Big Bad Chinese Mamas Creation of Asian American Feminist Community and Online Culture
Despite their anger and activism, Asian women have been seen as submissive, quiet, delicate, and childlike by the mainstream media and society within the United States. These portrayals have occurred for reasons ranging from the political to the economic, all functioning to demobilize Asian American womens communities and agency. Despite the setbacks Asian American women have faced as individuals and as a collective, social and political organization within the community has succeeded in working to combat stereotypes, fighting for social justice, and inspiring a group of a new generation of women, linked through the advancement of technology and the internet, to continue the struggle and give a voice to Asian American women. The focal point of my case study will be a textual analysis of a spoof of mail order Asian bride websites entitled "Big Bad Chinese Mama" (which I will abbreviate as "BBCM"). In addition to using research that investigates the Asian sex-marital trade industry from a feminist and historical perspective, I will also compare the activism and community organizing found in BBCM to other Asian American female centered social justice movements and internet websites.
The mail-order-bride industry has been a global phenomenon since the 1970s, but has colonial roots that stem much further back, linking Asia and the Western world (Robinson 54). Since the fall of the former Soviet Union and its economic collapse, the mail-order-bride industry has spread to marginalize both Asian and Eastern European women in similar manners, offering money and marriage as an unpleasant alternative to life in countries where resources may be scarce. In more recent years, since the advent of the internet, mail-order-brides have become more popular and marketable to Western audiences (Lopez 10). Readily available photographs, biographies, and gross generalizations about entire ethnic groups market women for marriage, sex, and companionship. Asian based websites utilize Orientalist discourses in their advertisements to exoticize Asian women, and differentiate them from women born and raised in Western societies. A description of available Filipina mail order brides says,
"Cheating on their husbands is an unknown phenomenon for them. Asian women can give you that little something that European women are lacking. They are affectionate and radiate an intense warmth and innocent coyness... A man can feel himself a real man with them, something almost forgotten in Europe" (Altink 143).
This description, along with countless others, depicts Asian women as demure, obedient, and the opposite of Western women. Many pictures featured on mail order bride sites display women so obedient that they are willing to take on both "virgin" and "whore" identities, as prospective mates are able to select women based on their weight, age (often younger than 18), and body measurements. The myriads of nude and semi-nude photographs, along with itemized descriptions display these women as objects for consumption.
Dominant notions of Asian womens submissiveness are not exclusive to the sex and marriage trade industry. Stereotypical images of Asian women within the U.S. abide by this same Orientalist discourse, placing Asian women in the categories of exotic, compliant, weak and hyper-sexual (Uchida 167; Zia 132-33; Halualani 1995). Supported by mainstream media and colonialist ideologies, these stereotypes of women have been perpetuated by fictional characters throughout American history. In her website, BBCM, Kristina Wong attempts to combat these stereotypes of Asian American women, while fashioning her site as a spoof of mail-order-bride online catalogues. Created as a senior project, Wong "chose to use the format of a mail-order-bride Web site as a response to the blatant racism, Western stereotyping of the East, and sexist attitudes that are typical of Asian sex sites" (Wong 279).
The "home" page of BBCM features an angry picture of Wong, where she uses her own image to denounce stereotypes of Asian American women as "lovely lotus blossoms". The "Frequently Un-Asked Questions" section poses and answers common questions found on real mail-order-bride sites from a feminist perspective. In it, issues of exoticism linked with Asian culture are discussed and dealt with as stereotypes that lack no validity. The question of English speaking Asian American women is also addressed, acknowledging the presence of Asian American communities throughout the nation for over a century. In addition to these examinations of American culture, the section asserts that Asian mail-order-brides place themselves on sale as an undesirable escape from an even grimmer life in their own countries. The section entitled "Memoirs and an Anti-Geisha" further refutes the idea of Asian American women as meek and gentle, while the photographs found in "Harem of Angst" offer visual representations of strong Asian American women (and men) flexing their muscles, bending metal, and sticking their tongues out in revolt. The images and names of "brides" such as "Phuc Yu" and "Madame Bootiefly" serve as visual and verbal forms of resistance to the categories placed on Asian American women through Orientalist ideologies. Each "bride" featured on the site has an individual link to their own poetry, response, or empowering biography. While this is modeled after the photos and bios found on for-profit mail-order-bride sites, the version found in BBCM contests the same stereotypes many mail order bride sites utilize, perpetuate and exploit. Furthermore, Wong invites those who visit her site to become brides as well, and thus, functions to build a coalition through the internet to combat the racism and sexism Asian American women experience on a daily basis.
BBCMs creation of an online community is based on the spread of ideas and information between a network of people who strive to achieve similar goals and visit the site. With the intent of attracting connoisseurs of pornography and mail order bride websites, BBCM is advertised in search engines as a mail-order-bride site. However, because of its popularity, according to Wong, links to BBCM are found on various Asian American women sites that refer an entirely different audience to the webpage. Within the actual text, the use of academic theories and terminology, and the social and political histories of Asian American women and men are used in a manner that it is accessible to people without high levels of education. The method of advertising and style of language used broadens the way community is grouped, as well as the sociolects used. The language employed includes a broader array of socioeconomic classes, while empowerment and change are aimed at Asian American women and men. The issue of geographical region (as well as gender), plays little importance as BBCM is accessible all over the world, and as displayed by the sites guestbook. Even the actual aesthetic of the page, and the fact that it is a comedic spoof, seems to indicate that the site is aimed more at a younger audience, despite the fact that it reaches viewers of various ages. However, the bright colors, abundance of graphics, and employment of characters such as "Hello Kitty" (intro page) does function to cater to a younger audience. In addition to the foul-mouthed "Hello Kitty", a traditionally silent character, items are placed for sale through the website. T-shirts and stickers featuring "brides" and the cartoon cat also indicate that a younger audience is intended to perform much of the consumption presented by BBCM.
In addition to the online Asian American feminist collective created by a series of interlinked websites, as well as the sociolects and style of language used, BBCMs guestbook allows individuals to write their responses and join the greater community. Since its creation, the guestbook has had thousands of entries, many of which are from people who use the site as a forum for liberal and conservative race discussions on an ongoing basis. In spite of the site being focused on Asian American women, much of the guestbook is used to spread racist and sexist remarks, and locate race problems in the U.S. as an issue pertaining only to white and African American communities. What this serves as is an uncensored reflection of the ignorance found in American race politics. However, the very idea of having an uncensored guestbook promotes free speech and community. It attempts to create an open dialogue, rather than just "preaching to the choir" from an authoritarian stance. In a personal interview, Wong said,
"I actually set out to challenge these "choir preachers" by showing the reaction (my guestbook) that would be yielded from quasi-crazy rants but the strange thing is that, many of them actually support me. Many people have misunderstood that my site is about white hatred when it isn't it's about challenging traditional modes of activism."
The number of young women and girls who do reach the site cannot be accurately calculated, but Wong does receive emails from female supporters of her site who are, by actively resisting the stereotypes and racist notions BBCM investigates, joining a greater coalition of Asian American feminists. Vickie Nams book, Yell-Oh Girls!, features an essay written by Wong in regards to her website, along with essays, short stories, and poetry submitted by other young Asian American women. Issues of community are also pertinent in the context of the anthology, as in BBCM. As new reader discovers Yell-Oh Girls!, they not only join the community of young Asian American writers, but have the ability to discover and join the community built through BBCM when they read Wongs essay.
The development of Asian American internet communities in the context of BBCM bears a strong resemblance to a variety of other Asian American woman-based sites, as well as Asian American womens social justice movements throughout history. Websites like "Angry Little Girls!" and "Bamboo Girl" invite Asian American and feminist audiences to read and participate in a greater online community. Leela Lee, creator of "Angry Little Girls!", has created a space on her site for women and men to write about things that anger them. With each weekly comic strip, she features a contributors story of angst, and thus a more inclusive community where others are given a voice to express their emotions and experiences. Similarly, "Bamboo Girl", like BBCM and "Angry Little Girls!", sells items for consumption, while actively requesting submissions to be added to the online and print versions of the zine.
The premise of Asian American feminist movements, whether through the internet or in a more physical sense, is built upon the idea that Asian American women "need to expand [their] efforts to educate and mobilize Asian women to assert [their] right to live and work safely and productively wherever [they] choose" (Sze 97). These types of efforts have been found in the Asian American feminist environmental justice and immigrant labor movements (Sze 92-3; Zia 198), and also rely on assorted sociolects such as geographical location, race and ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic class. Both social justice movements and internet communities based on social change create community based on sociolects, and function by theorizing social injustices to spread knowledge and promote activism.
As a step in the long history of institutionalized racism and sexism Asian American women have faced, the building of community has proved to slowly but successfully, bring about social change. It is through communities that we are able to spread knowledge, incite anger and activism, construct economic, political and emotional support networks, and provide examples for others to do the same in an effective manner. Whether these communities are based on race, gender, age, geographical location, or economic and political disenfranchisement, they serve as the physical and intellectual means for social change. Historically, as social justice and civil rights movements have worked, and continue to work, for the rights of populations, a new realm of internet communities are revolutionizing this practice by adopting established methods of activism with a new technology. Present day areas of activism and resistance are now more easily accessible to those with the economic and technological means to access the internet. Websites like Big Bad Chinese Mama, Bamboo Girl, and Angry Asian Girls all integrate coalition building and involvement with activism and self-representation to create a new Asian American feminist community and online culture.
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