feminism

Thoughts on Wordslut

wordslutSo I recently read Wordslut (2019) by Amanda Montell. I have mixed feelings about the book. On the one hand, the writing is very good. Montell has a great sense of humor and keeps my attention throughout the entire book. This is an impressive feat–my attention span is pretty short and my next blog post would have been 6 months from now if it had not been interesting. But after reading through the whole thing, I think it also has some glaring shortcomings.

I do appreciate that Montell is a Millenial who really has her generation’s back. It’s refreshing to find a non-fiction, academic book that is written by someone who was born after 1985. It is rare for someone that young to write non-fiction that is significant enough that it’s on the New Non-Fiction shelf in the library. Montell’s tone is prosaic, which I think is a strength; she really isn’t trying to impress academia by showing how much linguistics jargon she knows. Her writing is accessible, and that’s really fucking important. It can reach a wider audience because it is not trying to be a textbook. In addition, she is very affirming of young women (111), queers (229) and Black folks (95) and how they all use language. Indeed, the claim could be made that these are the people who invent new language all the time. This is a notable quality–all of these populations have a significant impact on our country. Just look at how much Democrats start crying when they don’t show up to vote.

One of the more important points made is that men and women fundamentally use language differently. Men mostly seem to use it to put forth ideas, or request or exchange information. Women seem to use it for SO much more. Women use language to create trust, to enforce relationships, to reach consensus, and to navigate a myriad of fluctuating social dynamics (125). On a sarcastic note, this makes me wonder why we allow men to speak at all. Their use of language is so limited. Though I also realize, this is probably what we condition both genders to do. Women have access to the fullness and richness of language, while men are encouraged to eschew it. This would account for why women, and not men, are adept at communicating feelings. To me, this is sad. We systematically set men up to fail at the things that bring people closer together. Their violence betrays the isolation society conditions them into.

One of the shortcomings of Wordslut is that it is so English-centric. Montell does use examples from other languages to explain certain things about English, like how people who speak Yoruba explain siblings (143) or how in the Native language Kwak’wala, you can’t pronounce certain words without vocal fry (117). But much of the book focuses on English-speaking media and how non-mobile, older, rural men (NORMs) (127) treat young (white?) women. I feel like the feminism of the book could have really been strengthened if there was any information in it about folks who are bilingual, multilingual or people for whom English is a second language. How do those populations conceptualize gender and sex using the English language? In what ways are their accents and butcherings of English actually radical? I realize that since linguistics is still so young a field, this information might not exist yet. But diluting the whiteness of any non-fiction work is definitely something I encourage by any means possible, and it feels like it could have been possible in this case.

I also feel like a weakness of the book is that it does not talk about how English has been a colonizing force in the world. What does colonization have to do with feminism, you say? Well, it played a huge role in subjugating women, frequently forcing them to become even more objectified since they were able to give birth and thereby produce a labor force. Colonizers like their labor forces because their lazy asses don’t like doing work themselves. What contributions have those years of colonization (and it’s like, a good 500 years) had on the language? We know language changes in as short a time as 50 years. Surely this process has affected the English language, the language spoken by what was once one of the largest colonizing nations on the planet? Yet nothing is said on this subject.

All in all, Wordslut is a fun book that scratches the surface of what feminism in the English language could look like. However, I find the premise on which it is written to be a little naive. The truth of becoming a gender-equal society requires looking at the ugly history of what English has been used for. Should the dominant language of the world be one that came to dominate through unparalleled violence? Should we expect we will gain gender equality by continuing to speak this language? Sure, these were not the questions Montell set out to answer. But in the world right now, where the governments of large and powerful populations are leaning far enough to the right to be called fascist, can we afford to ignore these truths? Can we afford to think that we should focus only on our own (very wealthy and very powerful) country? I think the spirit of optimism is important to carry out our hopes for a better world, but not without looking critically at the English language.

On the Women’s March on Washington

What you’re about to see is an excerpt from several posts I made on Facebook in response to a status I posted. In the status, I posted a, more or less, rhetorical question. I asked “Did anybody march on Washington when Shirley Chisholm lost? When Patsy Mink lost?” (Leonie, personal communication, December 22, 2016). Someone responded to the post with a rather ahistorical argument about why a women’s march on Washington today is different from a march that would have happened in the 70’s (as opposed to a continuation and/or appropriation of historic events).

Anyway, they posted an article, to which I posted this response. The article link is listed below, followed by my response.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/women-march-on-washington-organizers_us_58407ee8e4b017f37fe388d1

My response:

Fair enough, let me back up for a minute. So I read the article you posted. The women of color who they are talking about are legit, have been doing community organizing for a long time, and the facts check out thus far. But I’m also noticing some inconsistencies. The article does a great job of articulating the exact concerns that I have mentioned, but has an interesting way of addressing them. It starts right off the bat by mentioning Mallory, Perez, and Sarsour. They go on to explain the perceived shortcomings of the march–the lack of inclusion, the appropriation of work done by women of color in the past. Mallory, Perez, and Sarsour are purportedly taking part to show that the march is inclusive of women of color, and they are fully committed. However, and here’s the first red flag for me, the writer never really specifies in what capacity. Are they included in planning? Are they speaking? Are they doing logistics? Are they planning the agenda? It doesn’t really say. In fact, the headline says the women are “leading”–not necessarily planning, and I don’t even really understand if they volunteered, or if they were asked to participate by others. The article repeats over and over again that they are great activists, but says nothing about what they are contributing to this march. Does that not seem a little suspect to you? Almost as if they were brought on board only to hide how white this group is?

I clicked on the link from the quotation “almost all white”. It takes me to a Facebook post from the March on Washington event page, written by one of the co-chairs (who is definitely white, btw) and she says their first step was “to engage” Perez, Mallory, and Sarsour. This was on 11/20. The article you posted is from 12/1. It’s just interesting to see how the semantics change in that period. They go from “engaging” the activists, you know, a friendly little inclusion thing, to having them “leading” the march. Maybe I’m reading into things, but this is what it sounds like to me: “yup, this was not started by 4 white women named Bob Bland, Evvie Harmon, Fontaine Pearson, and Breanne Butler at all. Not at all. We pinky promise. It’s all the women of color. All them.” Like, is that not kinda weird? Does it not smell to you like they are overcompensating for the overwhelming whiteness of the group planning this?

Furthermore, in the article, there is absolutely nothing about what these women hope to achieve, talk about, or envision for this march. Sure, it is a march for women. We get it. But what does that mean? Does it mean equal rights in the workforce? Does it mean economic equity? Does it mean protection from harassment? Does it mean communicating with law enforcement about protection for women? Does it mean reproductive justice? Does it mean building strong coalitions among women of all racial backgrounds? (Don’t give me that crap about “it’s about all of the above”. How many movements have we seen start like that? (I’m definitely thinking of the Occupy Wall Street movement) Every successful action has always stated clear and precise goals). And that’s the thing. Admittedly, my experience with community organizing is amateur at best. But from what little I know–and from what I know as a human adult, if this was an event that had a lot of intention behind it, it would have been planned a little more thoroughly. This does not seem like something that has been given careful planning and thought. In fact, later in this post, I’ve included a link to an article that says this march was started precisely because Hillary did not win the presidency, and is being held on Jan. 20 precisely because Trump is being sworn in that day [edit: It is being held on Jan. 21, to the same effect]. So I am going to have to disagree with you; this march is ALL about Hillary, and from what I’m seeing of an agenda, little else.

If you still don’t believe me, here’s the last point I’ll make. The Huffington Post article says the organizers STILL–as in, on 12/1, 7 weeks before this historic march thing is supposed to happen–don’t even have the permit that says “yes, these women are allowed to march at the National Mall”. Sure, this seems like a minor detail. They can march somewhere else. They might have gotten the permit by now. But doesn’t it seem a little strange to you that these women are putting together a serious action, calling women of color to their side to defend their actions, telling hundreds of thousands of women on Facebook–but they still don’t even know whether or not they can hold it in the place where they want it to be? Isn’t that a little careless? Doesn’t it seem as though they are using the labor of an awful lot of women of color for what seem to be rather flimsy ends?

And like, that’s not even to mention this group that supposedly was part of the planning for this march but has apparently degenerated into a joke: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/panstuit-nation-is-a-sham_us_585991dce4b04d7df167cb4d

Sorry, can’t resist, there’s just one last point I wanna make. Does it not speak volumes about the depth of white privilege that this white woman in Hawaii apparently called for a march, and then magically, one is happening? http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-women-idUSKBN13U0GW

So yes, Travis is probably right in saying the two situations are very different. But look, if you want to go to this march, and you think it will help women in America, and you think it is the right thing to do in this moment, then I absolutely support you. I hope it achieves everything you hope it will. I really do. I hope it is a great march. But if something goes wrong, and I cannot understate this next part, do you understand how awful–AWFUL–it will be? Do these women understand that they will be accountable for EVERYTHING and ANYTHING that happens during this march? That it will absolutely be on them? I just don’t think they do. That’s why I’m not supporting this thing. I’m not trying to scare you, but I hope you are thoroughly informed about the possibilities of what could happen. But if you honestly think the march will make a difference, then I absolutely support you, and I hope you are right. I hope you are right.

Thoughts on Stranger Things

I don’t know if you all have yet seen the Netflix Original series, Stranger Things. If you haven’t, I highly recommend it. It’s got this Stephen King-meets-The Little Rascals feel to it, and the screenplay, acting, and soundtrack are all on point. It doesn’t overdo the cheesy damsel-in-distress-screaming-and-hiding sequence that is so common in the horror genre. In addition, all of the characters have refreshing depth and intelligence. It’s such a nice change from the usual white-family-in-denial about the monster in the closet until it comes out and eats the husband or whatever.

While I could wax poetic about a lot of things in this series (the examples of triggers! The little boys are so dialogic!), I really appreciate the examples of women standing up to men in this series. The three women who I would say are main characters (there’s more than one woman as a main character!) all have significant instances of telling the men in their lives to fuck off. This happens more than once, but I’ll explain three of my favorite moments here.

First, there is that time in episode 5 when Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) tells her good-for-nothing husband (Ross Partridge) to get the fuck out of her house.

get out

I got really scared when the husband guy came back. For a second there, I thought he was going to stay for way too long and significantly derail Joyce’s life the way all sleazy exes do in TV shows (think Sex in the City and Friends). But no, not in this series. In this one, as soon as Joyce even suspects her husband is around just for money, she kicks his ass out. You go, girl.

On a tangent, I think this is one of the strengths of a shorter series. They can no longer prolong horrible relationships for the sake of drama and ratings. I am so thrilled that TV is heading toward the 8-12 episode range. I cannot tell you how tired I am of that Grey’s Anatomy tier, 22-episode season shit, where you had to endure a person’s sexism or racism for entire 4-5 episode arcs that made you want to tear your hair out.

Anyway, the second example: I am equally thrilled that Nancy (Natalia Dyer) stands her ground and hits Steve (Joe Keery) when he’s being an asshole in episode 6.

hitsteve

Yas, girl! So basically, when Steve and his friends decide to paint the town to slut-shame Nancy Wheeler, she hits him. And I LOVE it. This show does a great job of breaking down age barriers. Even the younger women give no fucks about putting men in their place. I love the message this sends–that teenaged girls do not have to take shit from immature boys. We are bombarded with so many instances in which young women are publicly humiliated through slut-shaming (Vanessa Hudgens, Kristen Stewart, Taylor Swift, to name a few). Nancy decides enough is enough. Time to shut the haters up.

Last but not least, we have Eleven (Millie Brown). Eleven is constantly saying “no” to all the boys.

elevenno

Here, she is saying she will not compromise her safety by telling Mike’s mom of her presence in episode 2. This girl cannot be much older than, well, eleven (no pun intended), but she understands consent PERFECTLY. She is a great example to women of any age, that no one, not even your friends, can make you do anything without your consent.

 

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much humanity in this show that I could write about, like the relationship between Jonathan and his brother, the friendship among the four boys, and all the shit Nancy goes through that I can thoroughly relate to. For a short series, Stranger Things accomplishes so much. I can’t wait for season 2.

An Analysis of The Last Illusion by Porochista Khakpour

lastillusionContent warning: child abuse, sexual assault, suicide

My most recent read was The Last Illusion by Porochista Khakpour. I chose the book from this list of Asian American authors (and you’ll find I will probably read a few more from that list before summer is over). The list implies that Khakpour is on par with some authors whom I really admire, like Jhumpa Lahiri and Amy Tan, so I had pretty high expectations, which I am not sure the novel lives up to.

It should be noted, this book is based on a legend from the Persian epic, the Shahnameh, the Book of Kings. I personally have never read the Shahnameh, so there is a certain point of reference missing in my analysis.

To give her credit, Khakpour is a talented prose writer. The beginning of the book reminds me of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children:

His hair and skin were the color of–no use to sugarcoat it, Khanoom would snap–piss. He was something so unlike them, unlike all of nature. (2014, p.3)

This first description of the protagonist, Zal, reminds me of Saleem and his gargantuan nose from Midnight’s Children. I have always had a soft spot for ugly-baby descriptions. It thrills me that many writers of color do not want to portray their protagonist as attractive, that in some cases they are downright scary. It supports the idea that ugly people deserve to have their stories told, too.

Khanoom’s distinction between her birds and her son also reminds me of an excerpt from Clive Barker’s Abarat series. There is a story in Absolute Midnight about a mother who gives birth to two sons: one that is the embodiment of all of her good, and the other that is the embodiment of her evil. The good son is a homely thing that resembles a worm. The evil son is a beautiful creature, colorful and charming.

Similarly, Khanoom is enamored with her birds, which she refers to as her children. She cuddles them, sings to them, and makes sure they are fed and clean. She abhors Zal, whom she keeps in a cage with the rest of the birds. She calls him “White Demon” (p.5) and prays for his death. It is as though Zal, scrawny and pale as he is, is what little good Khanoom is capable of, and her numerous, glorious birds epitomize her cruelty.

Khakpour does a great job of commenting on the hypocrisy of able-bodied people and the mental health profession throughout the novel. I feel as though every time she wants the reader to think about what we are taught about disability, she uses the italicized word, considering. For example:

His father had set it all up…and would not have created an abnormal environment for his son…whom Hendricks so badly wanted to grow up as normal as he could, considering. (2014, p. 82)

These were Zal’s thoughts when he took Asiya into his apartment for the first time. The “considering” piece always refers to his history as the Bird Boy, and  how he made the “miraculous” recovery from a squalid, screeching boy to a relatively well-adjusted adult. Hendricks thinks it would be so great if Zal was just like everybody else, implying that the way Zal lives is such an inconvenience to able-bodied people like Hendricks, as though being “normal” is such a wonderful way to live. Khakpour invites us to question whether or not our “normal” is really as wonderful as we think it is. Is Zal better off as a harmless, insect-eating, asexual, bisexual person who is a little strange? Or is he preferable as an alcoholic, sexist man who passes for “normal” by our standards?

I think it also invites us to question the well-intentioned people who frequently live with, or are guardians of, people with disabilities. Is it really for Zal’s good that Hendricks is hell-bent on making him “normal”? Or is it more so to prove that he is a good father? Why doesn’t Hendricks approve of Zal when he behaves in a “bird-like” manner?

I also love Khakpour’s commentary on love. When Zal first meets Willa, he describes his feelings.

He felt, he though, maybe what they called love–THEORY NO. 4: Love?–but of course it wasn’t, he quickly told himself, love did not come so illogically. It did not do that at-first spell that was just a human joke…(2014, p. 92)

Perhaps my cynicism is showing, but I love how Khakpour gives voice to my skepticism toward “love at first sight”. I think Americans thoroughly exaggerate the role of physical attraction and infatuation in “loving” relationships. I personally believe the exaggeration is a natural by-product of capitalism, in which sex becomes a spectacle that people are willing to pay for, and which people then fervently rush to sell as per the laws of supply and demand. “Love at first sight” is not a truth, but a platitude we tell ourselves to pretend we are satisfied in mediocre relationships. Actual “love”, the act of caring for flawed and petty human beings and understanding they are not obliged to us in any way, is a lot of hard work.

In reaction to this first response, Zal gives us another description of Willa the second time he meets her.

He wanted to be nestled against her bosom. In what way? Like a child, he thought. Like a lover, he thought again. She confused him to no end. (2014, p. 119)

In a digital story I created last year, I said “love is unfathomable. If you understand it, it is not love.” Zal’s experience illustrates this sentiment. He doesn’t seem to know what he wants to be for Willa, or what he wants Willa to be for him, but it is more than just being a lover. He also mentions wanting to be a friend or guardian. His feelings resonate with me. I think it is more accurate for me to say I have felt love towards friends and family more than I have to lovers, or whatever you want to call them. Acting within constructs in relationships has obstructed love for me more than it has bolstered it.

Khakpour, however, does not use her strengths to her advantage. She makes great commentary on disabilities and traditional relationships, yet that is not what she focuses on. She instead turns her focus to the 9/11 attacks and tries to make a really cliché allegory about life. While I think her commentary on 9/11 itself is actually quite interesting, she takes a huge, wandering portion of the book to finally get there.

First, I think Khakpour makes the mistake of establishing the premise of the story too early. As soon as I found out Asiya is clairvoyant and the dates begin to seem very important about one third of the way through the book (with the Y2K New Year featuring as a prominent incident), I already knew to expect the book to end with 9/11. It literally takes the other two thirds to get there. After the New Year party, The Last Illusion seems like a long story about people who do nothing–the repetition is tedious. Asiya and Zal break up several times. Each time, Zal goes to Hendricks, who tries to pull him out of his misery. Then Zal makes the decision to go back to Asiya, and Hendricks tries to dissuade him because he doesn’t like Asiya. Zal leaves anyway, giving some platitudes about establishing independence. This occurs two or three times in the novel.

Toward the end, I really feel Khakpour is trying too hard to make a point. It starts to sound like a college application essay. Silber starts asking himself “What does it all mean?” (p. 254) over and over again, as if anyone needs to be reminded to find meaning. On page 267, Silber literally thinks, “Maybe money is the key.” She really loses me there, as if we need anyone else to point out any more cliches about greed and avarice and money. And then we have Manning calling Asiya a terrorist on page 270, and I just about gave up. Here is a book about 9/11 and the word “terrorist” is in the novel. How compelling. So original.

Asiya is one of the most grating characters in the novel (though honestly, Zal himself can be quite grating at times). I would almost be willing to forgive Asiya for her behavior (she has to put up with so much sexism from Zal–he doesn’t believe her even though she is right (p. 260), and he can be quite manipulative. Having sex with her just to prove he is normal (p.152)?) except, except, except, she is a white girl with an Arabic name. On top of throwing all these tantrums because she wants people to believe her and they don’t (what does she honestly expect? She’s a skinny little artsy woman. People are not kind to women in general, let alone strange ones) she gets arrested, and when asked if she has a Muslim name, responds, “Absolutely” (p. 279).

I suppose this was supposed to show how defiant and brave she is, but for me it rings so hollow. Asiya McDonald was born Daisy McDonald, and she got her name by dating a Muslim guy at one point in her life and then converting to Islam. At the end of the day, she is still a white woman, and still has all the privilege that that identity confers. When I think about the Muslim women of color I know, the hijabis, the ones who are told again and again to go back to their country, the ones who have cried over the things people yell at them, the ones who literally have eggs thrown at them, Asiya McDonald is like a bad joke. I’m still waiting for the punch line. I’ve said this before, but I have a hard time believing white women ever truly show “resistance”. They only ever seem to echo all that women of color have already done.

Of course, Khakpour might have portrayed Asiya this way intentionally. You never know.

Another piece that irked me to no end is the description of Willa’s sexual assault. On p. 124, I find out that the reason why Willa overeats and is obese is because she was kidnapped as a young girl and repeatedly raped by her kidnapper. This is actually a common response that women have to sexual trauma (as reported by the Atlantic). Yet, Khakpour is surprisingly euphemistic about it, describing only how he “hurt her again and again” (p. 124). In context, this is how Willa is explaining herself to Zal, so I suppose this conveys how hard it is for Willa to talk about it, but I felt this portion would have been so much stronger if the incident was referred to as “rape”, or “sexual assault”. Since she is 20, it is reasonable to assume Willa knows what these words mean. This was an opportunity to shed light on a really important issue, and instead of naming the problem, Khakpour hides it.

I was further irked by the explanation for Willa’s suicide. On p. 292, it is said that “Apparently only in depression was she losing the weight that had made her depressed in the first place, most likely.” This angers me to no end. It was Willa’s rapist who forced her to feel she needed to eat all the time, and it was her rapist who made her feel suicidal. However, Khakpour takes the route of blaming Willa’s weight for her suicide, which not only body-shames Willa, but also lets her rapist off the hook instead of holding him accountable. It’s a depressingly conservative stance to take.

Khakpour slightly redeems herself with her description of 9/11, the Last Illusion, though she makes me wait entirely too long to get to that point. It turns out like a dream, Silber’s last illusion.

The illusion had not gone right, but it had not gone wrong. It had gone real. (p. 315)

I remember the day, and it was quite dreamlike. I was 9 years old on 9/11/2001, just starting my first days of fourth grade. I remember coming home from school with my brother and my mom to see the image of the Twin Towers falling, on channel after channel, again and again. It was strange how easily I believed it was real, how there was no skepticism at that point in my life about CGI or Photoshop, that I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that I was seeing something real.

 

Zal realizes, after the illusion, that just like so many things, a smile is just another human trick (p. 319). There are some implications there about constructions, how even the ways our body is supposed to react to things are social constructions. Zal smiles on the day of 9/11. It would certainly explain why I sometimes laugh in classes about genocide.

The mid-July Emotional Checkpoint

You all can probably tell, but I haven’t been acknowledging my feelings much lately. There’s a lot there, and I’m scared to even start on it because I haven’t had a healthy outlet for feelings in probably over 6 weeks. I guess this post is going to serve as the litmus test for how much crazy I have been holding in, and can be the check point for whether or not things will get worse as I progress though this summer. This post will also be interspersed with lots of Manul cats to illustrate my face when I think about these things. This species arguably has more emotional range than a lot of humans I know.

For these past 6 weeks (and actually, the last 6 months, but I was in graduate school until May), I’ve been looking for a job. I don’t know if you’ve looked for a job recently, but let me tell you, the job search. Sucks. So Much. Basically, to keep from feeling like I wasted 6 years of my life, I try not to think about it, even though my excel spreadsheet of over 80 job applications and results continues to grow every day. It doesn’t help that I’m living in my parents’ house while I’m searching for jobs. While I’m thankful that they’re willing to let me eat their food and live in their air conditioning, this is the last place I want to be. Also, as a textbook empath, I tend to pick up on literally everything that either of my parents is feeling. So from my mom, that’s a whole lot of anxiety, and from my dad, apathy. Neither of these emotions are things I like to feel for any length of time, let alone almost two months. At this point, I would gladly spend the last of my savings for even just a different place to live, but that would be stupid without a job to keep me going.

On the topic of being an empath–it’s something that I only recently realized about myself and probably should be explored further. But you know, that’s an emotional process, one that could leave me potentially vulnerable, and being vulnerable is literally the last thing I want to be while I’m interviewing for jobs and living with my parents.

2-Manul-Cat

Let’s not.

Source: Oscar Carlos Cortelezzi’s Flickr

Then there’s the stuff in the news–Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the 5 cops in Dallas. These are upsetting times to live through, even if you have a job and you’re not living with your parents. I can’t bear to watch the news on television, though my parents insist on putting it on promptly at 6:30 every evening. The obvious partiality towards Establishment in television news is deplorable to me. As a result, I stay up until around 4:00 a.m., when everyone else in the house is asleep, taking in other, healthier things, such as the far more accurate reporting in posts that I get from my Facebook feed. No regrets.

As for the actual feelings about these incidents, I think my body is not allowing me to feel those at all, not even when I want to. I think it knows it would be too much to handle without emotional support.

15-Manul-Cat

No feelings. Just no. 

Source: Tambacko the Jaguar’s Flickr

As a result of all this, I’ve withdrawn into books and art. I’m sure you’ve noticed. Four books in two weeks? For me, that’s probably a new record. When I was getting an undergraduate degree and a graduate degree, I discovered I didn’t need to withdraw as much because there were humans with whom I had deeply meaningful relationships, and whom I trusted enough to go out with and have fun. Right now, I don’t feel like I have any of that. Thus, I have regressed to my introverted high school self, the one that read books and made art. INFP. It annoys me that it takes so little for my entire personality to change, but then again, reconnecting to this part of my personality has its rewards. This blog hasn’t fared this well since 2014!

Effectively, I’ve blocked my usual needs for emotional connection and adventure by regressing and denying. That leaves one need that I have not figured out how to deal with yet…and the problem is, when I say “one” need, it’s probably more accurate for me to say “several”. I guess the best approximation of the whole problem in one word is “sexuality”, though for me it means a lot more these days. I mean, sure, there is a certain desire to be with another human being in a sexual sense, but I’m beginning to discover that I’ve never desired a relationship for sex. In the relationships that I enjoyed, I think I frequently took part in sex because the other party wanted it and it pleased me to give them pleasure. Which is not to say that I don’t enjoy or desire sex. I do. I just never seem to want it as much as my heterosexual, masculine partners.

It was the emotional connection that I liked most about these relationships, the fact that these people were willing to reveal some depth about their personalities with me, as well as allow me to get physically close to them. However, it took me many years to realize that one can obtain emotional connection and physical proximity without any sexual interaction.

There are a number of confusing things about myself that arise from all these thoughts. The first would be that I’m asexual in some sense, which also means I’m queer in some sense. Strictly speaking, I’m not actually “out”, and I don’t intend to be. I toyed with the idea of being an “out” queer person, and then I had my horrifically bad experiences in New England and decided that was not something I want to do. At worst, it’s not even in a “It’s just not for me” type of way, it’s a “Wow, I vehemently disagree with the way the queer movement has been appropriated by the United States, and I really don’t fucking want to be a part of that.” That’s a post for another day.

On the other hand, though, I still experience strong attractions. Strong, stupid, idealistic, over-the-top, romantic, INFP/ENFP attractions. I feel them for people I haven’t seen in years. I feel them for people I meet in interviews. I feel them for people I’d rather not feel them for. I feel them for people who do not reciprocate the feelings. And I can’t help feeling like I am in deep, deep shit because in the entirety of my life, I have never sat down and talked to any of my past sexual/romantic partners about any of these things–not one. I picture some distant future in which I’m sitting down on my first date with some (probably masculine?) human and having to say things like, “So what do you want from a relationship?” or even “Do you want a relationship?” For some reason, this causes me the deepest, most unimaginable anxiety, probably because the first thing my brain does is go, “WHICH HUMAN IS GOING TO RESPECT YOU ENOUGH TO GO THROUGH ALL THAT? WHICH HUMAN IS NOT GOING TO BE OVERTLY ABUSIVE AND COERCIVE? WHICH ONE? DO THEY EVEN EXIST?”

9-Manul-Cat

This cat gets me on a deep level. 

Source: Wendy Salisbury’s Flickr

This probably explains a lot about why my past “relationships”, if you can even call them that, were so unsatisfying (with the exception of perhaps one). It also explains why I suddenly feel a paralysis in the realm of starting relationships. I mean sure, I’m on all the online dating websites and I feel attracted to people, I might even flirt once in a while. At heart, though, I’m scared out of my mind. How have I never noticed how safe it is to be alone before now?!

All in all, let’s be real, I need some hella help. I’m scared to seek it out at the moment because I keep thinking I won’t be where I am for long. Let’s say I’ll come back to this post in a week to see if I’m doing any better. I’ll plan what I do about it at that point.

 

An Analysis of The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

lowlandAfter reading The Lowland, I’m interested in knowing what Jhumpa Lahiri’s Myers-Briggs type is. If I had to fathom a guess, I would say she’s an ISTJ based on her writing style. The dryness with which she describes people and settings makes me think she’s a sensing/observant person. There’s a certain habit to the way she comments on body parts–eyes, mouths, erections–that reveals a pragmatism rather than the curiosity about hidden meaning that intuitives express. The way she talks about characters in isolation, delving into their thought processes and the ways that they arrive at conclusions, makes me conclude she leans more towards thinking than feeling (though frequently, Lahiri reveals the complexity of emotions in these discussions about internal modes of thinking). It was hard to pick up on whether she’s a judger or a prospector from her writing style alone, but I felt that judging was more fitting because of the way she frequently writes about obligations–not necessarily the fulfilling of obligation, but the awareness that some kind of social pressure usually exists for people to act one way or another. Introversion was the most obvious of the characteristics I picked up on. If you’ve ever heard Lahiri interview, or even just notice the way her characters are so conditioned by loneliness, it’s not hard to “see” her introversion.

Of course, I myself am an ENFP, so that might influence this analysis. For all I know, Lahiri is an INFP who has a longer attention span for sitting still and writing than I do. In typical NF fashion, I am sometimes more interested in getting into an author’s head than analyzing content.

If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like spoilers, I suppose this is the point where I tell you to stop reading.

The Lowland spans a story of over half a lifetime, starting with the childhoods of Udayan and Subhash, the protagonists, two brothers with very different temperaments who were born probably at some point in the 50’s, and ending in the decade after the new millenium. If I had to compare it to another book that encompasses huge plots of time, I would say The Lowland is actually similar to The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold. Both novels revolve around the death of one of the main characters, both victims of violence, and both deaths are a result of systemic oppression in some form. Both novels delve deep into the internal affairs of the main characters after the death of a loved one. In addition, I would say both authors toy with the idea, though in very different ways, that humanity is more important than a cause.

In The Lowland, while Udayan’s naive willingness to follow the Naxalite movement over a cliff ought to be critiqued, I think he should be given more credit than Lahiri gives him. He was part of the movements of global student activists in the late 60’s and early 70’s that made governments everywhere wake up and realize things could not go on the way they always had. Granted, the government in West Bengal took a very reactionary stance in response to the students by killing them and then putting the bodies on display throughout the city to suppress the movement with fear. This was the proof the world needed that the government had become a cruel, sick, twisted entity that would do anything to protect its own power.

In due course, we learn that Udayan and his then-wife, Gauri, play a role in the murder of a local policeman in Calcutta. In turn, Udayan is killed by the police. Lahiri writes of both incidents matter-of-factly, as though if either were to occur even without the historical context, the other would still inevitably follow. She reveals the senselessness through which killing occurs. Life is taken and human beings, in their infinite nostalgia, are left to find significance on their own.

The killings, while they are conveyed without fanfare, hold deep political significance. A policeman dies on one end of town, his family mourns. The foreshadowing comes after the fact, an echo of what Udayan’s family goes through. Then Udayan dies on the other end, his family mourns, and the impact of his death resonates for three generations. This is a keen point, especially given the current state of affairs with the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, and also the shooting of the five cops in Dallas. Death is death is death, which brings us back to the concept that humanity is more important than a cause. The moment at which Udayan became comfortable with killing a person was the moment at which he lost his humanity, a sad case considering he joined the Communist Party in the hopes of restoring humanity to those in the most need. Almost at the end of the novel, it is revealed that, “…only the policeman’s blood had prepared him [for death]. That blood had not belonged only to the policeman, it had become a part of Udayan also. So that he’d felt his own life begin to ebb, irrevocably…” (Lahiri, 2013, p.339). Ironically, the point at which he commits this inhumane act is the point when Udayan finds his own humanity.

This is also interesting considering the way Udayan is characterized up to that point. Even though he is the younger of the two siblings, it is in Udayan’s shadow in which Subhash lives. Udayan is the more mischievous of the two, constantly pushing the limits of his parents’ patience, while Subhash is quietly industrious, subscribing to filial piety and social obligation. The relationship is heavy with expectation. Udayan’s tendency to act before he thinks is a perfect foil to Subhash, who displays the inertia of those who think far more than they act. One could say Subhash is implicitly at least partially to blame for his brother’s death. Udayan implored him to stay, but he left for the United States, interpreting his brother’s request as a challenge to his own ability to make decisions. Udayan’s socializing is then left in the hands of the Communist Party. His comrades become his primary source of support.

On this note, Lahiri’s commentary on social activism is, at times, not so subtle. Here is an excerpt:

[Gauri] was thankful for [Subhash’s] independence, and at the same time she was bewildered. Udayan had wanted a revolution, but at home he’d expected to be served; his only contribution to meals was to sit and wait for Gauri or her mother-in-law to put a plate before him. (p.126)

Throughout the novel, I could feel that Lahiri has a certain disapproval for overt displays of support for a cause. She takes an almost patronizing tone, as though revolutionary movements are started by small children who have little capacity to follow through.

In the same breath, Lahiri shows an undeniably feminist critique of the ways movements are lead. Unrepentant violence, dogma, and militancy are certainly markers of toxic masculinity, traits that I doubt would exist in movements centering feminist principles. Lahiri points out the hypocrisy of militant movements–how on one hand, men can advocate for revolution of the working class, and on the other, are so comfortable with the subordination of women.

By the time I had finished one third of the book, I already found myself sympathizing with Subhash, the older brother who moves to America to study oceanography. It is somehow easy to commiserate with Subhash, who, in the course of the novel, becomes a single father to Udayan’s daughter. He is also portrayed as the more dutiful of the two sons. In contrast, Udayan is hard to relate to, portrayed as a rebel from a young age. His murder seems to have been brought about as much by him as anyone. Gauri, his widowed wife and mother to his child, is even harder to relate to. After the death of her husband, she becomes a cold, unfeeling person, plunging into the safety of academia. She has no qualms at all about leaving Subhash and her child behind.

The argument could be made that everything Gauri does is justified as a woman who realizes just how unreliable men can be. It makes no sense that in our modern society, or even in the 70’s when Gauri was married, women are still expected to marry men and be dependent on them in a social sense when they are as susceptible to death as women are. Gauri learns this at a relatively young age, and spends the rest of her life as an independent woman who achieves success as a professor, something that I think should be celebrated. Furthermore, she is the kind of woman for whom social expectations matter not at all. Gauri gives no fucks. She cuts her hair short. She wears tight clothes. She has sex with a woman. She drops meetings without explanation. She shows up at her husband’s house without calling. She does whatever she wants whenever she wants. Personally, I think that’s awesome. More Desi women should have the courage to live like that. Yet, she is portrayed as someone plagued with guilt, unable to forgive herself for leaving her child. I’m sure if it was a man leaving his child, he would not be portrayed in this way.

I digress. Oddly enough, I think the way Lahiri writes about sex is one of my favorite things about her writing, though it is not at all romantic. This is another trait of her writing that makes me think she is more sensing than intuitive. I, an incorrigible intuitive, cannot seem to write about sex without getting caught up in the significance of it: the romanticism of feeling another person’s skin, kissing, orgasms, cuddling. Lahiri does none of that. Here is an example:

She was wearing slacks and a grey sweater. The clothes covered her skin, but they accentuated the contours of her breasts, the firm swell of her stomach. The shape of her thighs. He drew his eyes away from her, though already a vision had entered, of her breasts exposed. (p. 141)

I still don’t understand how, in a passage where literally nothing happens, she expresses something lasciviously enough to get me horny.

Lastly, as one who loves the stars, I also love observing what commentary authors have on night skies. This is Lahiri’s:

He sees the wide beam of moon’s light over the water, pouring down. He is overwhelmed by the sky’s clarity, the number of stars. (p. 329)

It seems like the sky is a reflection of where Subhash’s life has finally come to land, so to speak. He is no longer haunted by the secret he kept from his daughter. He is no longer deceiving himself in an unhappy marriage. He has found some peace, and as of yet, some possibilities.

Many as my criticisms are, there are a lot of things I liked about The Lowland. I feel the novel says a lot about the curious constructions of memory and time, how peoples actions in the present can so closely mirror those of their ancestors, and how emotion is as important a factor as time in how well we remember events.

Works Cited

Lahiri, J. (2013). The Lowland. Toronto, Canada: Alfred A. Knopf.

 

A review of an Asian Feminisms class and Ingratitude, an Analysis

 

ingratitudeI recently finished Ingratitude, by erin Khue Ninh, a book that, for me, provokes some surprisingly potent emotions in spite of being such a small tome.

Before I embark on this review, allow me to explain the context in which I was introduced to it. This past spring semester, I took an Asian American Feminisms course at UMass Amherst. It was the first women’s studies course I had ever taken in my life. It was a class of only 12 students, of whom 8 were women of Asian descent, 10 were undergraduate students, and 2 were graduate students (including me). On the whole, I found the course to be very instructive in a number of topics I had not previously explored. I really appreciated most of the readings for laying bare many experiences of Asian women that I had not previously encountered in academia. Some of the topics discussed in the class included Orientalism, legacies of war and colonization, racialized femininity and masculinity, and transnational feminism.

The professor, who I will not name, was also a great instructor, centering student learning by allowing students to take up most of the class time with discussion. However, I did at times find her to lean more towards “academic intellectual” than “pragmatic facilitator”. She had very little ability to hold space for emotions, and as a model with whom many of the students could identify, I think she effectively suppressed a lot of the emotional responses that students could have brought forth. On one memorable occasion, during the class where we discussed the legacies of war, one of the readings was about Korean comfort women, and how their position in society was determined both by the Japanese invasion of Korea as well as by American soldiers in the Korean War. I asserted that this seizure and capitalization of women’s bodies was “a thinly veiled form of terrorism”. There was a brief pause in the class after that, at which point the only response the professor chose to give was to move on to the next topic.

On another notable occasion, I had gone to her office hours one afternoon to talk about my final project, and she asked me how the class was going for me. In my naïve manner, I assumed she actually wanted an honest answer from me, so I shared an observation with her that I thought should be addressed. I said that I noticed the students in the class only ever responded to her questions and statements in the class, but they never interacted or responded directly with one another. I brought that to her attention hoping perhaps she would encourage those interactions. After all, it’s not a true discussion if it’s only between the teacher and the student.

Her response was very strange. She chose to tell me that, while we were on the topic of giving feedback, “some” of the students (a number was not given to me) were “disgruntled” by how frequently I laughed in the class. Specifically, she commented on my “facial expressions and noises” that I made in the class. I was very surprised. This did not feel like feedback as much as it did a way for her to undermine my power and affirm her own authority. The colorism of that interaction cannot be ignored either—this professor is light-skinned and of Korean descent, and I am South Asian. At the time, I thanked her for “bringing the comments to my attention,” though in the back of my mind, I thought whichever student it was that had complained was a coward for not voicing their complaints to my face. The logical response of the professor, at least to me, would have been to tell whoever complained to respect that people have different emotional capacities. My opinion of this professor diminished slightly after that point.

After being treated thus, it is no surprise to me that such a person thinks that Ingratitude is useful for instructive purposes. During the course, each week a student would start the class with a brief presentation on the main points from the week’s readings. Model student that I am, I had not read Ingratitude the week it was assigned, during the topic of Asian American Literary Subjectivities. I think I saved myself some indignation, though I also probably kept the class from being able to learn from my rather contemptuous point of view.

To my knowledge, the eight women in the class adored the book. The presentation that week was given by an English major studying at Mount Holyoke, a native of Cupertino, a stone’s throw from San Francisco, California. This is a person who is able to travel to Taiwan every year, whose parents are probably paying for her education. Her presentation, which was significantly lacking in criticality, historical context, and even a basic analysis of capitalism, enthusiastically affirmed the words of an author who predictably faulted parents for everything that sucked about Asian women’s lives. The room reeked of hypocrisy.

I had stated in previous classes that I unabashedly defend Asian parents. When I said in class that day that I had not read the book, but I could fathom by conjecture that I probably would not agree with most of erin Khue Ninh’s analysis, the professor’s response was to say, “Well, you’ve stated your views in the past, Leonie.”

This is nothing compared to the complaints I have with the book itself, now that I have read it. Ninh’s book is an analysis of how immigrant families trap women of Asian descent in a role as an obedient, high-achieving daughter based on—not historical archives, not an analysis of Asian women’s labor, not even qualitative research with actual Asian women—literature by women of Asian descent. Yes, you read that correctly, literature as in fictional novels. She uses fictional novels to build a highly complex patriarchal, racial, and economic analysis of the family structure. From where do my doubts spring? I can’t imagine.

Furthermore, in the entirety of a novel about how oppressed Asian American women are in the role of daughter, Ninh never once includes internalized racism or sexism as causes for this oppression in her analysis. This is curious because Ninh literally describes internalized racism, though she doesn’t refer to it as such, within the first few pages of the novel as a reason why Asian people might act the way they do.

It is a central tenet of the model minority thesis that the model minority identity is a myth…That may be a disingenuous case to make…The heart of the issue is not whether an Asian immigrant family currently meets the socioeconomic or professional measures of the model minority. Rather, the issue is whether it aspires to do so, whether it applies those metrics: not resentful of the racializing discourse of Asian success as violence, but implementing that discourse, with ingenuity, alacrity, and pride, from within. (Ninh, 2011, p.9, emphasis from original text)

This is quite literally a description of internalized racism. I define internalized racism as the process of subconsciously incorporating the messages one receives about their own racial group into one’s own identity as though they are fact. Would that not also be a reason why Asian parents treat their children the way they do? In fact, could it be the sole reason? Could the sole reason be that Asian Americans have internalized the belief that they must be high-achieving, a belief which white America industriously circulates? Ninh didn’t seem to think so.

Another point of contention I have with the novel is the hilariously far-fetched logic Ninh frequently uses to draw her conclusions. Here is an example:

Ideally, then, parental sacrifices enable the next generation to live lives unfettered by the practices and psychology of close bookkeeping. In actuality, however, as Su-ling Wong points out, “the code of Necessity creates its own enslavement: one sacrifice calls for another” [33, full citation included in Notes]. Whereas in theory, Necessity works itself out of existence—immigrants work hard so that with success they and theirs will no longer have to work hard—in practice, Necessity reproduces itself, perpetuating its mindset and demands onto the next generation, even after the conditions of material adversity have come to an end. (Ninh, 2011, p. 33)

In other words, why is oppression perpetuated? A logical individual might look at historical and economic context and the ways in which Asian immigrants first came to be in the Americas in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as plantation workers, indentured servants, sailors, in other words, slaves in everything but name. (Lee, 2015, p. 42). People in these lowest strata of economic class frequently do not have access to the kinds of structures that help people accumulate wealth (ability to take out loans, own a house, build credit, pay for an education, save money in bank accounts, etc.) because they live in tenement buildings in the inner city or on farms, their citizenship hangs by a thread, and their money goes into paying off the indenture. Thus, subsequent generations frequently inherit debt, much in the same way that the descendants of Africa living in America have had historic difficulty accumulating wealth because they were brought to America as slaves.

Is this the logic that Ninh uses? No, no it is not. Ninh says that parents ought to be able to pay off their debts, debts that, when they were incurred in the sixteenth or seventeenth century, sometimes had to be paid off one literal cent at a time for debts of hundreds of dollars (Lee, 2015, p.42). That way, children can be free. Oh wait, but debts can’t be paid off because they’re not real. They’re just some magic thing parents made up called “Necessity”. Hence, children are oppressed because parents made up the fact that they are in need. Why would parents lie about being in need? Does this make sense to you? It doesn’t to me.

Even putting Ninh’s analysis in a modern context makes no sense. If parents in Asian American families are paying off their debts because they are able to, where is this Necessity that drives them to abuse and oppress their children? And if they are not, does that not bring us back to the argument that Asian families in the working class cannot accumulate wealth in traditional ways?

The most maddening of Ninh’s many nonsensical analyses is her assertion that Asian American’s romanticizing of the Third World reveals an underlying desire to assimilate to capitalism (if I’m even reading this text correctly. Ninh’s tendency toward a confusing verbosity is equally annoying).

Both Chao and Wong’s pieces betray a desire, in fact, to fossilize Evelyn’s parents as forever the opposite of white capitalist America (as if having been a materially deprived Chinese native makes a subject automatically and henceforth politically subversive), and to color themselves “bad” by association. But to paraphrase Kingston, one’s family is not necessarily the Third World poor to be championed; in a confusing state of affairs, any of these purportedly bad capitalist subjects might well have found themselves prosecuted as owning class by agents whose motivations were themselves suspect. (Ninh, 2011, p. 121)

Admittedly, I’m not entirely sure here, but I think Ninh just defended the bourgeoisie against the “attack” of the working class under Communism in China because, you know, Ninh knows how much they would suffer if the working class ever rose up.

What completely blows my mind about this book is how individual-minded and second-wave Ninh’s thinking is. She never once asserts the ways in which feminine people and the Feminine are powerful, choosing instead to focus on the Catch-22 of not being able to pay off parents’ debts and how rebelling against parents is still a way of “settling debt” (Ninh, 2011, p.155). In other words, she portrays Asian daughters as having a lack of agency over their own lives. She never entertains the radical possibilities of being part of a collective, which is not surprising given her lack of historical analysis. She never considers how feelings of abandonment can be mitigated by the feeling of being tied to bodies of people who share a history, an ancestry, and a story. She only ever looks at the individual woman, how she is antagonized by the family, and how breaking filial piety is futile.

The one statement Ninh makes that I perhaps partially agree with is that filial piety could and should change for Asian children. However, where Ninh puts the burden of accountability on parents, I think the process needs to be a deeper and better-articulated dialogue among two generations. I particularly believe the consequences of immigration, colonization, racism, sexism, and capitalism must be included in an analysis of family roles if it is to be accurate.

All things considered, Ninh worked really hard on what I consider to be little more than the vengeful rantings of a spoiled brat. Ninh is a tenured professor in the Department of Asian American Studies at UC Santa Barbara. Go figure.

Furthermore, for me, the goal of raising critical consciousness is to achieve liberation. At its core, this work requires love—a powerful, fierce love. I think this is a critical component missing in Ingratitude, one that is mentioned but is hardly featured prominently. To paraphrase Darkmatter, if the Revolution happened tomorrow, I would not want to survive it if my parents could not stand right there beside me in the end. I do not plan to abandon them, even in the times when I feel they are being unfair. Before I accuse them of their adultism, of their classism, of their ableism, love is the ability to admit that I have unfathomable privilege as a person who was born in the United States, who went through the American system of education, and for whom English is my native language, things that are not true for my parents. Love allows us to peer into the power dynamics between two generations without ignoring what power is present on both sides.

Works Cited

Lee, E. (2015). The making of Asian America: A history. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.

Ninh, e.K. (2011). Ingratitude: The debt-bound daughter in Asian American literature. New York, NY: NYU Press.

Correction:

At first, I referred to Ingratitude as a novel. Actually, it’s an account of the relations between Asian American children and their parents through literary analysis.

Why sexism will be the last system of oppression on earth

I have to ask because it occupies a lot of my thoughts.

Would a man ever willingly give up his masculinity?

Would he ever give up that 23 cents he makes so a woman can earn a dollar?

Would he ever willingly turn down a position of power so that a more qualified woman could take the position?

Would he give up wearing relatively comfortable clothes in exchange for clothes that are less comfortable and of worse quality just because it’s what women want him to wear?

Would he change his entire diet, worry constantly about his body, because women want him to look a certain way, and he isn’t acceptable in any other way?

Would he use all kinds of whitening creams, constantly cover his face in public, just so he doesn’t tan because he is less acceptable when his skin is not as light as possible?

Would he be okay knowing that, from the day he is born, society only views him as useful when he marries? That he is safest when he marries? That when he marries, for all intents and purposes, he becomes the property of the family he marries into? That changing his last name means renouncing the people who loved him his entire life, the people who would take bullets for him, who gave up an empire for him, who built a new one from scratch for him? Would he be okay giving that up?

Would he accept knowing he is never safe, not at night, not during the day, no matter what he wears, no matter what he carries?

Would he be okay knowing he is inherently weak?

Would he be able to accept that the medical industry does not exist to serve him, and that his health will be systematically othered? Would he be able to accept that less research has been done on the way his body operates, therefore diagnoses for him will be less accurate? Is he okay with knowing that if these diagnoses are less accurate, his life could possibly end a lot sooner than expected?

Could he be content with the way women will treat him as a disposable sex object if he makes himself too vulnerable?

Could he be content with knowing it is constantly his responsibility to preclude pregnancy, and in the case that someone becomes pregnant as a result of his actions, it is generally considered his fault?

Could he be content knowing that most of the world views him as the primary caregiver for children? Can he handle having one or multiple very young lives be dependent on him? Could he raise a child alone?

Would he be comfortable knowing that, no matter how right he is, no matter how much evidence he has to support his claims, no matter how many people back him up, everything he knows means very little or nothing unless it comes out of the mouth of a woman?

Could he accept that the skills that are conditioned in him from childhood are considered less important than the skills that are conditioned in women from childhood?

Could he accept that he is less intelligent?

Could he accept that, if he is raped or sexually assaulted, his rapist will most likely not be indicted, in most cases, not even be caught? Is he okay knowing that his rapist and hundreds of thousands of rapists roam the streets as free people? That they still vote? They can still ride buses and drive cars? They are allowed to eat at restaurants? They are allowed to keep their jobs? They are still given human rights? That these people, who commit acts of violence, often multiple times, look like normal people? That rape is so normalized?

Would he be comfortable knowing that to most people on earth, his life is secondary to the lives of half the people on earth?

Would he be comfortable knowing that the people who are most likely to commit violence against him are the very people he loves the most? The people in his family, the person he is intimate with, the person he marries?

Would he be comfortable knowing that no matter how much money he makes or how high a position he achieves, he will never have true power?

If this was the world he had to live in, would he live in it?

Would he willingly give up his masculinity, and live in this world of his creation?

The Idea of Bravery

I’d like to contest the idea of bravery as it is portrayed traditionally. Women of color can never be traditionally brave. We are encouraged not to hold positions of great responsibility. We are told not to deliberately put ourselves in danger. We are even told to keep our opinions to ourselves in case we anger someone more important than us who can then take away what little power we have over our lives.

We have historically been considered pieces of property, pets to be coddled. Yet thousands of us wake up every day, walk around in public spaces where we are traditionally threatened, get an education and work in environments that are barely tolerant at best and hostile toward us at worst.

That is not just brave. That is revolutionary.