What is our responsibility in dismantling the power structures and disrupting the social practices that uphold toxic attitudes, and how do we heal the communities and victims that have been subjected to and oppressed by them?
Studies by the American Psychological Association show that Asian American women have one of the highest rates of chronic depression and suicide ideation. While the causes of this vary widely, online communities for Asian-American women reveal that among the causes is the oppressive and patriarchal nature of filial piety. Imposed on many of us from an early age, filial piety involves complete subservience to one’s elders and to the males of the family. Its historical intent was to create a social structure that established familial harmony and respect, but it is often exercised in the form of restrictive treatments towards daughters who are verbally and physically abused, given unrealistically high standards of performance, and psychologically manipulated into fear and submission. The glorification of daughters’ virtuousness and chastity meant that they are also frequently isolated from peers and forbidden from social activities--their bodies commodified as vessels of procreation and objects for the male gaze. Mental health problems are seen as a weakness of virtue and nature, and family members often deny that their daughters’ mental health is at risk for fear of bringing shame and dishonor to the family name.
Oppressed by their own families and afraid to speak out, these women experience invisibility in society and lack support for mental health care, even though generations of such practices have led to developmental trauma for many. My work examines the cultural narratives of, and resulting from, these toxic cultural beliefs from a historical and contemporary perspective, relating them to narratives outside of the Asian and Asian-American communities as a way to bring empathy in order to change these kinds of practices.
Chinese-American artist, Evelyn Wong, is a survivor of multigenerational abuse and developmental trauma. Her experiences in navigating the complexities of being born into a dysfunctional family while growing up in the American South provided her with a unique perspective on what it means to be a woman of color in American society today. Wong received her BFA from the University of South Carolina and is currently pursuing her MFA from Maine College of Art. She works across a variety of disciplines, including drawing, painting, embroidery, bookmaking, and installation, citing artists such as Andrea Dezsö, Kara Walker, Shahzia Sikander, Xiyadie, Sonya Clark, and author Laura Esquivel as sources of her inspiration.
Wong’s research into various narrative formats has led to investigations on the use of scroll forms with Asian origins as a reference to her own story and heritage. Her work highlights the problems of unquestioned practices found in the long-held traditions and patriarchal attitudes of Chinese culture that contribute women’s invisibility and oppression. Her work reflects the state of liminality experienced by someone who exists between American society and Chinese culture, and questions whether the problems she sees are so different from one culture to another.