When I was in Taiwan I also had the chance to visit and talk with a group of students at Taipei American School. What was originally just a casual coffee meeting with a female student grew into a classroom talk with teachers and even the principal. Little did they (or I) know that I would end up asking the adults to stop talking so the students could more freely speak up.
However, I think I underestimated how hard it is for young Asian women to speak up about themselves, about sexism, about their feelings. I think I really underestimated how quiet and shy Asian girls can be, in general, even more so than the quietest and shyest white American girls. Why is that? Even the male students seemed to have more thoughts on sexism than the girls. Some female students certainly spoke up. And one reminded me of me 10, 15 years ago. She had made a stand to not learn how to cook. Later I asked her if the female students would have spoke up more if we had met in a small group of only girls. She said she wasn’t sure; sometimes some are listeners and some are talkers. She also said that they are considered selfish if they talk about feminism. That was definitely new to me. It made me realize that that may be the Asian twist on feminism. Because in Asian culture especially that is the worst quality of a woman—to think only of herself.
It was great that the conversation took place. And it made me hungry for more. What if we could spur these conversations all over Taiwan and even Asia! After watching more of The Fierce Wife today, and experiencing the emotional roller coaster that Xie An Zhen felt, watching her brainwashed husband of 10 years siding with her niece instead of with her, and her willing to forgive him and forgive everything just to keep the family together and protect her daughter, makes me want to make these conversations happen even more. You can’t teach someone feminism; you can’t teach them how they are oppressed. But starting to ask questions and asking, oh isn’t that interesting that things are this way, and why do they have to always be this way, is a start.
I have been in love with pptv lately. It is a downloadable program that allows you to easily watch gazillions of Chinese TV shows and movies. (Or you can watch it from the website which is slower). Ever since I came back from Taiwan I have been missing Chinese (Mandarin that is). I can already tell that I am losing motivation to practice it with the BF as well. It’s just that much harder when you’re not living in the environment.
First we found one show starring a middle-aged chef who was so kindhearted he kept agreeing to take in stray kids off the street and thus ended up being a single dad of 3. I quickly fell in love with the whole family and within three short episodes, he had their family savings stolen that was to pay for the 4 year old girl’s surgery, discovered he has Huntington’s (I believe)–a debilitating, incurable disease where one’s brain continuously shrinks. There is also a mystery woman who works at the same restaurant. We know nothing about her except she is completely uninterested in everyone and everything around her except for the little girl, and has a perv of a landlord. The BF and I realized it was much too depressing by the 3rd episode and after trying an old-style Chinese show that, no matter the BF’s laudatory comments and many explanations, I still didn’t understand, we settled on one called:
The Fierce Wife.
She really is not that fierce in the American sense or gun-wielding Brie of Desperate Housewives sense, but I suppose she is strong in the Taiwanese woman sense. She is a housewife, mother of a 5 year-old daughter and married to a decent, pretty-boy who is able to efficiently and diplomatically stave off the fawning women at his beauty products advertising agency where he is Creative Director. So far in the 2.5 (1 hour long) episodes, the hubby has already gotten himself into trouble by entangling himself in a complicated relationship with his live-in niece. She is portrayed as an abandoned orphan and the ‘fierce wife’ takes her in as her own. He thinks she’s adorable; she’s silly in ways that combine both his silly daughter and wife’s body all in one. He becomes manipulated by the 20something year old niece’s feelings (including quickly forgiving her for leaving a huge bite mark on his arm) and becomes extremely protective of her (not allowing her to have lunch with other male coworkers and instead lunch with him daily) but one wonders if he is protective or jealous? He insists that she delays her move-out date claiming it’s his wife’s request and seems completely oblivious to how much he is in her grasp. She seems genuinely appreciative and loves her new home. The wife is portrayed as surprisingly blind to what’s going on in her own home, but as of this morning we discover a new man in her life! Whew! I guess it’s watching drama like these that makes me feel better about my own worries.
If I had a dollar for every time a white person’s told me they’re not racist or a guy has told me he’s certainly not sexist… you know the rest. I am not here to point fingers. But I want to clarify what does racist or sexist mean exactly. All white people have internalized racist beliefs since we live in a society and world with institutionalized racism—it is in our laws and institutions. Just as all men also have sexism because we live in a sexist society where it is legalized and enforced in our institutions as well. It is in our air we breathe. Thus, people of color have internalized racism as well having grown up in this country—-we also believe the racism that we have seen and heard and felt (consciously or not).
The same is true with women and internalized sexism—we as women start to believe we are only as competent as we are told we are (not very). Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Elie Wiesel, and William Kunstler (where I got the title of the blog from… check out this very interesting documentary on him representing Attica riots prisoners and other controversial people of color clients) are great examples of white men realizing their white male privilege and who are able to speak about it coherently and with full accountability of their privilege, power, and racism.