“Is it weird to think that you would look cute with a white guy?”
Yes, sir. Yes it is.
“Is it weird to think that you would look cute with a white guy?”
Yes, sir. Yes it is.
1) Trapper-keeper SHUT
2) What does that even mean?
3) I’m assuming that you mean that he’s too sexually aggressive.
4) I’m assuming that this means that you’ve seen him be too sexually aggressive.
5) Did you do anything when you saw him be too sexually aggressive?
6) What happened to that girl?
7) How many times have you seen him be too sexually aggressive?
8) What happened to those girls?
9) Do you tell all the girls this, or just your friends?
10) Do you watch him at parties to make sure that he’s not too sexually aggressive?
11) Why is it my responsibility to be careful around him instead of his responsibility to not be sexually aggressive?
12) Would you help me if he was being too aggressive, or would you assume that since you warned me, our encounter must be consensual?
13) Have you ever said anything to him?
My concerns about race, gender, and class inequality are personal insofar as they affect me, but are not “about me.” They are not an ego trip. They are not an excuse to whine and complain and make myself out to be a victim. They are not “about me.”
Note: I’m using the example of rape jokes because I think it’s the easiest to sympathize with and requires less of me revealing personal info/situations, but I’ve been told not to make things personal/be so sensitive about pretty much every issue under the sun.
Me calling you out on your rape joke is personal insofar as whenever I walk alone in the dark or in an unfamiliar place I have a constant internal monologue going in which I identify potential rapists, feel bad about identifying them as potential rapists, wonder why I’m identifying them as potential rapists, and then see a white van and freak the fuck out. So yeah, rape affects my daily life (in a way that is thankfully insignificant in comparison with the experiences of others, but still sucks), so yeah, I guess rape is personal.
But I’m not calling you out on your rape joke because you hurt my feelings, I’m calling you out on your rape joke because I don’t want you repeating it to a rape survivor. I don’t want it scrolling on the newsfeed of the mother or father or brother or sister of a rape survivor. I don’t want you telling that joke to someone you don’t know is a rapist, because I don’t want you laughing with a rapist about a crime that destroys lives, because I don’t want you reinforcing the idea that rape is hilarious, that it’s not a big deal, that it’s not something that happens to “people like us.” Your test didn’t rape you. That c*nt in your knee-slapper of a story didn’t ask for it. Rape isn’t an oopsies. Raping mentally handicapped individuals isn’t funny. Raping old women isn’t funny. Raping men isn’t funny.
Me calling me out on your rape joke is not about me. It’s not about you, even. It’s about living in a world in which at least half the population lives in fear of a crime that, once perpetrated, they will be blamed for, shamed for, or simply ignored. And don’t even bother with that free speech shit. You use your free speech to tell your rape joke. I use mine to tell you that you’re being an ass. And if you want an example of a joke about rape that isn’t terrible in all ways, shapes, and forms, check out my second paragraph.
That’s problem number one.
Problem number two:
So what if it is personal? What is it about my feelings that invalidates my opinion on the appropriateness of your rape joke? Let’s be real, here, the subtext is that I’m being too emotional, illogical, and/or “crazy,” and therefore am wrong. My feelings are wrong because they are not your feelings and the existence of my feelings makes you feel squicky inside because you like to think of yourself as a good person and you don’t like to think that you could say things that would offend others and my feelings are evidence that that particular conception of yourself is just not true. So you say “Don’t make this personal,” because that way the fact that you just upset me is my fault. And if I keep talking, if I get angry, I’m just proving your point. Once you’ve cast aspersions on my motivations, there’s no way for me to respond that disproves your claim, other than shutting up. And if I shut up, you win.
If we were to do a little role reversal, this is roughly the equivalent of me calling you a shitfaced douchebag, you telling me that I hurt your feelings, and me accusing you of infringing upon my God-given right to call you a shitfaced douchebag by having your feelings hurt. Your feelings are wrong. You shouldn’t be offended by me insulting you. You should suck it up and deal with it. Stop talking. Oh, you’re still talking? U MAD? U MAD?
“But “shitfaced douchebag” is an insult! I was just joking!” you say. Ok cool, so let’s say that your dad has testicular cancer and I’m making jokes about how he’s going to lose his dick, and there’s actually a possibility that he might and, more than that, testicular cancer runs in your family and someday you might get it too and you actively worry about this possibility every day. Maybe my intention isn’t to offend you or make you feel bad, but if you ask me to stop making dick jokes, it’s a dick move on my part to keep going. It’s an even bigger dick move to tell you to shut up and stop taking things personally. It’s the biggest of all dick moves to accuse you of being petty and/or hysterical for continuing to speak.
“Stop talking,” you say. “Don’t make this personal.”
Subtext: The things you are saying are making me feel uncomfortable.
Funny, isn’t that what I just said to you?
Please note the tab on the computer screen that says “cat.jpg.”
Face, palm. Palm, face.
The Chinese character for good is 好 (hao). As you probably all know, Chinese characters started out as simple pictograms that later graduated to ideograms and so on and so forth. The two pictograms that are incorporated in the ideogram for “good” are 女 (nü) and 子 (zi), meaning woman and son, respectively. So whoever came up with the character for good way back in the day thought to himself, “What is goodness?” and the answer that he came up with was that goodness is a woman and a son.
In a way, this is sweet–the importance of family is inscribed in the word for good–but it’s also loaded. If goodness is a woman and a son, what does that mean for gay people or daughters or people who don’t want families?
Gender is also inscribed in Romance languages, Arabic, Korean, and other languages that have gendered nouns, verbs, or required modes of addressing people of different statuses/family relations. Other than the heshehimher pronoun problem, English is actually one of the least gendered languages on the planet, which makes it particularly suited to dismantling and discussing issues of gender and sexuality in inclusive ways.
But what to do when every word you say enforces a gender binary? What do you do when your language doesn’t have a non-derogatory word for gay? How do you identify as something that there is no word for?
I don’t have answers…this is after all, a brief meditation on gender and language. But as our conceptions of gender and sexuality continue to change and evolve, these are questions we will have to answer.
Your assignment for the week: Come up with a good unisex pronoun. My idea? Ta, which in spoken Chinese is the same for men and women. It’s only when it’s written that it becomes gendered–他 for men, 她 for women.
BEFORE READING PLEASE NOTE THAT AUTHENTICITY IS A SOCIAL CONSTRUCT. PRETTY MUCH EVERY TIME I WRITE AUTHENTIC WHAT I MEAN IS “AUTHENTIC”
Americans are obsessed with authenticity. We are a nation of immigrants, not even three hundred years old, with no dominant cultural tradition other than Christianity, and even that is splintered into smaller spheres of influence. The only universal folktale is the American Dream, the only universal hero George Washington, who manages to get a free pass on slavery because he looks good in comparison to TJ.
Americans pursue authenticity in a myriad of ways, most of which fall into the following two categories:
1) Being Authentically American
2) Being Authentically Something That Has a Cultural Legacy of More Than 236 Years
Things that fall under category 1: white supremacists, fundamentalist churches, extreme assimilation by immigrants (i.e. a complete rejection of all things associated with the country of origin including but not limited to language, food, and clothing), Cowboy and Indian movies, self-loathing POCs, the NRA, the Tea Party, LA circa 1950
Things that fall under category 2: appropriationist hipsters, Hare Krishna, Starbucks, 2nd or 3rd generation immigrants looking to reconnect with their cultural roots, people who complain that New York isn’t Paris, The Karate Kid, Eat, Pray, Love, and other movies about other cultures where none of the main characters are from that culture, slum tourism, a significant portion of gap years, “Navajo” chic.
Note: The concept of authentic “blackness” is something that doesn’t fit entirely into either of these categories. Blackness (as opposed to African-ness) is typically considered to be an authentic American tradition but is not considered to be representative of the American tradition as a whole. American is commonly used as a synonym for white; to designate a black American, some sort of modifier is necessary (case in point).
And now the part where I talk about sweet-and-sour chicken.
Sweet and sour chicken is as authentically American as pizza and hamburgers. Like pretty much all “American” foods, it is a bastardized version of a dish from another culture that has evolved so as to be basically unrecognizable/unreproducable by members of that culture. It is also pretty damn good.
First layer of awkward: To a not-unsubstantial percentage of the American population, sweet and sour chicken represents authentic, exotic Chinese food. When people eat sweet and sour chicken and think that it is authentic, they display a certain level of ignorance about Chinese culture that is mildly infuriating/hilarious to many Chinese Americans. I realize that this seems somewhat unfair, but as a child who was told by a 3rd grade teacher that Chinese people eat fortune cookies to celebrate Chinese New Year, and as a child who then got in trouble for informing said teacher that fortune cookies are American, and as a child who was accused of eating cat, and as a child whose dumplings “smelled like MSG,” I can attest to the fact that ignorance about food is often linked to other, nastier types of ignorance.
Second layer of awkward: There is a segment of the non-Asian American population that has realized that sweet and sour chicken is not authentically Chinese and therefore goes very far out of its way to prove how truly cool and awesome and adventurous it is, while snobbishly looking down on sweet and sour chicken-eaters. These people think of your culture as being a consumer good. No matter what you say to them they will always be more Chinese than you, are too open-minded to ever be racist, and are really fucking annoying.
Third layer of awkward: I was not raised in an “authentically Chinese” household. I’m a half white kid from the South, which is a depressingly large Asian food desert. I wasn’t friends with Asian people because there weren’t any. I identify as Asian/Chinese because that’s what everyone always told me I was, not because I was raised in any particular tradition. Translation: I AM A POSER. The only difference between my experiences with authentically Asian food and culture-consumers’ experiences with authentically Asian food is that I’ve got a Chinese mom who has got a Chinese mom who has on at least one occasion killed a pigeon from her balcony and made soup with it (isn’t it awkward how I’m using that anecdote to shock people into accepting my half-baked claim on authenticity?)
Things that go through my mind when I consider ordering sweet and sour chicken:
1) Am I eating with white people? I will counterbalance my sweet and sour chicken order with a very loud and obnoxious yet casual statement about how sweet and sour chicken isn’t REAL Chinese food but probably I will make that statement and still not order sweet and sour chicken.
2) Am I eating with Asian people?
2a) Are these Asian people more Asian than me? Nope no chicken.
2b) Are these Asian people problematically self-identified twinkies? I’m already judging them way harder than they’re going to be able to judge me. Sweet and sour goodness come to mama.
2c) Are these Asian people actually my friends? I will start a hilarious conversation about all of my sweet and sour feelings and then order sweet and sour chicken.
3) Am I eating alone?
3a) Are there lots of white people around?
3a) i. Will these white people be able to tell that I’m part Asian? Well poop, if I’m eating sweet and sour chicken, I’ll be reinforcing their ignorance.
3a) ii. These white people will definitely not be able to tell that I’m part Asian. I could get away with ordering sweet and sour chicken but this is also an opportunity to educate the masses….I’m going to order something made with organ meat.
3b) Are there lots of Asian people around? LOOK, SEE I’M ONE OF YOU. I’M NOT ORDERING SWEET AND SOUR CHICKEN.
4) I need to go home and meditate on my privilege.
My cravings for sweet and sour chicken are a feedback loop from hell. If I give in, I’m a bad Asian and I’m enabling ignorance. If I don’t, I’m a pretentious douchebag who’s buying into and reinforcing societal expectations of what authentic Asian-ness is.
Screw this. I’m getting pho.
I was at the gas station yesterday getting, guesswhatnokidding, gasoline. When I got out of my car, I noticed a group of middle-aged white men sitting on the back of a pick-up truck and cussing. Like realllly cussing. And the whole time I was getting gas, I was scared that they would look over at me and see an uppity, elitist, non-white bitch who needed to be taken down a peg.
I went to Starbucks afterwards and spent the entire time evaluating whether or not the weird customer wearing the hunting vest and carrying a vaguely threatening metal cane was a potential mass shooter. I actually considered bolting for the door when he went to the bathroom, only staying because, as I told myself repeatedly, the likelihood that he would be able to hide a gun inside of his cane was infinitesimal. I also convinced myself several times that the other male customers in Kroger were following me through the parking lot. It was like, noon.
Two observations on this incident:
1) Fear of rape runs deep. To be a woman in this country, and really, most everywhere, is to be constantly on guard.
2) I am uppity and elitist and probably need to be (gently) taken down a peg. I would not have been as scared of a group of unruly white male i-bankers cussing, as they are wont to do, and if I had been scared, I wouldn’t have continued to be scared, because if I had run into a group of unruly white male i-bankers cussing, I probably would have been in a nicer area of town. I also would not have assumed that said unruly white male i-bankers were racist. Stupid, maybe, but not racist. Unruly white male i-bankers are innocent until proven guilty. Unruly white male construction workers are guilty until proven innocent. I clearly have some class-traitor issues to work out because my grandpa was a white male construction worker who was probably unruly at least once.
Let’s take a quick look at how aspects of my identity impacted my fear:
I am a half-Asian, liberal, elite (by means of education) woman.
1) half-Asian- fear of racial violence, typically instigated by white males, sometimes instigated by black males (L.A. riots)
2) liberal- fear of politically motivated violence by conservatives. Loosely translates to fear of Southerners.
3) elite- fear of the working class and working poor, accompanied by a propensity to judge others by their clothing, whether or not they live in cities, and their level of “civilization.” Also accompanied by the assumption that others are jealous of you.
4) woman- fear of rape
So, in the above situation, fear of rape, which is pretty broad, was filtered down to fear of racially and politically motivated rape by Southern, working class men who are resentful of my “status.” And, in fact, according to my fear rubric, this situation is actually my worst rape-related fear because it puts ALLL the fears together.
Don’t you love intersectionality?