Host Christian Pearson is joined by Asia expert and business scholar Seth Allred for an engaging discussion about the #MeToo movement and its reception throughout Asia. Together, they tackle several of the greatest obstacles to gender equality, and explore potential solutions as they apply to humanitarian research in Cambodia. They wrap things up talking about how to tactfully implement cultural changes in foreign countries, as informed by Melinda Gates’ recent book, The Moment of Lift.

Inside the Cambodia Project Episode 5 Podcast Transcript: #MeToo in Asia

with Seth Allred

[00:00:00.410] – Christian Pearson
Hello, I’m Christian, and you’re listening to inside the Cambodia project, an educational podcast where we discuss cutting edge research on sustainable business in an emerging market. In our last episode, I talked with Oliza Loy, one of my Cambodian friends who is the translator and cultural expert for our humanitarian research project in Cambodia. She shared some valuable insights about cultural differences between her home country and western countries, building on the topic of cultural differences between the east and the west. In this podcast, I’ll be interviewing an Asia expert on the too movement, student research scholar Seth Allred. Working for the Ballard center for Social Impact here at Brigham Young University, Seth has seen firsthand the importance of widely adopted societal movements for making changes happen. One such societal movement was that of the MeToo movement, which was founded in 2006 by Tarana Burke to support survivors of sexual violence. The movement gained wide adoption in 2017 when several celebrities spoke out about their experiences on social media, using the hashtag me too on social media. For anyone that followed this movement for the several years it was viral, you likely saw that it was a polarized topic and it wasn’t adopted or accepted in all circles.

[00:01:32.830] – Christian Pearson
One of those circles, or more accurately, one of those economies where the MeToo movement didn’t really catch on, was in much of Asia. Seth is here to talk to us about that specific topic, where in Asia the MeToo movement did not catch on and why. So Seth is a junior at Brigham Young University studying marketing. He’s been able to dive into many different cultures from around the world in his work, ranging from african countries of Kenya and Mozambique to Brazil. Seth is passionate about sustainability and business and looks to be a major part of that. As an SDG, work continues to grow. So thank you so much for joining us today, Seth. It’s great to have you on the podcast.

[00:02:17.920] – Seth Allred
Thanks, Christian. Yeah, I’m really excited to be here.

[00:02:20.330] – Christian Pearson
Me too. Glad to have you, Seth. I want to share a quote. I like to start every podcast with a quote because there’s lots of people said lots of great things. This particular quote is kind of abrasive, but I think it communicates some cultural perspectives that may have been common in parts of Asia. This quote comes from the Xinhua news agency in 2011. It says, pretty girls don’t need a lot of education to marry into a rich and powerful family, but girls with an average or ugly appearance will find it difficult. These kinds of girls hope to further their education in order to increase their competitiveness. The tragedy is they don’t realize that as women age, they are worth less and less. So by the time they get their master’s or PhD, they are already old, like yellowed pearls. So, Seth, what does this quote mean to you?

[00:03:18.190] – Seth Allred
Yeah, honestly, Christian, it’s a heavy quote, because I think what it tells us is, well, one that came from the chinese government during the whole metoo movement and everything in 2007, they actually came out with this quote. And pretty much what it details is women need to get married. And they did this kind of because with the whole population thing that has been happening in China where there’s been more men than women, they look to balance that. And so they’re pushing women to get married and have kids. And it’s interesting because while they tell that about women and family is a part of life, that’s what we’re here for. It devalues the education that women can attain. And I think that’s where it’s hurtful and it’s hard to overcome that. It was interesting. Letta Hong Fincher, she actually released an article in the New York Times, an opinion article about this.

[00:04:21.730] – Christian Pearson

[00:04:22.240] – Seth Allred
And it was interesting that as she talked about that, she pretty much demonstrated, it shows why women aren’t valued. Right. It says in the quote that they became yellowed. Like yellowed pearls.

[00:04:34.560] – Christian Pearson
Yellowed pearls, right.

[00:04:36.040] – Seth Allred
And a pearl, when it comes out, it’s white, it’s pure. It’s something that is like, everyone loves it, everyone wants it. And it’s interesting that as the chinese government demonstrated here, as women get more education, they become devalued. And to me, that’s hard to understand because here in the United States, we’re taught that with education, we actually become more valuable to, you know, and so I don’t. Hard. It’s a hard concept. And especially because, like, there have been many women throughout history that have created amazing things. Right. You take Susan B. Anthony. She wasn’t married, and she was the head of the woman’s suffrage movement here in the US. I mean, without, like, who knows what would have happened to women? Would they have been able to vote as early as they did, or would it have been pushed further? I mean, I think it’s incredible. And women like Susan B. Anthony definitely are not yellow pearls.

[00:05:42.790] – Christian Pearson

[00:05:43.070] – Seth Allred
They’re a lot more than that.

[00:05:44.030] – Christian Pearson
That’s such a different perspective that’s brought to the table. And that’s kind of why I wanted to use that quote, because it’s so alien. I would say we’re coming from a culture, especially here in Provo, where it’s all about empowering young people through education. Right. And I think it’s almost counterintuitive to say that a woman becomes defiled or devalued like a yellowed pearl if she’s getting educated. That seems very counterintuitive. But thanks for mentioning. I love that you mentioned Letahong Fincher. My manager, Ben. He’s been reading her book, Leftover Woman, and he’s a big fan. We’re actually planning on having her on the podcast sometime next year. So January, February, look for that. But before I get into some of my other questions, I’d love for you to talk still on this topic of empowering women in education, but can you talk about maybe some of your overall impressions of the hashtag too movement, both here in the US as well as abroad? So specifically, how did the too movement gain support here in the US? And then how did it gain support or not in Asia?

[00:07:04.620] – Seth Allred
Yeah. So in 2006, like you mentioned earlier, Toronto, Burke started the hashtag metoo movement. But what’s interesting, it didn’t really gain ground until 2017.

[00:07:16.910] – Christian Pearson

[00:07:17.210] – Seth Allred
I don’t even remember, like, an eleven year difference. And so what happened during that time was Harvey Weinstein. He was an american film producer and director. A lot of sexual allegations came out against him. And because of that, a celebrity started using the hashtag MeToo movement to help people understand that it’s okay to talk about these things and people should talk about these things. I think for a while, people didn’t want to talk about these things. Of the. If there were sexual misconduct in the workplace, right. Because it would hurt their career. Or maybe it’s just embarrassing and it’s hard because it should not be that way. And I think the world is moving in a way that it’s more open to talking about hard things like this. So the hashtag me too movement gained ground, specifically here in the US when that happened. And it was widespread. I mean, millions and millions of mentions on Twitter, on Facebook.

[00:08:22.250] – Christian Pearson
It went viral. I remember it.

[00:08:23.990] – Seth Allred
Yeah, it’s crazy. Like, everyone was talking about Asia, right? The biggest countries where the too movement actually gained ground was in China, Japan, and South Korea. So Peng Xuang in China, she was a tennis star and she spoke out about her. Like, what happened with her and a chinese government official, there were sexual allegations against him. And it was unfortunate because of how the chinese government is run. They censor a lot of media. And she disappeared for a little while. Oh, wow. And then she reappeared just because everyone in the world was like, where is? And so anyways, and that happened in China and in Japan. It kind of started with a reporter named Shioti Ito. Hope I said that, right?

[00:09:22.050] – Christian Pearson
I can’t tell.

[00:09:23.080] – Seth Allred
Yeah. So what happened with her is she spoke out about one of her bosses, about sexual allegations against him.

[00:09:34.970] – Christian Pearson

[00:09:35.420] – Seth Allred
Bold. Bold. Right. And it’s something that has never happened in any asian country just because men are kind of, like, not the center of the universe. But I want to say men make all the decisions.

[00:09:50.930] – Christian Pearson
Right. They’re still very patriarchal over there.

[00:09:53.060] – Seth Allred
Very patriarchal. Yeah. Very patriarchal community and culture. And so when Shioti Ito actually spoke out about these things, it was really hard because she eventually had to leave Japan. She received lots of death threats, but that didn’t stop the japanese people from still speaking out. And what’s interesting in South Korea, over 80% of, I think it’s like 80% or something of men reported to either sexually or verbally abusing a girlfriend or spouse or partner. And with the movement, it helped South Korea implement laws into place.

[00:10:39.320] – Christian Pearson

[00:10:40.000] – Seth Allred
And so I think the too movement is, although controversial in some aspects, I think it’s been highly, highly important because it’s allowed a lot of people to speak out about things that have happened to them.

[00:10:53.220] – Christian Pearson
Yeah. Dialog is such a powerful force for good and for change. And it is true that I think that even today it’s not, like, hushed, but it’s definitely not popular or easy to talk about these things. So I think it’s crazy how dynamic the changes were when you look at the meToo movement in Asia and America, across the world. And also, it’s interesting that the repercussions. Right. The pushback that you kind of saw in China and Korea, those are some serious consequences for speaking. So I guess I admire the women that were brave enough to open their mouths, but could definitely see why maybe it wouldn’t have taken off in such a kind of aggressive, hostile environment like that.

[00:12:00.490] – Seth Allred
Yeah. And it’s interesting, too, that regardless of whether media is being controlled by the government or not, the voice of the people is powerful than all of that, especially in China, where the media is super controlled. Many organizations have been started and have been closed and shut down by the chinese government because it goes against kind of China. Right. But I think it’s so interesting that when there’s a group of people that comes together and works together really hard to accomplish something, amazing things can happen. But it takes a lot of brave people. Right. It takes a lot of people, like the journalists in Japan, receiving death threats and having to leave the country, but it’s made change, and I think that’s what’s the most important part of this for sure.

[00:12:59.450] – Christian Pearson
You mentioned that China, Korea, and there was one other country, Japan. Those are, like, where it did gain support.

[00:13:08.030] – Seth Allred

[00:13:08.330] – Christian Pearson
So I want to turn that question on its head. If you know, do you know where the metoo movement didn’t gain support in? Where, I guess, where would you say it flopped or just didn’t have any traction?

[00:13:21.980] – Seth Allred
Yeah. So the biggest places that it didn’t gain traction are it’s more South Asia, like Vietnam, Cambodia, those countries.

[00:13:33.450] – Christian Pearson
Okay. Gotcha. And I guess a follow up question. Why do you think that the metoo movement didn’t pick up support in Cambodia and Vietnam and Thailand? What was different about those countries? What were the obstacles facing the movement?

[00:13:50.810] – Seth Allred
Yeah, I think some of the reasons why it didn’t pick up are the literacy rates in those mean they. They use a lot of Facebook, which is more pictures, it’s more videos. But Twitter, where the too movement actually really gained momentum, they’re not able to, I guess, engage with it as much.

[00:14:16.710] – Christian Pearson
Yeah. There might not even be much of a following. I don’t really know.

[00:14:20.680] – Seth Allred
Yeah. No, you’re totally right. And I think in Cambodia, that’s why it didn’t really pick up was because literacy rates, among other things. Right. There’s cultural norms. I think that’s another big reason is cultural norms in Cambodia and those asian countries. They’re patriarchal.

[00:14:40.180] – Christian Pearson

[00:14:40.620] – Seth Allred
And they have been for who knows how long. Right. It’s definitely a tradition that has continued on for sure.

[00:14:48.290] – Christian Pearson
And it’s hard to differentiate, I think, for men and women sometimes between a social issue, and then you’ve got this cultural tradition for many of them. I’ve been reading a book called Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates.

[00:15:08.510] – Seth Allred
And such a good book.

[00:15:09.650] – Christian Pearson
Yeah, it’s great. Have you read it?

[00:15:10.930] – Seth Allred
Yeah, I loved, like, I think that’s kind of what that book really pushed me to engage more in these cultural differences. Yeah, I love that book.

[00:15:22.780] – Christian Pearson
Well, you know, then she talks about how it’s so hard sometimes to change something like gender equity or equality because gender equality isn’t in the culture. It’s not part of the tradition. You’re not just changing social values, you’re changing history. Right. And that’s so much harder to do, especially working from the outside in. Right. Change has to start within the people. It’s not really something we can force upon in.

[00:16:00.340] – Seth Allred
Well, it’s interesting. I actually went to Kenya back in April, and I went to a school that was a little bit outside of Nairobi.

[00:16:11.340] – Christian Pearson
Okay. And to study abroad or something.

[00:16:13.960] – Seth Allred
It was a work trip. Yeah.

[00:16:15.740] – Christian Pearson

[00:16:16.060] – Seth Allred
So worked for this organization called humanitarian experience and just going out there to set things up and make sure that everything was good to go for the trips that went out anyway. So when I was out in Kenya, I visited the school that we were thinking about doing for 2024. And I got to tell you, Christian, it was like one of the most heart wrenching things I’ve ever seen. We’re going out, and it’s just like dirt road. That is a long ways away. I mean, it’s like 30, 45 minutes.

[00:16:50.070] – Christian Pearson
Oh, wow.

[00:16:50.600] – Seth Allred
Of just going over huge bumps and everything like that. It’s definitely not developed. And I get to the school and one of the teachers is there, and he is overjoyed to have us there. And so we go into a room and he’s showing us a facility and everything like that. He’s explaining and he shows us the dorms where the girls were staying. And on the wall, it said something along the lines of work your hardest here so that you can go back home and show your parents that they can be proud of you. So what this school does, it takes girls ages ten to 18 out of communities in Kenya where they practice female genital cutting, where there are child marriages, and they essentially rescue them and bring them to this facility and talk to them about just like that. They can really accomplish amazing things. And so with all of that in mind, he talked about how he was able to get those girls, the chiefs of those villages, to actually let those girls come. And instead of forcing it upon them and taking them away, he talks to the chiefs of the villages and says, look, your daughters can come to the school.

[00:18:22.770] – Seth Allred
They can learn, they can grow, and then they can actually go and educate themselves and really go out into the world and create something awesome. So that way, when they come back, your village can be extremely proud of them.

[00:18:37.450] – Christian Pearson

[00:18:37.820] – Seth Allred
And so I think that goes along with what your point of, as a western culture, we can’t go into communities and just say, hey, do this. Right? Because we can’t say, go into a community and say, hey, stop female genital cutting or stop, you have to implement gender equality. Because, frankly, like you said, it’s not part of their culture. It’s telling them to do something that they’ve never done before.

[00:19:04.060] – Christian Pearson

[00:19:04.690] – Seth Allred
But if you can get them to understand in a way that actually helps them and helps them grow, I think then the strategies that we implement into these communities, they work so much more. And Melinda Gates talks about that in her book. I don’t know if you’ve gone there yet. I don’t want to spoil it. But she talks about Hongana. Same thing. She talks to the chief captain of the chiefs of the villages and helps them see the strategy that they want to implement. So that way the chiefs implement the strategy, not a western team coming in and forcing something upon them. Yeah.

[00:19:38.670] – Christian Pearson
And one thing she says is if you educate these women, these girls, if you let them go to schools and let them eventually study even abroad, the fact of the matter is they will come back and then they will lift up the village, come back. It’s very symbiotic. Right. You’re investing in their future so that they can come back and elevate the entire village, the whole community. An investment in woman is an investment in humanity, for sure.

[00:20:11.220] – Seth Allred

[00:20:11.930] – Christian Pearson
So really cool. I’m so glad you read that book, too. That’s really neat. One of my faves, I feel like moving more towards Cambodia when I’m thinking about some of the factors for why that too movement didn’t catch on. You mentioned the literacy issue there. I think maybe some of the other issues just trying to delineate them. We’ve got cultural and social norms that discourage women from speaking up.

[00:20:43.180] – Seth Allred

[00:20:43.600] – Christian Pearson
We’ve got maybe a lack of legal protections and support. And then also. Yeah, we talked about censorship, especially in China. That’s a thing from the government and control of the Internet and media. Which of these three, I guess, big problems. You’ve got government censorship, cultural norms, legal protections. Like, which of those do you think is the biggest problem in Asia for too movement?

[00:21:15.370] – Seth Allred
Yeah, it’s hard to pick one because they all play a role, I think, in most of Asia, though, the reason the too movement has been hard is because of the cultural norms that are associated with a country. Right. Then a lot of those countries, like we said before, it’s patriarchal. They focus on the man. And there’s that document in Cambodia, right? Yeah. And I’m sure you talked about that in the other podcast, but it’s interesting that it says the woman is there to serve the man and the man is not there to serve the woman. Right. It’s all about him. And I think the cultural norm is just people have never experienced anything else before. Right. They’ve grown up thinking that it’s okay to beat their families, beat their wives and stuff like that. They think that’s okay. So the biggest problem, I would say, is the cultural norms.

[00:22:23.720] – Christian Pearson
Yeah. Would you say that is also true for Cambodia?

[00:22:28.190] – Seth Allred
For sure, yeah.

[00:22:30.680] – Christian Pearson
That’s interesting and something to consider as we’re moving forward, trying to make sustainable change in that country. Something to consider, right. Is what we already talked about, how we can’t force it on them, and we can’t easily change something like this without also trying to enact changes in culture and tradition. It’s a long process. It’s a lot harder than it maybe looks on paper, for sure. Thanks for that background on the movement. I don’t know how you know so much, but you seem like a repository of information, and I’ve learned a lot just in the last few minutes. I want to think a little more specifically about our specific research in Cambodia, and I want to ask you for some advice, if that’s okay. So if there was, like, one and just one reason that the metoo movement didn’t find support in Cambodia, what would you say it was and how would you address, like, you kind of already mentioned literacy. Right. What do you think? If you were to give the metoo movement a second chance in Cambodia, how would you go about raising awareness and how would you allow that movement to gain traction in Cambodia?

[00:23:57.760] – Seth Allred
Yeah, that’s a great question. I think the biggest thing that we can do is one start talking to the people there. We need to talk to the women that are survivors of sexual assault. We need to talk to them about how that played out. If they spoke up, why did they speak up? And if they didn’t speak up, well, what shut them down? What kept them from raising their voice and really saying, hey, this isn’t okay, and I don’t want to be treated like this.

[00:24:36.300] – Christian Pearson
Yeah. So, like, trying to understand where they’re coming from.

[00:24:39.230] – Seth Allred
Right. And then I think we build a strategy based off of that. I would say, though, from my research, the best way that we can do that is by talking to the leaders in the communities, helping them understand, know sexual violence is not okay. And then having them go out and actually teach the people, I think if we were to come in, know, we’re both white males, go into Cambodia and say, hey, guys, hey, change your ways. We want you to change everything because we know best. I think that would fail miserably, and it would definitely not help anything at all. So I think the biggest way is understand the people, understand why they spoke up or why they didn’t, and then talk to the leaders of the community and show them why women, like, empowering women is actually beneficial for them. There have been studies that have shown that when women are empowered, whether that be at home or work, communities thrive, economies grow, and if we can show them that, then I think there’s a real power to what we’re doing. So I’m excited to see. I’m really excited to see the change that will happen there.

[00:26:10.360] – Christian Pearson
Yeah, me too. And I think one thing that we’re looking at right now is how we want to work through these small businesses from the ground up. And if we hypothesize that small business owners will be trusted in the communities, will be people of some degree of influence. Right. And so we’re hoping that we can leverage that social capital that they have and use, I guess, work through these small businesses to gain the trust of the communities and maybe inspire them to experiment with these changes, with reducing domestic violence, with promoting gender equality. And we’ve been brainstorming, but I wonder if you have any specific ideas on how we could use businesses in Cambodia to inspire change. Like from. I know you’re a marketing major. Do you have any insights on that? How could a small business really inspire change in a community like Cambodia?

[00:27:27.930] – Seth Allred
Right. So something interesting to look at is the difference between Cambodia and Vietnam. At the end of the Vietnam War, both countries were devastated. Right. There was a lot of things that happened that really crippled both the vietnamese economy as well as the cambodian economy. But it’s interesting to see that Vietnam since then has grown a lot more than Cambodia has. And so I think one of my recommendations would to be to switch the mindset of business owners from a survival mindset to a growth mindset. I think a lot of business owners in Cambodia are in this survival mindset where they are just, you know, how can I put food on the table, right? And so there’s no growth there. It’s just getting by. And I understand that there’s a lot of differences between the US economy and the cambodian economy. I don’t want know devalue that. However, I do think that as we teach cambodian small business owners to grow, to innovate, to differentiate their products, so that it’s not the same little store that their neighbors set up quarter mile down the road.

[00:29:01.730] – Christian Pearson

[00:29:04.030] – Seth Allred
We want to show them that by differentiating their products, by differentiating their businesses, they can actually grow a lot more. And then that will enact a lot of change. And so I think it’d be really cool if we found a woman entrepreneur that was in a community and had her actually, we taught her these principles of growth, of differentiating, and we were able to help her business grow just organically. I think that would be a huge influence to a lot of people. And then we could gain the trust of the other cambodian small business owners by helping them grow and so on and so forth.

[00:29:51.030] – Christian Pearson
That’s fantastic. Yeah, we hope that that will be the case, that helping these small businesses grow and then helping them help Cambodia grow, both socially in terms of gender equality and reducing domestic violence, but also just as a community. Right. Grow together. We’re hoping that that’ll be a symbiotic relationship and, yeah, that’s kind of the whole point of this research.

[00:30:25.560] – Seth Allred

[00:30:26.170] – Christian Pearson
Good to hear your insights on that. This has been really great, but unfortunately, we’re running out of time. So before we finish, I have one more question for you. It’s a little out there, but thinking beyond just the too movement. If you had a close friend in Cambodia, we have some listeners actually in Cambodia for this podcast. So if you had a close friend in Cambodia who you knew was abusing his or her spouse, what advice would you give them to encourage them to change their behavior? I know it’s kind of a sensitive question.

[00:31:04.630] – Seth Allred

[00:31:05.420] – Christian Pearson
But what would you tell that friend to inspire change?

[00:31:11.990] – Seth Allred
Yeah, I mean, first off, that would be such a hard topic to approach, especially coming if it’s a cultural norm. I think if one of my friends in Cambodia was abusing a spouse, I would tell them to look at the bigger picture. I realize that life is hard and there are a lot of things that can fall upon. People know there are a lot of challenges that they face that, frankly, I just don’t. And I’m grateful for that. But it definitely breaks my heart to see people suffer in that way. And so I think what I would tell them is to see the value that they provide their spouse provides to the family unit and then focus on that. I realize that it’d be a big difference in their culture and what they’ve been used to. I’m sure they’ve seen examples of, hey, abuse is okay. Yeah, but I think figuring out the problem of, okay, why is that abuse happening? Talking to them and then focusing on the positives that can be achieved from gender equality on both sides, I think that would be super beneficial to them. And just coming at them with love and understanding.

[00:32:40.190] – Christian Pearson
Yeah, I love how tactfully you’re approaching that, and I think that’s exactly the kind of attitude we’re going to have to have as we approach very sensitive issues like this one.

[00:32:52.440] – Seth Allred

[00:32:52.990] – Christian Pearson
In Cambodia and in Southeast Asia as a whole. But Seth, thank you so much for coming in on the podcast today. It’s been awesome getting to know you a little bit and hearing your unique perspectives on these issues.

[00:33:06.490] – Seth Allred
Thanks for having me. It’s been fun to talk to you about all this stuff, so enjoyed it for sure.

[00:33:12.240] – Christian Pearson
And for our listeners out there, please know that you too can make a difference in your communities. You too can inspire change, and whether that has to do with the metoo movement or any other issue, wherever you are, just remember that you have power to make a difference. And so, as always, lift where you stay.