The Unseen Privileges

In the eight years I worked specifically with Christian Asian American college students, I knew that my gender would get in the way. I was not a pastor – youth, English ministry, college, women’s ministry or otherwise. I was not a seminary student. I wasn’t a pastor’s wife. I was a married women with a child whose husband was not in vocational ministry. I was weird. Colleagues would later call me a trailblazer, but to be honest most days I simply reveled in the complexity of my amazing life while simultaneously crying in frustration over feeling like the only thing being burned was me.

And how do you talk about the unseen privileges my male colleagues, and more specifically my Asian American male colleagues, benefitted from without sounding demanding, whiny or bitter? Believe me, I keep trying even though I’ve been called all of those things. Even yesterday as I was supervising a younger male leader he talked about a local pastor’s gathering he was invited to attend. In all the years I worked at the same campus I was never invited to those meetings.

What that leader is learning is that he has unseen privileges that give him credibility and access. He knows it. He sees it in some of the male students he is mentoring – young men who have told him they don’t connect with me as a speaker – and he and I trust each other enough to say it out loud. It’s not about content or quality of delivery. It’s because I’m a woman, and in the Asian American context we still have some internal conversations that need to be had about cultural patriarchy and how some cultural values are so deeply rooted that it will take time, prayer, faith and pain to work through them. 

Over the years I’ve had to learn what it means to lead out of influence, to have a voice in the conversation even when I am not at the table. I’m still learning, which is why this controversy over Deadly Viper Character Assassin is affecting me so deeply. I have been physically at the table in conversations with the authors and publishing executives, but I am struggling in what feels like an unfair choice but perhaps prudent choice. I’m just not sure.

I’m having a tough time shaking the gender piece of this curriculum that hijacks and then stereotypes Asian culture while creating a false dichotomy between the feminine and masculine and describes strength, integrity and leadership in hyper-masculine terms. If my culture is nothing more than a decorative background and kung fu fighting illustration then I am reduced to a stereotype. And if my gender and things that are girly are equated with weakness then I am silenced. Twice.

I’m not making this stuff up. Really. Thanks to logicandimagination I did a little hunting and found an online preview of the book. (On a side note, I’m hoping to get out this afternoon and visit the local Christian bookstore to look through a copy of the book. I can’t bring myself money to pay for a copy, but the credibility of my critique of the theme – based on the website, dvd previews, blog and online book preview – is being questioned because I haven’t read the actual book.) 

“And then there’s little old us looking like school girls with plaid skirts on, because we are unskilled and undisciplined in the area of character. We’re weaklings with rail skinny arms and toothpick legs.” DV, page 11, 

“So we are asking you to make a choice and a decision right now. We are asking you to go balls out with us and become warriors, fighters, and black belts in the art of integrity. For some, this might be painful. For others, this will simply validate your leadership choices and good decisions. This is the grand master challenge to conquer yourself. We want to party with Master Po! We are warriors in the making.” p. 21

School girls with plaid skirts? Really? And how the *bleep* am I supposed “to go balls out”? Yeah, that’s going to be painful if not impossible. I don’t have balls, thank you very much. What is that even supposed to mean? I asked my husband because he has balls, and he couldn’t believe his eyes. We both agreed. If any of our kids used that phrase they would know immediately that Mom and Dad were not validating their leadership choices and that using the phrase was not a good decision.

My husband acknowledges that he can choose. If he chooses to engage in the gender piece of the conversation and controversy he will be viewed as an advocate. He can choose to acknowledge that the denigration of women and Asian Americans is unjust, but the impact of the former is a few degrees removed for him – even as he can sympathize as a son of a woman, husband of a woman, father of a young woman. His unseen privilege is that he does not lose credibility even if he chooses.

How will my credibility be affected if I chose to ignore blatant sexism in order to speak into issues of race and ethnicity? How will my credibility be affected if I chose to ignore blatant racism in order to speak into issues of sexism?

I haven’t given up hope that there are ways to embrace the complexity and dive into it more deeply. I’m convinced that the more complex conversations will take longer and be more painful, but they have the potential to lead us to a deeper, integrated and holistic understanding of what it means to be created in God’s image. I’m just not sure if I’m too angry or not angry enough to see where a conversation like this could lead.


  1. Eugene Cho November 18, 2009

    Thanks for this Kathy. Lots to think about. Talk to you soon at the conference call.

    • eliseanne November 18, 2009


      You have a powerful voice. Please use it, and don’t leave this to Kathy.

      side note –

      Are people afraid of “losing” the discussion with Zondervan/DV by “complicating/muddying it” in discussing the gender issues too?

  2. Anthony G November 18, 2009


    I really appreciate this post. Had I just read the book myself, I doubt I would have picked up the gender issues. Considering the book seems to be targeted at men (judging by the promotional materials and “Mancave” podcasts tied to it), how could the author’s have appealed to a man’s desire to be strong, battle-tested, etc. in a way that is not demeaning women? I get that the school girl comment was used as an insult of men (and therefore was an insult toward women), but I don’t see a problem with the second paragraph in the context of a book for men. “Going balls out” or “man up” or “cowboy up” are a bit silly, obviously, but many men respond to that sort of motivation (look at any HS boys sports team). So, how can “guy talk” be used appropriately amongst men without it reflecting poorly on women?

    • Melody Hanson November 18, 2009

      anthony g, i’m thinking your question about ‘guy talk’ is rhetorical but just in case it isn’t … it can’t be used appropriately… that whole thing, guy talk, machismo, all of it is bad for women.

    • Kathy Khang November 18, 2009

      Well, part of the problem is that I have yet to find any reference to the book as a book for men. I was told it’s a book about radical integrity and leadership. I’m all for radical integrity and leadership, but if it’s a book about integrity and leadership for both men and women, women have some interpreting to do from what I have read so far. For example, on page 106 – part of Chapter 5: The Assassin of Boom Chicka Wah Wah where the authors tackle sexuality (the topic being a personal favorite as some may know) – is a photograph of an Asian American woman wearing a red strapless shirt showing off her midriff pulling a large sword out of the sheath. The accompanying caption:

      “Salespeople call it the One Thousand Mile Rule. Within one thousand miles of home, you play by the rules and don’t fool around. Beyond one thousand miles, you feel like you can do whatever you want. – USA Today Article on Infidelity”

      The quote alone – I can roll with that. The quote with the photo of an objectified Asian American woman – nope, this is not a general leadership book.

      Can you help me understand why “many men respond to that sort of motivation”?

      • anthonygiron November 19, 2009

        Wow, I had no idea that that sort of imagery was in the book. I’m not sure how that was seen as appropriate.

        As for “guy talk,” what I am referring to is a sort of general, motivational way of speaking to fire guys up. That is not the view of guy talk most people have, which was probably confusing. My bad.

        As to what I was referring to, what I mean is this: guys respond to being fired up. We get charged up watching Braveheart, Gladiator, 300, or any number of other films. And it is often effective to look at the men in these movies and say “Go be that in your spiritual lives.” In Just Courage by Gary Haugen, he calls everyone out of a boring, “be nice” safe spirituality into the dangerous, invigorating call to do justice everywhere. That’s the kind of call that resonates with men because it’s a call to action, adventure, being a warrior as it were.

        So, will a guy respond to “Go balls out in being a high-character leader”? Will a guy respond respond to being called to strength and honor (as in Gladiator)? Many will. We want to be warriors and fighters who are strong and make a difference. We want masculinity to have strength to it. Now, for many there is an implication that strength only resides in men. I personally don’t believe that. To me, calling men to strength does not mean that there is no strength in femininity.

        It’s entirely possible that I just don’t understand the hurt that these things can cause to women, even the way I see them, which really is why I posted here. So, I go back to the original question (slightly changed): Is there a way to use this sort of motivational talk, fighter imagery in a way that will motivate men but not demean women?

  3. eliseanne November 18, 2009

    oh kathy…….it is worse than i thought……..

    God of justice and truth and love, give Kathy the words, peace of mind, strength, and support of the body as she endeavors in this whole mess.

    @ anthony

    “Guy talk” can start to be appropriate when it removes gendered/sexual parallels.

    “Balls out” and “Man up” imply that strength is a masculine quality. It is the converse of being skinny school girls, which implies that female = weak or worthless. “throw like a girl” = girls are weak = girls are bad.

    Why not say, “We are asking you to give your all”?

    Degrading half of God’s image for the sake of humor is wrong wrong wrong.

  4. andybilhorn November 18, 2009

    My letter to the folks at DV has still gone unanswered. I sense it might have been because I asked them to stop making my job so much harder as a white male working in a multiethnic world…

    If it means anything, I told some of my women to “woman up” the other day. Calling people to maturity – for boys to act like men, and girls to act like women.

    Like you are doing here. Praying for you. It’s time the boys at the man cave man up.

    • Kathy Khang November 18, 2009

      Andy, I’m hoping there are just too many letters to respond to. I know that they are looking into the concerns raised publicly regarding DV; it’s just going to move slower than any of us want it to or perhaps think it should. Thank you, though, for writing.

  5. Melody Hanson November 18, 2009

    I only wrote Zondervan today. We’ll see what reply I get.

    Thank you so much for being one of the lightening rods for women and Asian Americans. Though hearing you describe the toll, the price, the pain, makes me want to beat all those dudes up!

    You are doing something good. I will pray for clarity of purpose (To know when and how loud you have to yell or if you are to yell at all? I don’t know. It’s not very Asian, but you have a voice.) and to use your voice well.

    “If you as parents cut corners, your children will too. If you lie, they will too. If you spend all your money on yourselves and tithe no portion of it for charities, colleges, churches, synagogues, and civic causes, your children won’t either. And if parents snicker at racial and gender jokes, another generation will pass on the poison adults still have not had the courage to snuff out.” Marian Wright Edelman

    A hug.


  6. andkim November 18, 2009

    Kathy, I’m thankful for your courage and pastoral heart in helping so many young, punk male staff and students (of which I have belonged to both groups) wrestle with the complex issues of gender in a loving, patient way.

    I’m not even close to figuring things out, but thanks to how God has used your leadership, at least I am just starting to have eyes to see, at least once every blue moon.

    I am sincerely excited but admittedly a little scared at what it will mean for me to commit to the journey of gender reconciliation — how I’ll have to repent and how I’ll have to find new ways of relating, speaking and leading. But I know this is where God is leading me personally, leading in my own ministry and in the Asian American and broader evangelical communities. So please continue to lead and speak out!

    (And on a practical note, I really have to purge the term, “you got balls/cajones” from my ministry/leadership lexicon. I feel like a moron for using that so frequently when referring to women as well.)

    • eliseanne November 19, 2009

      my husband was scared too 🙂

      I didnt used to speak out as much on sexism, until my husband had his eyes opened and believed. Once he started to speaking out, I was empowered, and felt safer than I ever had with him, and I started to use my voice again instead of being silenced.

      The voices of our brothers will embolden us to use our own.

      My husband could no longer make excuses for sexism after he read the book “Transforming a Rape Culture.” It is article after article about how our overarching American culture doesn’t try to end rape, but just get the numbers lower, and what that implies about how women are treated, thought of, etc (especially as it pertains to violence against women).

      I have never been prouder of my husband than when he was taking that book (it is quite large and says the title in huge red print) to work with him and reading it in public on his breaks, and openly crying.

  7. […] Presidential search for Wheaton to name two.  Or the painful musings of a new person in my life, Kathy Khang, author of More than Serving Tea and multi ethnic director for a parachurch organization.  All of […]

  8. Melody Hanson November 18, 2009

    Kathy, you really moved me by your musings here and made me face some things that I’ve kept rammed down inside for a while. You talking about your feelings as a woman are very empowering. And I have been writing again today. What you are doing is powerful and being used by God. I’m grateful to have found you. Melody

  9. Josh November 18, 2009

    It looks like the men of Christ have something to apologize for as well. Please give us grace as we have sinned against our sisters with such denigrating language. Let’s all work together to find ways to vocalize our passions and zeal for Christ in a manner that does not limit nor trample. This shouldn’t be the final point in this dialogue between the two genders, but rather a beginning.

    • Melody Hanson November 19, 2009

      Hear hear Josh.

      There are lots of examples, Anthony, where men and women can be motivated together that don’t have to do with our muscular, testosterone-laden strength, but rather the muscle of our minds, the power of our prayer life, and many other things. But I’m not into these “motivational type” books. I want solid teaching, not cheer-leading. I don’t want a book I can read in one night.

      And don’t you think it’s a huge generalization that “guys” respond to being fired up? All guys, seriously? I think it completely depends on your temperament.

      I was thinking of a movie like Million Dollar Baby, which was awesome and a great example of motivational. It pumped me up. And to be honest, I want “the dangerous, invigorating call to do justice everywhere. That’s the kind of call that resonates with” me because it’s a call to action and adventure! That is not a male thing!

      • anthonygiron November 20, 2009

        I’m not sure my point/question is coming across correctly here. I’m asking the question on whether there’s a place for the kinds of things I mentioned in the above post. I’m not sure that’s been answered yet.

        Throughout the post, I made an effort to say most men. I must have missed one, so my fault on that. I think the rest of the post should make it clear that I did not mean to generalize all men.

        And since I was speaking on the topic of motivating men, I did not comment on what motivates women. I did not mean to imply that any particular call/motivation is men only.

        • Kathy Khang November 21, 2009

          Anthony (et al),
          I’m playing some catch-up here as I’ve been in meetings…

          Help me interpret and understand as well…I haven’t read Gary Haugen’s book, but if he is calling everyone out of that boring “be nice” safe spirituality, why shouldn’t that call also resonate with me as a woman? How do you think that kind of call resonates differently with women than men? I do think there are very nuanced differences where women are having to contextualize, interpret, etc. when the images of warrior are almost exclusively male.

          But then I get to Deborah and Barak (Judges 4, 5) and that really throws me for a loop. I never learned about that crazy prophet Deborah, and I had no paradigm for what Jael does with that tent peg. That is some crazy stuff.

          Yes, I believe there is a place for motivating men as men, but it should never be lifting up men by pushing women down. I’m all for calling my brothers to fight for justice but not if that means making fun of women or even other men who don’t connect with an inner-warrior and then justifying it in the name of Jesus.

          • anthonygiron November 28, 2009

            As I said previously, I didn’t mean to say that this sort of motivation is a “men only” thing. Since the context of my question was about motivating men, I stuck to that area. I used the book Just Courage as an example of something that many men would find very motivating; I did not mean to imply that it would not be motivating to women. I’m quite certain it is, but it wasn’t in the area of what I was questioning.

            My question remains: how can the sort of motivational things I mentioned above be used in a healthy way for men: in a way that motivates them without pushing women down?

            • Kathy Khang November 29, 2009

              On a basic level it’s eliminating words and phrases that equate feminine and women with weak and “less than”. Phrases like “crying like a girl” used in opposition to “fighter/warrior”-language is an example of using that motivational language and imagery by pushing women down. Cut it out. Cut out the weak=feminine talk.

              On another level, men need to get healthy (and this isn’t a “men only” thing, but goes along with your question). If putting down women is the only way to connect with that kind of fighter/warrior language and imagery, there is something else going on that needs to be addressed, IMHO.

              And male leaders, like you, need to be aware of perpetuating the kind of leadership that motivates men by pushing women down. You need to be models, find male and female mentors who are going to keep you accountable and aware. You need to make mistakes, be willing to be corrected, and then change course.

              How have you found your leadership changing or the ways you motivate young men as you’ve changed?

  10. Andrea Huang November 19, 2009


    thanks for your honest thoughts about being an asian american woman! you’ve been an inspiration to me as i’ve wrestled with the same issues in working with asam male students =) and thought about my place in ministry, in church… and lots of other places!

    thanks also for your well written words and work with this deadly viper conversation.

  11. andkim November 20, 2009

    In light of this great conversation, I have a question for Kathy as well as the folks reading. What kind of practical things can be done to proactively move towards gender reconciliation and mutual understanding so that we aren’t just reacting?

    (A similar question can and should probably be posed re: race and ethnicity as well)

    • Kathy Khang November 20, 2009

      Great question, Andy.

      But before I answer…who is reacting to what?

      • andkim November 20, 2009

        I think your entry is a reaction to the deadly vipers material as well as the reaction to THE REACTION and how it exposes gender brokenness and misunderstanding in the Church (and a challenging, helpful and much needed reaction at that). I think in general there’s been a lot of reacting going on throughout the past few weeks, in helpful and unhelpful forms.

        In some ways I’m thinking it probably takes reacting to missteps, offensives, inadvertent discrimination that we can really learn and change.

        But I’m just trying to think what would it look like (or what has it looked like) to be proactive in tackling this issue?

        • Kathy Khang November 21, 2009


          What would you tell someone to do if that person wanted to be proactive in the area of multiethnicity and racial reconciliation? I believe you would talk about learning through reading, displacement, personal relationships and experiences, etc. Those are great first steps.

          But before you dive in, are you (and my brothers and sisters) willing to hope while also be willing to make mistakes, be corrected, etc.? As an Asian American male, are you willing to recognize your unseen privileges? What conversations are you ready and willing to initiate with people at places I may not have equal access to? How might you advocate for women? And as you make those intentional decisions will you be able to communicate love, grace and truth to those who believe gender doesn’t matter and that women should not be at the table?

  12. jimmy November 20, 2009


    A courageous post. I appreciate the way you have externally processed your angst regarding this issue. I do believe the fruit is not ripe yet. I wonder what will provoke such a conversation that is fruitful for the liberation of my sisters and healing for our brothers. I know this subject is so applicable and healing to so many aspects of our humanity i.e. marriage, father/daughter, mother/son, mentoring relationships, etc. I wonder how you can leverage this to some substantive conversations in a way that will provoke change. I know in the Black community, misogynous behavior of men is so multi layered, starting with the proverbial, “hurt people hurt people” a never ending cycle of sadistic masochism, that continues to leave this perpetual state of wounded people. Sadly, as believers we have not had honest discourse that reaches for depth passed the anecdotal, colloquial comments that excuse or provide a short term cartharsis that perpetuates the problems , instead of genuine appreciation of our humanity. I know my studies of the Native American specifically Cherokees, have provided me insight that some answers are present.

    I know it is too much to ask after the DV incident. I hope you will prayerfully consider how you can leverage this conversation practically to permit us, men and women, to engage this issue.

    You thinking out loud does help.

    • Kathy Khang November 20, 2009

      I agree with you. The fruit is not ripe yet, but there is something going on deep in my soul that I want to run away from that God is calling me back to. I’ll be honest. I’m afraid to keep praying because I know God will answer. If I pray about how to leverage this conversation, am I ready to be obedient?

  13. Wayne Park November 20, 2009

    the skirts and balls thing: sounds characteristic of the whole man movement assoc. w/ Driscoll and these silly Wild at Heart themes. As if using such language made men more manly.

    Issues of objectification, suppression, humiliation are endemic from this root thing of women as non-being.

  14. Amber November 21, 2009

    As a newcomer to this blog community, I just want to say thank you to the post author for writing this.

  15. eliseanne November 23, 2009

    @ all is a great help to me as a i navigate these things. They have a blog and a resources page. brings to light many of the bible passages that are mistaught today about women.

    @ kathy

    i feel the anxiety in asking God, too. and i am not even a leader like you. anxiety over the backlash of women speaking out. praying for you and everything.

    • Kathy Khang November 23, 2009


      thank you for your prayers and for the cbe link. both are helpful and welcomed now, more than ever as the dust over Deadly Viper doesn’t seem to be settling down so much as it is swirling back up again.

  16. Holly September 4, 2010

    I am glad to hear that Zondervan pulled Jud’s “Deadly Viper” book. I have attended Central Christian Church in Las Vegas (Jud Wilhite’s church) on numerous occassions over the past 4 years. I have found that Church also makes fun of other ethnic groups, the Latinos and Italians, in their videos. During one of the Christmas videos (before Deadly Viper came out), they even portrayed Italians tieing up one of their family members, duck taping his mouth, and throwing him the truck of a car. They were portraying them as mafia.

    I tried to address the issue with the powers that be at Central. All I got was a backlashing from them, or a “go away” attitude from them (possibly due to the fact that I was a woman). All they did was started laughing, I don’t think God is laughing!

    During the services, Jud tries to sell Christianity as a product instead of a deep personal relationship with God, our creator.

    They play secular music at Central which in no way worships God. They are worshipping themselves for being able to play the songs (such as I Want To Hold Your Hand, Rocking Around the Christmas Tree, and Don’t Stop Believing – trying to reinact the TV show “Glee”). I truly believe that those songs do not belong in a church. They are just showing that Central is part of this world and not part of God’s Kingdom. It is very rarely that you hear Jesus’ name mentioned during the service.

    Needless to say, I no longer associate myself with Central. After attending there, it’s hard to believe that there is a God who loves and cares for you.


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