Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Chat Transcript

Which I will post in place of an actual blogpost, because even though I Tumblr'd it, it deserves to be its own post. It came on the heels of a discussion about my posts on parental cruelty, but took a religious turn:

Tariq: yeah 
I keep feeling that "accept", which is a word people use a lot in that context, is exactly the wrong word to use 
I mean... are you saying that it's right? 
Jaymee: yeah, exactly 
i think they more tolerate it 
Tariq: what does one mean when one tells another person to "accept" things the way things are? 
Jaymee: usually? 
i get the feeling of 
"Just give it up, it wont change and you'll only make yourself more unhappy by thinking about changing things" 
Tariq: except that if you think it, and you explore it, the entire premise of existence is pain. it doesn't make the pain and the injustice right. 
it means that you can't do anything about it. 
Jaymee: oh, shut up, i just came out of 10 years of telling myself that life is pain and suffering 
that's one of those things which sickened me about buddhism XD 
Tariq: yeah, well, it's not just pain and suffering! 
I mean, come on! 
if life is all about pain and suffering suicide's a best bet. 
Jaymee: yeah 
Tariq: I mean, this is my upbringing as a Muslim, yeah. you're going to get pain and suffering and injustice. 
but then there's pleasure and joy and happiness. 
Jaymee: yeah, we dont get that in buddhism 
not theravadan buddhism anyway 
Tariq: and in any case 
there's this metaphor about how life is a golden bridge 
for Muslims anyway 
a bridge linking the alam azali and alam barzakh 
and all the commentators are going, "Oh, life is transition, it isn't permanent." 
Tariq: Yeah, it's not gonna be there forever! 
yeah, it's not all fun and games, and you get no rest! 
Jaymee: STILL 
Tariq: HELLO, this is your only chance to make a difference to where you go in the end. 
Jaymee: BRIDGE 
in any case. 
Jaymee: this is tumblr'd 
Tariq: ...what? 
oh yeah 
before you do that 
there's another saying from Muhammad 
"Live like you will live for a thousand years, worship like you will die tomorrow." 
commentators are all "Oh, you know, take it easy with life, worship like a loon." 
and I'm like 
Jaymee: gah! 
Jaymee: OH 
Jaymee: i thought 'cos you know, if you live 1000 years sure you can make a difference 
so live like you can make a difference 
the Muslims get all these awesome aphorisms 
Jaymee: well, not all of you 
Tariq: yes well. 
I mean granted our metaphysics leaks holes like nobody's business 
I mean come on, Neoplatonism? Don't make me laugh, dude! 
feel free to strip out the context and tumblr the shit out of this XD 
Jaymee: clearly this conversation must become the basis of a Steampunk Nusantara entry

Monday, March 29, 2010

200 Posts!

This is just to say that I now have 200 posts.

It's not even my blogiversary. Just sayin'. I update like, four times a week, and I've taken months-long breaks, but still, it's pretty awesome, you know?

So! I'd like to take this opportunity to thank you all for sticking with me so long, and to get to know you better! Feel free to post and tell me a little bit about yourselves if you so please, I would very much like that!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

I Write: Steampunk Nusantara

If you haven't heard already, my friend Tariq and I recently started a new Dreamwidth Community called [community profile] steampunk_nusantara. This is not a writing community, although there is writing involved.

Its genesis began here, as a discussion for a meta-setting set in South East Asia, particularly the region called Nusantara, which is mostly Malaya, the Indonesian islands and a bit of Borneo. Tariq and I had many conversations about how this would work - a collection of documents, some descriptions of stuff that could go in, something to give people a starting point if they wanted to write a SEA-centered steampunk story.

We tried using GoogleWave and it didn't work, because Tariq and I are very chatty people, and it just didn't look right as a single document. So we left it on the backburner, although I thought about it occasionally. I just did not know how to make it work. It had to be in a format where a bunch of people could work together on it, but Wave is limited in that way.

Indirectly, I have to thank James and Kate of Parliament & Wake. I had been aware of them but never visited the site, but when I did, I was intrigued by the setup. Here was a setting that was being built, collaboratively by at least James and Kate. Tariq and I are extremely lazy (and cheap-assed) folks, so the idea of coding our own site didn't appeal to us, and so we discussed other alternatives.

I'm not very much involved in fandom, and I participate in few communities online these days, but the concept of several people contributing, with the possibility of surprising each other with what we come up, the ideal of being able to banter and discuss what was being written, was deeply appealing.

After the Victorientalism kerfuffle, I was half-sick of white people imagining my side of the world, and decided that it had to happen, and thus, [community profile] steampunk_nusantara was born.

As a Dreamwidth community, we have the possibility of at least drawing people active in fandom, who would be aware of the racial issues and how white-centered such spaces would be. People would be able to post whole new entries and descriptions without necessarily being distracted by already-existing documents. Moreover, since we encourage inconsistency, there is a degree of freedom to be had. (And LJ has issues.)

I feel, most of all, that Steampunk Nusantara is a manifestation of postcolonialism in action - of several people contributing several viewpoints that have hitherto been marginalized and ignored. Because of SEA's history, there is no way to favour one narrative over another, there is no place from which we singularly begin, and instead of ending at a single place, we criss-cross each other in a kind of cultural anarchy. SEA's rich multi-cultural history, which has almost been glossed over by British imperialism, can be re-worked so it is never erased again. Moreover, as most of the members identify as SEAsians or of SEA heritage, there is a strong emphasis on our voices.

In our research, we are re-imagining our own region, on our own terms, rather than by the terms that the rest of the world has set for us. So far, we have had entries in Chinese and Jawi, a smattering of Malay. We are delving into our own culture, researching our own history as a result.

I have high hopes for [community profile] steampunk_nusantara. Already, I feel closer to home, even though I'm so far away, through its participants.

If you are South East Asian, I would love to hear from you! And everybody, bookmark us, ya'll.

Friday, March 26, 2010

On the Little Cruelties Parents Inflict On Children

There was a time when I did not get along with my parents. I say this as an adult who has a pretty strong relationship with her dad, and a somewhat-shaky-but-almost-decent-give-it-a-few-more-years relationship with her mom. My parents are better than most. They gave me freedom when most of my peers were forced to stay home after dark. They gave me a pretty big allowance, once a month. From them, I inherited a strong, stubborn attitude which put me at odds with them but has served me well through my life thus far.

But they're not perfect. Who is, right? I'm going to talk about one of those Imperfect Times.

For context, when I was a kid, we made a chocolate drink called Milo with chocolate malt powder of that brand, milk powder, and sugar. ... OK, I still do, when my family has moved on to drinking it without the milk powder and sugar. For a while we didn't use milk powder and sugar, but sweetened condensed milk. I'm not sure if there was a reason for this shift, but anyway, when we got down to the last dregs of the condensed milk, we filled it with hot water and swirled it around to dilute the condensed milk, and whoever made Milo next had to use that diluted condensed milk.

My dad was pretty strict about this sort of thing. Seriously hardassed about it. No one in the family liked how he disciplined us into doing certain things which the rest of us simply did not see as a big deal. In my home, Mom was the sloppy one, and Dad did most of the housework that the maids did not do. He made us do certain chores so the house would be kept clean and neat.

One evening, I made Milo for myself, and opened a new can of condensed milk. My dad happened to come into the kitchen at the time and saw this. "Why are you opening a new can?!" he demanded.

"Because... there isn't any left?" I replied. I knew that we had been running low, and when I looked into the fridge, I didn't see any can of condensed milk in the place where we normally placed it. 

He opened the door and found it in a corner of the fridge which I hitherto had not noticed it being. "There. Now finish it."

"But I'm almost done my Milo?" I half-protested, half-whimpered. 

He shoved it into my face then, right at my mouth, to get me to drink it. It hit my nose. Some of it spilled down. He must have expected me to take it from him, because it fell down on the floor, and I stared at it, crying and feeling completely humiliated for having missed it, and more than that, completely not understanding why this was a big fucking deal. 

"Now clean that up!" 

Ask a weepy, upset 11-year-old to do something that they're not used to doing, such as clean up diluted sweetened condensed milk that has just been shoved into their face by a the parent they consider the "friendlier" parent, and you'll find they just stand there dumbly, unable to move except to wail.

My mother came in and demanded to know what the hell was going on. I forget what my dad replied, but it had something to do with the spilt milk. Adding insult to injury, my mother warned me, "stop crying. You should be ashamed of yourself, big girl crying like that."

When I was younger, I would revisit this moment with abject confusion, and anger. I didn't know why I was so angry. I felt bad for being so angry, at times, because I loved my parents, even while I hated them, and wanted to cut ties with them, and wanting to run away from home despite being too scared to.

But now I know why it was so hurtful. That was a cruel thing to say to a child - telling them to repress what's a normal way of expressing a certain emotion. It was my way of releasing my upset and showing it to them, and they dismissed it out of hand as not being important. I was upset because the condensed milk was so important, it was necessary to humiliate me for it. Of course, my dad probably saw it as a case of disciplining me, but to my brain, I thought it was about the condensed milk. I had no context for where the sudden cruelty came from, except that my dad was frustrated at me for doing something so stupid, and he physically lashed out.

This may sound like it's me excusing him. It's not an excuse. I say it because I've done it before. I did it to my dog once; she had a habit of running away and not coming back for a long time. One time, when she had finally come home, I took a stick to her and knocked her with it, on her head, and on her tailbone, and even on the spine. I shouted at her for being a bad dog, for not listening to me.

I'm crying while I'm writing this, because despite that, I loved my dog, and I miss her a lot. But it's to give context for what I'm talking about: there are times when people get frustrated, or stressed, or whatever, and what they do is take it out on other people, even if they're otherwise perfectly nice people on ordinary days. And I think my dad was having one of those non-ordinary, shitty days, and seeing me mess up his perfect domestic discipline drove him over his limits that day.

Part of the barbarism of everyday life like this, I think, stems from the fact that we don't teach each other or ourselves how to deal with stress. That's why counsellors are paid so much, because there's so much work to do. Parents take out their frustrations about not having control of their lives on their children over whom they do have control, fucking their children up in due process who internalize this method of dealing, and it carries on to the next generation. 

So, what I did to my dog there? Same thing as what my dad did to me. 

It's not right, and it's downright cruel. It was cruel of my dad to shove the can into my face like that and humiliate me the way he did. it was cruel of my mom to dismiss my pain.

It fucking sucks, because parents are the first ones who are supposed to build you up. Then when they show you these hate-filled sides of themselves, it's the first and ultimate betrayal. And we say nothing and if all goes well, we grow up and get over it and have perfectly decent relationships with our parents who mellow out as they grow older. 

I still get angry thinking about this, despite the fact that I do have a really great relationship with my dad right now. Because that moment did nothing to help me when I was growing up. It wasn't a teachable moment. If anything, today, I see it as evidence that even a great guy like my dad can do horrible things, i.e. be cruel to a child, and my dad is not really full of Fail as a dad! He does a whole lot better than most parents I know! Yet it was alienating, and damaging, to me, growing up, especially since it was happening at that delicate time when I was starting to wrestle with identity and figuring out who I was.

I get mad not at my dad, although there is some residual anger about it. I get mad because I know there are other kids like me out there, who could use so much more kindness in navigating that really treacherous phase of adolescence, and they're irrevocably damaged, little bit by little bit, by the little cruelties of parents who don't realize that their children are human beings, ends unto themselves.

Rationally, this should make sense, except of course, there's always that reasoning that parents are there to mold and guide children into becoming better people. But that reasoning falls apart when we consider certain methods of guidance and molding. I, for one, am for spanking. A quick swat, to young children, a pinch. 

But we don't stop there, do we? Being scared of being failures as parents, trying to get the children to Do What We Want, unable to find the ways or methods to communicate to the child how we would like them to behave, unable to express our frustration because we Have To Appear Strong - of course the little swats escalate into violence. And thus, without meaning to, we inflict cruelties on the very people we're supposed to protect and nurture, leaving behind a wound they have to get over, usually by themselves. 

I am so lucky to have decent parents. I know this. That's why I get angry at this sort of thing. Because this shit is completely unnecessary. Hurting other people is rarely ever necessary. And yet it happens on a daily basis. And I'm supposed to accept it because it's "a part of life". But that's another rant for another day. 

The bottomline is: children are hurt in small little ways like this everyday, and it shouldn't have to happen. I didn't become a better person for my father having shoved a can into my face and my mother telling me to suck it up. I highly doubt anyone does. 

And while we mostly grow up to "get over" these little cruelties? We shouldn't have had to suffer them in the first place.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Happy Ada Lovelace Day!

This is a blog about theory. You might have noticed that. It's a blog about intersectionality, and it's a blog about dreams, and it's a blog about people, particularly of women, and a blog about experiences and stories. I'm no computer geek: I own a Win 7 processor, have never bought an MP3, much less an iPod, I loathed the Mac, and never tried out Linux because I couldn't be arsed to figure it out. I only require basic functions on my cellphone: radio, text messaging, calculator, caller ID - none of that touch-screen, bajillion apps nonsense for me. 

However, none of this would be possible if not for technology. 

I would not be here today if it weren't for the internet. Hell, I think I wouldn't be half the person I am today, which isn't saying much in the grand scheme of things but saying much for myself, if it weren't for the capability to communicate with people across the world. 

I would not even be writing so much if not for the computer and the amount of processing I could get done with simply keystrokes as opposed to taking up whole exercise books. And that would make me even less the person I would be without the internet, because writing is so integral to who I am. 

I don't know any woman who works in technology right now, except for those fine women over at Geek Feminism. And of course there are Jessica Lin and the other creators of the sOccket

But to them, and to all other women working in the field of technology, following the footsteps of the great Ada Lovelace, I say, thank you for bringing your perspective into that nerd world, which, I know, can get utterly filled with machismo despite the propaganda of how lovably loserly male nerds are. 

And of course, thank you, Lady Lovelace, for your amazing contribution to the world. 

p.s. There are Ada Lovelace Day 2010 t-shirts, designed by the amazing Sydney Padua who writes and draws The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage which you should totally check out if you haven't already.

Monday, March 22, 2010

High School Movies

So recently I was watching a re-mix trailer of Mean Girls using clips from various Disney princess movies.

I have friends who are also into High School Musical. There will be a movie coming out this year on middle-school. When I first came to Canada, I was introduced to shows like Degrassi, which takes place in a school as well.

I do not quite understand the American school culture. Or rather, I do understand it, but only to a certain degree in which there may be shared experiences of isolation and loneliness and awkwardness of nerds like myself navigating the whole concept of identity and self-esteem (yeah, self-esteem? What the hell was that?).

Hence, the number of high-school movies I see around make me wonder why anybody would go to watch them. The people in these movies are horrible. High school is depicted as this awful place where everyone is forced to participate, whether or not they want to. (I refused to. This is why my high school experience was worse than it should have been.) They have to overcome stuff, usually in painfully embarrassing ways. Protagonists behave atrociously in an effort to make themselves look good.

I am going to trust that like many over-dramatizations of life on screens big and small, these movies are an exaggerated version of actual North American high schools.

Why does Hollywood keep making these movies? Is high school so interesting? Is it the habit of watching people who just behave horribly to each other all the time? The defensiveness of being picked on in school?

Help me understand this, folks, I really do not understand this. 

Sunday, March 21, 2010

"Where Are You From?"

There's been a big of talk going about around the question, "Where are you from?"

It's ordinarily asked by well-meaning folks, usually to PoC, and when the PoC replies with a relatively mundane answer, such as, "from Detroit" to another American, they are queried further, "Where are you really from?" and if that answer doesn't satisfy the (usually white) querant, they are asked, "where is your family from?"

Perhaps it is to Halifax's credit that I rarely get asked that question. Most Canadians I meet tend to assume I'm from Canada - often due to the way I speak (that is to say, flawless Queen's English punctuated with Americanisms) - so I don't get the question very often. Even when I do, it's often with the air of "New Glasgow maybe?" that I've seen them ask each other.

I'm not sure about this phenomenon here and why I don't get it. I used to get it more, though, especially in my early university days, but not so much. It's curious.

Then again, back home, I always used to be labelled "ang mo" by my grandmother. It's either that, or sheer luck my side.

I'll go with luck.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Patrilineality Does Not Require Name Changes

People, tell me this: why is the name-changing debate so fraught in North America?

I just read BeckySharper's takedown of this ridiculous defense of making women change their names, in which Dudely Dude makes the case that it should happen, and it's right that it happens, because society tends to be patrilineal, and it's useful to... what? I don't even know anymore. 

I really do not understand it! In Malaysia, most of the cultures there are strongly patrilineal. This means, to me, that the father is always acknowledge within the name of the children, and the mother is not. Chinese children take the surnames of their fathers (as I do). Malay and Indian children are "son of" or "daughter of" their father, in their names. 

Wives do not have to change their names. They just don't. There's no point! Besides which, the structure of our names do not necessarily lend themselves to name-changing. Siti Kamariah binte Kamaruddin does not have a last name to change! When Choo See Ling marries Tan Beng Kee, she is not going to change it to Tan See Ling! It sounds ridiculous and completely out of place! Not to mention, completely detaches her from her identity by which she was already known all her life! Oh, sure, some of the Christianized families take on Christian names, hence Choo See Ling could become Mary Tan - recently, I attended the church wedding of a friend who was baptized. However, her name change was to signify her new identity as a member of the church, not her marriage. But I'm still gonna call her by her Chinese name by which I've known her all this while.

Generally, in Malaysia, unless a woman wants to destroy her full identity anyway, she does not get rid of her former name.

This, even as we are extremely, openly, conservatively, traditionally patrilineal.

So why the hell do women have to change their names? Why all these silly reasonings about how women prefer to change their names to fit their children's names? (No, seriously?! This is a reason?) Why all these defenses by guys who want to keep their own names? (Like anybody is telling them to change it?)

It's like American white patriarchy likes to keep kicking itself in the ass.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I Write: Terrible Fiction & Good Fanfic

A while back, I was going through some old fanfiction I had written on Final Fantasy VII. I wrote it back between the years '97 and '02 (oh, adolescent angst) and I was quite shocked to see that not only did I write decent fanfic, but I also had actual plots! Like, plots with people doing stuff, rather than just plots filled with people ruminating about stuff!

I'm not sure how I lost this as time passed. But it seems that the more I think about the writing process, the less quality I produced. And I don't just mean like, thinking about writing - it's more stuff like plot, and characterization, and theme, and other good stuff that I should not be writing about before the story gets under way.

When I was still at SMU, my writing prof, Dr. MacLeod, would say, "If the paper about the story is as long as the story itself, you are putting way too much effort into thinking about the story, and not enough into the story itself." I'm sure those weren't his exact words, but close.

Being an English major, and thus having gotten into the habit of analysing everything I read, this was.... pretty hard to swallow, ya'll! The horrible thing is that he was right, and I usually spent entirely way too much fucking time working that sort of thing out.

And I had a reason for all that overthinking of my fiction too - I wanted to be able to write something that actually provoked thought, because I was so sick of all this fucking lit fic out in most magazines that I couldn't understand, I wanted to make sure stuff I wrote would be understood upon first reading and be able to provoke some coherent thought. (OK, who am I kidding, I still loathe lit fic and good thing I didn't take any contemporary Canadian lit courses because that stuff would have driven me bonkers.)

But he was right, of course (and because he was, not just because he's a white dude) and my fiction suffers as a result. I use present tense, because I still have a problem with it.

And I note this, because I do not always produce terrible fiction. My writing can be really good sometimes! Especially my old fanfics, and new ones! ... Mostly because I don't have to wonder about them too much, because it's fanfic, and it's never going to get published anyway, and after posting the first few chapters people seemed to like it so I just kept writing. It really makes me consider writing a web serial, the way Jolantru does.

But back to the topic at hand! I write terrible fiction, because I overthink my fiction sometimes. However! When I don't think too much about my fiction, I generally end up producing rather trite crap that belongs in the diaries of an angsty adolescent! Double-bind!

Ah well ... just keep swimmin', just keep swimmin', just keep swimmin' /Dory

Monday, March 15, 2010

Ally Issues: On Being Mean

I had to be mean the other day. It was not something I wanted to do, because usually I'm pretty generous and charitable, or at least I like to think so (despite many exhortations and declarations that I am a terrible human being, but people are always a work in progress, you know), so having to be really stern with folks on the internet does not come easily to me.

Unless like, they're not around, in which case, I let it rip.

Wannabe allies always make a big deal about how you attract more flies with honey, so taking an abrasive approach to dealing with continual questions and a lot of FAIL is counter-productive. And in certain cases, it certainly is.

What wannabe allies don't get, though, is that when one is at the receiving end of the continual, neverending barrage of FAIL, patience wears thin. Kindness gets overpowered. And then you get the Mean POC who just won't understand that people are trying to help.

The thing is, and I said this while I was being mean, I do, as do many of my peers who work in anti-racism. I get even meaner when I have well-meaning folks telling me to be more patient, be kinder, be nicer, oh please understand we just want to help!

I think people fail to understand that when we engage, we already have to assume the best of wannabe allies, and end up being disappointed a lot of the time by the responses to us. It's so very hard to keep being patient, keep talking, and keep sharing, when we are faced by combative opponents who are intent on dismissing our arguments, on people who just don't listen anyway even after hours of explanation, and well-meaning folk who really do want to learn! But expect us to teach them everything.

So, we go mean. We don't do this to be querulous and we don't do this to alienate folks.

We do it because we face querulous folks who alienate us. It is the one way to retain our patience for others who would be more receptive. Not everyone has the energy to field the same question a bajillion times. Some do. I don't. I mean, I can, but on a limited basis. It's not like I have a very wide audience.

So it's tiresome when we get clueless people telling us that we be nice all the time and continuously advising us on our own damn work as if we don't already know what it is they're telling us.

The girl I was mean to? She was trying to be nice to me. She was trying, in her own way, to tell me she understood my position and wanted me to keep on educating. But she was telling me stuff I already knew, giving me advice on how to be patient, that there are always different people, and that I need to not give up - shit I already knew and did not need to hear from some person who just got my memo.

It wasn't comforting to me to hear her words - it was patronizing. And sometimes, there's just only one way to respond: by saying, point blank, QUIT IT.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Cultural Appropriation: The Illusion of "The Line"

Recently, I wrote a piece called Countering Victorientalism, which has garnered quite a bit of attention. It does, of course, deal with cultural appropriation, because that was what the Orientalist movement was all about - commodifying Asian stuff and bringing it to Europe to prettify the lives and homes of Europeans who may or may not have visited "the Orient." 

Yes, it is a fascinating topic, which is why I'm talking about it here! Because I am both victim and perpetrator of the systems that support cultural appropriation. I can't advocate for either side, because like, you, I don't know enough, and like you, I, too, have questions!

.... Except the questions I foresee getting, repeatedly, is this: Where is the line between appropriation and appreciation?

Short answer: I don't know.

Longer answer: There is no line. There are reasons why this is a debate and why it is tied into systemic racism and other forms of oppression. There are reasons why we talk about this and share our experiences, so we can all see where each other is coming from. 

Ownership of our culture by minorities in white-dominant cultures is an ongoing process of negotiation, re-negotiation, and sometimes, downright possessiveness because some folks simply do not respect our culture and just want pieces of it to make their own personal lives "fabulous."

Cultural appropriation isn't just relegated to things, but also performances - blackface, yellowface, and brownface all play into the system that allows appropriation, forcing us to be minstrels for the entertainment of a greater white audience. It is also about spaces, where what might be a space for marginalized folks must make way for dominant parties, because.... what, everyone has the right to go where they want to go? Appropriation strips us marginalized people of that ability to go where we want to go, while forcing us to accept that our own spaces will be taken over by the dominant group, and if we protest, we are rude and unkind and don't want to share, because, after all, how else will we break down the barriers of racism if we don't share more of ourselves?

Because of all these factors which permeate into so much of our lives, there is no way that there is a single line to say, "this is not appropriative". 

The goalposts always change as the power dynamics are constantly being renegotiated, between countries, between institutions, between groups, between individuals. This is why we have continual conversations, in multiple spaces, from many different angles. 

To ask "where is the line?" is to assume there is a solid answer, which is a fallacy, especially for something as complex as culture. Not only that, but it places the burden of education on someone who probably already has other problems to deal with besides you demanding how you can marginalized me a little bit less. 

Stop looking for this mystical "Line", and start listening to the actual people, folks. There are much better questions to ask.

Friday, March 12, 2010

On Self-Segregation and Lack Thereof

macon d at Stuff White People Do discussed self-segregation, and he asked PoC if they ever felt the need to self-segregate when they spend a lot of time in white-dominated spaces. He also asked if there were certain things white folks do that cause this desire to self-segregate.

I'll be honest and admit that I never understood the purpose of self-segregation. In fact, I used to be extremely critical of international students at my university, because they spent so much time together, even as they were there to learn English. It seemed rather counter-productive. This is not to say all of them did - I volunteered as an ESL tutor to three lovely students, two Koreans and a Japanese, who were all about going out to do stuff with me like hang at the Art Gallery, or listen to music, or mess with vocabulary. But in general, I would see huge groups of students sticking together. (A friend of mine refers to a hallway in the university as "mini-Lebanon". I don't know if they're all Lebanese, but I'm not an Arab-speaker, and my friend is, so I'll defer to his opinion on that.)

But as I said, it seemed counter-productive to go all the way across the planet to a different culture, only to shy away from it. Now, of course, I recognize different people have different reasons for going places, and not all of them are like me. These students were here to learn English from an English-speaking institution (and I hope they at least got that much), not to revel in the sometimes strange-assed Western specifically-Canadian even-more-specifically-Nova-Scotian culture we live in. These days, I give them a pass - they can't speak English, so of course shit is going to be alienating for them, because so much of what goes on is mostly parsed in the English language, and if you don't have a familiarity with the language, the culture is going to be, by and large, kinda inaccessible. I'd love to hear other opinions on this, though. I'm very fond of the concept of linguistic determination like that.

However, more infuriating than the international ESL students, were Malaysian international students, who came here - and probably still do come here - for other degrees. At my uni, our population was small enough that self-segregation was not possible all the time, and in general, they did hang out with many other international students, as well as white folk. The Malaysian students at the other local uni, though, came as part of a twinning program, and their degree kept them busy as hell, and otherwise, they tended to stick together.

I had my own crew of mostly-white friends to run with. I loved being in Canada, and I still do. The freedom from family, as well as the social mores of Malaysia, gave me the spiritual sunshine I needed to grow up and become more confident in myself. That said, I purposefully divorced myself from other Malaysian, and even Asian, company. I said hi to other Malaysians on campus, but I wasn't invested in keeping ties with them (besides which, the only two Malaysian guys on campus were douchebags, one of whom repeatedly distributed photos of two drunk naked girls) because, really, we didn't have much in common. 

And the one time I did go out to hang with an all-Malaysian crew, I promised myself I would never do that again. They were nice, and it was an okay night, but I was... pretty bored, ya'll! I was a nerd of nerds there, a geek, even, and these folks had no such specialized interests!

So, in a sense, I self-segregated - to hang with other nerds and geeks. Who happened to be white. Which, on another level, is not so much segregation of the nerds, so much as it is assimilation into a white nerd culture. I'm lucky to get out of it unscathed - there's a pretty good nerd culture here which doesn't lean towards objectification of women and/or non-whites.

But of course, there will be some things that white folks will never understand, nor black folks, nor even Asian folks who do not come from my geographic context. I won't say I purposefully seek out folks who are, because I don't, unless it's online where they have the option of ignoring me, but there are times when I will make a joke... and nobody but a Malaysian will get it.

I don't get to self-segregate then, because there isn't really a sizable Malaysian group I can tolerate for very long. There isn't really a group of Asians I can hang out with either. I don't get to find "my people" and be in a place where I'm completely comfortable expressing myself in those unique cultural ways which code me as Asian/Malaysian/Chinese.

But I do have the Internet. And I do get to go home. And having separated myself from my own culture for so long, I know it's a blessing when I get to go home.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What in the What?

So, someone on [info]racebending pointed out to me the Occidental Quarterly, which is, according to the Wikipedia article, "devoted to the ethnic, racial, and cultural heritage that forms the foundation of Western Civilization". It aims to defend "the cultural, ethnic, and racial interests of Western European peoples" and examine "contemporary political, social, and demographic trends that impact the posterity of Western Civilization".

Because I'm a sick puppy like that, and it was very late at night, I decided to poke around the website of the web edition. The tagline reads, "Western Perspectives on Man, Culture & Civilization." 

Because Man embraces all, oh no, it doesn't exclude women at all, not historically, and we really need more Western perspectives on Culture and Civilization. I guess all those philosophers stemming from Socrates aren't good enough for these fine fellows!

It looked innocuous enough , although I could feel the microaggression seething from a couple of the articles, and the testimonials don't quite recommend it to me either:

“Slick, academic-looking journal edited by a Who’s Who of the radical right.” - The Southern Poverty Law Center
Yeah, I really want to read that. It's academic-looking, all right. But I wondered, who do they normally accept articles from? So I checked their "Write for TOQ" page, and found nothing that really said anything more than "give us something interesting that fits our magazine!" Then I saw this:

"It is the official policy of TOQ and its publisher to repudiate and reject calls to violence or criminal behavior in relation to the struggle of Western peoples for self-determination."

Okay, what now? Did you read that? "The struggle of Western peoples for self-determination." Because Western culture and identity is so threatened, so silence, that it must speak out. It struggles! The poor dears, they must struggle and work through their issues and primly address, very rationally, the Ills of Today that Prevents the Western Man from Asserting his Culture and Civilization.

All I can say is, look, you have been self-determining for 100 - 200 - 300 - 400.... FOR A FUCKING LONG TIME. In the process of self-determination, you have also fought, conquered, colonized, annexed, and/or exploited other countries and civilizations in due process... and you still have an existential crisis on your identity and need affirmation that yes, the Western perspective is valid and requires its own place to voice itself?

Grow up, FFS.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Equal Rights for All!

Hi all! It's International Women's Day! 

This year's theme for International Women's Day is "Equal Rights For All", which I imagine does not just extend to women only, but also men. 

One of the things which undermines feminism is the idea that rights are a zero-sum game: if women get more rights, then men will lose rights. It's as if rights are finite things which are arbitrarily distributed. Like apples. I just bought some. Which means I deprived someone else of the very same apples! Oh nos, that poor person! There are only so many apples in the world! Except, whoever it is I "deprived" of the apples I bought could buy them somewhere else. 

Even that analogy fails, because there are some people who cannot afford to buy apples! Fortunately, though, rights are not concrete things like apples. Which means they are exponential! Which means they can reach out to apply to everybody! 

Everybody means women of colour, transgendered and transsexual folks, or folks who don't fit into the gender binary. Everybody means really young children and really old people. Everyone means people of all races, and of all cultures, whichsoever they fit into, gets proper respect and representation in media and status and are recognized as part of the tapestry of globalization. Everybody means even that one person in the room with a different opinion gets heard, rather than ignored until someone else repeats it.  Everybody means even people who cannot hear or see or walk or talk or move or stop, evne people who feel differently and think differently. 

Equal rights means we recognize that some people are more advantaged than others and adjust our expectations differently. Equal rights means we accommodate those who are disadvantaged in whatever way, because it does not truly inconvenience us to do so, and benefits all. 

Equal rights is the gift that keeps on giving. Equal rights is loving everyone the best we can with our attitudes mirrored into law. Equal rights is the dream and the ideal that we all work towards, because to stop is to betray everything all those who came before us have worked for. Equal rights is gratitude to our forebears who worked hard to give us a better life. Equal rights is kindness to those who don't normally receive them. 

In the past one hundred years that we have celebrated International Women's Day, we have made progress, mostly for a certain subset of all women in the world. We have begun to recognize how limited our work has been and extended our purview. 

Equal rights is a work in progress, for progress, by people who believe in progress. Equal rights is exponential in potential. 

Happy International Women's Day!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Meeting Jaclyn Friedman

For those who have never read Yes Means Yes! Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape, I have to say, you are missing out. When I first read the book, I was deeply moved, and in its own small way, although it states truths that most of us already knew, having it all in one place distilled the facts and tendrils of knowledge into a revelation of its own. 

Yes Means Yes! was edited by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti, both famous names in the feminist blogosphere. Jaclyn Friedman is a writer, performer and activist, and has received several grants, done a lot of cool things, like found the WAM! conference. You can totes look her up. Her main site is, which is very flashy, but if you can read it, it's got really neat stuff.

Although the talk was on rape prevention, how rapists operate, rape culture and other awful stuff, Jaclyn Friedman was upbeat and cheerful, presenting her argument with pop culture references, using really vernacular language to present her arguments in ways that we all could understand. She broke down the heteronormative system and used gender-inclusive language when possible. So, overall, she was awesome.

She started off with statistics and facts, and Canada, you are worse off than your US neighbour. And we all thought Canada was more awesome... in 2002, under 30% of rapes were reported, with rape cases around 77.64 per 100k people. Compare this to the States, where reporting is under 40% (not much but still), and cases are 32.9 per 100k people. Rates have no declined in the past 15 years, despite rape prevention campaigns.

Friedman proceeded to tell us what many in the feminist blogosphere already know - it isn't a case of young women not knowing how to protect themselves, but the case of society failing to change its attitudes in order to protect women.

She proceeded to explain how society current views sex and relationships: as transactions, to be traded. This is what we call the Commodity model of sex, wherein sex is a commodity, a thing, an item that must be sold at the highest price, obtained at the lowest cost. This model is what fuels the Tucker Max and abstinence-only crowds - although they may appear to be saying different things, they are essentially agreeing on the same thing: the sex from women is a thing, an object. 

So we talked about the Performance model of sex (coined by Thomas Millar, a fantastic writer and ally, and who also upkeeps the Yes Means Yes! blog), in which sex becomes an improvisational activity, to be shared and enjoyed with others, or practised on one's own until we are ready. We don't judge musicians for playing with many other musicians. We don't judge a violinist for choosing to play with a tabla drummer. We don't judge a group of three musicians playing together, or a whole symphony. We take joy in music, whatever the performance. So should we take joy in sex.

She went into pop culture, to show how what feminist slogans we have are taken by the consumerist market, prettified up, and sold. We are consumables. Even our philosophies are consumables, commodities, marketing tools. She told the audience about the Riot Grrl movement, and about Bikini Kill in the 80's, and how the Grrrl Power slogan was co-opted, in the 90's in the form of the Spice Girls, who weren't even that bad compared to their millenial versions, the Pussy Cat Dolls. 

We discussed the advice women get on rape prevention, and how it never gets told to men, even though men are 150% more likely to be victims of random assault and violence in the dark, at the hands of strangers. 

We also played Blame, Shame and Rape Apologism Bingo! I can't remember what we used to get there, but I hit up the "what does she work as?", and when she asked me where I heard it, I replied, "from RenegadeEvolution." (She has since retired that blog, and her new blog is less about sex work, but she was inspirational to me, and still remains so.) 

We talked about believable victims, and non-believable victims. Taylor Swift would be believable as a rape victim, but not Rihanna. Miley Cyrus used to be, but not when she started posing for photographs that assert herself as a sexual being. We ticked off all the things that made a victim believable, a true victim of rape: white, cis, middle-class, able-bodied, bla bla bla - and then she showed us a picture of Samantha Geimer at the age she had been raped by Roman Polanski - a picture that, by all means, should have fit the bill. 

And yet, she didn't. 

As Melissa McEwan said, the only thing rape victims absolutely have in common is that they were in the presence of a rapist who decided to rape them.

We discussed the new Lisak study, and how out of the slim minority of men who rape, only 4 - 8% of that minority commit the majority of rapes, because rapists are repeat offenders. And they are repeat offenders because we give them the license to operate, especially through the myth of miscommunication. And the answer is so simple: not sure if you're going to cross the Rape Line? ASK HER IF SHE'S INTERESTED. If she doesn't give you ENTHUSIASTIC CONSENT, then find someone else to have sex with. Don't ply a girl with drinks until she's loosened up to say yes. That's a rapist's tactic. The social license given to rapists for them to continue, which allows them the benefit of doubt, is eliminated once we instate the concept of ENTHUSIASTIC CONSENT.

ENTHUSIASTIC CONSENT, by the way, is YES MEANS YES. Not, Yes means sort of; not, Yes means fine okay; not, Yes means meh if it'll make you go away; but YES! YES! Let's Do It!

We talked about good intentions that ruin well-meaning advice, particularly in the efforts of universities in doling out "rape prevention tips", which is never anything new we are taught. One young woman shared her story on how she received a forward from her dad, which basically said, don't stop to help a man with his tires, because it's an excuse to rape you (echoing the Tim Bundy case). She sighed, and replied back to him, I know you mean well, but Dad, if you saw a person who needed their tire changed, you would be the first person to stop and help them! 

This is, after all, how rape culture affects all of us. It makes us monsters and victims. It renders us hungry beasts and helpless flowers. It denies us our humanity, it denies our wholeness to communicate our desires in a meaningful, positive way. It renders the normal guy into a potential threat (and here I brought up Schrodinger's Rapist, and she laughed and asked if I read the same blogs she did).

We talked about pleasure as a human right. If pleasure was a human right, then every kind of advice given to us, every excuse we make for rapists, every lack of real action we take, all that affects our security and relationships, would become a crime. Anything that affected our pleasure in life and love would become a hate crime. 

And rape is a hate crime. We know rape is borne out of a hatred for women, even "accidental" rapes. It happens because we don't care and love women enough to see them as human beings worth of all our consideration.

To conclude, she gave the following goals to change society: We need to

  • remove social license of rapists to operate
  • educate people on-  
  1. how rape actually happens
  2. enthusiastic consent
  3. the performance model of sex
  4. pleasure as a human right
  • hold the media responsible for how they report rape
  • have real sex education beyond contraceptives and basic biology
  • have difficult conversations
We then had a really fun Q&A. I'm sure more happened, but I was so busy laughing and listening, I didn't take much notes, plus I'm horrible at taking notes anyway. Although, there was that one issue...

I'm so happy I got to meet her. After the talk, I hung around to talk to her, had her sign my book (I HAVE HER AUTOGRAPH!!!), and then, I took a deep breath, and reminded her, "could you not use 'crazy' and 'lame' next time?" I apologized for calling her out (because I was so scared! so I made sure I got her autograph first), but she was really awesome and nice about it, and remembered about able-ist language, apologized and we discussed how hard it was excising the words from our vocabulary.

I also got to talk to the director for the Avalon Sexual Assault Center, mostly to just thank her for the work she did.  I gave her my card, in case she needed volunteers for stuff. 

I also got to meet others in the crowd, and we chatted and got to know each other better. Some went to SMU and we vaguely sort of kind of but not quite knew each other. Others were Dal students and I didn't know them but they talked to me anyway. It felt good to be in such a crowd, in person, again. A warm fuzzy feeling. It really reminds one, when we fight hard for social justice, we're not alone.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Welcome to Canada, Have Some Jackets

Via Womanist Musings, I came across this commercial for Tim Horton's. Timmy's is iconic in Canada. Given the choice between a Tim's and Starbucks, I'll pick the Tims. The hot chocolate is nice, and the donuts are okay. I've never had a meal there, although I've had a bit of soup. I think some of their advertising is misleading (like, advertising sourdough bread bowl, and the branch itself doesn't have the bread bowls. If your product isn't consistent with ads, don't show the ads).

Renee makes a great point that most of Tim Horton's advertising is heavily white, although I've seen a couple of commercials with a token black man. She also points out that in this ad, the minority characters are portrayed as newcomers to Canada, and how in the history of Canada, not all PoC are newcomers.

I can see her point. PoC shouldn't be portrayed as newcomers, or new immigrants all the time. It's not fair, and it does a great disservice to PoC who have been part of Canadia's racial make-up for a long time.

I just want to say, though, that this commercial did move me, not because it promoted some multi-cultural Canada (it doesn't, not really - it might have if it had featured more speaking PoC who are clearly Canadian, besides the woman who glances at the reunion and smiles). 

I liked it because it reminded me of the time when my family came to Halifax for my graduation. Like the man, I, too, packed a bag filled with jackets ans weathers for my family. And I should say, I come from a privileged background, enough that we knew what cold weather was like - before I came to Canada, I knew what thermals were, and my family always had a few sets for when we travelled to cold countries. We had winter jackets packed away, waiting for the next trip abroad. My mother considered us very prepared for cold weather. When I came to Canada, I was already armed with gloves and thermals and a double-layered down jacket. 

Of course, my mother had never really lived in a cold country, so she didn't know that houses didn't have to be cold (my mother was so convinced that Canadian houses were so cold, there were no hot showers, that she gave me a bottle of powder shampoo when I first left) (no, don't ask me how she got that impression), and as long as you had decent jackets, you wouldn't be cold. So I packed my decent jackets and hied off to the airport with a bag, waiting for them, just like the man in the commercial did. 

It just seemed like the right and regular thing to do: wait at the airport for your equatorial relatives to arrive with a bag of weather-appropriate clothing. Welcome to Canada, here're some proper clothes, I'm going to take care of you. That's how you greet family, especially family you haven't seen in a long time. 

It's lovely.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Because We're Not Just Nice

Because I'm boring and ever so slightly obsessive, I listen to some certain songs almost every day, depending on my mood. For a while it was Reise Reise by Rammstein, and for another while it was Disney songs in Arabic, and so on, so forth. Sometimes I share these songs, sometimes I don't. When I do, though, I get pretty interesting conversation. Let's call my friends E and M.

Eurovision intrigues me. Everyone I've spoken to about it laughs at it, or mocks the acts. It's true that many of the acts are cheesy. Anyways, last year's winner was Alexander Rybak, from Norway. "Oh yes," E said, who's from Belgium, "that cute Norweigen fiddler." Let's make no mistake, he's absolutely, utterly adorable

Then I show them a song like this:

Most of it's the usual typical moony bordering-emo of Young Dude Seeking Love, but the chorus took the cake:

But I know a magic dolphin swimming above the world
And in my dreams he promised me that someday I'll find my girl

Wait, what? "Wtf are these Norweigens smoking?" E asked. 

"I don't know," I replied. "I was hoping you could tell me." You know, E being in the European continent and all. Clearly she is my fountain of information on All Things European.

"Reindeer meat."

After a bit of sallying, she said, "you know, in my mind, I've changed the lyrics. I'm pretending he says, 'and in my dreams he promised me that someday I'll rule the world'."

"That does make a lot more sense," I agreed.

And why doesn't it? Call us cynical and loveless, but let's face, at this age (which is, mid-20's), we're not interested in Prince Charming and we're not interested in Twue Wuv. We're happy enough if we find someone to really share our lives with, and if not, we're okay with it. It occasionally sucks to be single, but it also sucks to be friendless and humourless. And humour leads us to ask, why, if I could see a dolphin swimming above the world, would I only wish for a girlfriend? I wouldn't. I'd probably ask if I could ride its back and never go home if it was really so awesome. I'd hang out with it and chill in some beach by the Milky Way. (Class marker alert!) We'd follow comets and mess around on the moon. 

I don't know, ya'l. If you could see a magic dolphin swimming over the world, what would you do?

I tried to use this song to console - well, more distract - my friend M. It worked. "Is this song about drugs? Is it like Puff the Magic Dragon?" (To be fair, I had just shown her the Amazing Screw-On Head, so her incredulity levels were still pretty high.)

I hadn't heard or even thought of Puff the Magic Dragon in YEARS. Contrary to rumours, it's not about marijuana, it's about a little toy dragon whose owner outgrows it, confirmed by Peter, Paul and Mary themselves. But the marijuana interpretation makes so much sense so the assumption still hangs around, so much so, the Malaysian government banned the song in the 80's.

Nonetheless, I'm pretty sure this song is about one dude's overactive imagination, and it's sweet and harmless and cute and innocent. I told M about E's change in the lyrics. "YES," M said. 

"There is a fine line between sweet little fiddler boys and egomaniacal cynical bitches of awesome." 

"And she crossed it perfectly."

And let me tell ya, it feels great to feel birds of a feather flock together.