Asian American women and cultural pressures

May 17, 2007

There are many factors that affect Asian Americans, both pressures from our Asian cultural heritage as well as being a minority in an American context. This CNN article, Push to achieve tied to suicide in Asian-American women, unpacks some of these pressures that push a few over the edge towards tragedy [ht: Eddie Byun]:

Asian-American women ages 15-24 have the highest suicide rate of women in any race or ethnic group in that age group. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for Asian-American women in that age range. … As Noh and others have searched for the reasons, a complex answer has emerged.

First and foremost, they say “model minority” pressure — the pressure some Asian-American families put on children to be high achievers at school and professionally — helps explain the problem.

“In my study, the model minority pressure is a huge factor,” says Noh, who studied 41 Asian-American women who’d attempted or contemplated suicide. “Sometimes it’s very overt — parents say, ‘You must choose this major or this type of job’ or ‘You should not bring home As and Bs, only As,” she says. “And girls have to be the perfect mother and daughter and wife as well.”

Family pressure often affects girls more than boys, according to Dr. Dung Ngo, a psychologist at Baylor University in Texas. “When I go talk to high school students and ask them if they experience pressure, the majority who raised their hands were the girls,” he said.

Asian-American parents, he says, are stricter with girls than with boys. “The cultural expectations are that Asian women don’t have that kind of freedom to hang out, to go out with friends, to do the kinds of things most teenagers growing up want to do.”

And in Asian cultures, he added, you don’t question parents. “The line of communication in Asian culture one way. It’s communicated from the parents downward,” he says. “If you can’t express your anger, it turns to helplessness. It turns inward into depression for girls. For boys it’s more likely to turn outwards into rebellious behavior and behavioral problems like drinking and fighting.”

Watch video for more about Asian-Americans’ feelings of pressure to hide depression. But it’s even more complicated than just cultural pressures. Even an Asian American writer like Iris Chang with notable accomplishments and career success had committed suicide.

There’s a big opportunity here for Gospel-centered Asian-friendly churches to better minister grace and healing to avert the cultural pressures and expectations so that Asian American women and men can experience an abundant life in Christ.

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