lifestyle

"I am not your Asian Sidekick."

Suey Park, who started the ‘Not Your Asian Sidekick’ hashtag.

There’s something you may or may not have noticed about Asian characters in most mainstream film and television productions.

That is, they’re not really there. There aren’t that many roles for Asian women.

And when there are roles, Asian women are frequently relegated to supporting character status. The quirky best friend of Katherine Heigl. The overachieving (surgeon) colleague of Reese Witherspoon. The bad-ass martial arts master in… pretty much any action movie with a hunky, white male lead.

We’ve written at Mamamia before about the difficulties that women face in Hollywood (the dearth of quality roles, age barriers, etc.). But for women of colour, the barriers are twice as great.

Unfortunately, the same could be said for, well, life.

Women of colour – whether Indigenous, African-American, Asian, Hispanic, or otherwise – are not represented as vocally in contemporary feminist debate as white women. And the concerns of white women are more likely to get media attention.

This is what Suey Park, a freelance writer, wanted to get people talking about when she started the hashtag #NotYourAsianSidekick on Twitter.

First she tweeted:

And then, within a matter of only hours, Asian women from around the world were sharing their frustrations regarding a feminist movement that is predominantly concerned with the issues of white women – and a world that stereotypes, patronises, belittles and disregards Asian women.

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Or even makes them invisible.

Suey Park decided to get people talking about the role of feminism in the lives of Asian women online, because she sees it as a democratic – and powerful – platform to talk about change.

In an interview with Monique Jones on Moniqueblog, Park explained, “It’s important to remember that Twitter isn’t a disconnected world. People and their ideas are represented on Twitter and it’s an extension of their experiences.”

While some media commentators were critical of the ability of a hashtag like #NotYourAsianSidekick to make any real difference, Park said “hashtags are supposed to be a starting place for people.” She continued:

“I saw people as young as school-aged girls tweeting me and emailing me, saying, ‘Hey, I didn’t notice that, as the only Asian in school, that I didn’t want to be seen with other people of color because I’m already marked as different. I’m going to start speaking out in high school because my teacher definitely treats me like a model minority and thing that I have Tiger Mom parents, etc.’…

So, imagine what it means if thousands of young girls and high school girls were participating in this hashtag and… starting to figure out what racial and gender politics are… and entering college with that intention?”

The kinds of ideas Asian women discussed using the hashtag were as varied as patriarchy in Asian-American cultures, the under representation of Asian women in the media, and Asian stereotypes.

Lucy Liu in television series Elementary.

Asian feminist writers have been discussing these ideas for years, and Asian women in the spotlight – like Lucy Liu – have also talked about racism in the media before.

Liu spoke about the issue of stereotyping of Asian women in Hollywood in Net-A-Porter, where she said that, “I wish people wouldn’t just see me as the Asian girl who beats everyone up, or the Asian girl with no emotion. People see Julia Roberts or Sandra Bullock in a romantic comedy, but not me.

“It [becomes], ‘Well, she’s too Asian’, or, ‘She’s too American’. I kind of got pushed out of both categories. It’s a very strange place to be. You’re not Asian enough and then you’re not American enough, so it gets really frustrating.”

The fantastic thing about the #NotYourAsianSidekick is that it allows everyday Asian women – anyone with a Twitter account – to join the debate. It allows the debate to reach a whole new generation of women.

It can empower women to look at certain situations in their life and think, ‘Yes, I want to change something.’

And that’s the first step.

Do you think a hashtag like ‘not your asian sidekick’ has the potential to inspire real change in people’s attitudes? 

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