Asian American women vs. the women's movement
My name is Rena Hirai. And let's see my involvement with the women's movement began in 1974. And Washington D.C. I joined the National Organization for Women and became active on the national task force on women in poverty. Because I made the mistake of asking the national coordinator if there were any poor women on her task force and she said Oh well yeah we need you. So I proceeded to be. I proceeded to work on a project to increase women's consciousness about migrant women. And I did that for several months also worked with. Housing discrimination. And then went to Philadelphia. To the national conference.
And. Became very disillusioned because as on my way to the opening session I ran into two women who had hitchhiked from upstate New York with backpacks and who couldn't afford to pay the $40 registration fee for the conference. And we're not allowed to go into the conference even though they were now members. And I thought oh there's a mistake here so I said well why you just hang tight now run right over there and fix things. And so I did. I ran right over there. And found that. There was no provision to let people in who couldn't afford to pay the $40 fee and it didn't matter if they weren't members. So after discussing strategy with several people I opened the conference right after the get gavel banged and
said I wanted to request a point of order and pointed out that the organization was violating its own bylaws in which it was stated that women would not be discriminated against on the basis of economic status. And the chair ruled in favor of the point of order. And then I said So can these women come in now and then and before the chair could answer there was an objection from the floor. And they appealed the rule of the chair to the conference and spent the next eight hours debating whether or not these women should be allowed to come in. And I was sitting there going I can't believe this. The bylaws are very clear. What are they arguing about. They took one vote about three hours later in which a.
Vote by a fairly slim margin the women were voted to be able to come in and as soon as that vote passed somebody else appealed it for reconsideration and they went off again. And somewhere around 7:00 or 8:00 o'clock at night I just you know. It was like. Neville had said very clearly that they weren't going to discriminate against poor women. And here they had spent the whole first day arguing about it. And I just felt like I couldn't deal with it so I left the conference and went home. And that was my relationship with now. And. I. Came out here in California. In. 75. And. Because I didn't know anybody I thought well I'll look into. Now and see if I can make some contacts. Went to. A few meetings of.
Now in San Francisco and went down to the California state now meeting and heard the whole same discussion all over again and thought oh my god I can't stand this. So I dropped out of now. And thought well maybe it's just you know maybe it's them or them being the now people. But then I ran into the Berkeley people who I found out were OK and at least the Berkeley people I ran into were extreme separatists. And since I have a son I was excluded from. Participating with him. You know a lot of activities and I was told directly that I should give him away. I should not devote energy to him at all. And when I said well he doesn't have a father to give him away to this woman said to me Well you'll have to work that out.
And. So you know that was sort of like the other end of the spectrum. As a result of all of these experiences Symes somewhat disillusioned with the women's movement I feel that the women's movement that I've come in touch with is not very responsive to anybody who doesn't believe whatever they believe or whose values and. Whose values aren't the same as theirs theirs. There seems to be a substitution of rigidity to. A correct political feminist line. And you know you're supposed to throw out the larger. Capitalist patriarchal line and adopt this very rigid feminist line and there's there's no room to be anything else. So I don't feel like. There's a whole lot of room for me in the women's movement although the women's movement has put me in touch with women has made me
feel real good about my relationships with women. I think that. As a whole it's disappointed me more than the larger society because I expected more from women. I guess this is the general disillusion among the women I've talked to. Not just minority group women but you know all the women who have been involved in the women's movement. I think what I think the movement failed to take into consideration that. Oils I think the movement underestimated. You know the overpowering base structure of the society. Which is. When you start evolving a movement of your own you fall into the same type of logical pattern. Which is an either or. You start dividing categorizing and stop buying into the sort of patriarchal structure which is to me basically lenient. Whereas women's rhythm and the way women really think it's more politically. And much more
analogous. As opposed to linear and digital. So instead of saying. We are this or that and starting to categorize ourselves and therefore alienating other women we should have held on to the fact that we you know we're into the movement because we do not want to be exploited for our differences. But in fact validate it for our differences right. And it's not just women but everybody and everybody has differences. Whether you are gay your children all black blue or green and it's really sad because we plug in to the system without really understanding all the complexities and then the end result is incredible dissolution. And therefore paralysis. Which is something I have to learn after having lived well for the last three four years. I started as a publisher and editor of. A woman's magazine called Women and feel there was
an idea 70 and I think part of my strength at that time was the combination of anger absolute naivety. I mean I was carried because I felt things were possible. And not for once did I really question my own complicity in the system. And in fact how I was to do use to comply with a lot of things. Both on my own volition and the other because I was trapped within that system working. And I thought I understood that. I you know couldn't get out of the disappointment. And I think I'm going to lie low for for a few more years because as far as I see the trend going is going to be right. And I think they're right. You know the right has never been truly discredited. I mean the Liberals had you know the socialist The Marxist.
So the right is going to take the platform. But I do not believe the right has the answer. I think ironically. When we have very close to catastrophe they'll turn back. To women and the left for some of the answers. And hopefully we'll be ready when that happens. Yes waiting for history to catch up with us. I think the big mistake that everyone makes you know in terms of consciousness like when we say there were when we say feminist you know people seem to identify an idea you know or thought with a group of people and it's just a thought and just an idea you know and really what we have cooked up or come up with this an idea for a counter culture and people should never forget that these ideas that we've developed and come up with are meant for different kind of society and not the kind of society that we live in today you know. And like this system just has a way of like taking our ideas and then
re defining them and presenting them to us like they were something it was something they came up with. When in fact really these ideas you know on are in direct opposition to this system why it's not possible for the system to work. If you know people in power were to begin to treat their Will people and women as equals is not possible so therefore whenever we develop organizations like NOW or you know any of these things that are like government subsidized and sanctioned You know they're doomed for failure you know because we have corrupted the ideas you know the idea has been corrupted it's been taken away from us and then where are we. We've lost sight you know the new society the new culture that we want to create. You know I consider myself a feminist. I've never joined really you know any groups per se in the women's movement but I've always fought you know as much as I could as my consciousness was developing. You know for the rights of women and there were people and I don't I used to join a lot of like
there were groups and do community work and then I began to understand the same thing. Like everybody's ideas were corrupted you know and then you end up getting bought out and then people become disillusioned where are you. Because you forgot that you were trying to build a new society you know. And you know making things better for yourself you know on this one because all the time. I mean you're just like a little fish swimming against the current. You're co-opted all the way along the line so it's almost as if you either had to have to this super strength or you must be you know you have to resolve it in a gentle the right time where you can join forces with other people. Yeah and then the thing is is that there are a lot of people out there they may not call themselves feminists and may not call themselves their world or whatever but like even you know you look at the people who are involved in the call the GI Movement who involved in you know the woman's movement who are involved in. You know oh I don't know there are so many you know I do yes out there right. Alternative media I mean there's been a God
we all have some idea what we're for is a completely different system you know. What do you think she is. You know I can really I can identify with what suah said about. Like my first exposure to the women's movement women's community you know at least being really out there you know with my feminist banner waving you know around was joining a few political groups. And I bought the ideals they were selling. I bought that we were going to go into this place and help these people and and you know foster sisterhood and you know give a helping hand and and. Make them feel good about being the people that they are and that you know being of color and being poor was nothing to be ashamed of it was like you know you are you and don't nobody tell you anything bad about yourself you know. I well I bought all that but I didn't think there's going to be other struggles around that I
think they sold me this ideal. And I went and I you know went to my meeting two times a week and burnt out after you know six months and I did all this. Only to discover that within this feminist. Group. Right on political people was a lot of racism was a lot of Ages a lot of classes. And I went there. Determined to deal with this one struggle around helping my sisters out in this one is to to shoot and I ended up dealing with the people I was working with. Not feeling real secure about where they're coming from not you know when you can't have a unity with in the people you're supposedly you know with to do this one project. It just makes you wonder you know you go wow like you would go I would go in there and I would do these things and someone would just come up from behind me and say you know negate all of what I've done or take credit for all of what I've done you know and I would just go wow you know where is this
coming from for all in this together why is it that I still feel you know a lot of cutthroat happened. So I can really identify with going in there you know with your anger into with your anger for a change and not denying it and saying it's righteous and wanting to act on it and wanting to change things and then to have to struggle on these planes that you didn't think you would ever have to struggle on at least not with these people you thought you know you thought this ideal you felt everybody came to this place. You know you'd hope they'd come to this place and obviously they haven't. So what are you going to do. You know hang in there and have them really feed off of you and all of your. You know all of your experience and then. Discard you when when they want to and move on to hit up the next person who comes along. You know I mean that's what it amounts to. That's what happened with now. Basically I bought I read the Buy last and I said oh isn't this wonderful. Yeah I bought it and then I found out it wasn't true. Just a bunch of words. Well you know we don't have to feel bad about we may have bought the stickers in the
house. But we definitely did not buy the treatment right. And the only thing is that people have to have courage have to stand up and say I don't like this. Well I don't think this is right. And they just turn around and you find some people who you really consider to be friends and sisters you know and people that you can you know care about openly and honestly people you can work with and who understand I mean we need to look inside of each one of us and find out why it is that we believe you know that women should have it better. You know and I don't think we have to you know listen to any of this other stuff. You know this big PR campaign that everybody seems to run for every little cause an issue you know and that's all it is is selling people buttons and books you know. But the treatment never changes like simply the dressing. Oh yeah window dressing. You know everywhere you know and that's all problem is people don't you know sit down and really look inside of themselves for the answers because we have the answers I
don't believe we have to belong to an organization to make changes. Yeah the way you make changes is how you deal with your mother how you deal with your grandmother your father your brother this is sisters your old man your neighbor your girlfriend you love her. You know that that's what counts. I think in the process of trying to get the piece of the pie. And a lot of people became so materialistic and I think a lot of spiritual spirituality was forgotten but that's what I was mentioning earlier is that this system is based on money. This is a capitalist system. Anything that is allowed to survive within this system is only allowed to survive because somehow it generates more money. You know and it bolsters economy now. You take a look. The important thing to do is to look at who organizes these groups and to see what it is they want from the system. And you will see I was wondering you were talking about we each can do something by looking at ourselves and doing something in our
daily lives and obviously we all do. We've joined groups or not joined groups often on because of something specific. But look who was asking us. To join their movement. Why. What do they want us. Yeah I mean we had once said we need. More women and we don't need them because it you know it's like when we needed them for support they just weren't there so like we were all very self-sufficient we just go about and do our thing and you know why didn't you know just. To look good. Sunday fun day should. This it is your hole to heal the photo. One out of every four people on this planet is Asian. That's not counting the other thing well people you know. And half of those you know one out of every four you know are women you know we have the power to do something like they said on the show you know the state of California will have more Latinos
souls of hoarding but I don't know because that's the thing of sterilizing you know a law. Lot of Yukon is not genocide yet in the sun. But the thing is we have the power. You know we have the power there are so many there will people there are so many women who are sick and tired who don't want to take it anymore. And there are so many there will be people who are sick and tired and don't want to take aim. Why do we have to join other people's organizations especially people and not interested. You know what happens to us. Why do we have to go to them to ask for changes why don't we just make the changes you know. Right. And it all it all hinges on how we treat each other as brothers and sisters. You know I think I feel a lot of ambivalence and that you know I keep getting involved because I am a woman and I have women's concerns. And so there is this kind of attraction to wanting somebody who is working on an issue that relates to
me to to somehow know how I feel or know how it could be broadened or varied to include my needs. You know it's. It's sort of. Yeah I think it's really wise I mean to co operate on levels that you can cooperate at a minimum when you can. Yes by now I think we've gone through so many stages of the feminist movement and we've sort of grown up with that. And although it's been painful and sometimes I've been very close to being bitter about it I must say that you know I paid a price to loose my naivety on each level and maybe that's what it costs to become wise. Yeah. And to go back to the fact that any movement cannot be only on a materialistic basis it has to be a spiritual basis too and I think that's what has really held women together. We've just forgotten to go back to the ancient goddesses to you know
to washing ourselves as goddesses. I wonder you know I think women are generally more nurturing and caring and sensitive. Than Men. And I mean like Jill and I share a lot of. Mutual support even when we're not together. There's just this knowing that. That the other is there. And. I sometimes wonder. If I'm wrong about that. Just because I don't see it coming from a lot of different women. Well you know I I kind of. Have an objection to people saying that women you know are better than men. You know I say better myself. Feminist what I said more nurturing nurturing but. Caring and sensitive. And she's saying she values it. Yeah yeah. And what was your question that you know she said no no no. And when you say more nurturing more sensitive that mean more no more
yeah man which means that women you know if you value those things in ways that women are more together than men. You know I guess what I was trying to say is that. If I believe that women have these qualities more so than men. Why is it. That I therefore don't feel those qualities more from women because then it may not be true that somebody said I wanted to do was that a lot of women have bought into the bloodstream. It was done exactly so when you dawdle relate to a woman you don't know whether you relate to or relating to a woman. A such a unique femaleness all you really wanted. Was. It was the women I met who call this a school that you are really not very good and I have found a lot of men who treat me better than some of these women you know and I just go wow that just goes to show
you you know I'm not buying any more books or buttons you know I don't care I was given I think that really has to do with what you were saying earlier around. You are into an alternative lifestyle in the alternative environment that's what you're working towards right you're not working towards bettering the capitalistic system that is obviously that's happening right now. I think women start out with with you know that goal in mind to work towards is this better other society however. Because they have bought the system to get into these programs to get supposedly these these pebbles and rocks and these minor movements happening they revert to the patterns the structures that the capitalistic system has laid down. You know like you will be in this. Up in this you know it's a very left feminist separatist meeting and they will still have an agenda and they will still have criticism self-criticism and they will
still have all these things that I feel come from like you know like when I worked in the business. Very straight business environment. You had your meetings you had your little you know all these little things that are really a part of the capitalistic system I feel you know. And women will revert to that because they have bought into the system and also because it takes a whole lot more work for you to deal with this striving towards the more you know useful functional spiritual. Its like Robert's Rules of War I was just going to say there. Was a meeting between there will people white people white people always revert to Robert's Rules of orders and you know there will people you know nothing really. So you can even raise your hand and get recognised because you know I mean you're always out of order. I was at one time I went to this meeting you know a filmmaker's there will filmmakers and white filmmakers and there will filmmakers want a little bit of the action because we weren't getting anything. And they kept pulling out this Robert's Rules of Order So one of the Mexican women said that who
cares Robert is Rogers whoever and she started just talking. Like I said but she was she just kept right on talking it was OK you know people had ears to listen and you know so that was you know we've heard what we should have a tribal you know it's much more respectful and definitely much more respect. Well I mean you know getting back to the the issue of like there being there were women women of color and how we relate to the women's movement. I kind of think of it in terms of just cleaning your own house first. You know how like you can't go around telling knocking on everybody's door in the neighborhoods I think you should clean up your house you know. And they come up and they see that your place. And you don't even know how to supervising the house because you haven't even done it yourself. That's how I look at I don't have you know a whole lot of hostility you know towards say women you know white women and the women sort of thing because I don't really pay too much attention to it. What
I try to do is to just deal with the you know there were women there were men and you know whoever else happens to come into my life. If the womens movement is proposing to do things for all women and in fact you know their their messes coming over into my house and it's not helping me at all then I got to deal with that that's a reality imposed on me. I can be busy cleaning my house but if I'm getting all kinds of that. That's making more work for me. So so I feel like I got to keep letting people know i hate us. You know the least you can do is not. Hurt me anymore you know. If you want to help me that's really good. But but don't hurt me. You know let's let's at least keep it neutral so I guess what I'm saying is you. You can for sure do your own thing but but you also have to deal with the the object of reality around you which includes these other people who impose on you in one way or another.
It's like being aware and respecting the ecosystem not just between the planet and the environment but even the ecosystem. Yeah you know. Human relationships we always think of you know the woman's movement as equal pay equal work abortion rape you know and how the media. By then we have to deal with other details now. That are equally important. Which is to take into consideration you know environment people whatever. And also as endangered species women who are female uniquely female are endangered species in a very strong patriarchal pernicious insidious society. The hard part is finding the space to to listen to yourself and to keep your center. Yeah well I don't you know it amazes me it continually amazes me all the women that I meet who have been able to do that. I mean they may not.
Outwardly state it themselves but just the fact that these women are still here. Just the fact that there are you know thousands upon millions of Asian Latino black. Native American women who did not have the ability to relate to Barbie doll throughout growing up. You know it's like it was you know when you go through changes around walking around the society where you are the only color. Many times in in any room in any elevator in any store and you are treated funny for being this color and you know that's not what a person through change is I just don't know what will I mean you know there is a lot of strength there's a lot of inner strength in a person who can deal with that. You know and. I think that's I think that's what we really need to do is. Obviously there is a strength we have that a lot of people have never experienced because they've never been in that oppressed environment and. Maybe that's what they want from us. I don't know. I agree with you seems like they also I don't mind he
isn't you know to them frankly. When you know you can you can hang I don't know of too many white people who can walk into a room that's full of Third-World and hang really deal with it and not feel insecure and not feel oppressed. I mean there is a really you know I know a lot of people who are just like who haven't experienced that in a really touchy about. About racism you know really touchy you know about racism and about sexism because they haven't really dealt with it in. A physical environment they have dealt with it on paper. They have dealt with it in the school room but they have never been in a situation where they went through. So you're going to school and being the only one color there and being asked questions as if you were just this color. And what do you mean and what do you with and how often do you take a bath things like that. They've never dealt with that you know and they you know they happen along some person who is really bitter and throws it on them and they totally freak out and they go. Racist races and then that and then you have no right as a
you know third world man to you know say this to me you know being a white woman who is equally oppressed and poor and you know it's like and you don't know what you're talking you know. Oh yeah you know I talked to a friend of mine yesterday and she said I don't want to discuss who is more a pro so I really don't. Know. You know I see that I see that a lot in the women's movement I see that several women have the strength that we can go anywhere and deal with what has to come down and deal with them actively and we will still come out on top because we have seen a lot of come down at very tender ages at very vulnerable places. You know it's not like mama patted you on the back and said be prepared because you went out there and you were alone and you dealt with that you know. So these women who feel they are oppressed who have not dealt with that will want this energy from you. I mean well they may not say it but I have had to re-educate so many people in my struggle with their struggle.
I'm at this point. Well I would you know I'd rather sit at home and talk to my little brother talk to my mother talk to my grandparents and share things with them and get support from them instead of having to educate them and to tell them things that. They will only learn through experience and I am you know. You know I would much rather get support from myself than go out and give support to somebody else who I'm not sure is really my sister or is really my brother you know. And I'm not interested in spending my time to educate other people. You know there's a whole world of education out there and they get it for themselves. They want it. You know but not in my expands the best you should like what you see else's experience. That's how you can really do you know that much. I mean what we should do with our energy is just give us selves the strokes that we you know so much we get to give Also I think we have survived a lot. You know and we will survive. And I don't know what with the rest of you I mean at this point I feel a sort of
- Producing Organization
- KPFA (Radio station : Berkeley, Calif.)
- Contributing Organization
- Pacifica Radio Archives (North Hollywood, California)
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- Episode Description
- Panel on how racism, ageism, and classism have corrupted the women's movement: Rina Hirai, Chris Kobayashi, Giselle Dohan, and Siew-Hwa Beh. Produced by Patti Yano for International Women's Day of 1979. Siew-Hwa Beh refers to the periodical Women & Film, which she co-founded in the early 1970s.
- Program Description
- This item is part of the Asian Americans section of the AAPI special collection.
- Broadcast Date
- Talk Show
- Feminism; Women's rights--United States--History; Asian Americans--Civil rights--History
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Producing Organization: KPFA (Radio station : Berkeley, Calif.)
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
Pacifica Radio Archives
Identifier: 1422_D01 (Pacifica Radio Archives)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Pacifica Radio Archives
Identifier: PRA_AAPP_AZ0297_Asian_American_women_vs_the_womens_movement (Filename)
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- Chicago: “Asian American women vs. the women's movement,” 1979-03-08, Pacifica Radio Archives, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed March 22, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-28-4b2x34mw7s.
- MLA: “Asian American women vs. the women's movement.” 1979-03-08. Pacifica Radio Archives, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. March 22, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-28-4b2x34mw7s>.
- APA: Asian American women vs. the women's movement. Boston, MA: Pacifica Radio Archives, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-28-4b2x34mw7s