Asian American Women Are Also Angry... and Underpaid

Guest Post by Aliya Khan and Stephanie Zhou, National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum

Today is Asian American Equal Pay Day -- because it takes Asian American women two whole extra months to earn what a white man earned in the previous year.

Asian American women earn roughly 85 cents to every dollar a white man earns -- and Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander women experience actually some of the widest pay gaps compared to other racial and ethnic groups.

But, leading up to today, what bothered us most is the resounding silence from people within the Asian community.

We are pulled to listen to celebrities like Emma Watson and Beyoncé as they discuss equal pay issues -- but where are Asian American voices in the conversation?

Lucy Liu was paid only a fraction of her two white woman co-leads in Charlie's Angels -- and yet that was ever barely discussed. Of course, there has been a bit more attention to racial and gender discrimination in Hollywood over the past decade. Yet little has changed in terms of visibility and representation of Asian Americans.

There is a reach in media and popular culture that continues to miss Asian and Pacific Islander communities. We want young AAPI people to see themselves in their media, and for them feel connected to issues that impact their lives. These two things are not mutually exclusive. Actors, musicians, writers, and artists have a potential to shift culture and create conversation in a way that politicians and policymakers are not always as effective in doing.

So we are not surprised that when articles say things like, "Only Asian-American women make more than white women today," there are not multiple AAPI voices to intercept, in outrage, to say -- "Actually, there's more to the story."

AAPI people need to see themselves in this movement for gender and racial equality. Equal pay is only one issue of economic insecurity -- but it's somewhere to start. We want AAPI voices to be so loud and so fierce that they drown out the dominant narratives, like the model minority myth, that try to push us out of this movement.

Equal pay is an AAPI issue, and it's our issue to own.

Hey Margaret Cho -- you've been our voice on so many other issues. Do you have an opinion about Asian Americans and equal pay?!

Of course, this highlights the greater issue of the lack of AAPI cisgender and transgender women in positions of visible leadership. When there are so few AAPI people in visible leadership, the burden of speaking out falls on the small handful.

It may seem like a small matter, but who is going to speak up for Bhutanese women, who only make 38 cents to every white man's dollar? Or Burmese and Marshallese women, who make 44 cents to the dollar?

How are the misconceptions about the economic realities of AAPI communities going to be dispelled if we are not the ones to get out there and tell our stories?

So yes, we're angry. We're angry that Asian American and Pacific Islander women are still paid less than men in this country. We're angry that AAPI women have to fight for visibility and voice both outside and within our communities.

There are AAPI advocates across the country working to build economic equity for AAPI women, transgender, and gender non-conforming people. And we will continue to push and demand that we be reflected in this movement. As Yuri Kochiyama said, "Tomorrow's world is yours to build."

Asian American Equal Pay Day is today (March 7th). If you'd like to help us build awareness, visibility, and power, join us on Twitter (@NAPAWF) and social media from 2-3pm EST using the hashtags #AAPIEqualPay and #NotYourModelMinority.

The National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum (NAPAWF) is the only national, multi-issue Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women's organization in the country. NAPAWF's mission is to build a movement to advance social justice and human rights for AAPI women and girls with three areas of focus: economic justice, immigrant rights, and reproductive justice.

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