Exploitative motherhood is an increasingly common theme in films, television, and other media, but the exact term is rarely explored, according to the Asian Pacific American Women’s Studies (APAWS) conference, held this past week in New York.
“In the past few years, exploitation has become such a big issue for Asian women, especially as we look back at our own experiences, it’s just been a really hard thing to grapple with,” APAWS president and executive director Dr. Susan Lee told The Irish Press.
Lee, who is also a PhD candidate in Asian Pacific Studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, said she thinks the term “exploitation” is “a bit of a misnomer.”
“There is a sense that exploitation has always been part of the Asian experience, but that has not always been the case,” Lee said.
“There’s a lot of talk about ‘exploiting your mother.’
That’s a good way to look at it, but it’s really not accurate to the experiences of Asian women.
The term ‘exploit’ is used because that is what they perceive is the dominant culture and how they perceive their own culture.”
Lee said that, in the past, Asian women’s work and their lives were often “explicitly” and “substantially” exploitative.
“[We used to say, ‘We’re not here to exploit you,’] she said.
Lee pointed to a recent case where an actress working in China was forced to leave her home to film in India because her boss refused to let her return home without her husband. “
Now we’re being told, ‘If you’re not willing to work, you have to work,'” Lee said, adding that in many Asian communities, “people are not free to work or to choose.”
Lee pointed to a recent case where an actress working in China was forced to leave her home to film in India because her boss refused to let her return home without her husband.
But even if Asian women are forced to work for their bosses, they still have to negotiate the benefits of working.
“In my experience, there is a really high risk that there are repercussions to not working,” Lee added.
“If you do not work, it can be quite difficult for your family and the community to deal with it.”
According to Lee, Asian mothers often have to deal not only with the financial burden of caring for their children, but also with the psychological burden of being “exploitized.”
“My experience has been that mothers are not always comfortable or happy when they have to make these choices,” Lee noted.
In fact, a 2014 study by the APAWM’s Institute of Asian American Studies (IASAS) found that, “many mothers do not feel empowered by their roles as mothers because of the fear of being ‘explicit about’ their work or having to justify their choice of work.”
Lee, Lee, and several other Asian Pacific women also pointed to “the pervasive devaluation of Asian-American women” in the media and the cultural expectations surrounding them.
“I think there is an expectation for women of color to have a higher status in society and that women of Asian descent should be seen as less valuable,” Lee observed.
Instead, the focus should be on creating spaces where Asian Pacific Americans can have greater self-worth and assert themselves and their value in our communities.””
“It is not the fault of Asian Pacific families, nor is it the fault or lack of recognition of Asian mothers who have worked and raised their children,” Lee concluded.”
Instead, the focus should be on creating spaces where Asian Pacific Americans can have greater self-worth and assert themselves and their value in our communities.
“In response to the APAM conference, APAWA issued a statement calling on media to better “recognize the reality of the roles and identities of Asian and Pacific American mothers.””
We believe that when it comes to the topic of exploitation, Asian and Asian Pacific mothers have a unique perspective and we should work together to ensure that this conversation is taken seriously and that our voices are heard.””
It is time to acknowledge the realities of working mothers and to offer our mothers a space where they can feel valued and empowered.
We believe that when it comes to the topic of exploitation, Asian and Asian Pacific mothers have a unique perspective and we should work together to ensure that this conversation is taken seriously and that our voices are heard.”