Asian Women Photo Project

I’m Not Exotic, I’m Exhausted // The Asian Women Photo Series
Portraying Asian Women in a Different Light

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Background – About Me and This Project:

“That is how to create a single story. Show a people as one thing- as only one thing- over and over again, and that is what they become.” –Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I’m Sultana, an eighteen-year-old American-born Indonesian-Pakistani currently living in Jakarta, Indonesia, pictured below. I go to an international school and am constantly surrounded by so many different types of people. Because of this, I’ve noticed a disparity between what I know and what I see. On TV, in movies, and in books, there is a “single story” being portrayed about people like me. In media, Asian women are portrayed as submissive, meek, and small. I’m not submissive, meek, or small. Plenty of the Asian women I know are not submissive, meek, or small. Yet, we continue to be portrayed this way.  I want to help change that, starting with this photo project.

The center of the city at dusk.

Background Information – Asians In Media:

Though there has been a lot of progress in the past year or so, Asian women are virtually invisible in media. According to a study conducted by University of Southern California Annenberg’s Media, Diversity, and Social Change Initiative, over 40 movies of the top 100 grossing movies of 2014 did not contain an Asian character with lines, and that is not even taking gender into account. When Asian women are on screen, we are typically presented as a stereotype, like the Dragon Lady or a China Doll, if we are on screen at all. Even then, ‘Asian’ in Western media means Japanese, Chinese, or Korean, and not the 45 other countries that make up the continent. These stereotypes dehumanize us and the lack of representation renders us invisible.Screen Shot 2016-04-16 at 9.39.52 AM

Background Information – The Model Minority Myth:

As it is not spoken about very often and is typically accepted as a part of everyday life, you might be wondering what this is. The Model Minority Myth is the belief that certain minorities are ‘better’ than others, as they are believed to be smarter, more hardworking. This belief goes hand in hand with the Asian Advantage myth, the two of them erasing the struggles of the Asian communities. Both these myths do not acknowledge the diverse socioeconomic and cultural differences in Asian cultures, and can potentially alienate those who believe they do not meet this expectation.

My Intention: 

With this project, I wanted to prove that we are more than that. We are just as diverse as any group of people. Not all of us are smart and over achieving, but some of us are, and that’s okay. Not all of our fathers run a convenience store, but some of them do, and that’s okay. I don’t want to shame people for fitting into stereotypes- I want to prove that we are more than what people think.  As of right now people consider Asians a ‘safe’ minority to use as the butt of the joke. For example, just last month during the 2016 Oscars, Asian children were used as props in Chris Rock’s joke about “outrage culture”. But we are not props and we don’t deserve to be treated as such.

I want to present the GOA community with a more nuanced view of Asian women, instead of the Asian stereotypes we are all presented with. The end goal is for this to start a conversation, in both the GOA community and my own. I’ll be publishing the link of the blog on social media and encouraging those who I photographed to do the same. I wanted to also encourage this conversation about the stereotypes Asian women face, as my peers and I are going to have to deal with them our entire lives.

The Use of Pictures:

We are a society obsessed with how we present ourselves and Asian cultures are not exempt from that. In Indonesia, people are obsessed with posed pictures, selfies, and we-fies, our word for group selfies. Here, it’s hard to turn around without bumping into someone with their phone whipped out, them and their friends posing for a picture.

Even though they are dismissed as vehicles for our vanity, pictures can be used for so much. This article from Dazed is all about two South Asian and one African-American women utilizing the power of selfies and photos to combat colorism. In Asian cultures especially, colorism runs rampant. If you are dark skinned, you are looked down upon. While the sales of products like whitening cream are declining, paleness is still sought after. So by encouraging dark skinned women to embrace the color of their skin while also using pictures to do so, these women are helping to get rid of both stigmas. I decided to take a page out of their book and use portraits in my project.

The photos below are only a snapshot of some of the incredible women around me. Like I said above, I live in Jakarta and I go to an international school, so I am lucky enough to be surrounded by people from all over the world. Despite this, I specifically tried to capture not only people who go to my school and who are my age, but who also work at my school, who I know outside of school, and even my mother’s friends. Though there is already so much diversity at my school alone, I wanted to provide as large a picture I could. The captions are all answers to a question I asked them, either about their passions, their goals, the past experiences, or what they currently do.

I’ve personally always struggled with the expectations set for Asian women, but I’ve found that many of the women in my life defy these stereotypes and we’re better off for it. Here are fourteen women from my community that do just that. I hope you enjoy.

Photos:

Audree - 17 - Student // I swim because it gives me a sense of pride that I can’t get anywhere else. When I set new personal best times, I know that I’ve worked for it and that I’ve put in all the hours to achieve this one goal. It's such an individual sport, and it's tough especially when I don’t get the results I wanted because I'd know that it's all on me, but honestly the highs outweigh the lows and when it does matter swimming gives me the greatest kind of joy I could ever ask for.

Audree – Indonesian – High School Student // “I swim because it gives me a sense of pride that I can’t get anywhere else. When I set new personal best times, I know that I’ve worked for it and that I’ve put in all the hours to achieve this one goal. It’s such an individual sport, and it’s tough especially when I don’t get the results I wanted because I’d know that it’s all on me, but honestly the highs outweigh the lows and when it does matter swimming gives me the greatest kind of joy I could ever ask for.”

 

karuna picture

Karuna – Malaysian – High School Student // “I would say that my passion is probably cooking. I really like cooking because I like creating things that I’m proud of and I like giving food to people because I think that food is a unifying factor among everyone. It truly makes people and there are very few things that makes everyone happy and I think food is one of them, so that’s why I really love cooking.”

 

Ricky Lestari - Indonesian - Landscape Designer // “My passion is making more people aware about the environment. Their awareness should not only be in words, but everybody must do something. I want to teach people that this is something they must do. It should become their attitudes and habits. When we live, it’s not as if we live on our own, but we live with the environment. We live together with nature and animals. We share the earth and resources with them. We have to take care of each other, now and also in the future.”

Ricky Lestari – Indonesian – Landscape Designer // “My passion is making more people aware about the environment. Their awareness should not only be in words, but everybody must do something. I want to teach people that this is something they must do. It should become their attitudes and habits. When we live, it’s not as if we live on our own, but we live with the environment. We live together with nature and animals. We share the earth and resources with them. We have to take care of each other, now and also in the future.” [Translated from Indonesian]

 

ms placer

Leizel – Filipino – English Teacher // “I love to read and write. I allot a specific time everyday to write about the things that I observed or the words that I heard. Reading is like breathing for me. It is considered a must, a necessity and a part of my everyday life.”

 

jacq picture

Jacqueline – Indonesian – Baker/Small Business Owner // “So basically Jacq’s Munchies is an online bakery and catering I started because I often saw many delicious looking food on movies, TV, and Youtube channels. I always want to eat them, but most of them are not available in Indonesia, or are very expensive and didn’t reach my expectations, so I learned how to make them, then gave some to my friend whenever I got too many leftovers and they love it! Then I thought to myself: hmm, maybe I can make some money selling my cookings, and voila! Jacq’s Munchies was born! It has been 5 or 6 months, I think.”

 

Lestari - Indonesian - Head of Corporate Communications // "My passion is in education. Why is my passion education? Because for me, education is one of the most basic rights that a person must have. It is as important as the right to live. Without the right type of education, one cannot develop himself or herself to be a better human being and contribute to society in a positive way. I particularly care for education for girls because as we know, girls all over the world still do not get educated to the level and quality that they deserve.”

Lestari – Indonesian – Head of Corporate Communications // “My passion is in education. Why is my passion education? Because for me, education is one of the most basic rights that a person must have. It is as important as the right to live. Without the right type of education, one cannot develop himself or herself to be a better human being and contribute to society in a positive way. I particularly care for education for girls because as we know, girls all over the world still do not get educated to the level and quality that they deserve.”

 

louisa picture

Louisa – Singaporean-Indonesian – High School Student // “So my passion is music- things like singing and guitar. I do it because it makes me feel happy. Learning something new and then achieving it, for example if it’s a really hard piece, especially for singing and the guitar, makes me feel proud that I did something.”

 

So, I’m not just saying this because it relates to your gender studies class but, my ultimate goal in life is to help women and make them happy. Whether that be through the study of anthropology, environmental policy, or middle eastern studies, (all intended majors/minors) it doesn’t matter to me. I think growing up not only as a TCK but as a biracial and multicultural kid, really gave me a unique perspective on the world. From Southeast Asia to North Africa I’ve seen the struggles that women face everywhere, whether they be social or environmental problems. I think right now our world needs a lot of cleaning and if the pursuit of a degree in anthropology, environmental policy, or middle eastern studies can allow me to help others and promote happiness, I will be another happy woman.

Katy – Thai-American – High School Student // “So, I’m not just saying this because it relates to your gender studies class but, my ultimate goal in life is to help women and make them happy. Whether that be through the study of anthropology, environmental policy, or middle eastern studies, (all intended majors/minors) it doesn’t matter to me. I think growing up not only as a TCK but as a biracial and multicultural kid, really gave me a unique perspective on the world. From Southeast Asia to North Africa I’ve seen the struggles that women face everywhere, whether they be social or environmental problems. I think right now our world needs a lot of cleaning and if the pursuit of a degree in anthropology, environmental policy, or middle eastern studies can allow me to help others and promote happiness, I will be another happy woman.”

 

Sul - Indonesian - Teacher // “By teaching, I can transfer my knowledge. That is the first thing. Second, I meet many people, especially young people. Because by meeting young people, I also feel like I’m always young. Last, because you meet many people, you meet different characters and it widens your horizons.”

Sul – Indonesian – Indonesian Language Teacher // “By teaching, I can transfer my knowledge. That is the first thing. Second, I meet many people, especially young people. Because by meeting young people, I also feel like I’m always young. Last, because you meet many people, you meet different characters and it widens your horizons.”

 

aunty rubi

Rubi – Indonesian – Stay-At-Home Mom // “Every place has its own challenges, good things and bad things. When I live [in Jakarta], I’m surrounded my familiar things, because I grew up here. Food, extended family- my brothers are here. So yes, the sense of belonging, I guess. But the challenges here are bureaucracy, corruption, and well, traffic jams. Just the sense of overall trash, which could be much better, things like that. When I live in the States, the infrastructure is more set. The traffic isn’t that bad and it’s more like you know what to expect People go by the rules. The challenge there is you’re far away from what you’re comfortable with. I have also encountered racism, and well, I don’t know if it’s because I lived in Nebraska, but it happened. But everything else is okay. You get used to it. When I lived in Dubai, it was interesting, just because it’s different. It was somewhere in the middle, but it’s funny, because the racism is even more obvious there. That’s about it- it’s like living anywhere, it’s all about getting used to things and moving on.”

samiha picture

Samiha – Indian-American – High School Student // “After college I either want to go to graduate school to get my masters or take a year off to get work experience. Honestly, it really depends on who I am at the time and what I have chosen to study in undergrad. But from now I’m leaning towards getting my masters to just finish off all types of schooling in one chunk because I feel that it would be easier and give me the ability to excel in whatever area I choose.”

 

Desmonda - Student - Indonesian // "So I got into performing for the very first time with a cheerleading team in my junior high. I was- and still am kind of- a very shy girl so joining cheerleading really boosted my confidence and my love for performing. I led a cheerleading-centered life until I graduated high school. Then I got into musicals near the end of my high school years. But only when I was entering college I found a community theatre called Jakarta Players and I auditioned for one of their musicals and that's how it all started. Haven't stopped since. I keep doing it because I guess you can say I found my calling in this particular form of art. It has everything I love in life. Singing, dancing, acting. The amount of talent required to do one production blew me away and so being part of one is such an honor for me."

Desmonda – Indonesian – University Student // “So I got into performing for the very first time with a cheerleading team in my junior high. I was- and still am kind of- a very shy girl so joining cheerleading really boosted my confidence and my love for performing. I led a cheerleading centered life until I graduated high school. Then I got into musicals near the end of my high school years. But only when I was entering college I found a community theatre called Jakarta Players and I auditioned for one of their musicals and that’s how it all started. Haven’t stopped since. I keep doing it because I guess you can say I found my calling in this particular form of art. It has everything I love in life,: singing, dancing, acting. The amount of talent required to do one production blew me away and so being part of one is such an honor for me.”

 

ibu dani

Dani – Indonesian – Administrative Assistant // “I’m a single parent of a twenty-two year old and we’ve always been together, since she was a baby. So, my only goal in this life is to raise her to be a good person. I put my heart into this and I do whatever I can in my power to make it happen. She’s adopted, so that’s another aspect of it. I put my heart into my work because I know I have to support us, both myself and my daughter. That’s why I put my heart into my job as well as in raising her. “

 

Finally, I had one subject that did not wish to be photographed but allowed me to interview her. Here is her answer:
Fanny – Indonesian – Community Liaison (Service Learning) // “My passion is actually working with students and my role [at school] also gives me the opportunity to give back to my own community. I do this because I love helping people and just love seeing those smiling faces. That’s when I know that I am actually doing good for someone and making a difference in someone’s life.”

 

Reflection

For me, this project has allowed me to connect with the women around me in a way I would not have thought to otherwise. This project also served as a reminder to me that all these people are incredibly strong, unique, and interesting, and that we are all more than what we see in the media. I hope I have been able to open eyes  and start a conversation through these photos.

Finally, before you go, please take a few moments to fill out this final survey.

Thank you for reading.

Bibliography:

Barrada, Yto. I Am Not Exotic I Am Exhausted. Digital image. Tumblr. Yahoo Inc, n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2016.
Central Jakarta at Dusk. N.d. Jakarta. Indahnesia. Web. 22 Apr. 2016.
Chu, Arthur. “Hollywood’s Asian Punching Bags.” The Daily Beast. Newsweek/Daily Beast, 1 Mar. 2016. Web. 25 Mar. 2016.
The Danger of a Single Story | TED Talks. Perf. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. YouTube. N.p., 07 Oct. 2009. Web. 23 Apr. 2016.
Kale, Sirin. “Meet the Women Using Selfies to Combat Colourism.” Dazed. Dazed Digital, 11 Mar. 2016. Web. 24 Mar. 2016.
King, Ritchie. “The Uncomfortable Racial Preferences Revealed by Online Dating.” Quartz.com. Quartz, 20 Nov. 2013. Web. 27 Mar. 2016.
Lim, Bernadette. ““Model Minority” Seems Like a Compliment, but It Does Great Harm.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 16 Oct. 2015. Web. 26 Mar. 2016.
Nguyen, Sahra Vang. “The Truth About “The Asian Advantage” and “Model Minority Myth”” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 14 Oct. 2015. Web. 26 Mar. 2016.
Smith, Stacy L., Dr, Marc Choueiti, Katherine Pieper, Dr, Traci Gillig, Carmen Lee, Dr, and Dylan DeLuca. Inequality in 700 Popular Films: Examining Portrayals of Gender, Race, & LGBT Status from 2007 to 2014. Thesis. USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, 2014. Los Angeles: U of Southern California, n.d. Web. 29 Mar. 2016.
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