By Esther Liu
Part of the headlines on today’s San Diego Union Tribune (May 10, 2011) is Camdr. Shanti Sethi, the first Indian American woman to command a US Navy warship (the destroy Decatur).
The Navy has 286 ships, fewer than 10 have female skippers. Out of roughly 1,500 active-duty commanding officers, 93 percent are men and 84 percent are white (1). And obviously there is only one Asian American woman skipper!
I read this news with great interest. A short woman (she is less than 5 feet tall and had to get a waiver to even get into Navy) with an Indian father and an American mother, Shanti Sethi was overlooked by her superior when first commissioned (even though she was one of the top students in class). She “worked her behind off”, according to her mother, to where she is today. When the ship she now commands docked in India this spring, it was a singular moment in history. She became a “celebrity” in India (everyone wanted a picture of her to show it to their daughters).
Shanti Sethi has come a long way and indeed stood on the shoulders of the first generation of women to be allowed on warships. Asian American women are now a breed of their own. The newspaper also reported that she was mostly raised by her American mother (her parent divorced when she was 5), therefore, was NOT under any pressure to choose a career that was acceptable in the eyes of tradition. “That’s one thing I’m eternally grateful for, ” the Decatur commander said.
Reading her statement, my heart rejoiced with her, but at the same time ached and pondered how many women’s dreams, hopes, callings, and visions were destroyed and how many gifted women lived in oppression, limitations, and despair, all in the name of tradition/culture……and for Christian women, in the name of biblical tradition, or worse yet, in the name of God?
Culture is made up of worldviews, self-perception, morality and values. It plays a huge part in shaping and molding of who we are. However, most people seem to be unaware of its powerful influence.
Recently I was on a ‘Christian Women Panel’ for a group of young Asian American women which include Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese. We talked about who they were as women, as Christian women, AND as Asian American Christian women.
A lot of them struggled with their parents and their expectations. They are puzzled by the traditional teaching that women, especially Christian women, should just sit and wait for the Mr. Right. They wanted financial independency, even from their husbands, but somehow also worried about this mentality (if it is biblical). They wondered out loud about the submission issue in marriage and the contentment in singleness which is not so acceptable in Asian culture.
With the little time I had, I tried to challenge them to re-evaluate everything they believed through the Word of God. Is this teaching cultural? Or Biblical? Does this teaching/belief come from your parents or from God? What is God’s view about women, culture and cultural influence? Is Asian culture biblically based? Is American culture biblically based? Who has been defining them as women all their lives? Is it God, culture, tradition, their parents or their pastors? I feel that so much more can be said and needs to be said about this issue.
I have raised a lot of questions without giving any answer for I believe that raising awareness IS the first step of finding real answers that actually brings changes. If we, women/Christian women/Asian American Christian women continue to walk in “cultural darkness”, then darkness will stay as the norm.
My hope and prayer is that this short article will generate some awareness about the cultural influenced on each of us, challenge you to reflect on your own belief, stimulate more discussion on these issues, and at the end, God’s will and intention for His daughters will be done in your life as well as in mine.
Note 1: Source; US Navy Office of Naval Personnel, as of May, 2011