Thursday, April 30, 2009

Body Issues

Namely, my surprising lack of some when it comes to modesty.

cycads left me a comment on my first post on Skin Trouble about bathing in public spaces, and the resultant, usually inevitable, body-comparison that ensues.

I, surprisingly, have never really had this issue with public spaces. My only problem with them has been with other people (namely men) staring at me in that creepy-way that you just know objectifies you in ways you don't want to be. Within women-only spaces, though, this has never been a problem. For example, in my first year, Hurricane Juan hit Halifax, and the university residences didn't have any water beyond the 4th floor (and that was COLD water).

Girlfriends and I hit the showers of the gym. There were the communal showers (ten showerheads in a nice big room) and two private shower stalls. Now that I think about it, people with more "conventional" body types were the ones lining up for the private stalls, whereas the communal showers had women of all body types bathing. Everybody minded their own business. By the time I hit the communal showers, it was empty, and everyone else was lining up for the private stalls.

At a local swimming pool, there was a shower space with four showerheads. I showered with women of all ages in that space, and after that huddled in my towel purely because I was cold, not because I felt awkward being naked in that area.

Now, if I feel awkward being naked around other people, it's usually because they, too, feel awkward about being naked (or with my nakedness).

Anyways. I can quite easily explain this. I think.

Growing up, my parents felt that there was absolutely no problem with them walking around the master bedroom naked while my brother and I watched TV. There was also no problem, apparently, with them walking into my and my brother's rooms while we ourselves were fresh out of the shower and still with no clothes on.

Attempts at outrage, embarrassment, or trying to reason with them were to no avail. They simply Could Not Get It. We were family! What's wrong with being naked around family?

(There are a ton of marital problems my parents have with each other, but this body nudity issue was definitely not one of them, if not a unifying factor in itself. Holy sheesh.)

I feel the need to drive in just how blase my parents were about nakedness in the house. I shall do so with a hilarious anecdote. (OK, I think it's hilarious.)

Most of my middle-class Malaysian peers know the typical housing structure for many terrraced houses in suburbs - two floors; upstairs there's a master bedroom up front with its own bathroom, and the two back rooms with a shared bathroom, doors on either side. My brother and I occasionally forgot to unlock the other's door sometimes.

Anyways. I was showering one evening. My brother was in his room, with the air-conditioning on.

In walks - no, in breezes my mum with a bowl of nicely cut watermelon in one hand, fork in the other. "Want some watermelon?"

She very cheerfully held out to my very soapy self the bowl of watermelon pieces, and I said, "NO MUM. I'M SHOWERING." (Didn't shout. But the caps are needed to express my horror.)

"What? Why not?" She held the bowl out closer to me. "It's good!"


"Okay." She flung open the door to my brother's room. In whooshed the cold air-conditioning as my mum did the same thing to my brother, who said, "MUM CLOSE THE DOOR."

"Why don't you kids like watermelon?"

The older I got, the more it made sense to me that if it's an environment where one's expected to get naked, being naked isn't the big deal. I'm not an rabid exhibitionist (a women's magazine had a quiz on how 'comfortable you are with your body' and one of the questions ran like "at a public shower, do you a) turn to the person next to you and ask 'do my nipples look weird?'" Look, no one in their right mind freaking asks a stranger that out of the blue) but when I'm in a public changing room and someone's going "Don't look at me! My thighs are fat!" I tend to go "and this is special, why?"

I'm not gonna say I don't have body-comparison issues myself. I do, but they happen more when I'm dressed and among other dressed and pretty people, than when I'm naked among other recognizably "flawed" people.

The nice thing about being just another naked women in a room full of other naked women, all of whom are from the regular walks of life like mine, is that having flaws don't feel so alienating and alone then. I have fat thighs, and I have a belly, and fat arms, and stretch marks on my hips.

And so do they.

Excuse me while I go bask in my normalcy.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Andrare is in Jail; DeLee is next.

h/t to Transgriot

On June 11, Dwight DeLee will go to trial for the murder of Lateisha Green. He shot her on November 11 in Syracuse, New York. He also shot her brother, Mark Cannon, 19 and gay.

As usual, newspapers are failing to Get It Right by referring to Lateisha as "Moses Cannon".

The DeLee family is trying to drum up sympathy by stating that he was set up, introducing his previous crime record, and that "six members of the DeLee family is already in jail".

Whilst I understand that PoC often unfairly suffer police brutality and get the short end of the legal system stick quite regularly, evidence points to the fact that DeLee was homophobic and transphobic. And it looks to be that the "trans panic" defense will once again be used.

More [excellent] coverage from here.

Cross-posted to the Redux Edition

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I Don't Miss High School: History Edition

In secondary school, we have two levels - Form 1 to Form 3, after which we take the PMR, and then Form 4 and 5, after which we take the SPM. I'll rant about the ridiculous examination thing in another edition.

In Form 4 History, we learnt about international stuff, European history, the French Revolution, the Reformation, the Industrial Revolution, and a couple other things to do with America.

In Form 5 History, we learnt about Malaya's tussles with the British colonials, Raja Brooke in Sarawak (OK, all things considered, he was okay), being invaded by the Japanese in WW II, the following war on Communists, and our Independence (plus the New Economic Plan which has since crashed and burned all around our ears).

A common complaint from my peers during Form 5 was: "History is SO BORING. I wish we were doing more world history like last year. That was FUN."

I've mentioned before that my grandfather was involved in WWII. He was a policeman during the war. After that he became a journalist. I found a logbook of his when I was 9, and I leafed through it, taking in his small handwriting and imagining what kind of circumstances he was in when writing those log entries - in the dim light, or during a hot day, at the back of a bus, or crouched against a wall. In a sense, I tried to picture my grandfather during the grim years when he had to fight against an enemy he didn't even know personally (and the Japanese treated the Chinese horribly during those years) and whom, under different conditions, he probably would've gotten along with just fine.

Life for my family, what little I know of it, at least, wasn't very connected to the history we learnt in our textbooks, about villages being created so people would be safe from communists and whatnot. I watched documentaries which had footage of Japanese soldiers cycling in from Thailand to invade Malaya (yes, they said to the Thai King, can we pass through? And he took the neutral ground and said sure, as long as I'm not the one being invaded. So they took the British quite by surprise because they did not attack from air nor from the sea, but by cycling in, rifles on their backs and all) and I wondered just how much collateral damage they caused, and how my family was affected. (And yes, despite the horrible things they did to the Malayan-Chinese at the time, and even taking into account the Rape of Nanking, I do actually find the idea of invading a country by bicycle to be tremendously awesome.)

Back then, I did my best to identify as Malaysian, even though I didn't feel like I fit in at all. I was too liberal. I was too loud (for a girl). I sucked up enough to the teachers that they gave me responsibility; I didn't suck up enough to the teachers than I received my popularity or protection from bullies. I thought too much. I said too much. I was too proud (eksy, is our term, like "show off"). Growing up, I was reading Julius Caesar and Edgar Allen Poe. The closest thing I got to Malaysian literature was Konserto Terakhir by Abdullah Hussain which was required reading for Malay Lit (and I'm convinced that it was the literature component of the subject that saved my ass from failing that subject altogether). And of course those stupid short stories which somehow didn't really have any point except to express a homily.

Yet hearing my peers say, "Malaysian history is so boring!" made me really uncomfortable in ways that I still can't begin to parse, especially considering that they were the ones who spoke with a heavy accent, passed Malay with consistent As or Bs (I managed a C), and well, looked, acted, and sounded more "Malaysian" than I did.

Now, it bugs me even more than I think about it, because "world history" as we learnt it focused more or less specifically on Europe.

Imperialism certainly did us a good number there, where those of us born and bred on Malaysian soil would say, "Malaysian history is so boring! I wish we did more world history" and not realize that the "world history" we were learning was Eurocentric, and thus, not exactly "world" history at all.

I, for one, think Malaysian history was bloody neat.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Sometimes I Have Skin Trouble: Steampunk Edition

So, I love steampunk.

I love Victorian-inspired clothing to start with - the lush lace, the splurge-driven dresses, the elegant waistcoats, the delicate act of removing gloves, finger by finger, the corsets, the hats and feathers and veils. The wife of a photographer I shot with once showed me a coat made in that era - thick (broadcloth?) fabric handsewn and still looking none the worse for wear, with extra material at the small of the back for the bustle.

The problem with steampunk, though, is that it's pretty much white territory. I read Girl Genius, which in itself is a fabulous comic, and as much as I enjoy the sleek mecha of Robotech and Evangelion, the clunky robots, steam-powered with levers all over the cockpit, attract me more. The problem with Girl Genius is, although it does quite well on the PoC front, there are no real representative Asian characters (except for one doctor and his granddaughter). The only person in the comic with actual yellow skin that matches my own is Zeetha, who has green hair and belongs to a country that is unidentifiable from maps of our own.

My thoughts were crystallized further by Ay-Leen the Peacemaker's Carnival of Asian Woman entry:

... I realized something that made me sad about this cool, geeky subculture that I’m so eager to participate in: The steampunk movement romanticizes a time period where imperialist and racist attitudes prevailed and many people were oppressed as a result of them. When Queen Victorian sat upon her throne, a lot of other Western powers were doing not nice things to people in Asia, in the Middle East, in Africa and the Western US, and now, a over hundred years later, people want to live in that time period again, or at least use it as creative inspiration.

I grew up in Malaysia, which was colonized by the British until the 50s when they finally let us go. (And we had to be invaded by the Japanese first. See, the Brits had really convinced us Malayans that we needed their protection, and the ruling classes let them do as they pleased - look, they had fucking guns, okay? - and then the Japanese came in and kicked their asses, and we realized we, too, could have our own fucking country and not have the British there.) Despite Independence, the influence of British culture remains - it is desirable to go do our A-Levels (based on Cambridge A-Levels) after high school. (Form 6 has gained ground as a cheaper, local alternative.) Many of us still think going to the U.K. is desirable. Many of my generation and class (middle-class, particularly non-Malay) speak English better than we speak the national language (Malay) or mother tongue (Chinese in my case). When I was in school, Malaysian history was sooooo much more boring than world history (which focused mainly on Europe, with whole chapters dedicated to the English and French Revolutions.

(Personally, I liked reading about Malaysian history, particularly the whole bit about WW II, but that was because my grandfather was involved. I found his logbook.)

Anyways. So, steampunk. A punk genre I could get into. I like the Victorian aesthetic. It pleases me. I never really liked the goth style, nor the general punk with the leather and the spikes and giant stompy boots. I like industrial music, but my fashion style leant towards the British mod (which appears to be purely male territory. I couldn't find anything on what female mod fashion was like. Perhaps I was looking into the wrong crevices of the Interwebz). Steampunk, though? Frills and lace? Totally. Let me at it.

The most recently Masq event (held by those who enjoy industrial music but there isn't really a singular venue for that kind of music) was steampunk-themed, and I had to go to see who participated, what they did. And it was, indeed, awesome. Couple of live bands, fire-eating performance, good industrial music, dance floor which wasn't too crowded.

I was also, very clearly, the only PoC in the entire room.

While I looked into the mirror and saw me dressed up fab, I wondered just how much I was buying into the Brit-is-better way of thinking that my own people must have thought during the era, how much I was giving in to imperialism, and what people in Asia were wearing at the time that they were referred to as "Orientals". Couldn't I also wear those kinds of clothes and be called steampunk? Steampunk is also about the tech, the revisionist histories, the ideas.

The Chinese were way ahead of the English Victorians in a ton of things - we'd previously discovered gunpowder, and our ships could move pretty fucking faster than their ships. We were torturing folks by putting them on giant kites and flying them up into the air. If they didn't die from fright, they died of starvation (yes, we, too, had our evil overlords). (I read a story, as a child, of a Chinese prince who stole a shiny jewel from a dragon by using a kite to fly up to the mountain where the dragon lived, stole the jewel, and tugged the rope of the kite to tell his men to pull him back to the ship.)

Can I wear the Victorian aesthetic without giving up my clearly-visible Asian identity? And if I did, would I be commodifying the aesthetic, since I could simply buy Victorian-looking stuff and clockwork gears, and what problems does commodification have?

The problem, of course, with going to Asian fashion during the Victorian era in steampunk is that I end up wearing clearly "Oriental" stuff, which also ends up stereotyping myself as "Asian". Wow, I can't win!

Obviously, I need to see what my other Asian peers are doing within the steampunk movement. The problem with my circumstances is that, while quite blissfully content, I'm not exactly surrounded by the people who share where I'm coming from.

It sucks being the only Asian in a whole roomful of steampunkers. =/

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Well, Fucking A.

The inimitable Renegade Evolution has released little details on her new porn flick:

And this is what I will say about the script and such that is almost done for the movie I am making:

Plot- Have one.
Men- diverse looking.
Women- Two of them. That's it.
Characters played by women- A federal agent/criminologist, an internationally wanted criminal. Neither are blonde.
Primary Setting- The warehouse from the Gun Photo Shoot.

I'm not one for porn, preferring text erotica (ok, ok, dirty stories and romance novels) myself, but I might just have to buy that flick.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Ally Issues

It's difficult for me, being an ally.

A friend recently told me how good it was to see me blogging about "gay and trans issues" even though they don't affect me. Ze's not the only one, either, since another friend, in a meme, said one of the things that reminded her of me was "transgender issues".

The only reason why I can see myself giving them this impression is that I wrote quite a bit on Angie Zapata's case. And even then, I didn't cover it as extensively as I could have. Partly because I didn't know what to say that wasn't already said. Partly because I tend to follow a lot of other things and I sort of rely on the blogs I read to give me the news I want.

I've only ever known one transgendered person in person. I don't know where she is now. We were never close, but we spoke when we encountered each other, and would move seats on the bus to sit together if we encountered each other there. One time we even walked together. She saw a shooting star. She was soft-spoken, and more feminine than myself. But then, she would have to be, wouldn't she, in order to pass for the gender she wanted to be? =/ And me, being cis-gendered and all, that was one thing I didn't have to worry about.

And I write about the case of one transgendered person and suddenly people are associating me with fighting for this cause, which I hadn't realized I'd been actively fighting for. Because I don't really see myself as really fighting for trans issues. I write occasionally about trans issues because these are things that I have a reaction to. Transpeople are invisible people among invisible people. Of course I sympathize with that. Who wouldn't? (Unless you're chockful of privilege which allows you to ignore how everyone else is invisible whenever you're around.)

I can't even begin to explain how I'm not even good enough of an ally. Duanna Johnson? I read one or two articles, but I can't begin to tell you the details. I know many transwomen die. I know that less than 1% of cases of murdered transpeople really come to light and appear in court, in the past 30 years. (OK, that might be a wrong statistic, but my memory is faulty like that.) I know ciswomen regularly ignore transwomen's issues, because they themselves feel threatened by the "male" aspect of transwomen (Michigan's Women Fest, for example).

I could be doing so much more to point out how the trans community faces the worst stigmatization of all the queer minority groups. =/ But I guess my issue is, I don't know if I really know what it takes to be a real ally, and even if I did, chances are I wouldn't have the chops to really do it.

I'm not saying I'm not going to try, but I think I should get started on it.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Sometimes I Have Skin Trouble

I remember way back when, in Malaysia, I was, like many of my peers, quite convinced that race doesn't matter, that it's just another thing dividing people, and that I should ignore the colour of my skin and work on what's inside.

I mean, that's what every one with the faintest bit of moral fiber says, right? Beauty comes from within. Work hard and it will show. Bla bla bla.

So when I got to Canada, I was kinda pleased when I made friends fairly easily and one of them said, "when I see you, I don't see a Chinese."

Except that it didn't stop people from talking slowly to me as if I'm fresh off the boat, and expressing surprise when they found I could speak perfect English. Most people I know have asked me a variation of the following questions at least once:

"Where did you learn English?"
"How long have you been speaking English?"
"How is your English so good?"

Never mind that most ESL students are more aware of the grammatical rules of English than most native English speakers of Canada, but it got to the point where I grew really comfortable answering these questions. And then it occurred to me one day that if I really believed that race wasn't a big deal at all, I shouldn't have to feel comfortable answering those questions.

It never quite struck me that I was, in fact, a minority within Canada until I attended a bathhouse event. (Yes, Halifax has a bath-house and Venus Envy used to take it over for a girls (and all woman-identified)-only night. They were fun events where I could go and indulge in my desire to wear as little clothing as possible in a warm space despite it being fall or winter outside.)

So I was at the bath-house, surrounded by other women, all shapes and sizes, in various states of undress, and I was having a grand time, going from space to space, checking out the Purple Wand room, and cool stuff like that, and then I paused in front of a mirrored wall.

And then it sort of struck me (like an internal slap on the face) that I was Asian. And that night, I was the only Asian, in a bath house full of white women.

Something about that moment has stuck with me since then. I'm still having trouble processing what it is.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

What's In A Name?

Following up on the conversation I had with Mitchell Irons, I actually do have an issue with names, and with who calls me what.

I think names are important, and what other people call you by is also important. Every Chinese New Year, when my family went visiting, my dad would appraise me of who to call what - there're terms for the varying aunts and uncles, and differ by how far apart you are from them. How you call them immediately enables them to identify who you are, too.

Me, it's also weird like that.

People who've known me since I was a kid or from school call me by my Chinese name. A few call me by the middle character of my Chinese name.

Since I put my given name (middle and last character of my name) in the "first name" fields of any stupid Canadian form that asks for first and last names, most official places invariably end up calling me by that middle character too, which weirds me out.

Even as my official documents don't have my English name, most people here in Canada call me by that, because that's how I introduce myself. It's easy to remember. Somehow the spelling is a bit harder to remember, too, but eh, I live.

Online, I've been going by Jha'Meia (now, more commonly, as just Jha) since 2001. It's a fancification of my chosen English name, and it's easier to type.

I noticed how weirded out I get by different groups of people sort of "transgressing" my name boundaries recently - a friend I met in the middle of my undergrad career, for example, calling me by my middle-character name. She means well - she wants to call me by my "real" name. But the moniker I've chosen is also a real name. Jha'Meia is also a real name. When she calls me by my Chinese name, it feels awkward, because she's not Chinese, and I don't positively identify as Chinese, either. But I let it slide, because I know she means well, and her friendship is important enough that her getting to call me what she wants is cool by me. It's not like she's giving me a completely different name, like how a HS friend started calling me "Gigi" (Malay for "teeth", because my Chinese name can be roughly transliterated into "brushing teeth". Kids are so cruel). That friend never asked me, and she genuinely believed that I would answer to such an insulting name, when in fact I was responding to the sound of her voice. (I stopped correcting her after a while. She's given up that nickname, too.)

I felt a more visceral reaction in another case: I have another close friend who calls me J. OK, maybe she's being fuckass lazy and stuff (lol, I love her), but she also happens to be the only friend who calls me that. She met my latest ex once when he came to help me move, and she called me "J" in his presence. After that, he, too, started calling me "J". He didn't even notice it. He didn't even realize he picked it up from my friend. He thought it was a natural dimunitive that would eventually have shown up on its own in our conversations. Eventually I told him to stop it because it was fuckass lazy, and besides which, only that friend gets to call me that.

But names are important. I use pet-names on very rare occasions, and only for people I see as younger siblings. And by pet-name, I mean something like "sugarkins" or "sweetie" or "luvey". And yes, I am one of those uptight females who gets bothered when well-meaning men of my generation use it on me without realizing how patronizing they sound. It feels even worse when they're younger than me. People older than me get to use them on me with impunity.

I like names. I like my names, because they're mine. It amuses me when I see someone else using the same monikers I do: "jha" for example. There's a Dr. Jha downtown, and it's an Indian name, from what I understand. Which is cool and brilliant for me, but Dr. Jha is not Jha'Meia of Rebellious Jezebel Blogging.

It also gets confusing when I have several friends who all have the same first names, and I have to pause and ask them for their last name - their names are important. The combo of firstname-lastname is also important, with the attending middle names, since they help me identify different individuals in my life.

Which is why linguistic determinism fascinates me. If our language is what limits us, then we are possibly only limited by what labels can be attached to us. Which is both true and untrue.

For example, children feel a myriad of emotions, yes? If we accept that children are human beings, then it stands to reason that they have a vast range of emotions too. However, they have difficulty expressing these emotions and often end up "acting out". Which is one of those things where people are advised to sit their child down and tell the kid to say "I am upset" or somesuch.

Just because they don't have names for what they feel doesn't mean they don't feel them. But at the same time, because they don't yet have those names, their experience is still limited to what they know. Which must be frustrating for the complicated child trying to express all sorts of ideas and being unable to.

Similarly, with some victims of assault, they, too, have trouble naming what has happened to them. Often because they've been told that assault fits into a narrow set of parameters that they do not fit into. They spend a long time reconciling and coming to terms with what has happened to them.

Wait, not victims. Survivors. (See how important this whole naming thing is? The connotations between the two terms, which could both apply to someone who has undergone a heinous violation on their person, are vastly different. But I'm only the observer, I don't get to call them one or the other - that's up to them. Only they can name themselves within the encounter. The rest of us get to give them the support and the language they need to get there. But I don't feel that it's in our place to name it for them. We need that agency to name things ourselves.)

It's important, I reiterate, for us to name stuff, ourselves, in order to define the boundaries of our worlds, and identities.

I probably will have more to say on this topic.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Random Story Time

So I was chatting with my good friend Mitchell Irons about the topic of identity, wherein he asked me, "how do you introduce yourself?" particularly in light of my internetz handle and the fact that I have an Anglo-Saxon name attached to my Chinese name because I got really fucking sick of having people mispronounce my Chinese name and preferred to take on an English moniker so I wouldn't have people butcher it in my hearing.

Anyway, that's not the story I was gonna share today.

Mitchell writes about the French method of name introduction:

In French, we introduce ourselves to people by saying “Je m’appelle”. In our first French classes, we don’t learn that “Je m’appelle” is a reflexive construction of the verb “appeller,” which means “to call” as in “to describe.” Instead, we’re told that “Je m’appelle” means, “My name is.” And idiomaticlly, it does: it’s the phrase used in the same situations as “my name is” used in English. But take that construction apart, and the difference between “I am so-and-so” and “My name is so-and-so” becomes as clear as day. When we say, “Je m’appelle,” we are saying something akin to “I am called by,” or “The descriptor I use to describe myself is…”
When I was four years old, my family and I went shopping at Yaohan, and I saw this awesome teddy bear I really liked. (He kinda looks like Tenderheart Bear. Minus the heart on his tummy.) I liked his softness and I asked my dad to buy it, and I read on the tag he was accompanied by, "Je m'appelle Teddy".

Me being, you know, Chinese and not French, and still unable to quite pronounce unfamiliar words, I thought it was pronounced something like "je-maah-play" and spelled "jemaple".

I called it "Jemaple" about immediately, to everyone who would talk to me I introduced my new teddy as "Jemaple". My brother and father tried to correct me all the time, saying, "it means 'my name is'!" I didn't care, I thought they were just h8rs on my teddy bear's awesome wicked name.

Now, of course, I know that they were right, and I also know what the real meaning is.

But Jemaple will always be Jemaple to me.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Race in Cartoons

So I was moseying on to work this morning when I started hearing the theme song to 6teen in my head, and I was reminiscing on the time I used to have cable TV and I watched cartoons and the SciFi channel just about incessantly (okay, I also watched TLC).

6teen was an interesting show to me. The basic premise is that of six teens who hang out at a fancy lemonade stall one of them works at, and it follows their trials and travails as they figure out how to get by on their own, holding their jobs (or not) and how they work through their problems. It also happens to follow a very smart comedy formula, with multiple storyarcs within a single episode. The creators did a good job realizing that yes, a younger audience could indeed appreciate smart shows.

The characters, being cartoon characters in themselves, are not exactly what one might call nuanced, but the creators certainly did try to explore different aspects of their characters. Jen, for example, works in the sporting goods store. She should be the jock of the group. She eventually wants to own her own sporting goods store. She's sportsy. She gets sports. But she's also responsible and she also loves her job.

Anyways, the point of this post isn't to talk about 6teen (although I will certainly explore this show further, because I like it).

Two of the characters in the show, Nikki and Wyatt, are clearly PoC. Jonesy is also possibly PoC, although he might pass as white. Jonesy's last name is Garcia, but his ethnicity isn't as visible as Wyatt's or Nikki's.

Wyatt Williams is clearly black. Nikki Wong is clearly Asian (though with her purple hair...).



Clearly, their racial identities make no difference in their lives whatsoever.

Now, I find this cool on one level, and really odd on another level.

Cool because it's so neat to see a bunch of teens hanging out with each other, nice, somewhat stable, probably middle-class teens, who get up to hijinks that don't actually have any lasting ill consequences. They're racially diverse, whatever. It sends a message out to their audience that race and skin colour don't matter, and friendship matters the most.

However, being a PoC myself in a white white land, I occasionally do see how my ethnicity and cultural upbringing affect my day-to-day thoughts. For example, when I see Nikki being all individualistic, I can't help but wonder why - was she, like myself, rebelling against the conformity that's usually demanded in Asian families? Wyatt is the meekest, gentlest of the three guys, stereotypically sensitive (without being gay! Can you imagine that!) musician and music nerd - was this portrayal purposefully chosen to create a black character that didn't fit into the common thug stereotypes? Or did his skin colour just so happen to be black?

These are fascinating questions to me. It doesn't actually detract from the show at all, but adds a new element to the show which I personally love. Remember Friends? Friends only had white people, ya'll.

This doesn't mean 6teen is devoid of racial stereotypes. Hiro, for example, is the owner of the mall's sushi restaurant. He dresses like a samurai, talks with a stereotypical accent. Jonesy, who once worked for him, was taught "samurai" skills (all of which involved trying to learn how to be a good sushi restaurant worker. It was ridiculous and absurd, and I'm still not sure how much of the parody is awful). Granted, that's not all his character is predicated on. For example, when Starr and Jude play "fish theatre" at his restaurant (wherein they provided voices to a couple of fish in the sushi place's aquarium, much to the entertainment of the others), he tries to chase them away, but at the end of the episode when Jude gets back together in the form of "blue fish" returning, Hiro is there having an emotional moment because he "loves happy endings". Also, in an episode where the boys are freaking out over the girls PMS-ing, he offers them advice.

Now, this wasn't the only cartoon in which I noted PoC. Another big one for me was Codename: Kids Next Door.

Two PoC here - Number 3, Kuki Sanban, a girly girl of Japanese descent with uptight parents, and Number 5, Abigail Lincoln, a wise-talking girl "of South African desecnt", according to Wikipedia.

Again, ethnicity doesn't seem to play a role in what goes on here, except to give interesting quirks to the characters - it's quite stereotypical, in a sense, to have repressed Asian parents, although Kuki expresses herself in happy-happy-joy-joy ways. Abigail's mother is French-speaking (Creole? Cajun?) and her father is an apparent parody of Bill Cosby - these could be purposeful stereotypes as well. Do these factor in to their characters as a whole?

(And they get married to white boys. Don't ask me how this works.)

Now, I do wonder about several things - are cartoons which feature PoC characters as part of a cast (invariably a minority) a recent development? Are they purposefully done that way? Or do they just so happened to have ended up with PoC? (If the latter, I think it's pretty good.)

Then there are the cartoons which are clearly Orientalist - Jake Long: American Dragon and Life and Times of Juniper Lee:

Note the "magical teen" theme that runs in both, which sort of remind me of the "magical girl" genre of anime in Japan. (Not that this is any improvement, but hey, I just thought I'd point that out.) Maybe I haven't drawn from enough samples, but the fact that both Disney and Cartoon Network decided to release two Asian-oriented (haha, pun) shows, both with Asian-American teens as leads, who have Asian grandparents as mentors in their duties to protect humanity - I mean, come on. Wotta coincidence eh?

In both of these shows, their race isn't so much important to who they are, as it is to what they are, or rather, what powers they have. In Jake's case, he transforms into a dragon. In Juniper's (also, seriously, what's with the J-names? Not that I have a problem with it...) she can see demons.

I have trouble parsing the fact that these characters are even in America to start with - one would assume they'd be locked away in some monastery somewhere in Tibet in order to hone their skills without distractions, but I guess that's stereotypical.

And do their race factor in at all? Only in how they look like. (Although I did watch one amusing Juniper episode where there was a family reunion at her house, and I was quite pleased to note that the uncle-who-can't-speak-a-lick-of-English-apparently speaks in actual Cantonese. They could have seriously fucked that one up with Ching-chong but they didn't!) They are typical American teens - they navigate their lives like.... regular white middle-class teens who don't have to face any racism at all.

The oddest occurence of race in a cartoon that really boggled me though?

Class of the Titans.

Setting aside that the Titans weren't the Olympians, Narcissus probably never procreated, Atlanta was probably really the descendent of Atalanta (I'll buy gods spreading semen around, but goddesses birthing mortals? Hmmmm), and why are they in America, Odie, the descendent of Odysseus, is black.

And they notice it too! (Which is good, because it would have been stupid to ignore it completely!) I'm still not sure what I think about that.

Well, I guess racism isn't a real problem for kids. Which is why it's so absent from the cartoons we feed them.

So on the one hand - yay, racial diversity. On the other, boo for covering up the very real racial issues that most PoC face even today, in diverse America.

(Okay, 6teen and Class of the Titans were Canadian.)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Fun With Glow Magazine, May 2009

So, along with my Shoppers Optimum Card (oh yes, I love this thing), I also subscribed to Glow magazine. It's a lot more consumerist than the Malaysian Cleo magazine which I used to read when I was younger, top-heavy with stuff to buy, but I like knowing what's on the market for makeup.

The other thing I like to do with this? Is count how many PoC are in it. Oh yes. In a country that purports to be racially-diverse, and there are many promotional material actually feature people of colour? Just the other day I was struck by a pamphlet which had an Asian family right in the front. This was striking not because I'm also Asian, but because it's not exactly commonplace in fashion magazines. I cut Canada slack, but not too much.

Along the way, I'll also judge the articles and the images accompanying them and so on so forth. It'll be fun!

Front cover: white girl.
White (but possibly mixed)

LIPSTICK! Yeah, because we so want free lipstick faster.

Possibly mixed
Aw, little girl! White.
White, white
White with weirdly photoshopped bronzed skin.
WoC? Hmmmm
White white white white -
Mixed?? She definitely looks mixed. Huh, what's a peekaboo braid? Oh, that thing on top of her head. Cute.

WoC who could pass as white.
Oooooh, Smashbox coupons for extra Optimum points. And stuff I might actually buy.

JENNIFER HUDSON! And we are, of course, talking about her makeup. This IS a makeup magazine. Shut up, if it was a real woman's magazine we'd be talking about women more.

Escada has a pretty nice fashion photo-op, actually. White chick, but still.

Makeup page (I like these pages because they don't show any people in them, just the product.)

White, white (with funky makeup that I might try!), white, white, white-person-with-no-head, legs.

Brown (mixed?), white, white, white (or passes as white)

Venus Embrace ad - black couple. And it's KYUTE. D'awww!! Racialicious covers a lot on the problem with black people being hyper-sexualized by the media (especially in America), so it's nice to see an ad which doesn't play into that. It's a sweet, quiet moment for the couple who seem really into each other. Nice.

Satin Care ad has a guy worshipping some woman's leg. I like it. YMMV. It plays into the idea that all women have to shave their legs, but whatevs.

3 pages of product placement.
White, products, white, white, a very white Liv Tyler (B+W image).

Article on perfume and choosing a scent. It's accompanied by what I must assume is perfume liquid, and it kinda looks like an ameba. I like it! Bottles, and Vichy with a white woman.
Products, 5 pages! Then a random NG photographer in an ad for transition glasses.

Woc, white, WoC in a "What's happening in Birth Control" ad.
White, white, white, white and white, nicely air-brushed chick in an article about curve appeal.

And you know, if you're going to have an article which talks about how "healthy doesn't look the same on all of us" you could at the very least sport some pictures of women who DON'T fit the conventional ideal of health. And yes, there are some minor curves on that gal featured in the article about curves, but I have bigger boobs and a bigger ass. Nice article, though, so a decent try.

White, white, white.

Ad: buncha stressed-looking, sweaty guys (nice mix) in gray suits while a white chick stands in the middle looking cool. Lady Speed Stick, if only you WORKED.


Now, I love Schwarzkopf products, I DO! I use that orange shampoo and conditioner A LOT the time! I wander off and try others, but I always come back to it. But MAN this is a weird ad -two brown guys, one holding a plate of... I don't know, the other's holding flower garlands. One brunette on a pedestal in the lotus position. One blond chick sitting on the floor with - ok, wtf am I looking at - and everything's peach and pink and gold. There's a BUNNY underneath the pedestal. WHAT AM I LOOKING AT? The Goddess of Touch? WTF is she touching? It certainly looks luxuriant, but it's clearly drawn from Eastern influences, not peculiarly Western at all. What gives?

Cartoon people for a Kotex ad. And FFS, nobody actually sleeps like that, their legs jammed together, when they're on their period. Who the fuck drew this shit?

More hair-hating from Schick Quarttro. Interesting concept design, though!

OHO. Nice. "Contraception? Lucks got nothing to do with it." HA! The pic is a guy's back with obviously woman's hands wrapped around from front. I just noticed her right hand has crossed fingers. Clever caption. Ad for


White, white, oooooh, fitness article, featuring a white woman who's slightly (oh only so slightly) chunkier/stockier than the usual).

L'oreal with that possibly-mixed-but-could-pass-as-white woman.


Ovol Gas ad with three WoC.

Sketchers full pager - white, white, white, white, white, possibly mixed-Asian.
White, white, white, white

STACY LONDON! Zero Woolite ad. I love Stacy London! So I'll give this a pass.

White white white white, white. And we're into the fashionable clothing section now, so here goes:
whte white white white white white (OH SHIT IT'S THE SAME GIRL NOW I UNDERSTAND)

Babies. White white white.
White mom and kid. White family.

GoodNites Boxers. Ooooh. This is different. Brown teen(?) boy sitting next to the bed of a younger boy, and they're reading a book. Kinda weird with the toucan and lemur and elephant and odd pyramid in the background (where is that from? I can't tell anymore). So, oddly Orientalist again, but still, lovely effort. It's great that this sort of image is around. We should have more like this.

More hair-hating from Schick Intuition. Still, again, interesting concept design.

White kid, white with emo hair.

Women of Influence page!
White, white, WoC. Nice.

Flare ad - passes as white, if she's mixed.

White, white.

Thanks for joining me in my critique of May's Glow Magazine. See you next time!!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Problems With Marriage

I'm thinking by now that my parents have probably given up hope that my brother or myself will be married anytime soon - it's clear from my dating history that I'm in no hurry to settle down, and my brother has been looking but he's pretty sure he'll marry late himself.

We were sitting in the study room (yes, we have a study room in the house I grew up in - it used to be the balcony, actually, but we never really actually used it as a balcony, so we converted it into a room separated from the master bedroom by a glass door and curtain), I on my little laptop, and my brother on the family desktop, and he was chatting with his best friend.

I'm not sure what brought it up, but they were discussing marriage, and she was sure she was going to be single forever, and I quipped, "there's nothing wrong with that, anyway. Marriage as a historical institution isn't exactly the greatest."

My brother needed clarification, so I explained the basics - marriage was originally an economic institution, built to exchange women as property, in exchange for some actual property. The point of marriage was to control her womb, and thus, control the means of producing labour for the farm / household / whathave you. My history is fuzzy, but it was only in the 16th century that the idea of love for marriage came up, and it still didn't take in public consciousness until well into the 19th and/or 20th century.

Bro listened to this for a while, then with a sad-face, said, "that's so depressing."

(After a bit more of this he decided he didn't want to talk to me anymore.)

I've decided that getting married is pretty low on my priority list. Aside from the fact that it is a hetero-supremacist institution in many parts of the world (Malaysia doesn't allow gay marriage), it's also still an institution that becomes a tool for social control - having pressure to conform to an image I don't want to participate in will be very annoying.

Of course marriage has its good points - the legal benefits of being recognized as someone's spouse, for example. I also like weddings - I think they're amazing affairs, weddings, since it gives everyone an excuse to come and partake of the joy in a couple coming together and joining their legal statuses. Two people declaring their unabashed love for each other! How wonderful! Why the hell shouldn't they, after all?

But in order to participate in that, I actually have to get entangled with someone else. This may not be a problem if I find someone I really really dig being around. But I'm a solitary creature in general, and it's a bit daunting now, after three failed relationships which sort of crashed and burned my faith in my judgement, to think about getting involved with someone else who may or may not have different desires, goals, and principles than me.

And then there is working on relationships and being at peace with one another and all that great stuff which I would like to look forward to, but I don't really have that many role models to look to.

It would be nice to have a wedding someday.

But I'd rather just save up for my first child.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

I Act Out

This is the common term for us uppity women who speak out - against rape, against domestic violence, against injustice. It's perfectly okay for other people to talk about sluts, whores, and other derogatory slurs against women (or other oppressed groups) (with dramatic exclaimation points omg!!!), but if someone speaks up with the weight of their own experience, they get, as Cara from the Curvature did,

"There's no need to act out."

She was "acting out" because she was arguing heavily with someone who was showing heavy disrespect for women and who in the end said "well, what I said wasn't for serious anyway, haha! What're you being so serious for!"

Because, you know, it's not like rape is such a serious issue. It's perfectly okay to mimic people who think rape is hilarious in order to mock them without caring about triggering actual rape victims. And if you DO actually care about such things and speak out against mocking the issue, you're "acting out".

Calm down. It's not that important.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Let's Start With A Prayer:

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, superficial relationships, so that you will live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you will work for justice, equity, and peace.

May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war, so that you will reach out your hand to comfort them and change their pain to joy.

And may God bless you with the foolishness to think that you can make a difference in the world, so that you will do things which others tell you cannot be done.

I don't actually pray, but if I did, this would be the one I would use.