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

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

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

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

Synopsis

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.

Excerpt

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 markers for ethnic and national affiliations, women embody ethnic authenticity, patriotism, and class solidarity—and their repudiation. For Asian American women, these symbolic boundary markers are especially fraught.

Betrayal and Other Acts of Subversion examines Asian American women's putative betrayals to bring to light the very terms of collective identification, subjectivity, and belonging. This book investigates implicit and explicit charges of disloyalty in Asian American women's writing in order to explore the gendered nature of literary rhetoric. How are Americanized gender norms deployed to understand, for example, the terms of U.S. citizenship, Asian ethnic solidarity, or postcolonial nationalisms? In examining the gendered discourse of political appeal in literature, this study reveals how mechanisms of affiliation are constituted and analyzes the stakes of their maintenance, particularly for women who transgress borders drawn by multiple loyalties. In doing so, I suggest that “betrayal” can constitute subversion of another kind, a subversion of repressive authority that depends on upholding strict borders between groups and individuals.

I begin with two exemplary female “traitors,” the first charged with undoing a popular icon, and the second with betraying a nation. Both . . .

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