Asian Girl Problem #105: Hollaback

My roommate came home last night extremely mad and shaken up. She was waiting for her food to come out at a fast food restaurant when a man came up and said, “Excuse me, I just wanted to tell you that you are very beautiful.”

Every woman I know seems to have a unique opinion on catcalls and pickup lines–when it’s revolting, when it’s frightening, when it’s forgivable, when it’s appreciated. My roommate gets them all the time, and based on our conversations I know that her knee-jerk reaction is anger, whereas mine is amusement. Not to say I don’t think it’s disgusting and uncalled for 99% of the time, but unless my way of dealing with most things awkward/weird/ugly is to laugh first. It also doesn’t happen to me as often, whereas men have literally followed her for blocks.

Of course, it depends on who’s doing it, when, where, and how. In this case, it was 11pm, she was alone in the city, and he was twice her age. She brushed his comment at first, which he most likely thought was just an innocuous compliment. But he didn’t leave.

“You look familiar. Did you go to Cal?”

The mood suddenly shifted from uncomfortable to unsafe, for her. Maybe he was a nice guy trying to make conversation, but the fact is that she walked into the restaurant looking forward to eating a burger, and left feeling on edge and worried for her safety, and remained that way until an hour later when she got home.

Yes, women react in a variety of different ways to male attention, but every decent male should have the awareness to know what might make a woman–especially a stranger–uncomfortable and try to avoid it to the best of their abilities. That doesn’t mean you should never chat up a cutie at a bookstore or cross over to the other side of the street when you see someone approaching, but sometimes it does. Context people. If she has headphones in and a hoodie on, don’t talk to her. If it’s the middle of the night and no one else is around, consider crossing the street. I can’t stand it when people say they “don’t see gender/race.” It’s a thing, it affects people, and we could all make an effort to avoid making people feel unsafe, especially if we don’t know them.

Side note: Earlier that day I walked into a cafe where a guy was chatting with the barista. Instead of moving away from the counter, the customer, who wasn’t very fluent in English, continued talking and watched me order. “Hi,” I said, in my typical friendly but slightly reserved way.

“You are so cute. You have a good personality,” he said. Although I felt awkward, I didn’t feel unsafe given the context. One thing I’ve noticed since accidentally getting my hair cut much shorter than intended is that I get much less male attention (almost never) and when I do, it’s always “cute.”



Asian Girl Problem #78: “A Girl is Not a Prize”

I saw this line written in this guy’s sketchbook, as an idea for an article he was going to write, but I stole it. He doesn’t own language, and I’m not being fair today.

A couple months ago I started ignoring one of my friends because we hung out and I had a terrible time because he started acting like he wanted to date, which consisted of bossing me around like he was father, making crude jokes, pretending to be drunker than he actually was, and being touchy feely without asking first. But after some time, I forgot exactly why he annoyed me, so when he announced he was moving out of the country forever, I asked him to dinner. We hung out last night and it all came back to me.

Snapping the hair tie around my wrist. Putting his hand on my waist when we’re crossing the street like I can’t freaking avoid a car on my own. Pretending to bump into me when we’re taking a walk. I hate that stuff. If we’re not dating, don’t do it. If you don’t know if we’re dating, ask. If you don’t know how to convey feelings through words and actions and can only rely on body language to show you feel some type of way, I can promise we won’t get along.

I remember learning this kind of thing in first grade. Don’t touch anyone without their permission, your rights end where someone else’s begins, etc…so it amazes me when people don’t take it into adulthood.

I love when a guy opens the door for me. If it’s someone I like, I love when he makes an awkward joke about when we might have a first kiss. Or the anticipation of not crossing each other’s personal spaces yet but knowing we both want to. I we are already dating, I love all the touching in the world. But when I don’t know someone like that, each breach of my bubble makes me more distant.

And the worst time it can happen is when we’re under the public eye, which finally brings me to this post’s title. I can’t help but suspect they are trying to put on a show for someone else. If I had to engineer my biggest social fear, it would include PDA with someone I don’t like. Like I’m a prop for someone to feel like a winner or play out his fantasy of love/lust. Although I’ve been working on separating the two a little bit as I’m dating more, the emotional just has to come before the physical for me to stick around. Not touching me is the fastest way to get me.

I might be totally alone in this, so sound off if you think I should take this less seriously and personally.

Asian Girl Problem #63: Short Hair Don’t Care

Ever since I had the freedom to choose my own hairstyle (8 years old) and escape my dad’s bowl cut, I have had the short/long hair discussion so many times.

With girls both queer and straight who feel more comfortable with short hair. Girls who are scared of it. Guys who who are scared of it. Guys who only date girls with it.

I’m not saying they’re directly related, but feeling more feminine and joining the workforce coincided with my decision to grow out my hair. On one hand, looking like the majority of girls makes people get to know me instead of jumping to assumptions that I’m edgy or subversive. On the other hand, I toss my hair or play with it a lot more now, and feel slightly like i’m wielding my womanhood. Same feeling when I have to apply makeup in public.

I wonder how much of this is also related to race. I know tons of Asian girls who rock short haircuts and the tomboy style in the motherland. Style seems to flow a lot more openly between the two genders in Asia, and the “T” style has been popularized by tons of celebrities both queer and straight. My Taiwanese friend says that every time she goes to Hong Kong, the people love her and other Taiwanese tomboys. I’ve never heard it of being a job hinderance in Asia, unless you’re applying to be a hostess or something. Is American culture less accepting because we receive a narrower representation of Asian women (and men) that it can’t let go of?

Asian Girl Problem #49: Girls Who Smoke

The week my grandpa died from lung cancer was the same week I found out my cousin Mimi smokes. She and her friend picked me up from the train station in Beijing, and after three years, we were eager to assess each other as newly-hatched adults. When we came to the topic of vices, we agreed neither of us drank very much. Then she asked if I qi yan, which I don’t.

“That’s good. We don’t smoke a lot either, but it just happens in groups,” they said, lighting up in the car. Then before our street food crawl, after our street food crawl, and practically before each store we entered. I realized that in China, you’re probably never not in a group. Mimi smoked half a pack that day, which might be considered moderate–I don’t know.

Mimi’s my favorite cousin probably because our fathers are one year apart, and so are we. When the four of us are together, there’s not a doubt that we’re bonded by blood. We have the same senses of humor and the same chins.

And when it comes to the two of us, our similarities amaze me constantly. We only see each other for about a week once every 2-3 years, but we both studied humanities and studied abroad in England. We chose creative jobs over stable ones (and are paying the price). We got tattoos around the same time without knowing it, and we love All Saints clothing and hip hop. Apparently we even argue the same way, despite my broken Chinese. And we’re the only ones in our generation that share the family name, though it might die with us since as our fathers had no sons.

Except, of course, I always thought she was more beautiful. I wished I had her figure.

Our last dinner together

Our last dinner together

Most of our family is now dorkishly substance free. I have a pretty gruesome image of what would happen if anyone found out about Mimi’s hobby, including government surveillance, caning and a shaman. So a while after the trip, I casually asked my mom about what it means to be a female smoker in China.

Over half of men smoke, while only 2% of women do, for reasons tied to a lady’s respectability, docility and conventionality, to name a few. It takes determination for a girl to smoke. My mom referred to artists or worldly types who choose to be viewed as rebels, which isn’t what your typical Chinese millennial is concerned with. (But I give it another decade before the masses come around. The tobacco companies will have a field day.)

With all our similarities, I am pretty sure that if I lived in China, I would smoke too. With few ways to assert my individuality, I would cling to that steadfast cigarette.

“Grandma smoked, even back in her day,” my cousin mentioned, during our last dinner together. I vaguely remembered hearing that before, in addition to how grandma refused to bind her feet and was the only woman from her village who learned how to read.

“You know what the women in our family are like,” she said proudly. I did.

Asian Girl Problem #45: How I Feel When I Read Articles on Chinese Women by White Men

I never expected I’d find an online magazine that consistently holds my interest every day without fail, but Aeon Magazine has done that. This morning, I read today’s article in bed, as usual. A piece on the mistresses of powerful men in China.

Unlike most of Aeon’s articles, this one’s a quick read. It doesn’t back itself up with much research, relying on a handful of interviews with “mistresses,” and briefly skims the surface on the current socioeconomic and gender conditions that contribute to the increasingly publicized cases of ernai.

I’m a sucker for slice of life stories, especially when they try to help foreigners (including myself here) understand China. But aside from this, I didn’t feel like I learned anything from this article. There was barely anything about Chinese history or government or culture that added depth to the conversation. The author could’ve been talking about any country when he explains the roles of these women, the power/wealth imbalance, and their lifestyles.

And as for the lighthearted tone he takes at the end, while implying that this topic is losing its taboo and becoming prevalent among young women, every personal experience I’ve had proves otherwise. The Confucian teachings of honor and modesty and fidelity run deep in Chinese culture, and it is not ok to wave your ernai status around. As the article implies, slut shaming is huge. These aren’t geisha. And I didn’t appreciate the implication that these mistresses seem to be taking over major cities in droves, airing their dirty laundry, or that having mistresses is suddenly a novel trend.

So since it was barely informative about Chinese culture, the male/female dynamics in this article stood out to me most. They were the parts I couldn’t shake all day. The things that I think all women experience to some degree on a regular basis.

– First, the article is written by a man. An upstanding man who’s probably more familiar with China than me, but still. With so many sex work related documentaries and articles created by men, it’s hard not to see it as another form of exploitation of these women.

– “A study by the Crisis Management Centre at Renmin University in Beijing, published this January, showed that 95 per cent of corrupt officials had illicit affairs, usually paid for, and 60 per cent of them had kept a mistress.” I hate vague stats like this. What time period are we talking about? Who’s considered a “corrupt official”? How do you conduct such a study?

– “An enormous amount of off-book money sloshes around Chinese business and officialdom, and some of it runs into handbags.” The article constantly focuses on the material items these girls receive. The author makes no attempt at distinguishing them from one another, and their sole interest and gain seems to be in looking stylish. It just shows that he didn’t or couldn’t get to know them past the point of their physical appearance.

– “Shanshan got bored and decided to improve her scant English by finding a ‘language-exchange partner’ online, which is how she and I became friends this spring.” Ha! Ha.

– “In their private pictures, the girls look all of 14, while the men play alongside them in childish games or make faces at the camera.” I spend a lot of time thinking about how much better it’d be if each of these men went home and hung out with their actual kids.

– “it’s true that Chinese culture has rarely paid even lip service to ideas of male fidelity.” No, they’ve paid more lip service than any other culture I know.

– “True, they live off dirty money: the cash conjured up by their lovers is frequently drained from the public treasury, or extorted in bribes from others. But so do hotels, luxury goods stores, estate agents, and the millions of others in China and the West happy to profit from the consumption habits of China’s elite.” We’re talking about selling a body versus selling a house, not about where the money’s from. Did this guy forget his thesis?

Am I sensitive to the topic, or were these huge weaknesses of this article?

Asian Girl Problem #32: The Proverbial Womanly Wiles

I don’t know much about ancient, legendary Chinese figures. There’s Confucious, the bloodthirsty leader Qinshihuang who built part of the Great Wall and other wonders, that rabbit lady who lives in the moon, and Yangguifei. I’ve always liked Yangguifei the most, since my grandparents would call me that when I was younger.

Yangguifei was one of the Four Beauties of Ancient China (at the very right), so yeah I grew up a little vain–but it’s pretty impossible for a Chinese girl with a bowl cut to stay vain when she lives in Ohio.

Basically, all stories about Yangguifei revolve around her beauty. As the favorite consort of the emperor, she had 700 seamstresses, had lychee delivered to her on horseback from the south, and give or take a billion tributes made depicting her “fleshy” figure. Some say she was executed for distracted the emperor from his responsibilities.

Intrigued by the strict gender roles of my parents’ generation, I researched “The Classic for Girls” the other day. It’s a short book of simple lessons all Chinese people are familiar with, and still often used for educating young people (the boys have their own version). A mother goose rhyme for all matter of pleasing your parents, husband, children and keeping your head vacant, if you will.

Some gems include:

You should rise from bed, as early in the morning as the sun,
Nor retire at evening’s closing, till your work is wholly done.
Then by wrapping in a towel,
So that clean your hair may keep,
You should early take your brushes and should neatly dust and sweep.
Pay particular attention that the dust may not arise,
Clean your own apartments neatly, and ’twill glad your parents’ eyes.

“Girls are difficult to manage,”
This is often said as true,
So from youth til grown to teach them is the best that we can do.
If she disregards instruction and refuses to be good,
Husband’s parents will abuse her, as indeed they often should.
Girls have three on whom dependent, All their lives they must expect,
While at home to follow father, who a husband will select,
With her husband live in concord from the day that she is wed,
And her son’s directions follow if her husband should be dead.

Have you ever learned the reason
For the binding of your feet ?
‘Tis from fear that ’twill be easy to go out upon the street..
It is not that they are handsome when thus like a crooked bow,
That ten thousand wraps and bindings are enswathed around them so.