Unseen Privilege: The Overlooked Gender Dimension of the 'Deadly Viper' Conversation
In the eight years I worked specifically with Christian Asian American college students, I knew that my gender would get in the way. I was not a pastor -- youth, English ministry, college, women's ministry or otherwise. I was not a seminary student. I wasn't a pastor's wife. I was a married women with a child whose husband was not in vocational ministry. I was weird. Colleagues would later call me a trailblazer, but to be honest most days I simply reveled in the complexity of my amazing life while simultaneously crying in frustration over feeling like the only thing being burned was me.
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And how do you talk about the unseen privileges of my male colleagues, and more specifically my Asian American male colleagues, without sounding demanding, whiny, or bitter? Believe me, I keep trying even though I've been called all of those things. Even yesterday as I was supervising a younger male leader, he talked about a local pastor's gathering he was invited to attend. In all the years I worked at the same campus I was never invited to those meetings.
What that leader is learning is that he has unseen privileges that give him credibility and access. He knows it. He sees it in some of the male students he is mentoring -- young men who have told him they don't connect with me as a speaker -- and he and I trust each other enough to say it out loud. It's not about content or quality of delivery. It's because I'm a woman, and in the Asian American context we still have some internal conversations that need to be had about cultural patriarchy and how some cultural values are so deeply rooted that it will take time, prayer, faith, and pain to work through them.
Over the years I've had to learn what it means to lead out of influence, to have a voice in the conversation even when I am not at the table. I'm still learning, which is why this controversy over Deadly Viper Character Assassin is affecting me so deeply. I have been physically at the table in conversations with the authors and publishing executives, but I am struggling in what feels like an unfair but perhaps prudent choice. I'm just not sure.
I'm having a tough time shaking the gender piece of this curriculum that hijacks and then stereotypes Asian culture while creating a false dichotomy between the feminine and masculine and describes strength, integrity, and leadership in hyper-masculine terms. If my culture is nothing more than a decorative background and kung fu fighting illustration then I am reduced to a stereotype. And if my gender and things that are girly are equated with weakness then I am silenced. Twice.
I'm not making this stuff up. Really. Thanks to logicandimagination I did a little hunting and found an online preview of the book. (On a side note, I'm hoping to get out and visit the local Christian bookstore to look through a copy of the book. I can't bring myself to shell out money to pay for a copy, but the credibility of my critique of the theme -- based on the Web site, dvd previews, blog, and online book preview -- is being questioned because I haven't read the actual book.)
"And then there's little old us looking like school girls with plaid skirts on, because we are unskilled and undisciplined in the area of character. We're weaklings with rail skinny arms and toothpick legs." DV, page 11
"So we are asking you to make a choice and a decision right now. We are asking you to go balls out with us and become warriors, fighters, and black belts in the art of integrity. For some, this might be painful. For others, this will simply validate your leadership choices and good decisions. This is the grand master challenge to conquer yourself. We want to party with Master Po! We are warriors in the making." p. 21
School girls with plaid skirts? Really? And how the *bleep* am I supposed "to go balls out"? Yeah, that's going to be painful if not impossible. I don't have balls, thank you very much. What is that even supposed to mean? I asked my husband, because he has balls, and he couldn't believe his eyes. We both agreed. If any of our kids used that phrase they would know immediately that Mom and Dad were not validating their leadership choices and that using the phrase was not a good decision.
My husband acknowledges that he can choose. If he chooses to engage in the gender piece of the conversation and controversy he will be viewed as an advocate. He can choose to acknowledge that the denigration of women and Asian Americans is unjust, but the impact of the former is a few degrees removed for him -- even as he can sympathize as a son of a woman, husband of a woman, and father of a young woman. His unseen privilege is that he does not lose credibility even if he chooses.
How will my credibility be affected if I chose to ignore blatant sexism in order to speak into issues of race and ethnicity? How will my credibility be affected if I chose to ignore blatant racism in order to speak into issues of sexism?
I haven't given up hope that there are ways to embrace the complexity and dive into it more deeply. I'm convinced that the more complex conversations will take longer and be more painful, but they have the potential to lead us to a deeper, integrated, and holistic understanding of what it means to be created in God's image. I'm just not sure if I'm too angry or not angry enough to see where a conversation like this could lead.
Kathy Khang is a regional director of multi-ethnic ministries for Intervarsity Christian Fellowship and blogs at morethanservingtea.wordpress.com