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 mindset— wherein 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.
Last week, toxic masculinity claimed its latest victims. In Mukilteo, Washington, 19-year-old Allen Ivanov has been arrested after driving to a house party where several of his high school friends were gathering, and shooting to death his ex-girlfriend, Anna Bui, along with two fellow classmates, Jordan Ebner and Jake Long; a fourth unidentified friend was also injured in the attack.
Ivanov killed Bui, Ebner and Long, with a legally purchased AR-15 which he appears to have bought specifically to carry out the attack. Pictures of the long-gun were posted to Ivanov’s social media in the days prior to the attack, along with cryptic messages about his plans to carry out the murders. After shooting Bui and their friends, Ivanov escaped and was arrested in his car nearly 100 miles from the scene of the attack. Both Ivanov and Bui were identified as students at the University of Washington, and over the weekend, the school sent out an email mourning the shooting and encouraging students to attend grief counseling.
Friends say that Bui had broken up with Ivanov either a month ago and/or in the week prior to the attack (depending on whom you ask), and she seems to have been the primary target of his assault. One friend told the Daily Mail that Ivanov had been “depressed” after his relationship with Bui ended, and that minutes after the shooting, Ivanov sent a text saying “I just killed my ex-girlfriend” and contemplated suicide. Other friends described Ivanov as incapable of such violence; but, in contrast, that he “often had a jealous side” and that he acted as if he had “something to prove”.
Anna Bui is the latest name in a heartbreaking list of women whose lives were taken by men who resort to violence in the wake of the ending of an intimate relationship — like Bui, many of those women are Asian American women. The role of toxic masculinity and misogylinity, and its assertion of male entitlement over female sexuality, in violent killings such as these cannot be ignored. According to the White House, 40% of mass shootings in the United States begin with a shooter targeting a current or former romantic partner, while intimate partner violence is four times more likely to involve a female victim than a male one. Put another way: 70% of victims killed by an intimate partner are women.
Negative, oftentimes racist, portrayals of Asian Americans have persisted in Western media for over a century. When we are not entirely absent from media representation, we appear mostly in exaggerated and stereotyped form: rodent-like subhumans; alien threats; hypersexualized objects of desire; buffoonish clowns; socially maladjusted nerds; martial artists; criminal gangsters. Too often, these performances are coupled with the absence of even an Asian American face: instead, non-Asian actors adopt these and other stereotypes to enact Asian-ess through yellowface.
A new website — Kulture — now seeks to act as a watchdog for Asian American representation in popular media by inviting crowd-sourced submission of stereotypical depictions for inclusion in their database.