Stop Asian Hate: A history of racism and sexism towards Asian women and how to create change

by | Mar 24, 2021

Do we matter?


This is a question I ask myself, when the conversation about racism rarely ever centres around the voices of Asian American/Canadians. Especially centering the experiences of Asian women.


And when we talk about anti-Asian racism and violence, are we considering the intersections of sexism and misogyny Asian women experience from the hetero patriarchy, both in mainstream and our own cultures?


I’ve been pushing for more of these conversations for a long time. I’ve always been told I was “too sensitive, too smart, too feisty (emotional?) or too passionate.”


Are boys ever told they’re too smart?

I’m aware all these comments were said to stop me from speaking up too much. To encourage me to be a 乖女, “good girl.” As much as this may have been well-intentioned, it doesn’t help shape change.


Sexism and Misogyny within Asian Communities

Feature photo from Mulan, 1998


Traditionally in our culture, women are taught to put men and boys first. I see this within my own family, cousins and friends. Within my community but also with society at large, the bar is set lower for boys and men. To use the story of Mulan as an example, girls are told to behave, bring honour to the family. It’s why she’s so badass!


When we become women, we are expected to be good wives and mothers. Despite the fact that times have changed, and families have progressed, the more blatant sexism my mother and grandmother experienced is only one to two generations away. It feeds into our modern lives today.


Do we matter as people outside of being wives and mothers in the traditional Asian family hetero patriarchy?


And I haven’t even got into Asian family values and LGBTQ2S+ individuals.


The truth is, we all benefit from a more gender-equal society, including men and boys. Intersectional Feminism, coined by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, a Black American law professor, benefits us all.


I see these conversations on anti-Asian violence, “Stop AAPI HATE! Stop Asian Violence!” And while I know there are good intentions behind these, and people must and should speak up, we’re missing a big part of the picture of this whole situation.


The Shooting in Atlanta that Targeted Asian Women

The shooting in Georgia resulted in the death of 8 people, 6 of whom were Asian women.


Capt Jay Baker said in a media interview when discussing the suspect, “yesterday was a really bad day for him and this was what he did.”


It was later discovered this sheriff has promoted racist content on his own Facebook, sharing T-shirts with Corona beer with a biohazard symbol and caption saying, “Imported virus from Chy-na.”


White male privilege is committing a mass shooting and not being labelled a terrorist. It’s the sheriff stating that these horrific murders were a result of a “sexual temptation” he was trying to eliminate, in some way putting the blame on these women.


This “sexual temptation” targeted towards Asian women who work at massage parlours. There is lots to unpack.

There’s a History and We See it in Media

Image: Madame Butterfly

In 1875 before the Chinese Exclusion Act, Chinese women were barred from coming to the United States, under the premise that they were all prostitutes, scapegoated as bringing sexually transmitted diseases as a threat to white, Christian American families. In Canada, the Chinese Exclusion Act came in 1923.


White Imperial American wars in Asia also contributed to the fetishization of Asian women. The Philippine-American War, World War 2, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, where western white male soldiers seek to dominate and conquer the exotic, submissive Asian woman and live out their sexual fantasies abroad. It’s further seen in the overt presence of Asian women in pornography, mail order brides, and the stereotype in media of the hypersexual, submissive Asian woman. Miss Saigon, Madame Butterfly, and Full Metal Jacket (1987) are films I can’t watch because of how Asian women are depicted.

Racialized, Sexual Violence Against Asian Women

 Media depictions of Asian women as hypersexualized, docile and submissive are also some of the reasons why Asia has a booming sex tourism industry. Almost two-thirds of human trafficking victims in the world are Asian.


It’s why 21-55% of Asian women in the U.S. experience intimate physical and or sexual violence during their lifetime. Gender-based violence and racism is also why Asian women reported 2.3 times more hate crimes than men during this pandemic according to AAPI Hate.


These are American stats but in Canada, we see similarities. Trailblazer activist and lawyer Avvy Go said most Asian Canadians who speak out about being attacked whether verbally or physically are women.


And when it comes to dating, we experience fetishization in the form of yellow fever. I know my Asian sisters experience this in the dating app world. Men with yellow fever who swipe based on ethnicity and on stereotypes.



The Model Minority Myth

“But your people are so successful.”


“You have it so good.”

Image: New York Times 




I hear this so often and it frustrates me because it uses the stereotype of most of us being doctors to minimize our struggles as Asians. When the success argument is used, it’s a way to stop us from speaking out. There is also a significant wealth gap between Asian groups, with many South East Asian groups having the lowest household incomes in North America.


Image: New York Times 


The model minority myth is also a weapon of white supremacy used to create a wedge between Asians and other minority groups, mainly Black folx. It’s created violence and racism between our communities. And the only winner in the racial battle between Asian and Black folx is white supremacy.


The Model Minority myth is also one of the reasons why it’s so hard for Asians to speak up against racism, sexism, and sexualized racial violence. The argument that “we have it so good (compared to other groups)” will arise to keep us quiet.

Why is it so Hard to Speak Up?

Experiencing the world as an Asian woman involves the intersections of racism, sexism, cultural norms, collectivism and racial sexual violence making it that much harder to stand up for ourselves. When faced with sexual violence or crime, migrant sex workers have an even more difficult time, facing the possibility of deportation if they go to the authorities.


And remember how I mentioned how women are socialized to be “good girls?” Well, good girls don’t raise hell.


I’m in a few Clubhouse rooms for Asian women. Most of us share our experiences. One time a counsellor came into our room. She was a professional who helps women who might be in dangerous situations. She mentioned that in her work, she noticed Asian women experience violence in ways that both white and Black women don’t experience. This inspired deeper reflection on my part, which lead to action…

WATCH the YouTube Video: 

Why Our Parents Don’t Speak Out

If you were raised in an Asian family like me, you probably were raised not to step forward and speak out about issues and concerns. Your parents were raised in a Collectivist culture which puts family and society first before the self. You were raised in an Individualistic one (ie. North America) where one puts themselves before anyone else.


Girls are less often socialized to be leaders, but to be mothers, wives and caregivers. A Collectivist culture also keeps us quiet and well behaved. It’s why the bamboo ceiling exists and why you see few Asians in the C-suite, and far fewer Asian women in those roles.


Our parents also didn’t speak up because it was a means of survival.


“Never give them a reason to not let you stay in the country.”


It’s a privilege to get to speak out. I have privileges afforded to me that allow me to use my voice. Speaking out in the past meant putting a target on your back. It meant people would further alienate you as an Asian family living in the western world. Silence was survival. They had to stay silent, work hard and not create a fuss.

Shame Culture

If a woman experiences violence or sexual violence, she is encouraged not to speak of it. It brings shame to the family.

Most Asian cultures operate on shame culture. It’s also a way to keep us from being our own authentic selves to benefit the family and society. It also prevents you from reporting any violence or sexual violence you may have experienced. There are Asians who believe that if a woman is being abused, she should not tell anyone about the abuse.

My Asian Sisters, I SEE YOU

You are valid and important. Your story is worth sharing. Step forward and take up space. We need your presence and leadership in a world that tries to keep us obedient. We are a different generation than our parents. Fight the good fight and use your influence to make real change in the world. I see some of you doing this and you inspire me to keep using my voice and platform to influence others in a meaningful way.


Chinese women did have influence in Canadian history. Chinese Canadian Women, 1923-1967 is an exhibit I hope to see one day.

Asian Brothers

To my Asian brothers who lift up the women in their lives, thank you. But honestly there are times when I go into Asian rooms on Clubhouse and most of the talking is done by cis-East Asian men. Please do better. Recognize your own privilege in these spaces as men in our hetero patriarchal culture and in society. Raise up your wives, girlfriends, sisters, mothers, daughters, nieces, female cousins, friends and colleagues. Give them the microphone, give them the stage. Let them speak their truth and be heard.


I love the work of Feminist Asian Dad, Eugene Hung: What My Asian Sisters Say

In Memory

These are the victims from the Atlanta shooting. Remember their names:


Soon C. Park, age 74

Hyun J. Grant, age 51

Suncha Kim, age 69

Yong A. Yue, age 63

Delaina Ashley Yaun, age 33

Paul Andre Michels, age 54

Xiaojie Tan, age 49

Daoyou Feng, age 44


Source: Time Magazine


My sincerest condolences to the innocent victims and their families. Rest in peace and power.

Hope and Activism

Image Credit: Jason Leung from Unsplash
If you are speaking out for the first time, I am proud of you. If you are speaking out for the 10000th time, I am proud of you. Know that much of the culture of avoiding activism comes from so many factors. Know that our parents’ lack of speaking out was a means of survival in a xenophobic world that continuously reminded them that they don’t belong.


Know that together as a community, we are grieving and healing. Racism towards Asians has been around for a long time; far before COVID-19 occurred. I wish you healing, love and peace in this difficult time. And I wish you the courage to find your own voice. Know that I am also here alongside you, advocating and pushing for a better world.

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Hi, I’m Michelle!

I’m a media nutrition expert, registered dietitian and Asian food and culture content creator based in Hamilton, ON, Canada.


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