On September 26, the International House of Japan and the Japan Society co-organized a panel discussion under the title “Asian Women: Beyond Myths and Stereotypes” (with partial support from the Japan Foundation). For this panel, the I-House invited two fellows who had visited Japan on fellowship programs either organized or supported by the I-House. Ms. Urvashi Butalia, 2000 ALFP fellow participated in the panel as one of the panelists.
First, Ms. Sheridan Prasso, who came to Japan in 2003 on the US-Japan Media Fellows Program, made a presentation based on her recent publication The Asian Mystique: Dragon Ladies, Geisha Girls, & Our Fantasies of the Exotic Orient (Public Affairs, 2005). Ms. Prasso argued that the juxtapositional images of Asian women as “submissive, subservient and sexually available geisha” and “dragon ladies” are mere stereotypes. Ms. Prasso revealed the historicall and cultural backgrounds of such stereotypes, mainly created and perpetuated by the western media, such as Hollywood movies. Ms. Prasso then stated that we should not see people as “nationals” but as individuals.
Ms. Butalia questions the validity of “regional identity” such as “Asian Women” saying that the Asia Ms. Prasso discusses, namely East and Southeast Asia, and Ms. Butalia’s Asia (South Asia) are different in many senses. Ms. Butalia also mentioned the violence we commit by slotting people into some kind of compartment and labeling them. Stereotypes or identities (stereotypes which we impose upon ourselves) can be disempowering, Ms. Butalia says. We have to think about what the stereotypes mean to us, and sometimes we have to stand up to resist and fight against them.
The discussion of Ms. Prasso and Ms. Butalia was followed by a number of critical questions and comments by the audience.