The following four articles are about the Contemporary Women’s Issues Workshop, led by Diane Balser, the International Liberation Reference Person for Women, in December 2015. For more articles on contemporary women’s issues, see pages 33 to 47 of the July 2016 Present Time.

I’ve Always Been Female

I loved being at the Contemporary Women’s Issues Workshop. On Saturday night, after two days and three nights of not having to constantly negotiate sexism and male domination, I felt a sense of sisterhood as we, a hundred and fifty females, sang joyously, took up space, put our minds together, and worked hard on our liberation.

I’m a forty-one-year-old heterosexual Chinese-heritage female raised upwardly mobile by immigrant parents and a grandparent. I have avoided claiming being female, because of how hard it is to face the brutality of sexism and male domination—the constant threat of sexual violence; the objectification, commodification, and handling of our bodies that is considered acceptable; the messages and policies that say our bodies are not our own; being considered the property of men; the super-exploitation of our labor and reproduction; and on and on.

The sex industries have had a significant market in Asian countries, because of the history of war and imperialism there and the racist stereotyping of East Asian and Pacific Islander women as subservient, accommodating, docile, delicate, and fragile.

I was not going to be boxed into the stereotype of an Asian female and left vulnerable to sexual exploitation. And because of the images around me in books, on television, and so on, I didn’t feel female. Racism dictated that female was how white girls looked. (I did notice that in my Chinese community, where I wasn’t targeted for looking different, I could be more myself, and that myself was female.)

I disliked looking traditionally “feminine.” I didn’t like dresses, skirts, dress shoes, purses, and make-up. Until I started Co-Counseling, I wore baggy clothes that hid my body. In my twenties, people assumed that I was a Lesbian, because of how I looked and dressed and how I interacted with my closest female friends (both Lesbian and heterosexual). I felt glad to be targeted with Gay oppression as opposed to fitting into the racist, stereotyped box of an Asian female and feeling vulnerable to sexual exploitation.

I now realize that I’ve always been vulnerable to sexual violence, objectification, and commodification—because I’ve always been female. Every way I’ve ever been treated has been as a female. I have to look squarely at what it means to be female—at both how wonderful it is and how terrifying sexism and male domination can be. There is no way to get around it. But together as sisters (and with our “sister” male allies) we can fight for our true liberation and the liberation of all people.

Irene HongPing Shen

Brooklyn, New York, USA

(Present Time 185, October 2016)

Last modified: 2023-04-15 09:24:12+00