Asian Women’s Lives Matter!
Rus Ervin Funk
March 20, 2021
The news has been full of attention here lately about the rise in anti-Asian violence and harassment that has been perpetrated in the US in recent months. Some reports indicate as much as a 150% increase in reported anti-Asian violence and harassment since the pandemic began. On March 17, a white gun man escalated this violence by shooting nine and killing eight people after targeting Asian-American owned businesses in and around Atlanta. While there is some great analysis and resources related to this harassment and violence, what seems glaringly missing is any kind of gendered lens through which to examine what’s going on. This lack of gendered examination has to do both with who is being targeted and victimized, and who is targeting and victimizing.
Gender Matters because if we don’t pay attention to what is happening and all of the nuances that are attached, we will miss critical aspects. When we miss critical aspects in examining and understanding what’s going on, then our responses and prevention efforts will miss the mark. One has to do some searching, but the evidence suggests that this overall jump in anti-Asian violence and harassment is gendered. These are not gender-less people assaulting and harassing women, men and gender queer folx at equal numbers. According to Stop AAPI Hate, of the more than 3800 reports of anti-Asian violence and harassment that occurred in 2020, women reported twice as many attacks as men. And nearly all of these perpetrators of this harassment and violence were men.
The Atlanta killings and shootings highlight how gender gets sidelined. There is, at least through the mainstream media and conversation (by mainstream, I include NPR, the Guardian and other outlets that tend to have a more thorough analysis), the focus is on how these shootings and killings may or may not be a hate crime — based only on the race/ethnicity of the victims and targets. From the available evidence (admittedly, still early in the aftermath of this perpetration) race/ethnicity, gender and other factors converged.
The shooter targeted not only Asian businesses, but Asian businesses he knew were owned by women, and in which were primarily women employees. He was consciously and strategically targeting Asian Women, not just Asian people. He claims, of course, that his violence was not racially motivated, but rather that he is a “sex addict” and was aiming to eliminate the temptation. No one, apparently, is asking if his violence was gender- motivated. This is not only evident by the fact that he consciously and strategically decided to target businesses that were women owned and had women employees, but also because of his focus on Asian women as the target of his violence and his sex addiction. This individual assault follows a long history in the US of Asian women being hyper-sexually objectified. For as long as Asian people have been coming to this country, Asian women’s sexuality has been targeted for white men’s objectifying, use and violence. This week’s killings are only the latest and more glaring example. As such, his individual acts of gender-based and sexualized violence fall into a long narrative of structural and systemic gender-based, sexualized violence that is a part of the US legacy. There is a deep and long history of misogyny interlaced with racism that targets Asian women. Images of Asian women as either the hypersexualized and submissive “lotus blossom” who is willing and eager to do anything and everything sexually; or the dominant and manipulative “dragon lady” continue to be the image for Asian women in pornography, and far too often in the mainstream as well.
The solution to which is not only to hold this individual accountable, but to continue to examine the ways that we (particularly “we” as white males) maintain this structural and institutional violence; and how we can work together (as all men) in solidarity with Asian women and all women, to destroy these structures and institutions. The path towards racial justice intersects with the paths for gender and sexual justice. Our work must include continuing and increasing efforts to humanize all Asian women! It means recognizing the specific ways that Asian women are subject to gender – and race – based violence and harassment, and developing gender – and race- based resources, supports and prevention. It means developing our “followership” skills by listening to Asian women about what it is that they need and want, including what they need and want from as who are seeking to ally with them.
And it means that we also focus our attention on who is perpetrating the harm.
The gun-man is white, male, 21, and a self-identified “sex addict.” His perpetration is both raced and gendered. Gender matters in regards to his claim of sex addiction. My understanding of sex addiction is that being manipulative and blame-shifting is a common trait of people of all genders to suffer with addiction, and that being accountability is not something most folx who struggle with addiction have as a strength. I also know that the evidence suggests that people of all genders are relatively at the same risk of being or becoming sex addicted. But it appears to be only men (and specifically, cis men) who use this (or any) addiction as an excuse to justify picking up a gun and killing eight people. It appears to be only men whose practice of sexual addiction involves the buying (and sometimes selling) of human beings (aka, prostituting, sex trafficking, phone sex, strip clubbing, etc). This man’s targeting of Asian-owned massage parlors can and should be seen as a clear example of blame-shifting. Rather than accepting his responsibility for addressing his addiction, he blamed Asian women for being “a temptation” and used that “temptation” to justify his violence.
His individual actions and blame-shifting patterns align precisely with the ways that rape victims are routinely blamed for men’s raping. Gender Matters!
Gender also matters in how we understand him and his perpetration. The ways that he understands and expressions his self as a man, the ways that he came to understand that having, owning and using a gun as an expression of his masculinity. The ways that his targeting of women for his sexual exploitation, and his violence…all are gendered. While he may suffer from some forms of pathology that made him uniquely positioned to perpetuate these heinous acts, that masculinity that he expresses is far too normal. All of us, as men, have a role to play in the normalizing of the racist sexual objectifying of Asian women. All of us, as men, have a role to play in the normalizing of men’s access to guns, and the masculinization of gun violence. All of us as men have a role to play in the normalizing of men’s sexual violence directed at women, girls and non-hetero-normative males.
And all of us as men have a role to play in advancing racial and gender justice. Gender matters in how we explore and analyze the perpetration of race-based harassment and violence. And it matters in how we define our solutions!
© 2021 by Rus Ervin Funk, All Rights Reserved
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Rus Ervin Funk is an activist and consultant based in Louisville, KY. You can learn more about my work at http://rusfunk.me/.