A term that gets thrown around a lot in the Asian American community is “Asian Baby Girl,” or “ABG” for short. An ABG is known to frequent raves, have bleach blonde tips, sport tattoos, date b-boys and, without hesitation, fight anyone talking smack about her. Some people jokingly describe themselves as ABGs while others aspire to be them.
My feelings about the ABG have been complicated. I grew up in a mostly traditional Vietnamese household, where I was taught that femininity was exemplified by softness and reservation, which really meant being submissive in practice. I always held my tongue around elders (including a cousin who was only six months older than I was) because they were supposed to know best. Out of “respect” for myself and those surrounding me, I had to uphold a modest and natural appearance — I was not allowed to dye my hair or wear makeup. I never would have dreamed about doing any of the things associated with the ABG lifestyle lest my family disown me.
During my college years, however, I learned to see the ABG’s way of life not as an antithesis to femininity but as a valid, alternative form of it. Her glam makeup defies conservative Asian beauty standards and affirms the presence of people of color in the cosmetic industry, whose products and techniques have long been created to specifically complement white women’s features. At the same time, her knowledge of American pop culture and taste for streetwear are a reminder that she grew up in the States and that this is her home too. In short, the ABG exudes a uniquely Asian American sense of femininity.
I admire the ABG for being unapologetic about herself and her interests.
Recently, after a family friend witnessed an argument between me and my father, she asked my father if he regretted having a daughter, suggesting that I had failed as one when I challenged his beliefs and reinforcing the old idea that the best way to be feminine is to be invisible. This was a case in which a woman was upholding the patriarchy by keeping another woman (me) in line, and it made me realize that I had been doing something similar by dismissing the ABG for being a “bad woman” (and not “bad” as in attractive or amazing, but “bad” as in the opposite of good).
Now, do not misunderstand me — I am not saying that the ABG is the perfect woman, either. I am merely trying to show that there is some merit in what the ABG represents, that she is not rebellious just for the sake of rebellion. Though the ABG has her faults (we should not go around throwing punches at the first person who speaks unfavorably about us), it is refreshing to see that a woman can defend herself and be revered for it. Further, those characteristics traditionally associated with femininity are not inherently problematic. I do think that I am soft, for example, but I regard my softness as more of a strength than a weakness. It usually makes me empathetic and is why, in my pre-medical education, I care so much about bedside manner (i.e., I believe that doctors should be sensitive to their patients’ emotional needs). I do not have to abandon the qualities that make me who I am to appreciate alternative forms of femininity. Instead, I retain the qualities that I take pride and work to develop those that I admire in other women. True feminine power is exhibited when a woman lives her life according to her own values, and while we should praise women who are able to do so, we should also be cognizant of the social and structural forces at play.