Mina Roces and Louise Edwards, Women’s Movements in Asia: Feminisms and Transnational Activism
The great feminist divide over the issue of whether prostitution is ‘sex work’ or ‘violence against women’ (VAW) has its Asian variant with activists lined up on both sides of these two camps. But here was another example of where the Asian context introduced new perspectives to the debate. Activists argued that poverty, sex tourism, the presence of American military bases and American servicemen on R&R leave as well as the trafficking of Asian women across national borders (all the way to Australia, the USA, Lebanon and Europe) needed to be considered in any discussion about prostitution as a feminist issue. As cities such as Manila and Bangkok earned reputations as ‘sex capitals’ of Asian for tourists looking for a ‘good time’, women’s organizations were committed to dismantling the Orientalist narrative that represented Asian women as ‘exotic’, ‘erotic’, and submissive women since this powerful myth perpetuated the view that Asian women were ‘available’ for sex. Activists from Asia not only has to debunk their local culture’s grand narratives of the feminine, they also had to destroy images perpetuated by foreigners (including colonial and imperial powers both Asian and Euro-American) who could not get beyond the sexualized image of the ‘Asian woman’.
Western white feminists have to stop acting as if something that worked for them will work for us. There are so many other factors that play into our lives. Nor is there such a thing as “quintessential ‘Asian woman’” when different religions, cultures and histories (including older and more recent political regimes and contexts) have shaped womanhood and femininity for different Asian women in different ways.