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If I Were A Boy

Found this by chance on Youtube and thought it was so a propos to the post. Beautiful voice and a cover well done!

At the last Amergence meeting, we watched the Grace Lee film, and having seen it, we gathered our chairs in a circle – 5 women and 5 men – to discuss. Eunjung, a PhD in women’s studies (i think?) facilitated the conversation about this film by an Asian American woman about Asian American women, and as soon as she asked her first question, I noticed that men spoke up first. The thought struck me that observations on race revealed a similar dynamic where White males did the same thing in mixed race settings and here we were doing the same thing, as Asian American males! Ouch.

And so when I got a chance, I asked the question: what is Asian American male privilege? and how does this play out in church?

It’s a big question and one that probably required a bit more thought than was possible in that type of setting. After much hemming and hawing and gnashing of teeth, Eunjung moved the conversation in the direction of where do we have privilege period. We as able-bodied, well-educated, heterosexual people have enormous privilege, we realized. And to be aware of privilege needs to sensitize us to the needs of others.

But I’d like to return to the question of women, and women in church. What things am I unaware of as an Asian American male? What privilege do I wield that you do not? Let me know in the comments if you get a chance.

A little more food for thought: h/t to jadanzzy for this Kelly Chong article on Korean women in Evangelical Christianity entitled, “AGONY IN PROSPERITY: Conversion and the Negotiation of Patriarchy Among South Korean Evangelical Women”. Here’s a few excerpts to get grease the pan (yay, overextension of food-for-thought metaphor!). Again, this is a fascinating read and I hope you take the time to read the full article:

Why do so many women, across classes and cultures, enthusiastically embrace religions whose beliefs and practices seem designed to perpetuate their subordination?….

I suggest that a good place to begin understanding the recent conversions of South Korean women is to view them as women’s response to a crisis of family and gender in contemporary South Korean society—more specifically, the contradictions of the modern Confucian-patriarchal family.

one of the most important roles played by evangelicalism for women is as a spiritual and institutional resource for coping with and resisting domestic conflicts, although women’s efforts to resolve these conflicts also result in their serious recommitment to the principles and practices of the traditional family. Given that the patriarchal family is so much the source of women’s current problems, this appears particularly ironic.

I suggest that while submission, as highlighted in some of the other cases, may indeed be viewed in some ways as a kind of strategy—especially for negotiating domestic relations—insofar as submission also involves dimensions of powerful normative consent on the part of women, it is also something far more complex, requiring a closer exploration of women’s motivations.

Korean women find themselves caught in a family system that, while modernized in certain respects, still subjects them to a remarkably traditional set of ideals, norms, and demands, generating a set of acute contradictions and conflicts in their domestic lives

The problems of Korean women—which center ubiquitously around the themes of loveless marriages, intense conflicts with mothers-in-law and husbands, and stresses of unexpected domestic burdens—are, then, all expressive of some of these fundamental contradictions of the modern Korean family and gender relations. While conversion is a highly complex process involving an interaction of various factors—religious, psychological, and social—my findings strongly suggest that these experiences of domestic crisis constitute a major background factor that plays a large part in predisposing women toward conversion.

So even though women are often consigned to support-level roles in the church, and advised, as one member put it, “to be quiet and do as one is told,” church work nevertheless provides important opportunities to pursue extra-domestic achievement, even to “exercise the mind,” particularly in a society where there are few other such avenues available for women outside the domestic arena.

Indeed, many women told me that receiving “recognition” from others, but most of all from the pastor, was one of the leading motivations for enthusiastically taking on church work, even if they often felt overburdened and exploited.

we can, at an important level, start by understanding women’s accommodation to religious patriarchy as a strategy, a means employed by women to improve their domestic situations that can have unexpected consequences. I have found, for example, that many women initially embraced submission (even if they weren’t entirely convinced of it) because they saw it as an important means of reforming the behavior of others, especially the husband.

Submission is embraced by Korean women as more than simply a strategy for resolving domestic conflicts, or even for furthering themselves within the family; it is a way of pursuing the deeply held goals of promoting family integrity, and fulfilling their obligations within it.

Although it remains to be seen what the long-term effects of the churches’ efforts will be, it is perhaps this dual role of Korean evangelicalism, as both a vehicle for helping women negotiate their domestic frustrations and for re-domesticating them for the family, that has made it, for now, an effective instrument for maintaining the cohesion of the current family and gender system.

About David Park

Christian 2nd-generation Korean American; Atlanta Georgia; more details to come.

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