December, 2010

Hometown Girl.

Out At The Pool Hall - Liu Xiaodong, courtesy of UCCA

Xiao Dou Hanging Out At The Pool Hall - Liu Xiaodong, courtesy of UCCA

Some days, I don’t think I remember very much about where I came from, or at least I think I only remember as much as what affects my life today. Sometimes, I feel all I remember about Asia are the worn floral patterns dancing across sofas and the tumblers of hot water on plastic trays, the way dust dances across heavy curtains. It’s familiarity that makes this a ballet of slow decay. It ruins itself in its same-ness. But, as it turns out, perhaps that’s just my memory.

Every winter break, my sister and I return to Singapore to visit our extended family. My anticipation of this trip is never positive. After all, I spent twelve years growing up there in an extremely sheltered, rigid environment before moving to London to attend an all girls’ Catholic boarding school. Needless to say, it was quite the change. I like to say that Singapore left me with many neuroses I don’t need in this stage of my life – and that’s still true. I was told I was stupid because I wasn’t great at math and science, that I was fat because I didn’t fit an Asian standard of slim-hipped beauty, and that to be a ‘good girl’ I had to first and foremost protect the reputation of my family – something, of course, that my own behavior reflected heavily upon. Individuality was never really in the cards for a nice Chinese girl like me – and it’s something I’m still chastised for when visiting home.

However, this trip, while I was in Beijing, on my way to Hong Kong to visit my maternal grandmother, I saw an collection of paintings by contemporary Chinese artist Liu Xiaodong entitled ‘Hometown Boy’ at the UCCA. The premise was simple – the successful, urbane artist, grown cynical, returns to relive the simple life in his hometown, to paint the distances between his memories and current realities. To see the beauty in a jar of homemade sauce sitting static on a plastic kitchen table. The humor of two farmers, shirtless, in Wellington boots marveling at an X-ray of one of their sets of ribs. To wonder at a watermelon pickling in a bucket right next to the bathroom. It began with a sentence – ‘This time, I made up my mind to really go home’.

This got me thinking – what would it mean to ‘really’ go home? Sure, like Liu Xiaodong, I’d technically been home, physically  every year, but this didn’t mean ever mean much since I willed myself to constantly remain in the mindset of a more contemporary me – feminist, college student, westernized, to some degree, and contemptuous of the traditional values that surrounded me as a child. And yet, I thought, still in awe of the myths and traditions I climbed out of. Things that echo the in types of food I crave when under pressure (always congee and fried dough), the way I serve a cup of tea, or in the jade bracelet I wear on my left wrist.

So this time, I’ve resolved, too, to ‘really go home’. To embrace the persons and environments that were all I knew when I was a child. To accept rather than completely deny. And it’s paid off – after a couple of weeks of making more of an effort to hang out with my family, particularly my maternal grandma, I’ve realised how much more similar we are than I thought. That I come from a tradition of strong women who have always worked to have their choices, but also accepted that they’d have to make compromises because of the times they lived in. Who didn’t necessarily identify as feminist, but had worked, in their own small ways towards increasing agency in their own lives, whether in refusing to give up a career, or having to sacrifice their own happiness to ensure harmony in a large, rowdy, and emotionally complicated family. Despite their conservative values, they taught me about exercising my agency and speaking up for myself, regardless of context or double binds.

Realizing this, for me, was an important reminder that my own imperatives and aspirations towards individuality, independence and creative autonomy grew exactly out of watching the tiny tenacious resistances of my own female relatives. That my own beliefs stemmed from wanting to expand and extend these liberties in order to remedy the traditional oppressions that were becoming increasingly visible to me. My feminism is not a rejection of my culture – my cultural background is where my feminism necessarily begins.

Indeed, I’ve found it difficult, as a feminist of color, to integrate my cultural background with my future goals and a feminist cause, particularly when often the two seem so antithetical to each other. Unfortunately, it seems more intuitive to associate feminism with a ‘Western’ ideal of independence. But feminists such as Cherrie Moraga, Audre Lorde, significantly, understood their own backgrounds and ethnic identities as integral to their political, feminist ones. To ensure diversity and inclusivity within the wider movement, but more importantly, to claim one’s cultural background as the reason for one’s assertion of agency, and the root of your questioning societal norms.

So this winter break, I’d highly recommend ‘really go[ing] home’. Think about what influenced your development as a feminist, and where your willingness to assert your own agency comes from. Hug your grandma! Ask her about her experiences as a girl. Start the new year with some self-reflexivity in the context of your family.

After all, it’s your assertion of agency that’s the most important in bringing about widespread change – particularly when it’s exercised in terms of sexual boundaries and consent. I for one am excited to keep working towards these goals in the 2011 – this time keeping my family and its traditions in my mind.

Julian Assange: a victim of “revolutionary feminism?”

Julian Assange faces rape charges in Sweden.

Julian Assange faces rape charges in Sweden.

An update on Assange thanks to Feministing.com, who put it right:

Maybe Assange is confused because he doesn’t seem to grasp the basics of consent. He says one of the women “arrived at a lunch in a revealing pink cashmere sweater, flirted with him, and took him home.” And the other woman took a “’trophy photo’ of him lying naked in her bed.” Well, ok, that’s nice. And also totally irrelevant to the accusations against him, since both women have said that the sexual encounters began consensually but at some point stopped being consensual. That pink cashmere might have screamed “unprotected sex against my will” to Assange, but I’m guessing that wasn’t the woman’s intention.

Assange, who, as highlighted in this earlier post here, and this one, is currently wanted for interrogation on rape allegations being made abroad in Sweden, with two female accusers coming forward. Once he moved past his defense that he was a victim of “politics,” he opened his mouth- and revealed he also sees himself as a victim of “feminism.” This seems laughable, since the encounters he is facing interrogation for are those of having sex with a woman while she was asleep- always charming- and continuing to have sex with women after they asked him to stop – also charming. He has also been accused of using force to coerce these women into nonconsensual sex. Assange seems a little caught up in how this affects him, and not the impact he has had on these lives or the safety of these women and their health.

It is important to note that consent can be withdrawn. It is important to note that consent for one sexual activity is not consent for another, or for any others, or for sex at another time. Consent is borne of freedom of choice and open communication- which Assange resisted through physical force and the act of ignoring his sexual partner’s voices.

And it is important to note that sex without consent is rape, not a political act to be used to create sympathy for him. Perhaps next time Assange opens his mouth, he should talk a little more about himself, and what his actions really mean for these allegations.

Editor’s note: This post was edited on Dec 29. Assange has not been charged at this point; these are allegations. Sorry for the mistake.

Celebrity Rape Culture’s Impact on College Life

Celebrity behavior and media messages impact our understanding of the world: what does hip-hop teach us?

Celebrity behavior and media messages impact our understanding of the world: what does hip-hop teach us?

Rape culture is an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture. It is not coincidental that the age group arguably most exposed to popular culture – that is, college age students – is the same age group that suffers the highest rate of rape.

Rape culture is often normalized and perpetuated by mainstream media and carried out in hyper- masculine environments. The media’s normalization of violence against women and rape culture, specifically in the world of hip-hop, has a big impact among college fraternities, particularly at American University. (more…)

Weighing in On Assange (and Everyone Else)

Ah, did you hear that? It’s the sound of a feminist tornado occuring on your laptop.

If you’ve been at all active on Twitter, Facebook, or any blog; if you have read the news- or watched it, or even watched not news, like Keith Olbermann’s show perhpaps; if you have taken a gender class, or a sociology class, or an anthropology class- you get my drift. Chances are, you heard it: the massive swirl of four entirely large personalities (or I guess five, since the whole thing is about one man). They are Michael Moore, documentary filmmaker; Keith Olbermann, political talk show host; Naomi Wolf, feminist author; and Jaclyn Friedman, editor of Yes Means Yes! (and, admittedly, one of my own feminist sheros). All of these people are speaking out on the topic of Julian Assange and the rape allegations brought against him internationally.

Let’s start with a quick summary: Julian Assange was finally put in jail for the allegations (he avoided them for a while), and then celebrities- including Moore and Wolf- posted bail for him. Moore went on Olbermann’s show to discuss it and the two men ended up opining (and tweeting) about the “rape” and using words like “hooey” and lots of “quotation marks.” What occurred then was a shitstorm: Olbermann shut down his account on Twitter after receiving an abundance of criticism, and Moore has simply ignnored the voices talking united under the hashtag #MooreandMe.

And so, round two: Wolf and Friedman appear on Democracy NOW! with Amy Goodman and talk about the case, from woman to woman and famed feminist to another. How disappointing, then, that it was actually a debate on the merits of the allegations and how seriously they should be taken. (more…)

What Are You Doing This Break?

We hope you'll tell us about all of your holiday adventures- and more!Image Copyright of Le Portillon on flickr.

When school ends, it means the mass exodus home, the communal sigh of relief for all college students, anywhere, and an opportunity to sit back, relax, and talk.

I’m going to spend a lot of time reflecting, thinking, and writing this Holiday Break- and you should, too! Take advantage of the free time to stay happy and healthy. Do what makes you feel good, and never look back. There is no better time! You’ve got less obligations and a lighter backpack.

So what I’m really trying to say here is: why aren’t you writing for us yet? (more…)

How Can We Learn to STOP Harassment in Schools?


Every girl likes a nice compliment once in a while, but when does it cross the line? What do we do when certain comments become inappropriate or make us feel uncomfortable? At the recent SPARK Summit held at CUNY Hunter College, I attended a workshop called “Hey…Shorty! Taking a Stand Against Sexual Harassment in Schools.” This workshop addressed sexual harassment in and outside of schools, along with some very useful and informative exercises that engaged everyone in the room.

We started by examining what we believed the definition of sexual harassment to be. Everyone was able to add what sexual harassment meant to them onto a large sheet of paper. Some words were “unwanted comments and touching”, “unnecessary”, “nasty”, “cat calls”, and “people commenting on your body, not your brain”. It became obvious that sexual harassment is never positive and is anything that makes another person feel like a sexual object instead of a human sexual being.

We were then each given a different quotation or situation and had to place it, according to our own opinion, under one of two categories: “OK” or “NOT OK”. One statement that we discussed that stood out to me was the command to “Smile.”   (more…)

Keep Speaking Up! (A Note On Reclaiming Public Space)

creeper2

I’m currently studying abroad in Sweden, and I had planned on returning to WIYL with a lengthy analysis of Swedish and European attitudes on feminism, and how my experiences with both sexual harassment and the opinions on it differed from those in the States; tonight’s events, however, caught me completely off guard, and with few active feminists to whom I can turn here (more on that later), I now look to this strong, empowered community with a consoling nod of empathy and a bit of advice.

A few of my female friends and I went to the student bar tonight, and for the most part, it was your ordinary night out in Sweden: great people, expensive drinks, and questionable house music. At some point, one person in our group noticed an older man who had been leering at her for quite some time. Sure enough, as we moved from tables to booths to the dance floor, he would move as well, always standing alone with his drink, staring at her. Now, I understand that a bar is a social environment, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with someone checking you out, finding you attractive, striking up a conversation, and either moving forward or moving on. This man chose instead just to stare, to asses, from a distance; as the night continued, she became increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of someone using her fun night out, her body and her dancing, as a show, an object, a spectacle. As the offender moved even closer, she finally confronted him about his creepy gaze and uncanny movements that shifted as she attempted to move out of his line of sight. I didn’t hear their conversation, but whatever words were exchanged must have been a denial, an insult, or a threatening come-on, because she immediately grabbed her jacket and purse, and hurriedly marched out of the bar.

To see my friend, a self-identified feminist who is usually the first to rally against these same harassers and occurrences, this disarmed and derailed was entirely upsetting. Her night out was completely ruined by one man who believed he had to right, the privilege, to leer at his pleasure, but unapologetically refused to acknowledge the validity of her protests to what felt like nonconsensual voyeurism to her. As I sat there alone at the bar, I frantically looked around the room for the offender, wanting to confront him about his harassment. I realized then, though, that there was little I could do. My friend has attempted to verbally defuse the situation with little success; a larger, louder effort would only cause a scene, and I realized that my defense, “he was staring at my friend,” sounded inane to those who hadn’t been involved in the situation; yes, we were at a club, but is there any difference between that scenario, and an unknown man following you and watching you on the street, or in any other public space? I became increasingly furious as I realized that we were trapped in a situation in which our comfort zones, our personal space and safety, could easily be invaded, and that any objection to this intrusion could be laughed off, making us feel powerless in controlling situations regarding our bodies and ourselves.

My other friend put it quite succinctly as I was hunting down the harasser: “What are you going to do, punch him?” Very often, in discussions and experiences regarding consent and sexual harassment, we find ourselves backed into a corner, ridiculed and patronized for speaking out against unwanted advances and misogynistic actions and attitudes; it is easy, as we experienced in the bar tonight, to feel voiceless. I wish I had a neat conclusion, a revelation, or a tidy solution to eliminating these instances where a woman is made to feel so uncomfortable in her skin and in her environment that she sees no other option but to leave; I do know, though, that WIYL is an undeniably powerful force in uprooting a male-privileged society and in promoting consent not just within the confines of sex itself, but in all instances regarding one’s sexuality and sense of self. It’s good to be back, ladies; we’ve got a lot of work cut out for us.

Our Own ‘Pink Friday’

Nicki Minaj’s album “Pink Friday” has received rave reviews and its fair share of criticism from critics since it’s release, but I’m still waiting on the feminist community’s applause.

Minaj, a member Young Money, has released an album that celebrates femininity, sexuality, and the ferocity of its maker. Minaj is already largely popular and has even managed to make Lil Kim, the original baddest bitch on the block, a little nervous.

So, let it be known that I have been spinning Pink Friday since its release and have memorized all of the words. And let it be known that Nicki, you are a great voice in the media and a woman finally doing it her way. You go hard, you remain honest, and you continue to show all the haters that your drive, passion, and talent are not to be ignored.

Here’s are some of Minaj’s lyrics on her debut album… (more…)

Has Airport Security Gone Too Far?

Cartoon found on tumblr.

Cartoon found on tumblr.

Flying is now even more unpleasant with the new regulations recently announced by the TSA. They have imposed new regulations that include body scanners, nicknamed “Nude-o-scopes” for the invasive, naked pictures they produce. These body scanners have now been installed in almost all of the major airports across the United States. They utilize x-ray technology to look through your clothes, a technology that has been “independently researched” by the government and found to be safe. When imaging experts from the University of California, San Francisco wrote a letter to Obama’s science and technology advisor requesting a government-independent panel to review the machines, their request was denied. The government has significantly downplayed the risk of radiation, especially in the cases of people who are more susceptible, such as pregnant women and young children.

Aside from the disturbing fact that TSA employees all across the country are looking at you naked before you step foot on your plane – it has been compared to a virtual strip search – the scanners also have the capability to store the images they take, although the TSA claims that that is usually not activated. This is a reversal on the claim they made in the summer of 2009 when they said scanned images cannot be stored; this past August it came to light that over thirty-five thousand images of passengers from a checkpoint in Florida had been saved. Oh, and some might masturbate to your pictures.

Aside from the fact that these machines may have unhealthy levels of radiation, and some stranger will see you naked (and maybe save that picture), and the government violates your Fourth Amendment now right before you get on a flight, 4 in 5 Americans support these measures, according to a CBS News poll. If you’re one of the 1 in 5 that doesn’t, don’t worry, you have another option: you can get groped by a TSA agent instead.

(more…)

WikiLeak’s Julian Assange, rape charges and the court of public opinion

Espionage! Government misconduct! Political intrigue! International notoriety! Rape, molestation and unlawful coercion – Wait, what?

Julian Assange has gained international notoriety for his role as editor-in-chief for WikiLeaks, a whistleblower website.  People are torn on his website’s impact and his work – is he a threat to international security (like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton contends) or a muckraking hero upholding freedom of knowledge by disclosing shocking misconduct?

One aspect of Assange’s fugitive status is relatively cut-and-dry: in September, a Swedish court reopened a sex crimes case against him, and he’s steered clear of Sweden ever since. Alas, it seems that Assange and his lawyer, Mark Stephens, have gone to great lengths to ensure that the rape charges are tried in the court of public opinion rather than a court of law.

Here’s a run-down of the case.

(more…)

All Posts from December, 2010