HomeAsian AmericansAsian women face deadly, double burdens of racism and sexism

Asian women face deadly, double burdens of racism and sexism

By Rhiannon Koh, AsAmNews Staff Writer

A year ago in March, a white man went to 3 different Atlanta-area spa parlors and murdered 8 people, most of them Asian women, with the intent to destroy the source of his supposed sex addiction.

A little less than a year later in Albuquerque, New Mexico, shootings at 2 Asian-owned spas resulted in the deaths of 2 Asian women.

And in New York City, just a few weeks apart from each other, Michelle Go was pushed to her death towards an oncoming subway train, and Christina Yuna Lee was fatally stabbed 40 times in her own apartment.

The violent murders of these Asian women are not just recent trends, but tragic, almost inevitable occurrences rooted in racist and imperial histories. Compared to their male counterparts, Asian women are twice as likely to report verbal, physical, and sexual harassment, shared Cynthia Choi, one of the co-founders of Stop AAPI Hate.

“The fetishization, the sexual objectification of Asian women can be traced back to the 1800s when it became policy to ban Chinese women under the pretext that they were immoral and engaged in prostitution,” Choi explained.

What Choi is referring to is the Page Act of 1875. The law prohibited the recruitment of unfree laborers and women for “immoral purposes.” However, it was primarily enforced against the Chinese and worked to restrict Asian immigration without explicitly saying it was about race.

What ensued was centuries of stereotypes and degradation that painted Asian women solely as sexual conquests. Furthermore, U.S. military involvement in the past century in countries like Korea, Vietnam, and even post-WW2 Japan resulted in the prostitution of hundreds of thousands of women forced to sell their bodies for the pleasure of U.S. military men.  

Choi also added that the increase in attacks against Asian Americans has roots in such violent legacies and the fact “that [our country has] had extended periods of anti-immigrant policies, racist rhetoric, and policies by our elected officials has especially put our communities in harm’s way. It’s really important to know that the former president was probably one of the worst examples, but he was merely carrying on an American tradition.”

AsAmNews also spoke with Amanda Nguyen, the founder and CEO of Rise, a non-governmental civil rights organization which got its start advocating for sexual assault survivors. Nguyen, who is of Vietnamese descent and is the daughter of refugees, cited her family’s experiences living in the shadow of the American military.

“There is a need for responsible representation,” Nguyen said. “The first part to healing in any journey is acknowledging that there is an issue, and there is a deep issue in the way that [Hollywood and the mainstream media] portray and fetishize Asian women.”

Asian women are literally dying to be heard.

Amanda Nguyen, Founder and CEO of Rise

Nguyen mentioned how the highly controversial, 1989 play, Miss Saigon serves as a reminder of the unsavory legacy of the violence against and the objectification of Asian women. The story is about a Vietnamese orphan who is forced into prostitution, falls in love with an American G.I., and later, bears his son. The play ends with her suicide.

Nguyen also expressed her support for Asian American women and their efforts to organize. She said, “Asian women do bear the brunt of both sexism and racism, and we are literally dying to be heard. There are so many API women organizers who’ve been organizing for decades, and it shouldn’t take gruesome deaths for people to hear us.”

“There is absolutely space for joy in this difficult moment,” Nguyen concluded. “Each community has its own solutions. I think focusing on education and focusing on public health solutions are first steps towards progress.”

Learn more about Rise’s AAPI visibility pledge here as well as their petition to add more AAPI history to school curricula.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Hey everyone, I wrote this article and I understand that I failed to offer concrete solutions. Unfortunately, however, I think the reason for this is the way governance is run in this country. In the cases of Michelle Go and Christina Yuna Lee, houseless individuals were responsible for these attacks. While these perpetrators should be justly tried, the fact that they were free and out on the streets at all begs the question: what is the US government doing for mentally ill and vulnerable populations?

    NYC Mayor Eric Adams announced his plans to tackle homelessness by dismantling encampments in subway stations. On the eve of the Super Bowl, Los Angeles cleared out homeless populations situated near the SoFi Stadium. It’s no secret that homelessness has long plagued American society. Government funds prioritizing military and law enforcement have often taken precedent over much needed sectors such as education, public infrastructure/transportation, and public health. Accordingly, issues like homelessness are often swept under the rug and marked as ‘solved’ until another tragedy arises.

    In my talks with Cynthia Choi & Amanda Nguyen, they both spoke about the need of improving and proposing policies that better address these social ills. However, as is clear, most social problems are inextricably linked with other ones and so, makes it imperative for American society to create intersectional solutions that can create sustainable and lasting change.

    With femicide at the heart of this issue, I want to say it matters not the woman’s skin color. The fight for female reproductive autonomy, the way sexual assault survivors are treated/ridiculed, etc. constantly shows how little women are valued and respected. With normalized sayings like ‘boys will be boys’ and even some practices of internalized misogyny in families and the individual, women, let alone Asian women, are bearing the brunt of centuries of sexism.

    The best advice I can give to all women is to stay vigilant and learn how to defend yourself. We shouldn’t have to be the ones to regulate ourselves in the face of male violence, but it’s the reality of the world. Keep your friends close. Be vigilant and aware of your surroundings. Carry pepper spray and other defensible items if you can.

    For the AAPI community specifically, our AAPI brothers can just be as misogynistic & sexist. AAPI men who blame Asian women of having a white fetish/having exclusively white partners are also rendering AAPI women as voiceless objects who must subscribe to what their patriarchal communities want them to do. Stop. Please understand that empowering and protecting our AAPI sisters also begins with recognizing their inherent human value and ability to choose.

    Are there solutions? Yes. Will it be easy? No. But it needs to come from us and our willingness to listen and give space to those who have been treated as second-class citizens for so long.

    Support AAPI groups and ask how/what they’re doing to support women and other vulnerable communities. Participate in women’s groups. Listen and learn. Pursue political activism. Read up on history and start conversations with others.

    The sooner one of our communities gets help, the faster the rest of us can heal.

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