Betrayal and Other Acts of Subversion

Betrayal and Other Acts of Subversion: Feminism, Sexual Politics, Asian American Women's Literature

Leslie Bow
Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 224
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7s5fz
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Betrayal and Other Acts of Subversion
    Book Description:

    Asian American women have long dealt with charges of betrayal within and beyond their communities. Images of their "disloyalty" pervade American culture, from the daughter who is branded a traitor to family for adopting American ways, to the war bride who immigrates in defiance of her countrymen, to a figure such as Yoko Ono, accused of breaking up the Beatles with her "seduction" of John Lennon. Leslie Bow here explores how representations of females transgressing the social order play out in literature by Asian American women. Questions of ethnic belonging, sexuality, identification, and political allegiance are among the issues raised by such writers as Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, Bharati Mukherjee, Jade Snow Wong, Amy Tan, Sky Lee, Le Ly Hayslip, Wendy Law-Yone, Fiona Cheong, and Nellie Wong. Beginning with the notion that feminist and Asian American identity are mutually exclusive, Bow analyzes how women serve as boundary markers between ethnic or national collectives in order to reveal the male-based nature of social cohesion.

    In exploring the relationship between femininity and citizenship, liberal feminism and American racial discourse, and women's domestic abuse and human rights, the author suggests that Asian American women not only mediate sexuality's construction as a determiner of loyalty but also manipulate that construction as a tool of political persuasion in their writing. The language of betrayal, she argues, offers a potent rhetorical means of signaling how belonging is policed by individuals and by the state. Bow's bold analysis exposes the stakes behind maintaining ethnic, feminist, and national alliances, particularly for women who claim multiple loyalties.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2414-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
    Leslie Bow
  4. One Introduction: THEORIZING GENDERED CONSTRUCTIONS OF ETHNIC AND NATIONAL COLLECTIVITY
    (pp. 3-36)

    A betrayal is a breach of trust. Its threat lies precisely in its rupturing the invisible cohesion of community. The charge of women’s betrayal, of infidelity, has been represented as intrinsic to feminine nature; women have long been invested with both fickleness and the power to beguile. As agents and embodiments of inconstancy, women bear the blame for the dissolution of bonds between men. Allegations of feminine perfidy thus offer ready instances for understanding both the homosocial nature of collective associations, including ethnic and national ties, and the role of women in securing and maintaining these associations. As symbolic boundary...

  5. Two To Enjoy Being a Girl: SEXUALITY AND PARTIAL CITIZENSHIP
    (pp. 37-69)

    The image that accompanies these lyrics inFlower Drum Songis nothing if not camp. In portraying the Americanized Linda Low as the quintessential “female female,” the film represents self-conscious Asian femininity in the form of multiple images of Nancy Kwan striking poses before the mirror in a towel that seems to defy the natural laws of physics. The song attests to the pleasures of femininity: to coquetry, to gossip, and to dress-up, all of which assume the air of heightened artificiality at the same time that they confirm the essential frivolousness that lies the heart of female nature. The...

  6. Three The Triumph of the Prefeminist Chinese Woman?: INCORPORATING RACIAL DIFFERENCE THROUGH FEMINIST NARRATIVE
    (pp. 70-114)

    Shawn Wong’s brief portrayal parodiesThe Joy Luck Club’s feminist plot structure and the triumphalism and sentimentality that drive it. While his male protagonist would reject such a narrative as exalting Chinese American women at the expense of Chinese culture, ironically, Wong’s own story of the originary moments of Asian American literature is both sentimental and ultimately triumphant. A young college student desirous of being a writer in the late 1960s, he could find no ethnic role models and sets out to recover Asian American male writers forced into obscurity by the vicious cycle of American racism and indifference: “I...

  7. Four Third World Testimony in the Era of Globalization: LE LY HAYSLIP’S BAD (GIRL) KARMA AND THE ART OF NEUTRALITY
    (pp. 115-136)

    “[L]ook into the heart of one you once called enemy,” writes Vietnamese immigrant Le Ly Hayslip. “I have witnessed, firsthand, all that you went through. I will try to tell you who your enemy was” (xiv). Hayslip’s 1989 autobiography,When Heaven and Earth Changed Places: A Vietnamese Woman’s Journey from War to Peace, thus promises a glimpse into what remained opaque and incomprehensible to both a television viewing audience and the soldier in the field─the heart of “our enemy.” The autobiography marks yet another first-person contribution to the discourse of a war that has been said to defy representation. The...

  8. Five The Gendered Subject of Human Rights: DOMESTIC INFIDELITY IN IRRAWADDY TANGO AND THE SCENT OF THE GODS
    (pp. 137-167)

    In 1995, theNew York Timespronounced the emergence of a new South Africa, this time, in Asia.¹ Burma, now known as Myanmar, was reported to be the target of an international divestment campaign on the basis of its human rights and environmental abuses.² This shift from South Africa to Burma as recipient of the dubious honor of greatest human rights abuser arose from the events of 1988, in which the military fired on a crowd of prodemocracy demonstrators, culminating in the detention of an estimated three thousand political prisoners, including the house arrest of the National League for Democracy...

  9. Afterword: Multiplying Loyalties
    (pp. 168-178)

    The accusation of betrayal introduces a rupture into collective association; in doing so, it suggests the inadequacy of identity categories to represent subjects. The texts I have engaged here use sexuality to interrogate political alliance and expose the socially constructed and politically invested nature of affiliation. In proposing that identifications (and thus identities themselves) emerge through contestation, my inquiry inherently questions identity as a stable foundation for truth claims. This questioning is perhaps disappointing to those who, having noted the constituency my subtitle invokes, have turned to this book as a source of empirical data about Asian American women.

    While...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 179-196)
  11. Works Cited
    (pp. 197-208)
  12. Index
    (pp. 209-212)