Steffi Cao: Sidelined conversations

Tuesday, November 7, 2017 - 5:38pm

This is for the Asian/Pacific Islander American social justice community at the University of Michigan — the people who have become my family.

Dear Family,

The time I’ve spent with Asian-American men who claim to be so “intersectional feminist” has proven we’re clearly standing at the wrong intersections. Because for boys who call themselves “involved in the community” of A/PIA activists, who hold high positions in A/PIA social justice and cultural organizations, they seem to have forgotten that you can be A/PIA and be a woman at the same time. I’ve spent so many late nights with other women in this community, whispering about a comment made on their sexuality by a boy who brands himself as “trying to be cognizant of his privilege.” And yet, that’s the whole point: we whisper. Because any attempt to open this conversation has been brushed over with performative nods of agreement and assuring us they’re trying their best. But I don’t fuck with the Social Justice Warrior label being used as a point of pride and a defense; this conversation does not belong on the sidelines between women in hushed voices anymore.

Dear Family,

These microaggressions that manifest into jokes and side comments matter. Laughing at a girl for telling you that she abstained from sex will impact her self-esteem and might drive her to make decisions she doesn’t completely want to make. Calling girls “trashy” for being in a sorority is not only condescending, it’s objectively wrong. If your friend tells you she doesn’t want to be felt up at a party, saying “what’s the big deal?” is incredibly disrespectful to her personal autonomy. And it seems so ridiculous to say these things to people who are supposed to know this already, yet it is somehow still necessary. Because these comments evolve into reputations, and reputations create impacts, whether being denied leadership positions, not being taken seriously in academic settings or losing confidence in your own work and general self-esteem.

Dear Family,

In a community where women care just as much, work just as hard and sometimes know twice as much as their male counterparts, they put up with receiving half the credit, especially in large A/PIA organizations. Women in these spaces are constantly treated as if we’re just working on a fun social justice project, rather than doing the same work that the men are doing. We’re told our visibility “isn’t a problem like it used to be,” and that plenty of places are run by women now, so obviously the problem has been solved. Men leading organizations expect to be applauded every time they mention supporting women of color, but constantly ignore, diminish and push aside the work women in their own organizations do. They claim to be allies while talking over us, repeating points we have already made, belittling the efforts we put in and conveniently forgetting to give credit where credit is due. They think they’ve worked for everything they have while completely forgetting the support they’ve received from women of color along the way. And social justice is not an area you have to know the most about at all times, but in terms of leadership, some women are more qualified than some men to answer questions and explain concepts, yet don’t earn the same respect men do in this community.

Dear Family,

I am worried this will be brushed off as just another one of those feminist things. I especially don’t want the applause from white pussy hat-wearing feminists, because this is pertaining to a community that has been hurt by white privilege as well. But I’m worried the conversation among ourselves will conclude, yes, of course we should respect women, but then die out when it comes to making concrete action.

Dear Family,

I have so much love for this group of people, and I am proud of what we are trying to achieve. But it is not acceptable for these women to put in the work without receiving the recognition. It’s not acceptable that so many of them feel badly about their own choices or sexualities because some boy told them they should be ashamed. So it’s definitely not acceptable for men in this community to read through this article and not make strides for concrete change.

Dear Family,

I love you, but we have some work to do.