Asian American women are having difficulty being taken seriously and professionally and are facing what has been named as the “bamboo ceiling.” In addition to the glass ceiling women in America have been fighting against for decades, Asian American women face harsh stereotypes within the workplace.
The “model minority myth” that is in place for Asian Americans essentially stereotypes them as hardworking, quiet, and successful because of discipline. While this might not seem like a negative stereotype, it blatantly disregards a painful history lived by Asian American women and suggests that they do not face real discrimination in the United States.
The reality is, periods of American history including the Chinese Exclusion Act, mass deportation, and internment of Japanese Americans are forgotten about when these stereotypes cloud the minds of so many citizens in the United States.
Naomi Hirabayashi, co-founder and co-CEO of digital startup Shine commented on the model minority myth and other stereotypes in a recent interview with Fast Company. Hirabayashi is half Japanese and half white, and explained that she “doesn’t feel Japanese enough” when she tells those she meets that she cannot speak Japanese.
Additionally, she claims that she definitely does not meet the general stereotype and expectation of what Asian American women should be like. She is aware of what she is “supposed” to be according to American society and knows all too well about the social confines set for Asian American women. “I’m extroverted, goofy, vulnerable, and outspoken. I went to community college. My dad wasn’t strict,” Hirabayashi states.
On top of the model minority myth and the general social expectations set for Asian American women, infantilization and fetishization are prominent issues as well. Asian American women face microaggressions concerning their appearance, mostly about how old they might be, or their “cute eyes,” “small feet,” and “porcelain skin.” Commentary such as this plays into Asian American infantilization, regards women as much younger than they actually are, and fetishizes them for their physical traits.
In contrast to the meek and mild nature Asian American women are expected to have, they additionally need to fight against the “Tiger Mother” stereotype in the workplace. This stereotype portrays Asian American women as aggressive, angry, and incredibly intense. Yung-Yi Diana Pan, a professor of sociology at Brooklyn College–City University of New York comments on this contrast, stating: “If you’re perceived as passive, you’re not going to be groomed to be a leader… But if you’re perceived as too assertive, you can then alienate your colleagues.”
All of this combined makes for an unjust workplace environment for Asian American women. Because of constant stereotyping and infantilization, Asian American women are the group least likely to obtain executive positions. The glass ceiling is obviously deserving of attention and criticism, but as a society, more conversation needs to take place about the “bamboo ceiling” and workplace struggles for Asian American women in particular.
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