Asian American Women face Intersectional Discrimination

 Asian American women experience gendered and racialized discrimination across personal, professional, and public arenas.

Reviewed by Sakshee Chawla


Dr. Mukkamala and Dr. Suyemoto study the intersectional experiences of Asian American women that result from intertwined systems of disadvantage across both race and gender. Originally coined by Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, the term ‘intersectionality’ offers “a prism to see the interactive effects of various forms of discrimination” (Crenshaw, 2018). The intersectional approach to this study recognizes the compounding and overlapping power structures that disenfranchise Asian American women because of their gender and race. Using Kimberlé Crenshaw’s intersectional lens, this study focuses on the gendered and racial discrimination experienced by Asian American women and in comparison with the discrimination faced by those who share some, but not all, aspects of these women’s identities.

Although prior literature speaks to racism against Asian Americans, including Asian American women, this research primarily focuses on intersectional discrimination unique to Asian American women. It highlights an intersectionality illustrating the ways in which Asian American women experience some kinds of discrimination shared by other Asian Americans, some kinds of discrimination from non-Asian Americans that are related to being both Asian American and women, and some kinds of discrimination from within the Asian American group that are related to cultured meanings of gender. This study also finds a dichotomy distinct to Asian American women that renders them hypervisible in contexts where they are exoticized but invisible and voiceless in other settings where their opinions and presence are largely ignored and excluded. The research on discrimination towards women, as well as that within families or ethnic groups also finds that “benevolent sexism” is commonly used to preserve gendered subordinance.

Dr. Shruti Mukkamala is a Senior Staff Psychologist at the University of California-Irvine. She received her Master of Science in Clinical Psychology from California State University-Fullerton and Doctor of Philosophy in Clinical Psychology at the University of Massachusetts-Boston. Dr. Karen L. Suyemoto is a Professor of Psychology and Asian American Studies and the Director of the Transnational Cultural and Community Studies graduate program at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. In 2013, Dr. Suyemoto was recognized as a White House Champion of Change: Asian American Pacific Islander Women and also received the Asian American Psychological Association’s Distinguished Contributions Award.

Methods and Findings

Participants were self-identified monoracial Asian or Asian American women who had lived in the United States for at least 10 years. These women were recruited in three ways to promote diversity of occupations, locations, and ethnic groups: e-mail and listserv outreach to national Asian American organizations; email, listserv, and flyer outreach to local neighborhoods, businesses, and community organizations in California and the Northeast region of the U.S.; and snowball sampling through professors, researchers, students, and professionals involved with Asian American individuals and communities.

Researchers gathered their qualitative data through both standardized open-ended survey questions and in-depth inductive focus group interviews. Every response was first coded according to situation context (personal or professional) and then by the nature of the experience resulting in three categorical areas: racism against Asian Americans shared by Asian American women, Asian American women-specific experiences, and experiences from within the Asian American group or family.

● Non-gender based racism against Asian Americans: Participants reflected on their experiences with tokenization, culture-based discrimination, and invalidation of their experiences of discrimination. On one hand, participants reported having their academic performance and success attributed to their racial identity. On the other hand, they reported being perceived as criminals or bad drivers. They also shared having their ethnicity mislabeled, assumed, or mistaken. As one participant put it, “Asians are grouped together as one large entity, and our individual identities are lost.”

● Gendered racism or racialized sexism: Participants recalled being exoticized, fetishized, and sexually objectified because of their racial and gender identity. They also spoke of being perceived as submissive, passive, and incapable of leadership. One participant said that “people seem surprised that I have had many years of leadership experience and have worked with very challenging clients and situations.” Participants were also stereotypically assumed to work in low-level service jobs such as maids, service workers, or nail salons.

● Gender discrimination experiences within the Asian American family or ethnic group: Participants reported being subjected to familial expectations that they be restricted to traditional gender roles both at home and at work. For example, one participant said that “a lot more resources poured into my brother’s education than there were for mine.” While the study questions elicited fewer data points on this theme, the researchers recognize this as an opportunity for further research.


The results of this study clarify the intersectional discrimination experienced by Asian American women in their public, professional, and personal lives. Mukkamala and Suyemoto believe the categories identified in this study may provide a valuable empirical foundation for a future measure of this type of intersectional discrimination. This measure would support future research to examine the psychological impacts of discrimination and effective personal and professional intervention strategies.

This study also lays the foundation for further research on intersectionality, which could include sexual orientation, social class, ability status, and other socially constructed identities. Because this study elicited first-hand narratives, these descriptions can also be used to inform medical and psychological theory and practice to better support Asian-American women. Furthermore, this research can provide valuable guidance for organizational leaders seeking to create more inclusive environments. Ultimately, this research offers a new taxonomy and evidence base on the intersectional experiences that can be leveraged across various disciplines and identities.


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