Pseudo-feminism has obscured violence against Asian-American women

Maggie Rowland, Staff Writer

Courtesy of Red Canary Song

The month of March, deemed Women’s History Month, is a highly anticipated section of the year in which we commemorate and encourage the study, observance and celebration of the vital role of women in American history. This year’s celebration of Women’s History Month has been particularly charged with optimism following the recent feminist victory in the 2020 election of Vice President Kamala Harris. Harris is not only the first female in the history of the U.S. to hold this position, but as the biracial daughter of Indian and Jamaican parents, she is also the first woman of color to be elected to this position.

         While gains like Harris’ election symbolize a great victory for feminism and racial equality in the U.S., the recent shooting in Atlanta, Georgia, has lifted the veil that has allowed the disproportionate violence against Asian American women to go unnoticed for so long. On the evening of March 16, 2021, Robert Aaron Long went on a killing spree across various sectors of Atlanta, gunning down four women at Young’s Asian Massage, three women at Gold Spa, and one woman at Aromatherapy Spa. Although six out of the eight victims were women of Asian descent, the police are claiming that race was not a motivating factor in the shootings. The suspect told the police that he had a “sexual addiction” and had carried out the shooting at the massage parlors to eliminate his “temptation,” the authorities reported. The suspect’s mentality reflects a history of men, society and justice systems that have justified sexual violence against women through victim-blaming and minimizing the severity of the issue. While all women face the threat of sexual violence, women of color and specifically Asian women face an even higher risk of sexual violence.

         Violence against Asian American women exists at the intersections of racial and gender bias, which have only been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. In his first prime-time speech as president last week, marking a year of the COVID-19 pandemic, President Joe Biden denounced “vicious hate crimes against Asian Americans, who’ve been attacked, harassed, blamed and scapegoated.” Following the recent attack in Atlanta, many Asian American women shared their own encounters with violence and with the hypersexualization and fetishization that has a long history in the U.S. In a #MeToo-style outpouring on various social media platforms, they recounted being accosted on the street; having strangers discuss their bodies and share their fantasies about being with an Asian woman and so on. The central theme of the stories shared by these women was the “Asian fetish” that exists due to a belief that they will be submissive and subservient both sexually and socially. These stereotypes play a role in the increased vulnerability to violence that Asian American women face, along with the fact that massage businesses, especially those that employ Asian women, are stereotyped and stigmatized in every corner of America, assumed by many to be places where consensual sex is bought and sold, and painted by others as epicenters for exploitation.

         The role that these various stereotypes and stigmatization played in the tragic Atlanta shootings prompted Red Canary Song, a grassroots coalition of Asian American massage spa workers, to frame this discussion and highlight the specific vulnerabilities that Asian American women continue to face that go unnoticed and unaddressed. The mission of Red Canary Song centers base-building with migrant workers through a labor rights framework and mutual aid and believes that full decriminalization is necessary for labor organizing and anti-trafficking. The organization calls for no more police raids and deportations, labor rights for Asian American women in the workplace, regardless of immigration status, and a respected and dignified livelihood for all sex workers and migrant workers.  In response to the Atlanta shootings, Red Canary Song held a vigil for the eight lives lost, set up donation funds for the survivors and families, and has raised awareness of the reality of sexual violence and discrimination that Asian American women endure.

         Organizations such as Red Canary Song are working to repair and inform the feminist agenda that still often lacks a thoroughly intersectional approach to violence against women. This recent act of violence against Asian American women and the lack of discussion surrounding the instance even amidst the celebrations of Women’s History Month have shed light on the need for an intersectional approach to feminism. Without intersectional feminism, millions of women are left out of the narrative and threaten the very mission of women’s equality that is central to the concept of feminism. Red Canary Song has left the world with an important message that puts the integrity of your feminism to the test. If your feminism is not intersectional, it is not feminism.