Asian and Asian American culture are historically known for having a strict, distinctive boundary between the traditional roles of women and men, where, In the domestic sphere, women are submissive to male authority figures, which are typically embodied in the father or husband. One well known example that calls to mind this subordination of women to men is China’s one-child policy, which often leads to ill treatment, abandonment or leaving up for adoption of female infants and children as a result of wanting a male child to lead the family and carry on the family name.
While this might be a more extreme result of this stereotype, there are many other similar historical stereotypes that subordinate the woman to the man In Asian and Aslant American culture. Regardless of historical stereotypes, however, It Is clear to many individuals today that times are changing and causing culture to shift. One accessible way of highlighting the degree to which Asian and Asian American culture has changed from past to present is through film.
Alice Wow’s Saving Face and Ketene Meat’s Spices note a number of historical stereotypes, but more importantly, they pen up dialogue about the slightly functions of female and male roles. Through the combination of symbol and metaphor, setting and situation, and most Importantly, contrast between traditional and non-traditional, Alice Www and Ketene Meta enable a different understanding of Asian and Asian American femininity and masculinity in their respective films, Saving Face and Spices.
Several historical stereotypes characterize traditional Asian and Asian American culture; Alice Www and Ketene Meta address these stereotypes and more. Many historical stereotypes of Aslant and Asian American culture revolve around the way a Oman should act in and outside of marriage and the way In which her Individual role contributes to the identity of a given cultural or familial group. Both Www and Meta present the traditional heterosexual married couple where the husband’s word is comparable to law.
In Saving Face, Www provides the grandparents and although the grandmother can offer her input and opinion to her husband, when it comes to serious matters like kicking out their daughter as a result of an illegitimate child, which goes against another stereotype, the grandfather’s decision holds fast. In pieces, Meta presents Sarasota and the mukluk, where the authority of the husband’s word is even more evident.
Stereotypically, the wife and husband are also either fairly close in age or the husband is older. Other obvious historical stereotypes relate to how a woman should act in general. According to stereotypical Asian and Asian American culture, the woman should dress femininely and be passive and non- defiant, not only to the dominant male figure In her life, but In general as well. Historically, women could not receive an education either.
Altogether, this creates the tropically impression of an Asian or Asian American woman with little or no personal identity, but rather an identity where she blends into the cultural group she is a part of. Historical stereotypes of Asian and Asian American men revolve around his status as an authority figure in the family. He generally has a very dominant and controlling point of view and way of interacting with his family. By addressing these points historical stereotypes both directly and Indirectly and combining them with Asian American femininity and masculinity.
Through setting and situation, Www and Meta heighten the contrast between satirical stereotype and changing times, thus allowing viewers to experience dynamic characters who change and come to exemplify transgressing individuals, as opposed to having only static characters that are stuck in a historically stereotypical mentality. Saving Face is set in what seems to be modern day New York, where diversity in all forms is represented. The openness of thought in this setting creates all sorts of situations that are starkly different from traditional Asian and Asian American stereotypes, which shy in comparison in the film.
For example, the introduction of an African American best friend in the form of Jay, which the mother meets and initially Judges close-minded because of his differing race turns into a situation later on in the film where the two of them are sitting side by side on the couch sharing the experience of an Asian television show. There are also more subtle situations where anti-stereotypical, and even transgressing, thought is expressed.
Another such example is the instance when the grandmother mentions how Wig’s more masculine attire is fine for a woman. These situations and similar ones pugnaciously give viewers a different understanding of how times are changing, especially in relation to Asian and Asian American femininity and masculinity, thus opening up viewers’ thoughts to other, more transgressing situations like LIGHT issues surrounding Wig’s official coming out and her acceptance into her family, as well as the idea of an illegitimate child to a much younger man.
In a setting full of diversity like that in Saving Face, the unique characteristics of each individual are heightened, thus eventually giving Will the “validated[ion] for both [her] ethnic and lesbian/gay densities” and a “sense of social belonging and group cohesion” that Connie S. Chain notes are usually afforded as a result of coming out (Chain, 241).
Proof of this success of both sexual and ethnic identity comes at the end of the film where the dance party, a common part of the Asian American community represented in the film, accommodates all the transgressors and accepts them, ultimately dismissing those who do not accept them by having them leave the party. In contrast, the setting of Meat’s Spices is one of rigidity and at its most basic level, uniformity. It is set in sass India, a period of British colonialism, which enforces the ideas of oppression and fear of resistance (Shores, April 9, 2014).
This setting makes any type of resistance all the more outlandish and outrageous, thus drawing attention to the transgressing women and men in the film and the way in which they struggle to break historical stereotypes and gender norms. The setting of the film allows for the placement of the “all-powerful Subdued”, who exemplifies not only overbearing characteristics of colonialism, but more generally speaking, the sexual dominance of the Asian man over the Asian woman (Shores, 251).
The Much plays a similar role but really expounds upon the domestic dominance an Asian or Asian American husband stereotypically has over his wife. To contrast these static characters who continue to represent these aspects throughout the duration of the film, Meta introduces transgressing men such as Master’s and ABA Mania who both have more enlightened ways of thinking in comparison to the other male characters. The stark difference in these two different sets of men, again, highlights the more of Asian and Asian American femininity and masculinity.
In terms of female ranginess, this is even more evident than male transgression because of the way in which females are naturally expected to be non-defiant, especially towards the men of power in their family and in the community they are a part of. In a way, Meta uses this play on power between the Subdued and Sinbad to empower Sinbad more. If “the Subdued wants Sinbad because of her defiance” and if “her resistances is a power that excites him,” Meta suggests that a woman who is not completely submissive is more desirable than one who is because of the way she can more equally challenge a male counterpart (Shores, 250).
Similarly, Meta empowers Shirtwaist by giving her acts of transgression real purpose. Each of her transgressions from putting her daughter into school, to kicking the Much out of their house, to leading the protest against the Subdued and her husband are followed by strong protests, and even violence, from her husband, thus emphasizing the true strength and ability of a female through persistent resistance and the effect it has on the dominant male figure in her life.
If a woman’s role were to really be passive and unimportant, the man’s word to the public would be final and the woman loud either be literally or figuratively silenced, however the Much constantly brings up the way in which her actions continually affect his political and communal appearance, thus depicting the existence of a permanent voice. While the settings of each of the films more directly set the tone for enabling a different understanding of Asian and Asian American femininity and masculinity, symbols and metaphor enhance this understanding on a more subconscious level.
In Saving Face, Www constantly brings in the image of the face, both clear and unobstructed as well as partially hidden from view (Shores, April 2, 2014). The title even mentions the face as well. This constant symbol of the face suggests personal identity and in terms of this film, alludes to an identity not based solely on either sexuality or ethnicity, but rather a cohesion of “ethnic and lesbian/gay identities” (Chain, 241). The recurrence of the image of the face hints at the importance of individual identity, especially for what would be transgressors of historical stereotypes.
There is a constant reminder about the image one gives to the public and the way it differs from one’s true self. A symbol that enhances a different understanding in Spices, is the symbol, or trope, of the chili pepper. The chili peppers “symbolize women’s sexuality,” but more importantly, they not only “offer a literal and metaphoric form of resistance,” but also come to symbolize the power of colonialism and violent dominance in general because of their blood red color (Shores, 247).
The scenes where Sinbad runs through and over the chili peppers and falls down symbolizes the success of colonialism and the way in which it has led to the overcoming of not only villages as a whole, but also the women themselves. At the name time, however, Sinbad gets up and continues to run over the chili peppers, showing how colonialism and oppression are overcome.
By the end of the film, it is the very symbol of colonialism and violence that causes the women to come together in resistance against the Subdued, thus showing how colonialism and oppression become the very reason and purpose behind resistance, essentially acting as a spearhead against whoever imposes those things to begin with. In a more literal way become the literal weapons against the Subdued, who “embodies the colonizers power” (Shores, 249).
Through this change in purpose of the symbol of chili peppers as a result of the unification of transgressing thought personified in Sinbad, Shirtwaist, ABA Mania, and the women who eventually come to use the ground up chili powder as a weapon, viewers come to a subconscious realization of a different understanding of Asian and Asian American femininity and masculinity and the way in which this understanding is truly sculpted at the hands of those who are oppressed as they come to face and conquer their oppressors.
Alice Www and Ketene Meta use these various strategies and more in their exceptive films, Saving Face and Spices to enable a different understanding of Asian and Asian American femininity and masculinity. By enabling these different understandings, they break historical stereotypes of Asian and Asian American women and men and empower females in a way that gives them a starkly different image than what is commonly attributed to them.
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