Troubling issue of bamboo ceiling and how to break it
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Troubling issue of bamboo ceiling and how to break it
  • Jang Ji-won
  • 승인 2015.05.11 09:56
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Have you heard of the term “yellow fever?” Apparently, a large number of males (usually Caucasians) have a strangely strong preference toward Asian females. The reason for yellow fever may differ according to each individual, but one prevalent idea is that it is because Asian women are considered to be submissive and passive. I was not aware of this phenomenon until my recent encounter with some European and American friends, and I was quite shocked and offended by it.Soon afterwards, I learned about stereotypes in an organizational behavior class. Stereotypes are oversimplified thoughts about particular types of people, and when this target becomes a certain race, it can be referred to as “ethnic profiling.” The professor mentioned a book titled Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling: Career Strategies for Asians by Jane Hyun. He told us that according to this book, the reason for the lack of Asian CEOs in international companies is due to stereotypical perceptions about Asians – or “the bamboo ceiling,” derived from “the glass ceiling.” Asians are perceived to be not-so-great leaders as they are timid, uncreative, and tend to conform rather than speak up. The notion that these images about Asians could block our career paths was disturbing.Unfortunately, such stereotypes against Asians are prevalent in western cultures, one drastic example being the yellow fever phenomenon. A couple of weeks ago, I had another chance to be thoroughly reminded of this while watching the movie Pitch Perfect. In the movie, there are two Asian characters. One is the protagonist’s roommate; a weird, hostile girl who barely speaks to the main character and only hangs out with other Asians. The other is a weird, timid girl who does not speak audibly and only mumbles, even when singing for an acappella group. To be fair, the movie is choke full of weird, stereotypical characters, from a fat white girl, an uptight prim white girl to a lesbian black girl. But it does prove an important point that Asians are regarded to be timid, socially awkward and maybe even narrow-minded.So what can we do about these biases and general perceptions? Although they can be offensive, the inconvenient truth is that they do have a point. Asians do tend to conform to society, stay quiet within the crowd and act collectively. True, these traits have been exaggerated, but that is how stereotypes are portrayed. In a way, we should learn to accept these perceptions and try not to be too indignant about it.However, this is not to say that we should remain passive – that would only strengthen them. We still have to break the bamboo ceiling, remember? I cannot tell you Hyun’s solutions because I have not read the book, but I can offer my own conclusion, as flawed as it may be.Most importantly, I believe we should not feel inferior about our Asian characteristics judged by western standards. We may be different and value different things compared to western people, but that does not mean we should blindly follow their standards. Our Asian values and traits are precious in their own way, which is why we should try to make use of them beneficially instead of feeling offended when these traits are pointed out. For example, sticking together and being collective can be a good thing. Many foreigners are pleasantly surprised by Koreans’ Jeong, a special type of affection formed through connections. Jeong is a very warm, humane factor in society and may act as a strong drive for Koreans.Of course, there are some unfavorable Asian characteristics, but hey, nobody’s perfect. The undesirable aspects should also be acknowledged, and we should strive to change them. I personally think not being able to speak up is a negative trait among Asians, and such passiveness should be overcome by shy Asians including myself.Overall, we should embrace our Asian-ness – be proud of our cultural identity and nobly fix our flaws; breaking the bamboo ceiling with a Taekwondo kick, perhaps.

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