the existence of race is acknowledged, it is treated with such appalling clumsiness as to render theoretically feminist safe spaces decidedly unsafe for women of colour.
Among communities of colour, aspersions are also sometimes cast against WOC feminists. Sidelong glances are thrown in our direction because we understand that race oppression does not occur in a vacuum, and we dare to include within our race activism an integrated focus on the twin spectres of misogyny and male privilege. We present an intersectional politic that intermixes race and gender privilege with oppression, but we are often asked to mute our feminism and decenter ourselves in the name of blind racial solidarity. Talking about White patriarchy is okay, they say, but patriarchy in communities of colour must be taboo. The Movement, they say, requires a unified front. Feminism, they say, is a distraction from the Cause. Those of us who refuse to divorce our feminism from our race advocacy, they say, are misandrists and sellouts. Never mind, of course, that some of Asian America’s most dedicated civil rights legends — including Grace Lee Boggs, Yuri Kochiyama, Helen Zia and Patsy Mink — were self-identified Asian American feminists whose feminist work is treated as completely compartmentalized from their other advocacy.
To ask that feminists of colour be only feminist in feminist spaces, and only POC in POC spaces, is to ask the impossible: I cannot sometimes be only a woman and sometimes only be Asian American. I am both these things at all times; so too, therefore, are my politics.
Three years ago, Ellen Pao — former junior partner of Silicon Valley venture capital group Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers — filed a lawsuit against her former employers, citing a pattern of bias against female employees; yesterday, lawyers in her suit against Kleiner completed their closing statements with a plea for greater efforts to address gender equality in the tech industry. Pao’s suit alleges that Pao was harassed, and eventually fired, from Kleiner for challenging a culture of sexual harassment within her former company.
Throughout the Pao trial, Pao has courageously endured the usual victim-blaming, character assassination and mudslinging used to dismiss, invalidate, and insubstantiate the experiences of women. She has been tone policed. She has been slut-shamed. She has been labelled a gold digger. She has been accused of being untalented, amateurish, and unprofessional. The message Kleiner’s lawyers are trying to communicate is clear: Ellen Pao is lone voice trying to capitalize off an imagined gender problem in Silicon Valley.
The problem for Silicon Valley is that Ellen Pao is not alone.