Academic journal article Asian American Policy Review

Shaping the Mainstream as an Asian American Woman: Politics within Politics

Academic journal article Asian American Policy Review

Shaping the Mainstream as an Asian American Woman: Politics within Politics

Article excerpt


This commentary illustrates how women of color, including Asian Americans, are rarely associated with having an active role in American politics. Based upon my experiences as the communications director for a state legislative race in Virginia, I shed light on hidden stereotypes associated with the intersection of gender, race, and nationality that emerge within political campaigns. I also discuss how my female and Asian American identity took precedence over my leadership role for the campaign. These experiences demonstrate a great need for more women of color to lead political campaigns in a way that would alleviate demeaning perceptions of race and gender within mainstream politics.

The presence of women of color, including Asian Americans, is critical to shed light on stereotypes that men may not see in mainstream politics. Some may argue that misconceptions related to the intersections of gender, ethnicity, and citizenship will eventually became an irrelevant issue because the U.S. population is becoming more diverse over time. In fact, the 2012 U.S. Census shows that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) are the fastest growing population in comparison to other ethnic groups. (1) Since people of color outnumber their Caucasian counterparts, there is the expectation that Asian Americans and other ethnic groups will be highly visible in mainstream politics.

However, this logic is faulty because women already make up more than half of the U.S. population, (2) and yet they are disproportionately represented by those who hold elected positions at all levels of government. What seems like a nonissue is an issue that is problematic right now. Today, men still outnumber women as elected officials. (3) As of 2013, women make up only 18 percent of the 535 seats in U.S. Congress. (4) At the state level, nearly 25 percent of women hold offices among all legislators. (5) Political campaigns need to develop strong pipelines for more diverse campaign staffers, particularly targeted at women of color so that candidates have campaign staffers that reflect the diverse, unique, and varying needs of constituents before the 2020 decennial census. It may be too late for political campaign strategists to wait until after the year 2020 to find out if more people of color, including women, will influence the outcome of mainstream politics.

The intersection of race and gender plays an important role in American politics. Women of color, including Asian Americans, experience a double standard in terms of race and gender as campaign staff, operatives, and consultants. This double standard allows them to cast a wider net when strategizing on the key issues that constituents can resonate with their candidate. For example, women of color already have expectations of how the public and the media generally perceive women--especially perceptions about physical appearance, how they emotionally react, and whether they have a voice at the table. Because of their racial or ethnic backgrounds, diverse female campaign staffers have the ability to initiate a dialogue on how race plays a factor in a candidate's viability to woo voters, which is equally important as discussing gender stereotypes on the campaign trail. The role of minority women goes beyond influencing the outcome of elections, both by their visibility in the public with their candidates and their ability to steer the political strategy for voter turnout. Therefore, candid conversations about race issues with campaign staff should be a part of campaign strategy for all candidates running for office.

Few programs specifically train women of color to become political operatives since they fall instead under the general umbrella of women. What is missing from current campaign trainings is an emphasis on building the pipeline for the next generation of women operating behind the scenes for political candidates. Several political training programs already focus on helping women run for local, state, and federal level offices, including Running Start, (6) She Should Run, (7) VoteRunLead, (8) and many others. …

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