Monday, April 30, 2007

Feminism's Discourse

I just returned from a conference in Boston for Asian-American women to discuss issues of leadership. It's a Boston-based conference and intended for all aged women - highschool, college, or professional age. (It being held at Harvard is a clear message too, this invitation targeted those in the academy.)

I met some wonderful individuals, women with whom I hope to spend time with when I move there, hopefully to build a community with. While I was there, I spent much time in contemplation about my feminism, my radicalness, and my life as a Filipina women. I have come to some slightly distraught conclusions about feminism.

A panel of Asian-American women were formed. Their task was to talk about how to utilize the media in their everyday lives. As a blogger, I have taken more interest in grassroots organizations, understanding that the more mainstream something is, the less accurate its depiction of reality. Mainstream, to be mainstream, something must be warm. It cannot be cold, it cannot be hot, it must be warm. It must be warm so EVERYONE can relate to it, so as many people as possible can be comfortable. Challenging topics are watered down so they, at best, are given a nudging reminder to be somewhat aware (e.g. global violence, global warming, the war, etc). And fear is used to freeze people in their lives, promoting defensiveness, suspicion, and vigilance from "the killers among us" (a CNN report in reponse to VT) to "can you really trust your pharmacist?" Fear, Fear, Fear.

Anyway, these mainstream media Asian-Americans (AA), were commenting on how to pitch a story to journalists, what their opinion was of the VT coverage and racial tension, and such. [insert big pats on the back for the panelists]

A bit tired at the unrelatedness to the larger theme (Meangingful Leadership Among AA)I stood up and asked a question, "Given the complexities of the differing cultures, races, and heritage of those labeled 'Asian-American,' what do you personally and/or professionally think about the umbrella term being used to lump everyone together?"

and this was the reply as she looked me in the eye:

"I wouldn't get bogged down by details like that. I would encourage you to just embrace the term 'Asian-American' and not try to constantly separate yourself and divide us any more than we already are. We're only 4% of the population as is."

The facilitator went on to say, "I think we have something to learn from other cultures. Whites have embraced their term Caucasian. African-Americans do not dispute over the term 'Black,' as much we do. There seems to be power in unifying and not creativing division. Perhaps this is what Asians need to do - group together for power."

Mhm - ignore the rich differences all in the name of "unity" and "power." Where, oh where, have I heard that before?

I looked around and no one had a comment. No one had enough fucking guts to disagree, even though I saw the disagreement in their eyes. I stared back at her, not coldly, not defiantly, but with unblinking, unafraid eyes. "BOGGED DOWN?" Are you kidding me? Oh, I guess I should have clarified the weight of my question. NOTE: ADD ADDENDUM TO QUESTION, IDENTIFY THE RELATED ISSUES OF IDENTITY, CULTURAL TRENDS OF THE MEDIA, AND RACISM.

Apart of me admonished myself for asking a news anchor what she thought about these troubling isses. And then I realized, I didn't ask her because she was sitting on a panel, I asked her because she was perceived to be a leader. She was sitting on this panel because she was labeled a leader. She was labeled a leader because she has "made strides" for "Asian-Americans" and apparently getting a "scoop" and your face on TV makes strides for AA and is what leadership is all about. Leadership, from this panel, explored the outdated and futile method of leading by visibility. It explored the kind of leadership that upholds the vociferous, not the thoughtful.

A lesson that I must learn over and over again is perception doesn't mean shit. Just because someone is a person of color doesn't mean they've personally explored what being a POC means to them. A leadership conference entitled leadership doesn't necessarily guarantee that MY definition of leadership will be considered. The dicotomous challenge for leadership conference event planners is emphasizing leadership on the community level and then filling your panel with individuals who do such work. But the mistake comes when the event planners revert to finding the high-profile "leaders." The ones who are senior advisors to Hillary Clinton for education issues (my small group leader) and editors of national magazines (plenary session speaker). "Cultural change" is measured by numbers, economic status, and education, and mindful contribution to capitalism. ("Support indie films, not Hollywood," which is a valid point, but is a bit ironical in that particular situation).

The hard-cheek issues we are looking for as a global community are not found by mainstream media, they are being affronted by the grassroots people who are less than rich, seen, visible, and heard. They are the writers, artists, activists, and educators who are not connected by the spokes to the bigger wheel. They are found, most often, reflecting, offering, criticizing, and intiating on much, much smaller levels. They are the ones who balance setback with liberation, laughter and shame, learning with prayer. They are the ones I am looking for.

The timeliness of my return from that conference to this morning's ritual of checking in with the feminist blogosphere is uncanny. I am a contributing writer for the Feminist Review and was reading their review of Jessica Valenti's book, Full, Frontal Feminism which I've posted about before. And upon clicking on links, have found nasty, nasty diatribes going back and forth. I don't know where it started, I don't know if it's over, I just know it's ugly and hardly surprising.

I have begun to read Valenti's book and can tell you right NOW that I will not finish it because it's more of the same found on feministing (again, beside the former link above, I do not link to the site) which targets young, white, heterosexual, USA's middle women. Often, I've asked myself since last Tuesday when it was delivered, why would I even both to pay for a book and read what I most likely will vehemently disagree. Well, the hard thing about being an aspiring cultural critic is that you have to be in tap with trends and acknowledge what others pay attention. There are self-arguments I make with myself, "Why support and grow the audience?" For this, though, for feminism, I choose not to look away from what I find short-changing, racist, and dangerously shallow. If my bi-culturalism can be used for something productive, I would like to utilize to understand two worlds and possible offer a translation and provide forecasting warnings or imminent victories.

Regardless of my personal views of the book, what is most disheartening is the reaction of the catfight's audience. So many "feminists" strain and moan over the disruptive noise of disagreement. They don't like difference. Peaceful = Sameness = Progression. And women are excellently prepared to make disagreements personal. Females, usually, are trained to go straight for the emotional jugular. It's disheartening, and it just plain pisses me off.

If we're going to create a stink, let's create a stink about the Movement. Let's create a stink and ask questions that are informed, well-rounded and probe the text, not the author. And commenters! Why pick sides to what is clearly an online feud? Why add to the pettiness, why load the gun with your own personal ammunition? Let people duke it over and if you must comment (not excluding myself) get to the real issues: feminism's discourse and the inability to passionately listen and, with a non-defensive persona, respond without hostile conflict. If our feminist "leaders" want to cyber slingshot their personal vendettas, my stance is to let them go at it, post a reminder to get over ourselves, and not get caught in the cross-fire.

There is a place for online disagreement and it has incredible benefits of growth and community formation, but when common differences unfold into accusation and repudiation, I once again blush from feminist embarrassment, the flush from feminist rage, (this is how feminism is being represented?) and look for alternative leadership.


  1. Eek, I'm sorry you had a bad experience with that conference. Especially in academia, people seem to be glued to the multi-culturalism approach to POC identity politics. You know... the "melting pots" and group clumping.

    I hope you didn't have a bad experience with Boston just because of the conference. Its actually got some cool organizations like Boston Progress and the Asian American Resource Workshop. I am also planning to move to Boston (in June). I've been visiting often in the area. Let me know if you need someone to show you around!

    I promise, no group clumping required.

  2. on a local level, my mother came home today stating that she would rather work with men than women on civic tasks because her work with a fellow female on an issue in the neighborhood association was not going well. Women always want control and are catty she said. I asked- "Do women grasp for control less than men?" No, but they are indirect, catty, and want other people to take on their opinions, instead of positing them for themselves. We women must be direct and unapologetic in our criticism and interactions. Whether dealing with the busybody down the street, the feminist author, or the high caliber news anchor. I for one am thrilled that you as a blogger are direct in your thoughts, critical in your questions, and publishing every single word of it all.


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