MATTHIEU LANGE WRITES – “Not all heroes wear capes.” This saying, originating from the 1900s in reference to pop culture superheroes, has become popular in our generation to portray individuals that demonstrate exceptional qualities.
The concept of a hero, however, is as old as history itself, and the qualities required to obtain that status have remained more or less unchanged. Common qualities include courage, selflessness, humility, patience and compassion. These qualities are often expected in soldiers and firefighters, but are sometimes found in the most unconventional of heroes.
Feminist activist and university Lecturer in Asian American, Women, and Lesbian and Gay Studies at UC Berkeley, Merle Woo, is a perfect exception to the conventional “hero.”
Born in San Francisco in 1941, Woo grew up experiencing racism and sexism, which was intensified when she came out lesbian in the late 1970s. To assume her unpopular sexual orientation in the face of the majority was truly a courageous act, particularly because she was a teacher at the time.
Her selflessness is made evident by her decision to do more than publicly coming out as a lesbian. Woo has dedicated her entire life to fighting for LGBTQ rights through various medias, including books, newspapers and film. She is credited with many celebrated works, such as her books, “Three Asian Americans Speak out About Feminism” and “The Bridge Called my Back,” as well as her participation in the documentary film “Mitsuye and Nellie, Asian American Poets.”
Her humility shines through her desire to remain a professor, regardless of her financial success through her books or her strong achievements, including her Humanitarian Award of 1994.
Her patience is likely her strongest attribute. Woo survived being fired twice, both times filing suits to be reinstated, and protested on behalf of LGBTQ rights for decades before seeing a change.
Finally, the last quality, compassion, is her most controversial trait. She talks about a strong frustration with her mother in her work “Letter to Ma” and has been criticized for her “radical Marxist views” which have been understood by some to be, in simple terms, not very kind.
However, her caring nature is undeniably present. Her tremendous concern is shown through her persistent fight for of all those that were discriminated against because of their gender, race, and sexual orientation. While her compassion for traditional topics on family and politics can be debated, there is no question that she cares deeply about the LGBTQ community.
At 76 years young, she lives happily as a professor and activist. Woo is an unexpected, but strong hero, one that casts aside the prideful cape, exchanging it for a raw image of her humble and selfless character.