Defying Stereotypes: It's What Girls and Women Do

Chloe Kim, gold medalist in snowboarding 2018 Winter Olympics

Chloe Kim, gold medalist in snowboarding 2018 Winter Olympics

As the White mother of my 21-year old Asian daughter, Maya, who was born in China during its one-child policy, I've learned a lot about the assumptions that Westerners too often make about Asian girls and women. We call it unconscious bias, a term describing how we perceive others even if we don't know that these biases are driving us to do so.

Because Maya has shared with me what it's like for her to move in the world, first as a girl, now a young woman with an Asian face, I've been able to learn how powerful Americans' unconscious biases are. This is especially true when it comes to labeling an Asian person based entirely on her Asian face. I'm offering a few words from an essay that Maya recently wrote touching on some challenges she has had in coming to terms with the duality of her identity as my daughter:

I struggled early on as I navigated my shifting sense of identity. My mere appearance presented challenges. Strangers would often assume my family was Chinese, and that I spoke Mandarin fluently. Small stories reinforced this daily. At a gas station with my mom, I was buckled into the back seat. My mom was talking with the man pumping gas when I heard her mention that I was her daughter. He laughed in disbelief. Yes, I do not look like my family, and my appearance has been made fun of. I think it helps explain why growing up I sometimes felt lonely.
— Maya Ludtke
Maya and her mom

Maya and her mom

Like any other Asian girl, growing up she dealt with assumptions made of her. People would presume that Maya had mastered a musical instrument – isn't that what Asian girls do? She didn't. Or that she excels in math; she doesn't. Or they think they know about her temperament just by seeing her face; they don't. A lot else is occasionally bundled with these most typical stereotypical assumptions.

All of this explains why I'm thrilled that Jiayang Fan's wrote her essay in The New Yorker in which she reminds us how sports can be a powerful vehicle for shifting our biased perceptions.

Kim Yo Jong, Chloe Kim, and the Shifting Images of Asian and Asian-American Women at the Olympics

Here her opening paragraph that kicks her essay into high gear, where it remains:

Whether she appears onscreen or in the popular imagination, the Asian woman tends to fall into one of several predictable archetypes: the evil temptress, obliging mistress, loyal servant, fanatical tiger mom, ruthless overachiever. This facile parsing offers the convenience of manageable stereotypes and feigned knowledge. One of the pleasures of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang has been the number of Asian and Asian-American women defying the stereotypes. Among those who have most captivated audiences this past week are Chloe Kim, the teen-age snowboarder from Southern California who won a gold medal in the half-pipe; Mirai Nagasu, the first American woman to execute a triple axel at the Olympics; and Nagasu’s teammate Maia Shibutani, who, performing in the ice-dance competition with her brother, Alex, also helped the Americans win the team bronze medal. (Half of Team U.S.A.’s figure skaters are Asian-American.) On the other side, so to speak, are the North Korean women, whose presence has been used to reinforce some of the old categories: the ‘army of beauties’ cheerleaders and, especially, Kim Yo Jong, the younger sister of Kim Jong Un, whose appearance eventually managed to incite pretty much every stereotype on record.
— Jiayang Fan, The New Yorker

As I girl, I played sports. As a young woman, I wrote sports. I know the power of sports to push societal change and alter societal perceptions – witness Jackie Robinson in baseball, the end of apartheid in South Africa, propelled by a global sports boycott, and the raised fists on Olympic podium in 1968 Summer Games.

Of course, let's give thanks to American girls and women's greatest lever of all, Title IX.

How Title IX First Changed the World of Women's Sports, Time magazine


Title IX Time magazine cover.jpeg