On one end of the spectrum of stereotypes Asian American women must deal with, there’s Exotic. Subservient. Quiet. Model Minority. On the other, Manipulative. Overbearing. Dragon Lady (a reference to Empress Dowager Tzu-hsi of China). Missing from these common images are the voices of actual Asian women, who came to bear the brunt of these stereotypes through centuries of colonialism and racism.
Published in 1997, Dragon Ladies: Asian American Feminists Breathe Fire is a collection of essays and interviews from Asian American activists. Many express their frustrations with white feminism (the mainstream feminism most people are familiar with), and some reject the feminist label altogether. Several of the authors also express frustration at people’s reactions to the Asian American feminist movement: within their own cultures, claiming oneself as “feminist” can be seen as unfeminine and offensive. In society in general, some have trouble even wrapping their heads around the concept of “Asian American feminism;” the term just seems so incompatible with stereotypes of Asian women. However, as all of the authors prove, feminist activism has been around a long time in the Asian community, and the Asian American feminist movement continues to grow.
The book is split into four parts: Strategies and Visions; An Agenda for Change; Global Perspectives; and Awakening to Power. Regardless of the theme of each section, there is definite overlap in the essays. The Asian American feminism that all of these activists speak of has a global aspect; yes, these women are based in the U.S., but because so much of their work focuses on issues related to immigration and labor rights, an awareness of different cultures and issues is necessary.