Patriarchy and Invisibility: An Asian American Woman’s Silencing
Asian American woman have lived and suffered in a problematic cycle of racism from the wider community and patriarchy from within the Asian American community.
I attended my first Feminist Studies in Religion (FSR) Leadership meeting in June 2014 and learned a lot about its history and its organization. Through this meeting, I came to appreciate the long historical development, as well as the goals and achievements of the FSR.
During a casual lunch conversation, a few of us were brainstorming on what the next roundtable topic might be for the next FSR journal publication. I suggested that we focus a roundtable around Asian American Feminist Theology. I wondered if there had already been a journal edition that already covered such an issue.
While going through the archives of the journal publication, we discovered that there has never been a roundtable on Asian American Feminist Theology during the past thirty years. This reality hit me hard. It reinforced my own understanding of how Asian American women and their role have become invisible within the dominant culture and society. This is another example of how woman are pushed to the margins and left there. At the margins is not a suitable place to be as they are often unseen and unheard by patriarchal leaders of their community.
This invisibility needs to be challenged within the religious community and also within the national Asian American community which still operates under patriarchy. It is time Asian American women earn a voice in community, religious and national issues.
I have been working with Rev. Jesse Jackson on the Kenneth Bae case for some time. We have been working with the Bae family and various government officials on trying to obtain Kenneth Bae’s release from a prison in North Korea. He was sentenced in November 2012 for trying to overthrow the North Korean government.
I have written about Kenneth Bae for Sojourners and EthicsDaily.com. I have also co-written pieces with the Rev. Jesse Jackson about Kenneth Bae for The Nation and for The Huffington Post. However, it was our last co-written piece, also for The Huffington Post, that caused me some sleepless nights. It was not due to comments to our posts, as they normally come after publication. It was an article which followed our post written by Steve Han, “Jesse Jackson: ‘We Need to Remember Kenneth Bae’” for KoreAm News.
Before explaining the effect of this article, I must say that I am glad the Korean American community is recognizing the Rev. Jackson’s work. He has continued to work for all marginalized communities and has fought for an equal playing field so that everyone can have equal opportunities. Therefore I give thanks that the Korean American community can somehow acknowledge the Rev. Jackson as being part of the fight towards Asian American’s journey towards equality.
If this article by Steve Han had only talked about the Rev. Jackson’s work, it would have been excellent. However, the article reinforced the perpetual invisibility of Asian American women when it cited a “column for the Huffington Post” but failed to acknowledge my role in writing the column.
The Huffington Post is clearly a co-authored piece, written by Rev. Jackson and myself. However, Steve Han conveniently omitted my name as a co-author of the article. Han writes, “In his column for the Huffington Post, Jackson wrote, ‘Rather than mediation, there is mutual agitation and antagonism….The Korean peninsula remains the only part of the world still divided as a result of post WWII agreements.’” This failure to credit the co-author appropriately is doubly odd in a posting within a Korean interest publication.
References to Asian American women are suppressed within our history as well as in our present society. Let’s remember chapter one, entitled “No-Name Woman,” in Maxine Hong Kingston’s book, The Woman Warrior where she recalls her aunt’s suicide after the town people decided to raid her aunt’s house because she was pregnant not by her husband. It brought so much disgrace to her family that after she gave birth to her daughter in the pigsty, she drowned herself and her baby in the family well. Her story and life was not to be remembered. This simple story demonstrates so many aspects of patriarchy and shame and how a woman’s history, life and story can be eliminated from our consciousness and context.
This elimination of women’s lives, stories and her-stories occurs too often in Asian American history. In Korea, many women’s names are eliminated, as they become known as “so-and so’s” mother, daughter or wife. The identity of the women becomes submerged under the identity of a male relative.
Steve Han’s article could have easily said that the Rev. Jackson and Grace Ji-Sun Kim have co-written a piece on Kenneth Bae, but he decided to eliminate me from the Huffington Post article credits. Han continued to quote Rev. Jackson four more times in his article without any reference to me.
Racism exists within North America, but we must not forget that patriarchy is deeply embedded within the Asian and Asian American culture. Patriarchy has such deep roots that the editors of this Korean interest journal failed to raise any questions about my co-authorship of this article being overlooked. The patriarchal culture that permeates the Korean American community makes it all right to eliminate the voices of women. Women are subordinate and therefore their silence is acceptable and even welcomed.
Racism as well as patriarchy has led to my invisibility in different situations and circumstances. In this Korean American publication, patriarchy carried the most weight. The single comment posted to the article noted how this was an atypical subject for Rev. Jackson. Including the Korean name as an author would have eliminated that puzzlement.
Patriarchy should not dictate the ways in which Asian American women voices are treated. All people, but particularly Asian Americans, should ensure that women’s voices are not silenced, ignored or eliminated. We need to speak in many forums to have the Asian American patriarchy exposed.
The Church can be a place where Asian American women are recognized and heard. Women have been crucial in building the Church and in developing feminist theologies. So it is important to remember that women have been ignored. We know that women have been there with Jesus.