Throwback GirlMeetsYarn and Playing Sociologist

My dad found this old publication by the Union of Vietnamese Student Associations at Georgia from 1995 where I am a child model.

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Initially I just wanted to post the cover to share with my friends through social media because who can resist adorable toddler me? It was laying on the kitchen table and I was flipping through the pages, most of which I can’t read because it is written in Vietnamese, when I got started with my usual historic, gendered, and racialized analysis.

Firstly, I noted how different VSAs (Vietnamese Student Associations) or any sort of Asian student organization has changed in 20 years. Twenty years ago, Vietnamese college students were immigrants, some with refugee status. Nowadays, we’re mostly made up of 2nd or 3rd generation immigrant children. The majority of Asian students can identify as American or Asian/Vietnamese/Chinese/Korean/etc. American rather than as a citizen of the country where their parents are from. And this means than instead of focusing on banding together to preserve cultural traditions in a strange and new environment in the US, Asian American students today are actively creating their own Asian American culture which combines identity with pop culture and creating a space on their campuses where their differences are embraced and accepted by all cultures.

Then, I found these two pages, written in English that consisted of students’ responses to a somewhat lighthearted survey. The results are evidence that in 20 years, we still have not made much progress in terms of racial and gender equality.

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IMG_7903I think the entire article is informative and funny, in a crude way, but here are some highlights on some parts I found significant:

Would you marry someone different than your own race?

Yes, excluding whites, blacks, orientals, and native Americans.

I can’t tell if this is sarcastic because it excludes nearly everybody except Latin@s (which is the most obvious segment of the population and of course anyone else who identifies outside of these categories) but if it was answered by a Vietnamese student, which is what I assumed, they also mention orientals which is kind of derogatory and maybe only refers to East Asians as opposed to Southeast Asians. I’m just confused by this one.

Definitely not in this lifetime.

Yeah, that’s problematic. Coming from a family that has become increasingly interracial as time goes on, I’d like to believe that we are on our way out of this kind of thinking but with those Cheerios ads from a couple months back, who knows?

What are the advantages and disadvantages of being Vietnamese?

There is this stupid stereotype that all Asians are really smart and know some type of martial arts. I don’t like it when people are prejudiced against me.

Prejudice still lives.

I hear ya buddy, prejudice still lives 20 years later. Especially on the playground. It’s horrible that at such a young age, children are conditioned into believing people of a certain race or color should act or behave a certain way. It’s truly detrimental to individual self-esteem and interactions and society at large.

And by the way, it has come to my attention that my knowledge of the Model Minority Stereotype term is not widespread, even among Asian Americans. That is basically the belief that Asians are the hardworking, smart, achieving minority, which is used to contrast against blacks and Latin@s. One must come to an understanding that certain groups where systematically and institutionally discriminated against to the point that they are unable to make economic gains as a whole (yes, individuals do “make it” but as a group, no). On the other hand, the Model Minority Stereotype erases the stories of certain populations of Asian Americans who live in poverty and cannot afford education.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of being a female?

No disadvantages except having to go through labor pains.

Okay, this girl has no idea or is comfortable with what women do not have access to in relation to men. Gender wage gap, sexual assault statistics, gendered violence, legal rights to what happens to your own body, online and offline harassment, body image expectations, political underrepresentation, I could go on…

What are the advantages and disadvantages of being a male?

I have no idea, I think being a female is better.

Oh really? Try it out for a day.

Strong and tough.

This is a problematic definition of masculinity. Just because someone is a man does not mean they are physically strong or aggressively tough. It perpetuates an expectation that is forcibly acted out under the pressure to “be a man” and in some ways is dangerous to women. (See above.)

What do you think about the opposite sex of your own kind?

Wait, what does “of your own kind” mean?

I think they will make excellent wives.

Perpetuating traditional gender expectations, I see.

Can’t live with them. Can’t shoot them.

OKAY THIS IS NOT FREAKING OKAY. Violence against women is NOT FUNNY.

They are so sweet and faithful.

On the other hand, there’s men who hold women on a pedestal like this guy and that is also not right. Women can be as or more bitter and unfaithful as men can be.

And lastly, to end this on a lighter note.

What is the best way to tell someone you love him/her?

Grab the butt.

This guy was weird Tumblr before weird Tumblr was cool.

The Ups and Downs of Radical Thought

Being awakened to the injustices of the world is a burden, but it is one that you can never give up once your eyes are open, no matter how hard you want to when you are faced by rejection, dismissal, and straight up hate.

This week has been full of both highs and lows for my psyche. I have gone from blissful optimism to the point of nearly breaking because the deadly combination of my passion and social media can go from being my best friend to my worst enemy with the click of a button.

After making a successful connection with someone who I believe will be able to help me on my journey to achieving some of my life goals, I became charged with energy and my hunger for change only grew stronger, causing me to “angrily” call out anything I found problematic. Unfortunately, when a person calls out a problem, they become the problem, and things can get messy. I understand that it is difficult to decipher a person’s tone through text, especially abbreviated Internet communication, but if anything I ever posted online seemed “angry” that completely underestimates the range of my emotions. I may have a thick skin, but it only goes so far. Eventually the wound hurts. In the end, I am thankful for the friends I can count on to support me through these points and reassure me that I have a right to my own voice, opinions, and feelings. Following the examples of some of my activist role models, instead of retaliate, I ignored and took a break. I have gone almost two days without reading my Facebook and Twitter feeds, only occasionally checking for anyone trying to contact me for something important. I hope to keep it up for the time being because I am starting to be dependent on the instant gratification I get from knee-jerk reactions and I am beginning to be consumed in my online activism instead of focusing on my schoolwork.

But just as I was starting to become discouraged and wanting to give up (even though it is now impossible for me to go through my day without pointing out at least one gender, racial, or culturally insensitive thing) I was so fortunate to be able to attend a Black history month event at my university featuring the legendary entertainer and activist, Harry Belafonte. His messages to fight for justice, think radically, and never give up in the face of fear and rejection has recharged me to continue doing what I do. Because if it’s not me questioning the system, who else would it be? I’ve written and said it before and I’ll say it again. I’m looking for leaders within my own peers and I’m not seeing any that I like, so I have to be my own leader. But that also brings up the point that others should not look to me for all the answers. Just as they are trying to figure out how to solve society’s problems, so am I. Despite my lack of formal academic learning in these areas, I strive to build off of what others have built in the past, adapting to the technology and culture of our times and being open to new ideas and perspectives (emphasis on the new). So even if I may seem too “out there” at first, if others join my cause, together we can start a movement.

Something I also want to mention is that most of the time my criticisms are not about individuals, but about the system as a whole and how we, as individuals, are complicit. I don’t mean to hurt any feelings or make people feel bad about themselves or their privilege. As Harry Belafonte said to our university community last night: “I only seek to provoke.”

Thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In”

A couple weeks ago I finished reading Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. Although some have found reasons to critique her “advice” I was thoroughly inspired by her words.

The first time I heard of Sandberg was on a post by Mr. Kate a couple years ago when she gave a few talks and some videos went viral. For those of you who don’t know, Mr. Kate aka Kate Albrecht is my female-fashion-diy-blogger-entreprenuer role model. So when I read about Sandberg and her book on Mr. Kate I trusted my sources and was intrigued by what I found out about her. Lean In was soon on my “to read” list as college slowly revealed the burgeoning feminist inside of me. I picked up the book this semester along with a couple textbooks to take advantage of Amazon’s Super Saver Shipping (which by the way $10 increase in minimum purchase?!?) and finished it just when my Women in Society class starting our discussion on women in the workplace and women leadership. Can I get a what-what for perfect timing?

Lean In spoke to me on a personal level because for a long time I have felt like I was the only girl/female/young woman/college student who has ever thought about and considered these things that Sandberg addresses. Now I can see that a lot of women out there agree with me that what Sandberg has experienced we have all experienced or will experience later on in life. But at the same time, there are women out there who cannot relate to her at all, be it for personal life goal differences, socio-economic differences, or education level differences. And they completely shut down her opinions because of it!

What I found striking was the number of people who in my class, professor included, felt somewhat negatively by Sandberg’s advice. They felt pressured, stressed out, and turned off by the idea of “leaning in.” What is the reason for this?

I hypothesize that the real root of the problem is one that Sandberg head on addresses in her book right in the first chapter: the leadership ambition gap. I think those that don’t “get it” are those who fall in that gap. Why is it that women tend to want to stay at home and take care of their children instead of following their ambitions? Sandberg writes about many of those potential reasons but I think it’s a deeper cultural and psychological conditioning.

From day one of birth, girls are exposed to a culture that expects them to become caregivers and to hold back on their aspirations. Our culture even make’s children’s fantasies extremely polarized by gender. Girls want to grow up to be princesses. Boys want to be superheroes. Girls want to grow up to wear fancy dresses and be taken care of. Boys want to grow up to fight the bad guys and save the world, and they don’t mind getting their hands dirty along the way. Take a moment to think about how wrong that is. Why don’t more girls want to save the world?

Sandberg likes to use statistics. The statistics do what they do. They’re numbers. But what they aren’t telling us is that women may have less ambition to achieve more because they were never told that it was possible. They do not realize their full potential. And without that confidence they are not willing to take those risks and would prefer the security of knowing that their family will be taken care of by settling for less. All of these factors start snowballing into the gender distribution in the workplace and at home that we have now. Not to mention structural barriers and sexism and all that jazz.

It takes a certain person to really get into Lean In. If you are the ambitious type who is kind of already a natural-born leader go for it! However, if you aren’t so much, read it with an open mind. It may not completely appeal to you but there are some key takeaways.

A couple of weeks ago, when I was preparing for internship interviews I was going through a list of potential questions I might be asked in a behavioral interview. One question was, “If you could do one thing with your life what would it be?” The answer came somewhat instantly. If I could do one thing with my life, it would be to inspire young women to go above and beyond. I think the best part of that goal is that it can be done no matter where I end up working or what I end up doing because I know that I will go at it 150% to prove that my gender does not make a difference in how I can contribute to a company and become a role model not only for women but for men as well. I don’t know about you, but I kind of want to “lean in” and save the world.

Girl Model

I love clothes. I love expressing myself with my unique sense of fashion. And sometimes, I think it’d be kind of cool to be a model. If only the industry wasn’t so corrupt, soul-draining, and damaging to our perception of beauty and self-worth.

Check out this PBS documentary called Girl Model. It follows a 13-year old Siberian girl as she tries to find success as a model in Japan in order to support her struggling family back home and an ex-model-now-scout who has a pretty jaded view on the industry but knows nothing more than modeling.

Watch it on PBS

For me, beauty is so much more than a pretty face and that “perfect” body. And it’s just heartbreaking to see that these girls really don’t care for the fashion part of the industry. It’s just an escape and relatively simple way (compared to investing in higher education or hard manual labor) to make ends meet at home. I don’t know what to think anymore. What am I really buying into when I see fashion that I like? Am I supporting something that ultimately hurts humanity? What do you think?