I think as far as perception goes, people assume that Asian women are passive and submissive because they are expected to respect their men. Here’s the thing about that respect: Western ideas always look into just that one side, therefore ignoring the fact that the men are expected to respect the women too. It’s a mutual arrangement.
And the thing is, people’s idea that Southeast Asian women as weak is the biggest bullshit ever. Power, in history, was divided between the two groups (trans is another story altogether): financial and politics. We didn’t have suffragette because women’s historical position was always good until Western influences came in. Our fight in feminism has always been about stopping abuse and harassment, and only when the divide-and-rule colonialism came in did this changed our social structure.
Here is something I wrote for a website, but they failed to publish it when it was meant for International Women’s Day, despite my having to work on this for five days, asking various people from various parts of Southeast Asia about what female figure from their country inspire them. Some people have asked, “Where’s the article you made us help you with?” It wasn’t published, guys, so I’m sorry that I can’t spread the coolness of these women on a standard that isn’t localised. Maybe these women don’t deserve the attention they would have garnered, maybe some people still don’t give a shit about Asian women, or maybe, you know, who gives a fuck about what Teah writes. Feminism is supposed to be white women’s game, right? Only they can lead, remember? Am I going to wait for an explanation why it wasn’t published? Nope, not when I feel like i’ve been marginalised since I first joined the publication (a woman of colour from another part of the world, guys, what value do I have?) Also, like, time difference. It’s so wonky and weird and it makes my little female brain scramble.
But here’s the article for you guys who helped me, and thanks for giving me these amazing selections of women.
Era Al-Sufri, Expeditionist, Brunei
Era Al-Sufri is a petite woman who kicks major ass. Having lived in a tropical country all her life, she was Brunei’s first ever person to reach the South Pole. Have I mentioned that Brunei is a tropical country?! With sand and no winter?! Do you realise how the transition from living your whole life breathing in hot air to skiing in the snow every single day for thirty-eight days can be a feat to your body?! Being a small country, having Era planting a Brunei flag in the Antarctic is almost like sending someone to the moon (until Brunei actually sends someone to the moon) which is why Era has been given the adorable national title of ‘Polar Girl’.
All of these were made possible when she participated in the Kaspersky Commonwealth Antarctic Expedition in 2009, where she was later honoured with the Young Woman Achiever in 2010 by AsiaInc Forum and the Excellent Youth Award by the Brunei government. Era is not stopping there and hopes to do more in the future, claiming herself to be an adventurer. Era is currently studying for her Masters Degree at Cornell University under the prestigious Fullbright scholarship.
Jessica Zafra, writer, Philippines
Jessica Zafra is a god-sent whom I think I would be too scared to face, mostly because she is so snarky and clever that any sudden mistake on my part would be met with a lifetime of shame and incessant sobbing. Jessica’s writing practices a hint of literary poignancy mixed with a local Filipino feel. And even if you don’t understand Philippines’ culture, she gives foreigners a zing here and there that makes the culture identifiable, therefore making it easier to relate to. She also writes about Western culture sometimes, so she’s like, the only tabloid I ever read these days.
In a culture of Internet, writers from non-Western countries are struggling with sarcasm and humour based on a localised context, therefore making it a hurdle to find success in the global arena. Jessica explores the balance of local and international so flawlessly. Even when she’s writing about Western gossip, she still injects the Filipino culture in her writing, which gives it a beautiful localised flare, therefore making her account different (and more fun!) If you want an excellent taste of Jessica, just read this article she wrote about her cat’s dental procedure. And when you’re done with that, read the rest of Emotional Weather Report because guys, they’re so good.
Marina Mahathir, activist/writer/nuisance, Malaysia
Marina Mahathir is the daughter of Malaysia’s former Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohammad. That’s a lot of weight to carry! Among that weight—especially in an Asian culture—is the pressure to conform to your parents’ view. But Marina strolls around in her colourful baju kurung writing and fighting an end to discrimination in Malaysia, including gender and racial. Her activism began by helping people suffering HIV/AIDS, and has since then grew exponentially by taking part in various non-governmental organisations in Malaysia. She is a part of the influential women’s group, Sisters in Islam and has also gone as far as to saying that she wants an end in discrimination against sexual orientation, a brave statement in an environment where the current ruling party—her father’s party—have been doing stupid things against.
Marina aims for equality and justice in Malaysia, which is a crucial cause in a country that is struggling with its conservatism in the light of growing liberal groups. Similarly, she maintains all of these by being sticking to her culture without trying to inject too much Western ideals in her causes (this is a great article she wrote about discrimination, which introduction’s will ring a loud bell to any POC.) According to her Twitter profile, she considers herself a “nuisance”. What a load of bollocks!
Tri Mumpuni Wiyatno, Agricultural Engineer, Indonesia
The more I read about Tri Mumpuni AKA Puni, the more I love her. Looking adorable in her head cover, Puni grew up with a family filled with heart and kindness, which resulted in her current work of developing hydropower projects in remote areas of Indonesia through the People Centered Business and Economic Institute. Beginning the project without any funds, Puni’s aim by providing electricity was to create a domino effect towards structural development and social opportunities to the rural community. And guess what? Her system has worked! And her brilliance has given her proposals to enter politics, something she refuse to participate in order to continue her project. This project has so far provided electricity to nearly half a million people, which is a great feat since one in every three people in Indonesia live with irregular supply of electricity. That number will grow steadily as Puni doesn’t seem like she’s going to stop any time soon, and her work is not only limited to Indonesia these days as she aims to help neighbouring Southeast Asian countries to achieve the same.
To further celebrate this woman, she has faced many hurdles while doing this project, which includes being kidnapped by combatants. Despite the difficulty, Puni wishes nothing but for the group to drop their weapon and turn their skills into developing turbines. Her negotiation didn’t work, but the fact that she continues the project on with such a mesmerising passion makes her a class act.
Chie Ikeya, lecturer and researcher, Myanmar
This is all personal account, so there will be a lot of gushing and a bit of hormonal tears.
Chie Ikeya is the prettiest person I have personally met, but even more importantly, she turned me into a feminist while I was studying under her wing (which was a beautiful wing that smelled of wonderful tropical flowers.) Ikeya made this list because how admirable I found her teaching was (and also, to clarify, her citizenship is an enigma, but I do know she is half Myanmarese and half Japanese, but for all I know, she is 100% fabulous.)
She is a patient lecturer, teaching Southeast Asian young adults who were beginning to be exposed more to Western philosophy than Asian ideas by influencing them to think in a localised context. Her study of women and colonialism is one of the most eye-opening thing I have ever gone through, unmasking us to the current state of women in Southeast Asia now by looking through the struggles they had to go through while being occupied by Western forces. Her book, Refiguring Women, Colonialism and Modernity in Burma is an apt example of what you can expect from her. Ikeya is currently teaching at Rutgers University.
Nong Thoom, former Muay Thai fighter and 100% Amazing, Thailand
Nong Thoom is a champion Muay Thai fighter, where her young life was spent training kick boxing in hope for a better life for herself and her family. What makes Nong Thoom’s struggle distinctive is the fact that she didn’t start her life as a woman. It was in 1999 when Nong Thoom retired from Muay Thai—after a few years of fighting in the rings wearing make-up and endearingly pecking her lost opponents—did Nong Thoom underwent sex reassignment surgery. Okay, guys, the pecking her lost opponent part? It gets me every time! I want someone to kiss my boo boo every time I’m injured!
After her surgery, Nong Thoom began acting and modelling, but despite her love for the two, she came back to Muay Thai, and this time, as a woman, where she fought both men and women in the ring. As if she hasn’t already filled her coolness quota, she is currently raising a daughter, who no doubt would be just as awesome. She is also teaching and training Muay Thai to children, not only as a way to preserve a great Thai culture, but also to empower children to do something great for their country.
Thanks to Alex for not only helping me with this article, but also convincing me that I should publish it on my Tumblr.3 months ago • 26 notes