Anti-fetishization

March 24, 2021

Two portraits of Asian women

Anti-fetishization & Solidarity with AAPI Community

It is with sad hearts and inflamed minds that we acknowledge the ongoing pain and suffering of our Asian, Asian-American, and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community and allies at Harvard and beyond. We stand in solidarity against the racist, anti-immigrant, and misogynistic violence that occurred in Atlanta on March 16, the many occurrences that predated this tragedy, and the historical legacy of racism, sexism, and xenophobia that have lain centuries of groundwork for this current climate. This is not a “one-off” incident. 

This acknowledgement of community harm comes on the heels of one we made just last month, in the wake of the ongoing controversy surrounding Harvard Law School Professor John Mark Ramseyer’s paper on Japanese military “comfort women.” Make no mistake, the impetus to write such a misguided paper and the horrific tragedy that took place on March 16, taking the lives of six women of Asian descent, come from the same source: the deeply embedded misogyny and sexualized objectification of women of Asian descent in American society. They are simultaneously racist and sexist; to omit either factor obfuscates a critical structure of power. It erases the specific experiences and contexts within which AAPI women find themselves afraid for their safety.

The xenophobia that contributed to this instance of violence is intertwined with sexual violence.  If we don't recognize how these murders are, at their core, sexualized and gendered we are missing a critical conversation. Violence, in the context of sexual and domestic violence, is understood as one person exercising power and control over another. In domestic violence, it occurs in the context of a household — using tactics like financial control, threats of violence or humiliation, isolating a partner from resources and support, and physical assault. In sexual assault, which can also occur in the context of a relationship, is when sex is the weapon used to exert power and control.

However, sexual violence also encompasses acts that are sexualized — where sexuality is a key factor in motivation and perpetration. Unfortunately, these murders were foremost predicated on sex and it's important to talk about why sexualized violence is not identified in cases where other identity factors are viewed as the cause. It's also important to talk about additional risks related to identity: how sexualized violence occurs at compounding rates based on intersecting oppressions, such as race and sexual orientation. 

These murders are sexual violence and as we move into April, Sexual Assault Awareness month in the U.S., we have no shortage of contemporary and current examples of sexual violence to draw from. Cuomo, Manson, Hammer, TI & Tiny — and now an act of sexualized murder in Atlanta. On  what it means to be a sexual citizen in our community. Sexual citizenship requires us to recognize our right to sexual self-determination and respecting those rights in others. It means we acknowledge the personhood of others rather than viewing them as objects to be acted upon. At no point is it ever ok to impose our (sexual) will on others and we are responsible for controlling our (sexual) behavior. We need to be accountable for our (sexual) actions and have options for healing when we experience harm.

To all of the community members who feel impacted by this, we are with you. You are part of our advocacy, and we hope to be guided by you. We are committed to keep doing what needs to be done until justice is a reality for all. We recognize and thank our many community members who have been engaged in this work and are simultaneously enraged and exhausted. We invite those who are new to the cause of anti-Asian racism to join us as we work toward a society that uplifts and centers those marginalized amongst us. Please feel free to share additional resources or questions by email at hcwc@fas.harvard.edu as we work to consolidate efforts on this page.

In Solidarity,

Harvard College Women’s Center
Office of Sexual Assault Prevention & Response

March 24, 2021

Resources

Ways you can support the Asian and Asian Community in Massachusetts from the ERGs:

A rendering of Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya’s panels for the “I Still Believe in Our City” public art series.The posters say "I did not make you sick" "This is our home too" and "I am not your scapegoat"

A rendering of Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya’s panels for the “I Still Believe in Our City” public art series.
Sourced from Harvard Women in Technology +Allies Newsletter.