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( T H E L I F E O F SH I UA N ’ S VAG I NA )
SH I UA N BU T L E R
Manifesto For Young Asian Women Shiuan Butler Copyright 2010 Shiuan Butler
Contents Acknowledgements Timeline Introduction Me, Myself, and I
Asian Heroines Selfishness Hawai`i Wants Childhood Loneliness Beauty Things they should teach in high school instead of ‘Home Ec’ High school First period Marriage My crazy ex Dating Safe sex My very own STD Men & relationships Casual sex
6 7 9
11 13 14 18 19 23 25 27 28 31
32 39 52 54 58 61 65
Friends with benefits Cheating Older men and younger women
67 68 70
Don’t You Dare
Harassment Physical safety Speaking out Oppression vs. cultural traditions The oppression of young people and young adults Capitalism Go for your dreams Don’t care what other people think or say Take care of yourself first Love your life, love yourself Share your stories Make your own decisions Don’t feel bad Be gentle with yourself Don’t take things personally Decide. Act. Discharge.
72 74 81
84 85 88
90 92 93 94 95 97 98 99 100 101 103
Suggested Reading Resources
To all my Asian sisters out there.
Amy, your never-ending discipline and energy and ability to squeeze time out of thin air never ceases to amaze me. Thank you for your thoughts and comments. Camille, can you believe we’ve known each other since we were fourteen? How is this possible? (When did we grow so old??) Thank you for being a loyal and reliable girlfriend and for always supporting me in my crazy dreams. Thank you, Paul, for your undying patience while you edited and I hung over your shoulder. Thank you Shelby for reading and being touched by my story. You are my role model so, naturally, it means a lot that you recognize something great in my work. Wendy, you are a girlfriend’s fantasy come true — what would I have done without your shoulder to lean on all these years and for all those heartbreaks? My soul would have drowned by now in the gallons of repressed tears for sure. And of course, thank you Mom for teaching me that to take care of oneself is of the utmost importance and thank you Dad for supporting her.
Age 0 Age 2 Age 5 Age 6 - I was born in 1979 in Taipei, Taiwan. - Mom met my soon-to-be new (white, American) dad. - Mom and new dad left Taipei for the U.S. leaving my older brother and I with our birth dad - After Mom and dad finished processing paperwork, I flew to join them in Portland, Maine with my grandparents via Disney World. Age 8 - Moved to Columbus, Ohio Age 10 - Younger brother born Age 12 - Moved back to Taipei (attended two schools in two years) Age 14 - Moved to Belmont, Massachusetts Age 15 - Attended Conference for Asian Pacific American Youth in Boston Age 17 - Became Co-founder of Coalition for Asian Pacific American Youth - Traveled to Beijing, China on study abroad program Age 18 - Lost virginity - Attended Boston University Age 20 - Transferred to UMass Boston and moved to great house in Jamaica Plain with friends - Performed spoken word poetry, worked in non-profits Age 21 - Submitted essay to Asian American anthology and was accepted (www.AsianAmericanX.com) Age 22 - Graduated with major in Asian American Studies - Married Age 24 - Divorced
Shiuan Butler Age 26 - Moved to Hawai`i - Got in terrible, abusive relationship Age 27 - Got out and finally stayed out of abusive relationship - Waitressed and surfed Age 28 - Moved to NYC and found feminist/activist community Age 30 - Started Asian singles social group (www.TheLychee.com) - Wrote my first book - Moved into a spacious apartment all by myself
Manifesto For Young Asian Women
I am writing this book because this is the book I needed when I was younger. Even in the womb, I had already begun to care take. I learned to worry and think about somebody else. I must have sensed the chaos around me and learned to be good and quiet. While my Mom’s life was in turmoil, her pregnancy and my birth were very easy. I essentially learned there was no space, attention or resource for me to verbalize my needs (i.e. cry). All this, I learned before I was born. This is how I was bred—to be a good, obedient, little caretaker. Sound familiar? I didn’t have my feet bound, but I might as well have. I was extremely good at taking care of others and yet horrible at taking care of myself. And this was the 21st century. In America. How was this possible? It may sound shocking to some, and yet I’m sure many of you can also attest to very similar experiences. And so, this is a manifesto to all of my Asian sisters out there to unlearn those lessons, to see them for the confusing oppressive traditions that they are and to just say “No.” No, I am not putting others before me ever again. No, I am not constantly caretaking others at the expense of my own health and happiness. No. No. And No. And yes, I am going to be selfish. I am going to be self-centered. I will focus on myself and my dreams. And this will change the world. I don’t believe in experts. I don’t believe that just because you have a couple letters or three after your name that you are smarter than me about
what I should be doing with my life or that you should tell others what they should be doing with theirs. I do believe that we all learn from our own experiences, and that we all can learn from each other’s experiences and thus move forward faster than if we did not hear those stories. It is my sincere hope and belief that when we hear someone’s story we keep it in our mental database so that when we come upon a similar situation in the future we can pull up that story and apply those lessons learned to our current situation. I believe that we can benefit from each other’s success stories, and especially from the mistakes. These are some of the lessons I learned the hard way. I pass them on in hopes that when you come to the difficult times in your life and are unsure of what to do, these principles and stories will help you figure out what is best for you. That is not to say you won’t make mistakes (of course you will and should), or that you should choose the same paths I did. Not at all. But I hope you stand on the foundation of my experiences and glean from them the tools and wisdom that I didn’t have. And I hope you too pass on your lessons and stories to those after you.
Manifesto For Young Asian Women
Me, Myself, and I
A heroine’s struggles Are often forgotten in the battle If she doesn’t come home with a medal Then her victory is belittled She is told don’t brag But be subtle You are Chinese Do not revel In your accomplishments Relish your achievements We want to see you bow with regret Hide your excitement Stand stooped and be modest We do not want to see you at your proudest Smiling your biggest Throwing a tempest Doing whatever you damndest feel like That’s what I would like To see all my Asian sisters give a try To speak when you’re not spoken to To keep breathing when it feels like you’re broken in two To conceive only when you really want to We did not come to this country to collude With a different brand of sexism Oh no
12 I have a conviction A new direction
That I will set up my life based on my own decisions I’ll let you in on a confession I have been selfish Only thinking of my own consumption Walking around with the assumption That my dreams will come true That my schemes will come through So take off the humility Bring on the honesty Asian women step forward and Claim your rightful place in this society.
Manifesto For Young Asian Women
My Mom saw me perform this spoken word poem once. Afterwards, sitting in the back of the car with my parents and my brother, she asked me, “But you didn’t really mean you want to be selfish, right?” Thus ensued a conversation where I tried to stave off my frustration and my (white) dad jumped in and helped explain to my (first-generation Chinese immigrant) Mom that her daughter just wanted to put herself first and that it wasn’t so much of a “selfishness” issue as a self-empowerment kind-of-thing. Thanks Dad. The word “selfish” usually has a negative connotation. But here, in our case, it actually has a positive connotation because it implies that for the first time we, as Asian women, are thinking about ourselves. What does that mean exactly? That means when we’re out on a date and the guy (or girl) asks us, “What do you want to do?” We don’t automatically reply, “Oh, I don’t know. Whatever you want.” It means we wake up in the morning and think about what we want to accomplish that day or what we feel like doing. It means we don’t stand by the side while our “men folk” eat first. (Yes, this still happens in this country). It means we don’t get completely consumed in our relationships and put our partners’ needs before ours. It means we stay home from work or school if we feel we are getting sick. It means we do “self-indulgent” things like get massages, move to Hawai`i to surf, go on vacations with girlfriends, go horse-back riding, and do our art—simply because we want to.
Speaking of moving to Hawai`i, I moved to Hawai`i a few years ago. I went there for a wedding and unexpectedly fell in love with surfing and the warm culture and people. (What a surprise, huh?) By my third day, I knew I wanted to move out there. But I thought to myself, “What a self-indulgent thing to do. How selfish and nonsensical and selfcentered. Why —” But then I thought of my Mom — the person I hold dearest in my heart in the world — and thought, if Mom wanted to do something like that I would encourage her to in a minute. I’d support her and tell her that her dreams are worthwhile and that she deserves to follow them. I would never tell her that her dreams were at all selfish. And immediately I realized, well, if that was the standard I held for her, then that must be true for myself as well. I went home a few days later and packed my things for Hawai`i. I moved there two months later.
Obviously, the details of the move were a little more complicated than that. I’ll explain to you how I made a trans-Atlantic move with no job, friends or apartment. It’s not the ideal way, but hopefully this helps to show you that it’s possible.
First of all, I had basically no support, no encouraging words from friends, co-workers or family. I might be exaggerating a little (people will come out of the woodwork after this). But in general, the responses ranged from “God, I’m jealous!” at best to “You’re crazy” at worst.
Manifesto For Young Asian Women a job, connections or inherited wealth. As for being crazy, I already
Jealous? Of what? I didn’t have anything they didn’t have. I didn’t have knew I was. People had called me that before, and I was fine with it. If “crazy” meant doing something outside of the box, that people think is impossible (but nevertheless see as really cool), then I was glad to be labeled “crazy.” Most of the time, when you follow your dreams and passions, you will receive no support and actually instead get admonitions and even condemnations. People may even judge you harshly. Why? It doesn’t seem to make any sense. Even if they can’t follow their own dreams, why do they feel the need to rain on your parade too? Precisely because those are the fearful voices in their heads that imprison them. So, in turn, they unleash those negative voices on you. They need to put you down because, if dreams actually could be realized, then what does that say about them? They’re not pursuing their dreams. Does that mean they’re lazy? No. Of course people are not all lazy, they’re just scared — in fact, terrified. And they certainly don’t want to admit or face the fact that they’re terrified. It’s much easier to cover fear with a thick coat of hopelessness, discouragement and “reality-checking,” than it is to say, “Actually it is possible if I just believed in myself, but I’m just not ready to face my fears and risk potential failure.” I discovered a while ago the real reason I tend to start and not finish projects. I had always thought that I was just a creative space cadet and had a million different ideas at any one time; but one day I realized that I was simply afraid to fail. If I finished a project, and it sucked, then that would really mean I sucked. Whereas if I only started and didn’t finish, well, then we don’t really know what it would have been. Sure,
it’s not a success, but it doesn’t suck either! Of course the whole problem with this method is that it’s based on the premise of (a) I suck or (b) I don’t suck. We want to change that to (a) It’s awesome that I tried AND (b) The more mistakes I make the closer I am to succeeding. There is a great saying, “An expert is someone who has made all the mistakes which can be made in a very narrow field.”1 So back to my original point, that I had no support for this move. My parents didn’t understand what I was doing exactly, co-workers were jealous and maybe one or two girlfriends thought it was cool, but everyone was sad I was leaving them (i.e. guilt trip). I, myself, had to remember why I was doing what I was doing and stay steadfast in my belief in myself and my dream—to surf and live in Hawai`i.
Anytime you move, I suggest you have at least three months worth of living expenses saved up. (“How to calculate your monthly expenses” is one course they should teach in high school, or at least in college). That way after you arrive, you have a month to acclimate and start job hunting and another month or two to go on interviews and snag a job. While you’re looking, restaurant/bar jobs are often available to sustain you, and though they may not be your ideal workplace, it is a far cry from the streets. You can always work part-time at other lessthan-ideal jobs while you’re job-hunting for something better. This may sound like a lot of hard work, but meanwhile if you’re surfing in Hawai`i on the weekends or exploring Paris (or whatever your city of choice) during your lunch hour, that makes it all worth it.
The quote is from Niels Bohr, except he said “a man.”
Manifesto For Young Asian Women Along with the three months of living expenses, you also will need
plane ticket money and shipping/moving expenses. Moving from the U.S. East Coast to Hawai`i was quite expensive, but I did it the most affordable way possible. First of all, I got rid of A TON of stuff: half of my books except absolute essentials, clothes I wouldn’t need like sweaters and boots and winter coats (the quality stuff I wanted to keep I stored in my grandmother’s basement so I could use later when I moved back someday – and I did), and the rest of my stuff I shipped using Media Mail. Media Mail or bulk rate is only supposed to be for books and CDs, but when the mailman asks if they’re books and CDs, you simply reply, “Yes, they are.” It’s as simple as that. The boxes probably took one or two months to actually arrive — but the money I saved was definitely worth it. You can choose how you want to move depending on your budget. If I could do it on my low budget, anyone can. I arrived at the airport (with no one to greet me, except for a sweet welcome text from a girlfriend in Boston), and took my bike and my three pieces of luggage in a cab to the local YWCA where I’d reserved a room a month prior. I knew from my first visit I did not want to stay in a hostel, as it was too crowded (four girls in a room), and too hectic (lots of partiers). In 2004 I paid $28 a night to share a room with another woman, and also received free breakfast, dinner and internet usage — not too shabby for paradise. I started job hunting online right away and soon got a job right where I was, with free food and lodging to boot. I got a surf rack for my bike, and I started surfing during my afternoon breaks. I wasn’t on perpetual vacation like my girlfriend had forewarned me. Working and living in Hawai`i wasn’t the same as visiting there — no, it was better because I didn’t have to leave!
Back then I wanted to live and surf in Hawai`i. What do you want? What do you want to eat for lunch? What do you want to major in college? What do you want to do after college? What do you want to wear today? Do you want to break-up with your boyfriend or stay and hope he’ll change? What do you want?? We are all bombarded with 3000 ads a day telling us what we supposedly want, or worse, “need.” This, combined with our childhood’s lack of decision-making empowerment, can leave us feeling very confused. I will talk more about wants later, but for now I will simply say: It is good to want. It’s good to not only know what you want, but to follow it. And last but not least, you deserve it. So to summarize: 1. Know what you want. (It’s good to want). 2. Pursue what you want. 3. You deserve it.
Manifesto For Young Asian Women
I’d like to explain a little more about my childhood so you can understand where I came from, and so my decisions and experiences will have some background context. I hope that you can learn from my mistakes so you don’t actually have to go through the same painful experiences to learn the same lessons. Or, at least, then you can make and learn from other mistakes. Then you can write a book sharing the lessons you learned from your mistakes so the rest of us can learn from them. My childhood was a sad and lonely affair. I usually never like talking about it. I was raised to feel like talking about one’s problems was considered complaining or trying to get pity and that was not only looked down upon but considered despicable. But I know now that it’s important to share feelings with others for a couple of reasons. One, so that if others have gone through similar experiences they’ll realize they’re not alone and it’s not their fault. Two, because when you talk openly about your past, you are telling the truth. Being totally open is important because, in sharing with others, we can learn from our mistakes and make sure these mistakes never happen again. At this point in writing (February 2010), I still cannot recall many memories before I was six. This is what I remember: I remember one day returning home to find our apartment ransacked by robbers. It was a startling and shocking feeling for a young child
to suddenly realize there were “evil” people in the world, and it was a very unsettling, unsafe feeling that I’m sure I still harbor. I remember my biological Dad chasing my Mom with a kitchen knife into the kitchen. My brother and I were kneeling, facing a wall. There are no sounds with the memory; I must have blocked them out. I also remember taking a shower once with my brother only to be interrupted by my Dad barging in and hitting him several times on his butt with a stick. And then just a minor one of being forced to drink yucky powdered milk everyday. Also, my Mom told me of one of my brother’s memories in which my brother and I were hiding under the kitchen table while my Dad was throwing chairs at my Mom. I guess that was one of our hiding spots. Also, apparently, my Dad brought women home while my Mom was there. Honestly, it makes me exhausted just listing them all. My point, though, is that whatever negative memories you may have as a child, it’s helpful if you talk about them and let them out. You can choose whatever method works best, whether it’s talking with friends, writing in a journal, writing a play or making a painting. Any outlet that helps you deal with and process those feelings is important and essential. Trying to block-out your memories only lets the memories fester, and
Manifesto For Young Asian Women
they will infect you from the inside whether you realize it or not. I am part of a peer counseling group2 where we take turns listening and letting out our feelings. I have cried a gazillion tears over the same events. The sadness seems interminable, but the process has made a difference in how I feel in the present and has been relieving as well as healing. All this is to say, whatever your childhood, whether it’s mostly negative or mostly positive, you can pull strength from it and say, “I will be strong and determined because of or in spite of my past, but I will be strong. I will be myself. If I don’t know who that is, I will find out. No matter what happened, I will pull through in spite of it all.” This is your life. Seize it with all of your might.
Another Unpleasant Childhood Memory
I wasn’t planning on including this incident in the book. And then I realized that I had felt embarrassed and ashamed of it. And so I share it in hopes that others who have had similar experiences can know that they are equally innocent and maybe even speak up about it. When I was eight or nine years-old, I found myself alone with a man in the basement of our house. The man was our tenant. He was a middleaged Chinese man. My parents were originally in the room, but then went upstairs. At first, I didn’t think anything of being alone with him. Suddenly, he started stepping on my feet, making me cry out. He said, “Aww, does it hurt? Are you going to cry?” I can’t remember what I did or how long it went on. He even blocked the door so I couldn’t get out. Finally, he let me go. I was terrified to be unexpectedly trapped in a room with a bully twice my size and five times my age.
The group is Re-evalutation Co-counseling: <www.rc.org>
The really upsetting thing about the whole incident is that I don’t remember even telling my parents about it. In hindsight I should have rushed upstairs immediately and told them everything. But I didn’t. I kept the secret to myself and felt horrible and gross and pissed as hell about the incident. I know this because I wrote, “I hate him!” in my diary twenty times. So why didn’t I ask my parents for help or support? Why didn’t I feel comfortable telling my Mom? Why did I instead feel bad and isolate myself? I’m still not exactly sure. But I do know that I now encourage all young women and girls (and boys) to try and talk to someone if something scary or uncomfortable like that happens. Don’t keep the incident to yourself. For whatever reason, you will almost always feel better if you tell at least one person. Secrets burden us and make us feel bad — I can attest to that. And most often if you tell a friend, they can reassure you that you are so very, very good and that the incident was not your fault. And we all still need the occasional reassurance. We need to tell our stories. To do so is not only liberating for ourselves, but also teaches a wealth of information to others. Sharing our stories lets other young women know they are not the only ones with those struggles. And sometimes that can make all the difference.
Manifesto For Young Asian Women
Loneliness can make us do really dumb things, like put up with jerky boyfriends, have casual one-night stands with creeps or booty calls with people who, deep down, give us a royal pain-in-the-ass. Loneliness used to be a huge struggle for me. In college, I literally could not stand to be by myself for more than three hours at a time. After the three-hour mark, I would actually start feeling like I was going crazy. I couldn’t stand it. Around the same time, I also realized that I never planned-out my days based on what I wanted to do. My days somehow automatically revolved around what other people wanted me to do, which brings me back to putting ourselves first. For example, I enjoy cooking with a boyfriend, but when I’m alone I tend to eat take-out. We need to treat ourselves just as well when we are alone as when we are with others. There have been various reasons why I’ve felt lonely, but the underlying reason is the beginning years of my life. The experiences from the first few years of your life form the major web of patterns that you carry for the rest of your life. For example, from a very young age I decided I hated being a girl. My model of what it meant to be a grown-up girl came from watching my biological Dad mistreat my Mom. It was no wonder I didn’t want to be a girl. Who would want to be a girl if it meant you had no freedom and were treated abominably? I know that my Mom tried to leave several times. She finally left for the last time when I was five. I had no idea that she left. She never said goodbye. It must have been completely incomprehensible to a five year-old that her Mom could leave her. “No, Mom wouldn’t actually leave us.” But she did. And a year later when she came back and brought me to the States,
my six year-old mind truly believed it was my determination and persistence that brought her back. I still struggle with the hopelessness, desperation and loneliness from my early years. They can’t help but seep into the present. And that’s why I do the work that I do in my peer counseling group. We help each other get rid of old baggage so that we can think more clearly in the present and experience the present through the lens of benign reality and not the confused haze of past hurts.
Manifesto For Young Asian Women
Physical beauty is a funny thing. Depending on where you are in the world, it can mean very different things. For example, in some parts of the world being light-skinned is desirable while in other places being dark and tanned is the ideal. While one set of features may be glorified here, the same qualities are seen as undesirable there. I learned this firsthand when I was twelve. My parents moved my younger brother and I back to Taiwan, and suddenly I had the attention of all the boys in my classroom — the complete opposite of my experience in the States. I was very, very confused. I knew I had not changed, not one bit. And yet, it was as though I had grown to be a beautiful swan from an ugly duckling. It was as though I had arrived on a planet where the standards of beauty were the complete opposite of where I’d come from. My features in this country were considered beautiful, while in the U.S. they were plain. I now understand the root of it all was racism.
Racism is a funny concept. It is the systematic discrimination against a group of people based on a random trait of that group. The oppressive group uses the trait to justify its exploitation. In Taipei, my features were considered attractive, while in Maine and Ohio, because of racism, I felt very plain, if not ugly. And so, first of all, I’d like to propose to each of us girls and women that we separate how we feel about ourselves from how others see us — that we act as confident as the most beautiful model on the runway
(and, trust me, I have worked with them and they have plenty of insecurities), and as humble as the plainest girl. I realized how subjective looks are after experiencing both extremes and it made me angry. I became annoyed and even disgusted by any compliments on my looks. I would often imagine that I was suddenly scarred by some terrible, random accident and that men’s interest in me would disappear as fast as my “beauty.” Beauty really does come from within. If you are a kind, loving and generous person, it will show through. It won’t matter if you’re in a wheelchair or how your facial features happen to be constructed. Someone who really cares about you will see who you really are. Similarly, let’s say you are a supermodel at the age of sixteen. If you are arrogant and superficial, that will change how others perceive you as well. If someone does not appreciate who you are on the inside then they are not worth it. I could say this a million times, but for many of us it’s a lesson we have to repeat to ourselves regularly. I am guilty of the same mistake. If you lose someone, it is their loss. Even if you fucked up, it is their loss. Even if you totally botched up the whole thing — it is their loss. Got it? Good3.
Of course, there are qualities that we can work on in ourselves. My point here is that we deserve the best, and it’s usually best to stick with those who truly appreciate us. This is a gentle reminder for those of us who tend to be insecure.
Manifesto For Young Asian Women
Things They Should Teach in High School Instead of ‘Home Ec’
Yoga. Bike riding. Bike building. Hiking on the Appalachian Trail. Nutrition. Cooking. STD Awareness. Personal finances. Healthy relationships. Abusive relationship patterns. Entrepreneurial classes. Sewing. Gardening. Glassblowing. Interviewing, networking, jobacquiring skills. Book publishing. Playwriting. Screenwriting. Art curating. How to run a magazine. How to run a bookstore or bike shop. Jewelry-making. Feminism 101. The History of Activism. Blogging. How to be Green. DIY anything. People’s History of the United States. If you’re in high school or college, maybe you can use your extra-curricular activities funds to create one of these clubs and create your own classes on these topics.
High school was not an easy time for me. For some reason I got quite depressed. I even thought about suicide at one point, which is still hard for me to talk about. Luckily for me, I didn’t truly realize how miserable I was until after I graduated; it was probably too difficult to face while I was still in the middle of it. I did have one best girl friend at school, and we are good friends to this day. But otherwise, I did not have many friends, was not popular (and wished I was), was terribly shy and did not date at all. I still remember sitting in the cafeteria with my best friend looking at a group of girls with guys all over them and wondering what they had that I didn’t have. I always thought my inability to attract boys was a defect of my own. It was very confusing since I had just left Taiwan where I received tons of attention. And then upon arrival at a middle class white suburb I once again became “not attractive.” Of course I didn’t consider that I, too, could have had plenty of boys swarming around me if I only chose to behave in a certain way. If I could talk to the sixteen-year-old Shiuan now, I’d tell her she’s fine just the way she is, “You don’t need bigger boobs. They’re beautiful just the way they are. You don’t need to be blonde or even popular, as long as you love yourself. You don’t need a boyfriend to reassure you that you’re worthy. Racism is real and systematic and, at times, subtle and insidious. Other people’s racism towards you is not personal, though it may feel like it. Their behavior has more to do with their racism than with who you are. There’s a reason why high school textbook history is hard to learn. Teaching history without teaching racism is like teaching reading without first teaching vowels and consonants. Racism is an essential part of our history. History is mighty confusing if you don’t
Manifesto For Young Asian Women first establish the context of oppressions. You feel as if you’re crazy. You’re not crazy. Everyone else is just deluded and in serious denial.” I wish someone had told me that B’s weren’t the end of the world. I wish someone had told me that most of my high school experience won’t matter after I graduate, that I won’t remember much of it, and
that I should stop stressing my pretty little head about it. Also, it really doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about you. At the end of the day, what matters is that you love yourself. You might not feel this way now, but just wait. Now all of this probably sounds mighty cheesy. But what is ‘cheesiness’ anyways? The opposite of cool? What is cool? Aloofness? Smoking? Drinking? Drugs? Boyfriends? Being “fashionable?” What is cheesy? True love? Self-love? Self-respect? Just saying no to drugs? Being a dork? Being “naïve?” Showing your feelings? In that case, I’d rather be cheesy. I choose cheese.
Conference for Asian Pacific American Youth
The other part of high school that saved me was CAPAY—the Conference for Asian Pacific American Youth, which my crazy history teacher sent me to during my freshman year. There I learned about racism for the first time. I learned about identity and first and second-generation immigrants. I met other Asian Americans battling the same issues as I was. I was stunned. This was incredible. It wasn’t just me! I wasn’t the only awkward, confused, defective-feeling Asian girl out there — there were many, many others also struggling with generational and cultural differences, filial piety, small boobs and much more! This was wonder-
ful! I also met other Asian kids from inner city schools who actually hung out with each other. Asians wanting to hang out with other Asians was a total shock to me, since at my school the five Asians in our class completely avoided each other. The other Asian girl and I each had best white girlfriends. And we both equally avoided the “fobby”4 kids. So, a group of Asians who actually wanted to hang out together was a whole new world for me. CAPAY became the Coalition for Asian Pacific American Youth, and it was my base for the rest of my high school years. We continued planning an annual conference for Asian American high school students. It was filled with workshops on Asian American history, political and social identity, family cultural gaps and every other issue and quirk you could imagine. A few of us formed an Asian Club at our high school. It was painful and whitewashed, but it was a start.
“Fobby” is related to the term FOB (Fresh off the Boat) and refers to new Asian immi-
grants. Most people consider FOB a derogatory term, although sometimes Asians use it to tease other Asians.
Manifesto For Young Asian Women
The first time I got my period was a bit of a traumatic experience. First of all, I believe all parents should tell their daughters about menstrual periods way before they get their first one. I mean years before. Don’t wait until she wakes up one day and finds herself bleeding from DOWN THERE to explain to her, “Oh yeah, honey, I forgot. It’s nothing. No, you’re not bleeding to death. It means you’re a woman. Congratulations! Aren’t you happy? You get to look forward to this every month now. Now go wash your underwear before it stains. And here’s some pads.” What the — #$$%^%??5 Although my Mom was supportive enough about the whole thing, her lesson in tampon usage left a bit to be desired. I remember her telling me that using a tampon still didn’t feel completely comfortable to her. As an avid tampon user for the last sixteen years, I can honestly say — if used correctly — you should not feel a thing. So there I was, struggling to put the bloody thing in (virgin that I was), tense as hell, not understanding the exact “ins and outs” of tampon usage. And all this stress because that day we had swimming in gym class and I did not want to sit out in mortified declaration to the world that, “I have my period. I am bleeding out of my vagina; thus, I can’t swim.” And then I’d have to make-up the class with complete strangers after school the next week.
This is not exactly what happened to me, but it seems to be a common occurrence
I was certainly the last person on Earth I expected to get married and certainly not at that young age. I grew up watching first one disastrous marriage and then another. (At least it seemed that way. My Mom’s second marriage, though much better than the first, had plenty of ups and downs through my teenage years as well)6. I simply didn’t see the point of marriage. Growing up, I may have witnessed a few successful marriages where the two people seemed to be true peers who respected each other and were best friends. But those were few and far between in comparison to the bored ones, the distant ones and the ones where the woman, burdened with most of the child-rearing responsibilities and housework, was clearly not benefitting from the marriage as much as the man. Yet, somehow I found myself married at age 22, and then subsequently divorced at 24. My husband was my second boyfriend and the exact opposite of my first. At 22 (I was 18 then), he seemed much more like a man than my last eighteen-year-old boyfriend. He was from Nepal and had long hair down his back and tattoos on his arms. Along with his leather jacket and boots, he was absolutely gorgeous. I loved watching him work. He
I believe my parents are doing much better in recent years. But at the time they were
struggling and it was stressful on me as a teenager.
Manifesto For Young Asian Women four long years of high school did I see an Asian man this beautiful, this hot, this tough and this cool. We got together pretty quickly. For the first couple of years, we got along really well and had lots of fun together. I remember laughing a lot and making out in the park. However, one big issue we did have in the beginning was that I wanted to spend all of my time with him. It got so bad that we had to set in advance which days we would be together and which days he would spend with his friends. That way I would be mentally prepared and couldn’t bug him about it. I now
was so smooth, like water between rocks. I was awestruck. Never in my
understand that I still had the old loneliness from my childhood hanging over me. So when I met someone I really clicked with, I (subconsciously) felt desperate to cling to him in an attempt to “save myself ” from my loneliness (which in actuality was old but the feeling was strong enough to confuse me into thinking it was real and present). Other issues included his smoking and the occasional bar fight. He always claimed he never started anything, but if the other person looked at him funny then he just had to do something. For a year I nagged him about his smoking until I finally learned — it was useless unless he wanted to quit himself7. During our second or third year, he mentioned he wanted an open relationship and to “see” other people. I definitely did not like that idea
I used to be very naïve about smoking. I thought any non-smokers who dated smok-
ers must not really love them because if they truly loved them then they’d have stopped them from smoking already. Unfortunately, it’s never that simple.
and said no. However, I went back several months later and told him yes, but then he changed his mind and decided he didn’t want that. As serious a couple as we were, we had our share of problems. Ultimately, we both ended up cheating on each other. When he cheated on me, he told me the next day, which doesn’t make up for it. Of course I was crazy with anger and betrayal and we talked and talked about it and finally I agreed to give our relationship a try and to try to trust him again. It wasn’t easy, but I must have really cared about him and didn’t want to break up. Later, I cheated on him as well. I’m not proud of it. I thought I could never do such a thing. I don’t have a lot to say about it, except that it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person — just confused. Cheating is really more a symptom of underlying issues within you and/or the relationship than a signal that “you are now an evil person.” You’re not only hurting the person you’re lying to, but also yourself by sneaking around with a guilty conscience. After four years into our relationship, his status became illegal. He didn’t have a work visa and he had already finished school. His options were to leave the country immediately or to get married. We had started growing apart years before and were having lots of problems by then. Honestly I wasn’t sure if we should even stay together — never mind get married! (Personally, I think most people know after two years if they should stay together or break up. Most people don’t like change and, as a result, stay together not because they really want to, but simply because they don’t want to break up.)
Manifesto For Young Asian Women He actually never asked me to marry him. He was too proud. But we
knew each other inside and out by then, and I knew he wanted to stay in the U.S. So I asked him if that’s what he wanted, and he implied he did. So began the two weeks of hell, where I stressed over the decision to marry someone whom I cared for very much, though I wasn’t actually in love with him anymore8. I deliberated for two weeks, talked to girlfriends, talked to my peer counselors and was still as confused as ever. My main problem, which I didn’t realize at the time, was that it was an unfair question. It’s like asking kids if they’d rather go with Mommy or Daddy in a divorce. Being unable to save my Mom from a terrible situation as a child left a scar on me for life9. I watched my Dad abuse my Mom (and my brother and me), for the first six years of my life. I felt immense helplessness and powerlessness in not being able to help my Mom. This developed into an inability to say no and a desperate desire to help those close to me, even at the expense of my own well-being. In addition, I felt an irrational sense of guilt and accountability for our racist immigration laws. How dare I? I, a naturalized and privileged American citizen, was not going to help my immigrant boyfriend, who simply needed me to marry him and it could change his entire life.
By then I was 22 and he was 26. During the last few years I had felt we were going
down different paths. I was a very different person at 22 than when we met at 18. But he had basically stayed the same.
Interesting that I didn’t think of saving myself, but instead focused on saving my
It could save him! But I wasn’t willing to lift a finger to do this small deed for him? (You see how irrational this was getting). I certainly did not need to attempt to assuage my guilt about this country’s racism by agreeing to a Green Card marriage. I was so anxiety-ridden that I would wake up in the morning with my shoulders more tense than the night before. It was a messy and completely unfair situation caused by racism, capitalism and sexism, all converging into one. I made the only decision I could at the time. I said yes because I couldn’t say no. He was ecstatic. I was happy to make him so happy. And as for my happiness? It was buried so far beneath years of helping others, feeling guilty and feeling bad that I had no idea what I wanted anymore. I thought the two weeks of indecision were bad. I definitely was not prepared for the two-and-a-half years that we were married. That’s also when I cheated on him (another sign that I was not ready for marriage). Soon after we were married, I realized that our same old fights hadn’t gone away; however, I still felt I wanted to help him get his Green Card, so we stayed married, but broke up. At that time we were living in a two-bedroom apartment together, so I just had him move out into the other bedroom. Of course, our problems started immediately. One weekend his friends and him drove down to New York. I later found out that he was arrested for drunk driving. Once I realized that everyone was fine, my horror quickly changed to fury. Someone had called the cops after seeing a car stopped at a red light for a good half an hour. Half an hour?? He claimed he had been exhausted from the
Manifesto For Young Asian Women drive down and had driven all of his friends home and had fallen
asleep at the light. Thank god no one was hurt. But I was livid. After all I had been through—against my parents’ and my whole family’s wishes and my own doubts and then still staying married after I had broken up with him! We already had a lawyer, went to immigration, were in the process of obtaining letters of reference to attest to his good, decent, moral character… and then he gets caught drunk driving?? Oh no. No, no, no, no, no, no, no. What with increasing pressure from my parents and also from my aunt and uncle who were lawyers who had tried to impress upon me the seriousness of what I was doing — I couldn’t take it anymore. This was the final straw. When he royally messed up because of his age-old habit of drinking and put his chances of staying in this country at risk, I decided I couldn’t handle it anymore. I had put so much effort into helping him stay in the country, not only rearranging my life around it, but putting myself at risk of being deported even. I called my parents and they quickly jumped in with a divorce lawyer and the money to pay for him too. Divorce is no fun, whether you’re 45 or 25. You still feel like shit, though luckily we had no house, assets or kids to fight over. But he still hated me since I wasn’t going through with the marriage and he didn’t get his Green Card. (He didn’t actually hate me. But because he felt that I hurt him, he wanted to hurt me back.) He brought a woman home, against our original agreement and my desperate pleas. In his eyes, I had ruined his life. Hell, I’m still making excuses for him. Truth is, he treated me really well (most of the time—though a friend who had a crush on me then reminded me of some things I had “chosen” to forget). And I really cared about him and loved him, though I wasn’t in love anymore. But racism and capitalism had managed to get between
us and tore us apart10. And the sneakiest part of it all way that everything still ended up feeling like it was my fault. All this is to say, don’t marry someone if you’re not 200% certain. What’s the hurry? (Assuming you’re not under a deadline like I was). Also, I always suggest living with a person before you marry them. Marriage brings with it so many of its own surprises. Wouldn’t you like to decrease your likelihood of surprises and regrets later by learning as much as you can about the person now before you lock into a life-long commitment? And please do not marry with “hopes” that the other person will change down the road. Because he may very well not change, and what then? Are you going to get mad at him and say, “But I thought you would change!” You hoped he would and maybe he even hoped he would, but no one can guarantee anything for sure about the future. So you need to be completely certain (to the best of your ability) that you would be content and happy with this person for the rest of your life, just as he is, at this moment, standing before you.
We learned from our lawyer that, other than getting a work sponsored-visa, if you
were rich enough you could essentially buy your way into staying in this country. It is called the EB-5 or E-2 investor visa.
Manifesto For Young Asian Women
My Crazy Ex
Because I want you to learn from my mistakes, I unfortunately need to talk about my abusive relationship. I want to learn from my mistakes too. And by teaching them to you maybe it will hit home more11. Like I said, I moved to Hawai`i after spending a week of vacation there. I had no job or apartment lined up. My girlfriend whom I had visited was effectively MIA. After arriving at Honolulu international airport (and discovering that air could smell this good), I took myself in a cab to the local Y. The Y was a great, cheap alternative to hotels in Honolulu, but it was also a popular spot for low-income, local women. It wasn’t a homeless shelter because it definitely wasn’t free at $28/night (in 2006) for a shared room, but it was often used as transitional housing for low-income women. And so it was a very interesting crowd in the dining area during mealtimes. I remember one woman from the mainland (that’s how folks in Hawai`i refer to the continental U.S.), was in hiding from her abuser until her court date. Another Chinese woman in her fifties with the same name as my Mom—Margaret—carried an oxygen tank with her wherever she went, and we soon became friends. Another older woman had her son visit once, and that’s when I had my first experience of being hit-on by a guy in a wheelchair. (I think that’s where my fetish of disabled men came from. That and from a blind man I met years later.) It was quite a hodgepodge of folks staying together under one roof sharing breakfast and dinner together, as
Every day twelve women are killed by their husbands or boyfriends. Most of these
women (75%) are killed while trying to leave their partners. And every few seconds a woman somewhere in this country is beaten.
well as the common computer room where I job-hunted daily. As it turned out, I ended up right where I started — working at the Y. I moved out of my shared room with another woman (who incidentally still owes me $20 — yes I’m naïve and trusting), and into a whole dorm room of my own! I shared a bathroom with my boss — a woman even younger than I am — a local white girl who had beautifully highlighted, reddish-brown hair and was so professional and efficient that it was intimidating. This job was no joke. My boss, who was probably 25 at at the time, and I were in charge of the whole building and the 50+ women who stayed there. Even on weekends, I was still technically on-call (although she let me travel to the other side of the island — it’s a small island). She kept saying someday she had to write a book about all the crazy experiences she’d been through. I hope she did. I only ended up staying there a couple of months, but I saw plenty: someone who had shat in the sink and the hallways, someone who sneaked in a man and was caught and kicked out — we had security cameras, women who couldn’t pay and therefore we had to kick out, women whom we couldn’t let in, crazy women, poor women, women with little boys, (no males over the age of eight were allowed), but mostly poor, local women. I remember roommates who were arguing over having the ceiling fan on or off. One adamantly wanted it on. The other was afraid of the fan flying off and hitting her. No joke. Another morning I woke up to a bunch of cops and police cars outside my bedroom window. It was your good old regular bomb scare. Let me tell you — they did not pay me enough. By this time I had started hanging out with the man who would leave
Manifesto For Young Asian Women an indelible mark on my life. I still have the battle scars to show you. I’m not proud of them. I wish I never went through what I did to get
them. When I was in the relationship, I used to curse the universe for placing him in my path. Who could be so evil as to do such a thing? But now that I’ve come out the other side, I realize I have learned at least two things from the experience: one, the ability to share my experience with others in hopes that my story will teach and warn them about what I have learned so they don’t have to go through a similar experience. Two, I learned how strong I can be when push comes to shove. I never want to go through something like that ever again, but I now know how strong I can be if and when I need to. I used to say that I fell in love with Hawai`i at the same time as I fell in love with M. I had never seen such beautiful places in the world as when I first moved to Hawai`i, and M was the one who showed them to me. So, naturally I fell in love with both together. He took me surfing. He pushed me onto waves when I was too weak to paddle for them myself. He was my one and only friend. Our beginning was quite appropriate to our tumultuous relationship. We ended up having crazy, raunchy sex on the side of a beach during broad daylight. He fucked me so hard afterwards he was bleeding from all the twigs and pebbles he had dug his knees into. I thought, “Wow, this guy is intense.12” I was right. But I had no idea what I was in for.
Many abusive men have this trait in common. They will seem very ‘passionate’ or
‘into you’ at first. Actually they are really just into themselves. You can read more in Lundy Bancroft’s great book, Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men.
Even before we moved in together, I should have known to be careful, to be on guard. But I was too desperate to get out of my current situation (working and living at the Y), and didn’t know what else to do. I was desperate and wasn’t thinking. But most importantly, I had never been in an abusive relationship before (other than my first Dad), and had no idea the seriousness of my situation. One morning we were driving down a dirt path to check out a trailer. He was already in a bad mood and for some reason he wanted me to drive his van. So I agreed. We had just turned onto a dirt path. I paused to wait for the oncoming car to pass, at the same time as he told me to wait. Suddenly, he starts screaming at me, “I told you to stop! When I say stop — stop! When I tell you to go —then go. Now stop!” Because the van was moving, although we were barely inching along, he felt the need to scream bloody murder and curse me out. That was the first time he had let his temper loose on me. We had only been dating for a month at that point. I was extremely shaken as you can imagine and didn’t say a word until we got back home (needless to say, I didn’t drive home). I remember he apologized when we got out of the car. He didn’t really own up to what a fucked-up thing he did, more just trying to smooth it over. I remember consciously withdrawing to a very faraway place, so far away that his words couldn’t touch me. First of all, everything was my fault. Anything he didn’t like, anything that went wrong — it was because of me. It was like living with a little kid who has a big temper. Except much worse, because he was also big and strong and had a full-blown sex addiction. We had sex at least three times a day, morning, afternoon and night,
Manifesto For Young Asian Women and sometimes in the middle of the night. We had sex whenever he
wanted to, which was most of the time. And soon, I became addicted too. One of our common fights was about having a threesome. He argued that I used to be interested and kept pressing me to find a third person. Our sex was always intense and it was always about him. His favorite position was fucking me from behind. Like I said, I became addicted to it too (unhealthy sex is very addictive), and it’s not a coincidence it was also his main way of getting me back every time I left. What is unhealthy sex? Healthy and unhealthy pain during sex is a fine line. He was dominating and manipulative in and out of bed. In bed, that translated to painful sex much of the time. It wasn’t totally excruciating pain (then again, I also have a high tolerance of pain), but it was a domineering submissive kind of sex we were playing with. And depending on your past and your personality, it can be dangerously addictive. After we broke up, I didn’t want to have sex for a long time. It repulsed me. Partially because it was a part of me that I couldn’t control — sometimes I would be turned on by things I didn’t want to be turned on by. During one of the periods when I had broken up with him he went down on me13 against my will while I was driving. It’s very difficult to explain the feeling of being turned on by someone you don’t want to touch you. In your mind, you might be furious, but meanwhile your pussy is getting wet. It’s horribly confusing, totally humiliating and completely manipulative. It’s about power and control and submission. It is rape. Why do you think it’s most women’s fantasy? Because
“Went down” is slang for performing oral sex on someone.
it’s happened to most of us in our past, and as much as we didn’t want it in the moment, our bodies reacted physiologically and after that we’re hooked to dominating sexual behavior. Even writing this now, three years later, I’m extremely uncomfortable and upset. I’ve blocked out a lot of the memories of this abuse (same as my childhood), and I wouldn’t remember it if it weren’t for my journals. I used to hide my journals so M wouldn’t see what I wrote about him. But he knew. I would walk on eggshells when he was around, trying to avoid or, at least, anticipate when he would go off again. My only savior was my phone conversations with my girlfriends — all two of them. One was in Boston and one in Honolulu. Folks have a hard time staying in touch after you’re gone — which I understood. But thank goodness I had R in Boston, or I don’t know what I would have done. I started turning off the ringer on my phone so that he wouldn’t know when I got a call. Because, if my girlfriend did call, I certainly couldn’t talk to her while he was there. And I couldn’t even just get up and go out of the house — then he’d know for sure I was going off to talk about him and he’d get pissed. So I’d have to wait until he was out of the house to call back. I had many phone conversations, with him right there, where I would hem and haw on my end trying as hard as I could not to sound like I was hemming and hawing — and she’d finally get it and ask me if he was there and I’d answer with a resounding “yes!” in great relief. I’m not sure how much is necessary to relay about my relationship with M to get my point across and how much is enough. How can you tell
Manifesto For Young Asian Women when you might be starting to date a potentially abusive person, and
how do you know what to do if you’re reading this and you realize you or someone you know might be currently dating an abusive person? If you suspect you might be in an abusive relationship, you probably are. It took me a long time to realize that. At one point, a girlfriend mentioned he sounded manipulative from what I told her. It was as if I was in a haze. Brainwashed, I call it. I had no idea until she said that word. And then it hit me — she was totally right. I also moved in and out of living with him six times — yes, six times — within eleven months. That’s how much I was in denial. I was also very much in love with him in the beginning. Which leads to my other warning — make sure the person you’re dating is not abusive before you fall in love with them. That may sound overly simplistic or even silly, but there are definitely certain simple precautions one can take before getting too involved in a relationship. Do they have any unhealthy addictions (drugs, alcohol, etc), that affect how they are with you? Do they tend to get angry easily, or about seemingly small things? Do they tend to blame you for many things? Pay close attention, and if you do notice any of the above, you should definitely pause and step back and reassess the relationship. Get a second or third opinion. And certainly don’t get more emotionally attached while you’re figuring out if this person is healthy for you. There are many different types of abusive people. They don’t all exhibit the same kinds of behavior. But they often do have lots in common. M always had a reason for doing what he did. There was always some underlying motive behind his behavior. If you asked him, he’d honestly say he wasn’t trying to hurt me. Regardless, he knew what he was
When you’re dating an abusive person, it really is like you’re brainwashed. You’re not thinking straight and, looking back, you’ll be shocked at what you put yourself through. It’s like doing hardcore drugs. You’re in another mental state and keeping it up (and keeping him happy), is a full-time job. (Re-reading my journals from that time takes me right back there, and I can tell I certainly have more work to do in my counseling sessions because simply reading them for a minute is enough to take me right back there.) He was very smooth. He was the best actor I knew. He always said the right things at the right times to get what he wanted. When I was upset he’d say, “I’m not good for you” to get me to console him. It’s hard to be upset with someone when they are (seemingly) down on themselves. I’m a horrible actor myself, and a horrible liar. I can easily feel bad or guilty. One common trait in abusive people is that they don’t feel bad about their abusive behavior. On the contrary, they feel justified and self-righteous about it. Once he fooled me really well. We had gotten into a small argument about something. I was still at the Y at that time. He was upset and drove off. He never came and visited me the next week like he usually did. I took the bus for an hour to find him instead. He told me that he didn’t want to be in a relationship with someone with a bad temper and instead wanted the two people to truly respect each other. I thought it was the sweetest thing I had heard in a long time. Here was a man who prioritized respect over impulsive love. He put self-respect over impetuous love. Here was someone that would help me rein in my
Manifesto For Young Asian Women temper. My love sky-rocketed. I thought I had won the lottery.
He was also extremely jealous — another common trait among abusive men. He was also a cheater. Cheaters are always jealous because, since they know they cheat, they think you think the same way. Cheating is not my M.O. (modus operandi). I actually trusted him, and I didn’t even consider cheating because I was totally in love with him. He, on the other hand, would be suspicious and angry with me for talking to strangers asking for directions when I totally trusted him alone at home with a girl. The other thing to explain about abusive people is that they really do love you — but in their own, selfish way. This took me a long time to understand. I just couldn’t comprehend how someone I loved so much and who claimed he loved me could intentionally hurt me like he did. I used to collect ‘M-isms’ as I called them — phrases he’d say all the time. Like, “God I could fuck your pussy only for the rest of my life!” Or when he wasn’t as happy with me, “My dog was better than you. At least, he would just shut up and follow me around.” Or my old favorite, “I know I’m not perfect. I have just as much shit as you do.” You might be wondering why I fell in love with him in the first place. And honestly, sometimes I forget them myself. Other than him showing me the most beautiful places in the world I had ever seen, I loved that we both loved nature and we were both very passionate people. He was passionate about surfing and I was passionate about my writing and living life to the fullest. I also loved that he just totally went for his dreams and didn’t sit idling at a desk job, too scared to risk everything
to realize his life goals. Here’s an example of what I fell in love with: The very first time he took me to Waimea (a beach where they have some of the biggest waves in the world and is extraordinarily beautiful), he had us climb up a cliff — he didn’t tell me what we were doing — he just started running up the rocks and yelled to me to follow him. We got to the top where a group was milling around. Then he told me to jump off the cliff. I thought he was crazy. There was no way I was jumping! He simply laughed at me, then jumped. That’s why everyone was standing around, I realized. They were waiting to get the guts to jump! I couldn’t stand the humiliation of climbing all the way back down again. And when I looked over the edge there he was onshore waving at me to jump, yelling, “C’mon! We don’t have time!” We were about to drive up the mountain to watch the sunset. I loved the thrill of being with him. Although there were just as many lows as highs. And after the beginning, there were many more lows. We had arguments daily and there were constant incidences of his verbal abuse. While it was mostly verbal abuse, he did hit me once14. But even once is completely unacceptable. There is absolutely no excuse for any kind of physical violence from a partner whatsoever — at anytime. I cannot emphasize this enough. Whether he hits you or someone else, both are not good signs. M did both. He beat up our roommate, a few times as I recall. The first time because he walked in on us sleeping (and I, halfnaked). M was so pissed he chased him out of our room and beat him
I also think I had learned my lesson of not challenging him because he told me his
baby’s Momma had slapped him once and he just slapped her right back. I never forgot that. That was probably his intention.
Manifesto For Young Asian Women up when he annoyed him and whenever he felt like it. After this happened, our other roommate moved out. I remember thinking at the
time, “It’s such a shame. He was such a nice guy. He really needn’t have been scared. M is really a good guy…” I was on my bike when he hit me, and he was holding on alongside me while riding his skateboard. We had gotten lost and he was mad at me. When he reprimanded me for always getting lost, I tapped him lightly on the head. Nevertheless, he could tell I was annoyed and that was enough for him. He stood straight up and (I can still picture this in slow motion), brought his fist down hard on my back. I fell off my bike in the middle of a six-lane road. He yelled at me to get up, but I couldn’t move. I was in shock. I couldn’t believe that he had actually just hit me. He yelled at me to get up a couple times and when I didn’t move, he picked me up unceremoniously and plopped me onto the sidewalk. And then dumped my bike next to me. Then he rode off. Unfortunately, at that time I was living with him in his van. I was still lost and had absolutely no desire to go “home,” but it was getting dark and I had no where else to go. I finally found the parking lot where his van was, but tried to sleep outside under some bushes in order to avoid him. (There were cops nearby and, in case you didn’t know, being homeless is a crime). Of course then it started raining. So, I finally gave in and took my bike and my wet self and climbed in his van. (Of course we had sex at some point that night too. I don’t think it ever occurred to me that I could say no. And now that I think of it I couldn’t say no really). He also stalked me for about a year after we broke up. He came by the bar where I waitressed, though I had no idea how he found out I
worked there. I would return to my car after surfing and find a note from him on my windshield. Upon returning to the car another time I saw he had left me yet another note. Suddenly, he came out from around the corner (and scared me to death). It was unnerving living in a town so small where he could easily spot my car from my roof rack. Finally after harassing phone calls and several hate voicemails, I lied and told him that I had left Hawai`i. He believed me — because, unlike him, I never lied. He believed me until one unfortunate day, when he spotted me. It was only because he was on a moped and couldn’t go on the freeway that he stopped coming after me. Thank goodness. He called me though and left a few long hate voicemails, calling me all sorts of names (cunt, bitch, whore, slut, the usual). It was unbelievable. He would totally curse me out, but then he would still want to see me and get back with me. There was another incident once — after I had separated from him for months. I fell extremely ill — with fever, sweats, shivers. I was barely able to drag myself out of the house to buy food. Being single and carefree can be really great, except for when you’re sick and it would be really nice to have someone take care of you. I couldn’t work, which meant I was losing money on top of it. And once again he was there. I asked him to meet me at a mall nearby since I still didn’t want him to know where I lived (even though I was seriously ill and was asking for his help). He picked me up from there and drove me to his apartment. He fed me and “took care of me.” But afterwards he still wanted sex as his reward. We had one fight where he tried to prevent me from leaving the house. He tried to block me from the front door. That definitely scared me. There was no reasoning with him, but finally he let me go. I was quite shaken and, while walking to my car, I glanced back to see if
Manifesto For Young Asian Women he was following me. I remember thinking, “That was a close call.” There were lots of moments like that. And I think, honestly, looking back, even those times were addictive. Although, obviously, while it
was not fun fighting, it was a thrill that someone wanted me so much, so desperately — even if he was abusive and manipulative. I guess that’s how lonely I was. I just wanted to feel wanted. As Gavin de Becker says in his book, The Gift of Fear regarding violent criminal’s mindset, “It’s better to be wanted by the police than not wanted at all.” I finally ended up selling my car before I left the island. But he basically continued to harass me until the very end. (Until he couldn’t find me anymore because I had moved out of my apartment, sold my car and changed my cell phone number). I started threatening him with deportation if he didn’t stop harassing me. I figured that was the one thing he cared about more than getting me back — surfing in Hawai`i. I think it helped. Soon after that I left Hawai`i. It was a huge relief, after moving to New York, to not have to worry about possibly running into him at any moment. I still have flashbacks when I see his van model. However, the process of writing this has helped ease some of the fear in the memory.
After I got out of my crazy, abusive relationship, Wendy (who had housed me when I finally moved out for the last time) told me this story: she arrived at her date’s apartment — it was their first date. He greeted her and then paused. Studying her he then took a scarf and put it around her neck. “There,” he said, “much better.” She relayed that story to me as one of her “red-flag signals.” The fact that he needed to change something about her to meet his approval was a red-flag for her. She did not want to go out with a guy who felt the need to correct something about her on their very first meeting. As small and minor as that tiny action seemed to be, something just did not feel right. She wanted to be with someone who liked her for who she was, just as she was. If he wanted to change something about her appearance today, what would he want to change down the road? When she first told me that story, I thought she was crazy. I thought she was blowing it way out of proportion, and I wondered how a small thing like that could cause such alarm? What was the big deal? So he gave you a scarf. You should thank him — not freak out that he’s going to turn into some crazy abuser down the road. But now after 3.5 years of serial dating, I have come to realize that what she said is absolutely on the mark. All of the little things a person does in the beginning are of the utmost importance. Sure, it’s generally true that in the beginning of any relationship most people are on their best behavior. But there are still telltale signs. They can’t act the whole time. They will slip up. And if there is something that you sense is off on the first or second date, don’t just brush it off. Does he make you feel un-
Manifesto For Young Asian Women Do you feel demeaned, degraded, or somehow disrespected at times? Trust your instincts and keep in mind that if you glimpse something that doesn’t feel quite right, there is most likely more of that underneath the surface that he is saving for a later date (pun intended).
comfortable in some way or show hints of arrogance then laughs it off?
If you are going on an online date and don’t know anything about the person, meet in a public place for the first few dates or until you feel you can trust him. This is important. (I have certainly done my share of risky and outright dumb things in the past, and I would not recommend it). Of course when you feel you can trust him is subjective. If/ when you do meet in a private place, make sure to tell a close friend of your whereabouts and who you’re meeting. Get his first and last name and profession and company website (and verify it’s correct) and pass that on to your friend as well. You should probably verify all the facts he told you are true by online research if possible. Although this does not grant you immunity from all freaks, but at the very least it is a simple investigation to confirm he really is who he says he is.
I went to middle school in Taiwan where we learned about periods after all the girls in our class already had one. I certainly had mine (though after moving to Taiwan I didn’t actually get my period again for a whole year due to stress, but that’s another story). They separated the girls and boys for it. Who knew what they taught the boys. I think in high school they taught us about STDs in health class. Honestly, I really can’t remember. Or maybe it was only sex education. It was pretty bland from what I remember. And for a while I still didn’t know my pee-hole was different from my bleeding-hole. At any rate I don’t think my first safe sex or STD education really began until I started having sex with different people — on a regular or semi-regular basis. After I broke up with the crazy ex I didn’t even want to have sex. I started dating a couple months after moving out. I told the guy I was with that not only did I not have interest in sex, but also that it even repulsed me. Considering there are states with laws protecting women from rape from their husbands, there should be ones against boyfriends as well. Some people are shocked at this concept at first. How can it be rape — he’s your husband! OK, let’s define husband: someone whom you willingly chose to mutually love and hold and protect until you die. OK. So how come they are now forcing you to have sex with them when you don’t want to? And you are required by law to have sex with this guy because he’s your “husband?”15
See next page’s footnotes
Manifesto For Young Asian Women he told me to “be good” while he was gone on Christmas vacation. Once again—feeling like I was being likened to a dog, again — not
So skip forward a couple of months. (I broke up with that guy because
good. He was also 21, which was a mistake.) I started dating here and there. And up until this writing I still haven’t had any relationship longer than two months since the crazy ex. That would be almost four years ago. (Something to work on there? Yes, probably.)15 OK, but back to Safe Sex. One man in particular taught me about Safe Sex (or, rather the dangers of non-Safe Sex). He was a Chicano man who hated condoms. Couldn’t feel anything, he said (heard that one before?). In my own ignorant innocence I let myself be conned and seduced and voila! Behold, STD!
A note on spousal rape and abuse: Studies indicate that between 15 and 25 percent of all married women have been victims of spousal rape and some scholars suggest that this type of rape is the most common form in our society. The so-called “marital rape exemption” has been embedded in the sexual assault laws of our country since its founding. In its most drastic form, the exemption means that a husband, by definition, cannot legally rape his wife. The theory goes that by accepting the marital contract, a woman has tacitly consented to sexual intercourse any time her husband demands. In 1976, Nebraska became the first state to abolish the marital rape exemption. Other states slowly followed. Currently all fifty states criminalize spousal rape, but remnants of the marital rape exemption are still present in many states’ laws. Plea bargains can also lead to more lenient sentencing. From Women’s eNews, “Spousal Rape Laws Continue to Evolve” by Caroline Johnston Polisi. <http://tiny.cc/5coex>
(I really should have already learned my lesson a few years before that when a Chinese friend also slipped his in despite my unwillingness — I wasn’t yelling no, but then again I wasn’t yelling, “Put it in!” either — and ended up getting “the clap.” Thank goodness Chlamydia is something that can be cured immediately with antibiotics. And thank god he went to the doctor and had a check up. (Although at the time he had sworn to me he just had a check up and had not had any unprotected sex since. Yeah, right.) Which leads me to my next point. Just because a girl is “nice” or pretty or “looks like a nice girl” does not mean that she does not have any STDs down there. All it means is that she took time to put make up on before she left the house and she knows how to make a good first impression. That’s all it means. Nothing more. So, back to the Chicano guy. A while later, I found out, from an abnormal pap, that I had HPV. For those who may not be familiar with the term, HPV (not HIV) stands for human papillomavirus16. It is extremely common and absolutely undetectable in guys, but, if left untreated in women, it can lead to cervical cancer. Yeah. Exactly. Not good. So I go get the treatment. Luckily I brought a friend with me because I was in more pain than I expected and would have had difficulty driving myself home. Turns out I received the lighter treatment of the two
“Genital HPV is very common. Many estimates have placed the lifetime likelihood of
getting genital HPV to be in the range of 75-90%.” From Association of Reproductive Health Professionals (ARHP).
Manifesto For Young Asian Women — cryotherapy. He essentially “froze” the cells. He stuck what looked
like a tube from an oxygen-like tank in my vagina and turned it on for thirty seconds at a time, while I grimaced17. (I do remember the doctor saying because I did “so well” he didn’t have to do it too many times — he just did each one longer instead. The whole thing was such a painful, humiliating, and traumatic process. All because he claimed he couldn’t enjoy himself during sex. Obviously, his enjoyment was more important to him than my safety. For weeks afterwards, I had to “douche” myself with an anti-STD foam (VCF, Vaginal Contraceptive Foam). And it still hurts. However, it seemed I finally learned my lesson, from the embarrassing and painful procedure (pain in your vagina is simply unlike any other pain), and the painful douches. The whole thing was humiliating and infuriating. Why does it seem like guys always get off with nothing and women are stuck with the consequences? I have never yet had to have an abortion (knock on wood) — I love and take my birth control pills religiously — but it’s the closest thing to it that I never want to experience again.
Liquid nitrogen is applied to affected area using an instrument called a cryoprobe.
Liquid nitrogen freezes and kills the abnormal cells.
My Very Own STD
Speaking of Sexually Transmitted Diseases, I didn’t mention I actually already have one of my very own. I’ve had Hepatitis B my whole life (from birth). It’s much more common in Asia than the U.S. I got it through birth from my Mom. However, my younger brother, who was born in the U.S., received the vaccination immediately after his birth and miraculously doesn’t have it. There are three different kinds of Hepatitis — A, B, and C. Hepatitis A can be transferable by food or water in developing countries. Hepatitis B and C can be chronic infections and can potentially lead to liver cancer. There are vaccinations for Hepatitis A and B. I always strongly recommend getting the Hepatitis B vaccine to everyone as it is a common STD in the U.S. and people can be carriers and not even know it. The vaccine consists of a series of three shots over a three-month period and lasts for ten years18. Hepatitis C is apparently very serious. With Hepatitis B, however, it is hard to say. It may turn into liver cancer or you may be fine your whole life. Apparently my liver enzymes spiked when I was dealing with my marriage decision (which made total sense to me since I was stressed as hell at the time). The (western) doctor, however, claimed that that had nothing to do with it. What I was dealing with at the time in my life — in my heart and mind — had no affect or relation to how my body was doing and reacting. Really? You’re saying my mind and body are completely separate and one has nothing to do with the other? How fascinating. I also love how doctors are so sure about some things, but
Of the 350 million to 400 million individuals worldwide infected with the hepatitis B
virus (HBV), one-third reside in China.
Manifesto For Young Asian Women be equally knowledgeable — they instead shy away from making any
then other things — where you would think or hope that they should definitive comments whatsoever. Like, should I not have any alcohol? Well, maybe, a little, not too much…. But somehow they’re sure that whatever’s going on in my mind and stressing me the hell out (like, trying to decide whether to get married or not), is NOT the reason why I had a spike in my liver enzymes, coincidentally, at the same time. Right. Coming to terms with my Hep B (as I have endearingly nicknamed it), has been a long and ongoing process. I currently have a liver ultrasound and blood taken twice a year so they can keep an eye on it. As for dating or relationships, I always have a conversation with the person I’m dating before anything sexual occurs. It has taken me years to finesse this balancing act. When is too early? When is definitely too late? I’ve learned to bring it up right when things are just starting to get hot and heated, but before anything actually happens. Although I am getting better at sneaking it in during conversations related to alcohol or drinking even before anything intimate happens (which I prefer now). It’s a fine line and not exactly romantic or sexy at all, and can definitely be a complete turn-off for some people. (Especially since oftentimes what we don’t know scares us more, and it seems most people don’t know much about Hepatitis B). And though it’s not really transferable from oral sex (just unprotected sexual intercourse of course, and also blood to blood contact, but not simply from swallowing sexual fluids), I like to bring it up beforehand anyways because I know it freaks people out if I tell them after the fact. And the way I look at it is, if it was me, I would want to know before any sexual
contact too (even if it was safe). I’ve gotten used to handling people’s range of reactions ranging from shock and fear to being completely blasé (which, honestly, sort of freaks me out). Incidentally, my parents didn’t tell me I had Hep B. I only found out from a doctor while traveling abroad. It was a bit of a mess, to say the least — my host family kicked me out after I told them and my boyfriend’s parents freaked out because we had kissed on the mouth. I was horrified, felt like I had some god-forsaken disease and had no real knowledge or preparation for the situation. I’ve had better times. All this is to say that sometimes our parents need prompting to tell us things about our bodies or health that they’ve been waiting for the “right time” to tell us. However, if you feel ready, you should ask them.
Manifesto For Young Asian Women
Men & Relationships
I have a lot to say on the topic of dating men and relationships. None of them good — just kidding! In my past, I have been from one end of the spectrum to the other: from serial monogamy (one serious relationship after another with no breaks), to serial casual dater (“flavor of the week” kind), to being married and being a divorcee. Relationships ultimately teach you about yourself. They either show you how little you know yourself, or what you are ready or not ready for, or how vulnerable you can be, etc. I had a very nice first boyfriend then married my second boyfriend. That marriage lasted for two-and-a-half years. That was a headache-and-a-half. Then I moved to Hawai`i and fell into an abusive, roller coaster of a relationship for eleven months where I moved in and out of living with my crazy boyfriend a total of six times in eleven months. I wouldn’t say they’re the proudest Moments of my life. But I probably learned more in them than the previous eleven years. You always learn more from your mistakes than your accomplishments. The way I think of relationships now is that they need to make my life better. Their presence in my life needs to make my life better, not worse. They need to support me — spiritually, emotionally. They need to not be selfish, especially when my activities take time away from them. They can’t have a temper. Sure, I understand we all have hard, bad days and may come home exhausted at the end of the day. But that does not mean you have the permission to dump on me when you’re upset. You can talk to me, vent or even rant. I have no problem with listening. But don’t pick a fight with me because you’re frustrated with your day. I think this is a common problem and shows the person’s lack
of communication skills and also inability to be in touch with their feelings. And I know that’s not something I want to have to put up with anymore. Do you know what you are willing and not willing to put up with? Is he open to looking at and improving his faults? Or is he defensive to any kind of constructive criticism and not willing to be open to discussing issues that come up? Things will always come up. That’s inevitable. However, as long as there is space to communicate and both parties are open to it, then you can move forward. Our media has taught us such myths as “men have testosterone so they get angry” or “they can’t help themselves” or — the very dangerous myth — “it’s only because he loves you!” Hollywood has given us messages that love and dating is about attraction and excitement and passion and the all-elusive “chemistry.” But what if what we’re attracted to isn’t good for us? Personally, I was attracted to the tough and macho — motorcycle and leather type. But at the same time I wanted someone who was good at communication and sensitive. They are not necessarily exclusive of each other, but many times they are. It took me years to get over my attraction to buff and macho and to be able to like someone because they were sweet, had similar interests, and totally adored me even if they didn’t exude “machismo.” By now I’ve realized it’s probably better if they don’t. What does “tough” or “macho” mean, anyways? It means they hide
Manifesto For Young Asian Women — not cheesy), and nothing fazes them — essentially the Marlboro Man. You think he’s going to want to watch romantic comedies with you?
their emotions, act as if they’re “cool” (and we know what that means
And what is attraction anyways? If you list out all the things you “feel” attracted to: blonds, brunettes, tall guys, buff guys, nerdy guys, lanky guys, etc. Do they actually make any rational sense? Will they necessarily treat you with respect and kindness and be loyal to you? And where did we get those feelings from in the first place? If they are simply interesting quirks, then OK fine, but we should probably also keep in mind their superficial quality. And if these attractions don’t make any sense, and actually do harm, then it’s a great thing to try and purge them from our systems19. When to break-up? That is the eternal question isn’t it? When should you cut the ties and move on? And when should you simply work on the relationship more? It’s all subjective really. Sometimes I like to list the pros and cons — these are all the reasons why I like being in a relationship with him and these are the things I hate and that get on my nerves. Do the pros outweigh the cons (in quantity and quality)? Do your friends like him (not essential, but it might be important to consider if they don’t)? Is he willing to discuss any arguments or issues that come up? Is he good
I learned after the crazy Brazilian guy that it does not matter how hot or buff your
partner is if he treats you horribly in the privacy of your own home. I remember when we lived together I used to look at his muscles in ironic disgust.
at communicating? Do you have fun with him? Is it an equal partnership? Does he help you relax, de-stress? Does he make you laugh? Does he treat you with respect? If you love him a lot, but he only treats you well 75% of the time, you might want to step back and do some inner reflection.
Manifesto For Young Asian Women
A year ago I decided I didn’t want to have any more casual sex. Not because I think it’s morally wrong, but because I had stopped enjoying it. When a couple incidents with a guy left me feeling totally used, I suddenly thought, “Why am I doing this to myself?” The thing with casual sex is that it’s casual. And sex to me (now) is very important and honestly a sacred act (cheesy as that sounds — but remember, cheese is good). So “casual + sex” does not work for me anymore. There was definitely a time when that was not the case and there’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t judge casual sex either way. As long as you play safe (i.e. condoms), then it really is your own judgment call, as long as you don’t get hurt emotionally or hurt others. The thing with sex is that it means different things to different people. It does not always mean more to women than it does to men, but oftentimes it is easier for men to enjoy casual sex (partially it is simply the biology of it), than it is for a woman to climax with a stranger. Oftentimes a woman needs to genuinely like the person (at least somewhat), to be able to orgasm. Some men need to too. But I think it’s more common with women. So, if the sex means a lot to you and it doesn’t mean so much to him (or vice versa), then clearly you have a problem. Or if it feels great for him and not so much for you — that’s also a problem, for you. I will say that, from my experience of serial dating and casual sex for the last four years or so, it is generally better to wait. I’m certainly not advocating abstinence or saying that you should wait until you get
married or something (I actually strongly believe you should live together before you get married). But I have found that a lot of times if you are having sex within a week or two of knowing each other, then it is usually more out of lust or societal expectation or pressure than something that you really want to get involved in. Figure out your prerogative. Is your goal to be having lots of sex? Is it lots of sex with different people? Hoping to fill the void that is in your soul? Too terrified to spend a Friday night alone? I used to hate not going out on weekends. I felt there must be something wrong with me if I wasn’t partying with the rest of the world on a Friday night. Now I’m totally fine with it. But it took me a good two-and-a-half years in New York to get over it. And, of course, always, always use condoms. Ask if he has a condom, preferably before things get too heated and your brain has turned off; that way it should be easier to stop in case there is no condom around. Or bring your own, except you don’t necessarily know what size he is, so bring a variety.
Manifesto For Young Asian Women
Friends with Benefits
You hear that term thrown around a lot — “friends with benefits.” Are friends in and of themselves not beneficial enough? What are those extra benefits? They refer to sexual benefits, implying that in addition to being platonic friends you also have a sexual relationship. However, you remain as friends and are not actually dating. I have essentially figured this out presently with two male friends. Both I like and care about as friends, but am not interested in dating for various reasons. A FWB relationship works if both parties are in mutual agreement that this is what they want and nothing more. It does not work if one party would really rather date the other but has agreed to a FWB relationship in lieu of a real relationship. This will only lead to complications and resentment down the road. Honesty with each other and oneself is always the best bet, in this situation and with relationships in general. The FWB automatically disappears at any point when either party starts to date someone. (For example, one of my FWB right now has been in a serious relationship for a year. Boo for me. Good for him.) This works really well if they are a workaholic and have trouble maintaining relationships. Of course, if you simply have a friend that you can snuggle with, that is just as useful, I think.
Ah, one of my favorite topics. Well, not really. I mean, not literally. I mean—not that I have anything really real to contribute— No, seriously. Cheating is one of those topics that you either totally condemn and think you’re above until it actually happens to you or you’re like, been there, done that. I would venture it’s like homelessness — we look down upon it and never pause and think that it could happen to us and judge those it happens to. We think we are above happenstance and bad luck and assume we not only deserve the privilege and resources we are born into but think we earned such status from the goodness of our hearts. Homelessness and cheating are not exactly the same things, but they have some qualities in common. I could be totally off, but I doubt it. My ex-husband was the first to introduce cheating into my life. We were starting to grow apart (to claim my part and/or responsibility in his cheating). I had started becoming close to a male friend of mine — “Mark.” My ex-husband was working a lot. I think he could sense Mark and I were becoming closer, and didn’t like it. Incredibly, on the same night my ex-husband slept with a girl I knew from high school, I slept with Mark. (We were so close — we even cheated simultaneously!) Except the only, and, to me, the biggest difference was that he actually fucked her and I didn’t fuck Mark. I thought the fact that Mark and I didn’t have sex was totally different. Regardless, we had a big talk about trust, and I decided to stay with him. It was really hard, and I’m sure it took a while for me to gain that trust back again. (However, he felt that it was just as bad that I “slept” with Mark even though nothing sexual
Manifesto For Young Asian Women actually happened). After Mark, I had two brief affairs while married. Years later, I also
experienced being cheated on too (yet again). Neither is fun or enjoyable (the former may be, but only in the moment and you feel so shitty afterwards it really isn’t worth it. At least I did). I have been on a date with a man who admitted over coffee he had a wife and three small children at home. Not two, but three. I asked him what he was doing in the café with me? He replied nonchalantly, “It’s only coffee.” I once found a pair of women’s underwear in the crazy ex’s bed after sex. I felt something at my feet and pulling it out exclaimed, “What the hell is this?” To which he replied ever so innocently, “Isn’t it yours?” Not all cheaters are evil people and not all non-cheaters have high morals. Obviously, if someone is cheating there are serious underlying issues they have with the relationship that they are not addressing. Many times they may even still have strong feelings towards their partners. However, if you do choose to have an affair with someone (someone who is cheating on his partner with you), you need to know what you are getting yourself into. Do you really like this person? Do you want to get involved with someone who is knowingly hurting their loved one this way? Is it possible you might develop serious feelings for this person and potentially want to date them later, and then worry they might cheat on you? Not all cheaters cheat again, but do you really want to start a relationship that’s founded on cheating when there are already enough trust issues at the beginning of any relationship?
Older Men and Younger Women
The phenomenon of older men dating younger women is something that has come to my attention, especially as I’ve gotten older. When I was younger (like 17), I used to have men at least twice my age ask me out. Not only were they unapologetic when I informed them of my age, but they actually preferred it! Now at age thirty I have male friends in their mid-thirties who are dating 21 year-olds. The website Craigslist has become notorious for those looking for casual sex, sex with prostitutes, sex with minors (a horrific issue that is more common in this country than most realize), and “sugar babies” (i.e. posts from men from their thirties and up looking for eighteen-plus year-old females. Sugar babies are similar to prostitutes in that they are being paid for sexual acts. However, oftentimes these men don’t like to think of themselves as johns (men who pay for prostitutes) and prefer to think of the girls as “innocent” or “pure,” unlike their stereotypes of prostitutes. In return for sexual favors, the girls receive cash and/or gifts. Unlike johns who pay for prostitutes by the night or hour, people who participate in sugar daddy/sugar baby relationships usually expect the relationship to last for a more substantial period of time (e.g., a month or more). One of my 36 year-old guy friends has a hard time taking his relationship with his 21 year-old girlfriend seriously. Another one keeps wishing his younger girlfriend was more mature. (Seriously?) Granted, every 21 year-old, male or female, is different. However, when a thirtysomething year old guy is consistently dating women much younger than he is, it’s probably a sign of something deeper. Like, why can’t he date women his own age? What is he trying to avoid? Is it the innocence and naiveté of much younger women that attract him? Is it
Manifesto For Young Asian Women simply their youth, which he equates with beauty? I am not necessarily warning that you never get into a relationship
with someone much older. I recently dated a friend who is twelve years older than me. (We had known each other since I was eighteen. Now I’m thirty and he’s 42 — a much smaller gap than when I was eighteen and he was thirty). I am recommending that you take not only his age into account, but also his accompanying expectations and that you stop and question if he is choosing to date someone significantly younger specifically because of the age difference. Is this a pattern of his? I also like to know if they’ve been divorced. I tend to prefer divorcees, as strange as that may sound. I tend to be suspicious of men who are forty-plus and have never married. I wonder why they haven’t and is it because they have commitment issues (though they very well may just not have met the “right” one yet). However, if they have been married, then at least I know they probably don’t have commitment issues (though it doesn’t rule out having issues altogether — just that one).
Don’t You Dare
My first job out of high school was working as a cashier at Au Bon Pain in Harvard Square. I worked the 3pm-12am shifts. There were lots of interesting customers. It was also my first time getting attention from adult men. It may also have been my first time having so much constant contact with male strangers. Whatever the reason, it was definitely a bizarre, disorienting and very uncomfortable feeling to get hit on by men my Dad’s age. I will never forget one male customer who invited me out for a drink. I politely and apologetically explained that I couldn’t, because, see, I was only eighteen. “Oh, no worries,” was his nonchalant reply, “It’s my restaurant.” To my utter shock and horror! (I was so innocent then.) He must have been at least twice my age and thought nothing of serving alcohol to a minor — in his own establishment, no less! It was scary, but also very prevalent. I’m sure many of you have experienced being harassed when going out, in clubs and bars. I often had my ass grabbed in clubs (I know — so gross) until one day I finally put my foot down. Wait, I take that back. I actually had to mentally prepare myself for a while before I was able to stand up for myself. This is what would usually happen: I would walk through a club and suddenly I would be shocked to feel someone’s hand on my ass; it would take me a good long couple seconds to recover and by the time I turned around of course they’d be gone. This happened to me many times before I realized I need to mentally practice and train myself (in the privacy of my own home), to shorten that recovery time and quickly get over that shock of being molested and
Manifesto For Young Asian Women turn around quickly. Sure enough, one day I had to use it. A guy
grabbed my ass and I immediately stopped, turned and started screaming in his face. Who the hell did he think was, etc. Of course no one could hear me since it was so loud in there, but luckily the cop a few feet away did see me pointing my finger inches from his face and saw I was pissed as all hell. As it turns out, the guy was a friend of the girl I was with, though I barely knew her. She started dragging me away but the cop was already there. I was screaming, “He grabbed my ass!” as she dragged me away. Incidentally, he and all his short little Asian buddies got kicked out of there. With harassment on the street, it’s hard to say when you should say something and when to leave it alone. At different times, I’ve done both. I’ve spoken up many times because I felt it was important that they saw an Asian person (and female), stand up to being called chink or a racist version of “ni hao ma!” screamed at them. At the same time, choose when to speak up at your discretion since your safety is always most important — which leads me to my next topic.
Physical safety is something that most women worry about much of the time. I have heard men surprised that personal safety occupied so much of their girlfriends’ mental space — surprised and doubtful that it was a real, legitimate concern20. And yet, whether we have actually ever been physically attacked or not, many women still carry this fear. Why? We live in a world of perpetual violence against women. In the media there is a conscious emphasis on portraying violence versus inspiring news. And in movies and television, there is a constant theme of eroticizing and idealizing the physical and sexual submission of women to men. We are constantly bombarded by these images in media and advertising. Male domination is the norm, while women are either at men’s beck and call or in the background in subservient roles. This constant threat may sound extreme to some of you. To others, it might be something you’ve instinctively felt, but never dared put into words quite like this. Unfortunately, sexism is a term and concept that is often not taken seriously anymore, and young women often don’t even consider it cool or mainstream to call themselves a “feminist”21. But if many women are still concerned for their safety when walking around at night in their own neighborhoods, then that is a sure sign that sexism, male domination and female powerlessness are still present and that we must do something about it.
Never expect those in the oppressor role to automatically or fully comprehend the
oppressive experiences of those in the oppressed role.
Gloria Steinem’s definition of a feminist: “Someone, which can be a woman or a man,
who believes in the full social, economic, political equality of women and men.”
Manifesto For Young Asian Women I didn’t used to be one of those women who walked around scared.
Even when my roommate got mugged down the street from our house in Boston, it still never really entered my head that I should be wary walking around alone at night. I brushed it off carelessly, as another useless fear — of course it wouldn’t happen to me, I thought subconsciously. Until one day it did. I can say, with utmost certainty, it was the scariest moment of my life (even surpassing the crazy ex), since my childhood. I hadn’t been that terrified in a long time, and it brought back foggy but still terrifying memories of my childhood. I was walking home one night (on a “nice” street of Brooklyn), at 12:30 AM when I was jumped by two young teenage girls. One of them literally jumped out of the bushes onto my back, and I was immediately on the ground. I had my headphones on at the time — a habit I’ve since quit. One girl started screaming at me to give them my bag. I turned from one young girl to the other and stubbornly thought to myself, “They’re just ‘kids.’ I’m not going to just hand over my bag.” Though still in shock, I said no. That’s when one of the girls started punching me in the stomach, while the other (who seemed new at this) simply grinned at me like a crazy Cheshire cat. While she was swiping at me, I managed to get up, but all I could do was duck my head while I tried to protect my brand-new, very expensive, very stylish New York glasses! Then she grabbed my hair (I have lots) and started dragging me around like an animal. That’s when I realized I should start screaming, which was easy to do considering how much pain I was in. After a very long few seconds, she let
go, only to start pummeling the back of my head. All I could remember thinking was, “OK, Shiuan, you can endure it. Just bite your teeth until it’s over. Just grin and bear it.” Suddenly I realized this was crazy. What was I thinking? I don’t have to endure this — I can run, and should! This was obviously a survival tactic leftover from my childhood — useless and actually harmful to me now. I started to run, but she grabbed onto my thin blouse (this was in the summer), and as I ran in place (I picture it just like in the cartoons) she ripped off most of my shirt. At this point I was sobbing and screaming (and half-naked), but kept running. Apparently, a neighbor (or an angel as a friend later called her), had started screaming at the two girls and they finally scattered. By the time the neighbor got to me, I was so terrified that she even scared me at first. Incidentally, they didn’t end up stealing anything, which in hindsight made me question if it could have been a hate crime. If they had really wanted my money, they could have put all that energy into taking my bag instead. (Afterwards I also found my iPod still gripped firmly in my hand). Later the police came and drove me around hoping to find the girls (“canvassing,” they call it), but it was useless as the girls had already ducked inside somewhere. And, honestly, I wasn’t sure I could conjure up their faces even minutes later – I was so terrified at the time. (No, I wasn’t necessarily studying their faces carefully for future identification while they were beating me up). The two police officers wanted to come inside my apartment and speak with me (luckily my landlords were asleep downstairs). It was 1:30 AM
Manifesto For Young Asian Women by this point. They wrote-up the report, asking me if I had any bruising, etcetera, which was hard to see considering the amount of hair I
have. They also recommended that I not come home alone at night, or that my date should take me home. “All the way to Brooklyn?” I asked. “Yes.” Afterwards, I felt reprimanded like a young woman from the 18th century — apparently, I should have had my carriage and driver with me — what was I thinking? Thankfully, the cops finally left and, as I let them out, I noticed a few female dog-walkers had congregated across the street (by then it was 2:00 AM), and I joined them. They were very sympathetic and sweet and shocked, telling me they had always walked their dogs late at night without a worry. Someone said now she might think twice. One of them suggested I take a neighborhood self-defense class. It sounded like a good idea, but I was still too scared even to take a self-defense class and moved out of the neighborhood pretty soon after. The physical, psychological and emotional trauma afterwards was quite real. A few days later at work, I suddenly had strange sensations while peeing and then within an hour the minor pain in my back became unbearable. I ran outside, stooped over from the pain, to find a cab to get to the ER. Meanwhile people completely sidestepped me on the sidewalk (now I know how homeless people feel I thought). I received morphine for the first time in my life. And though I usually do not recommend drugs, even Tylenol, I really felt that it brought me back down to earth from the whirlwind of hallucinations I was having from the pain. They did a CAT scan, and it turns out the girls may have injured my kidneys when they punched me. After a very tedious, monotonous twelve hours (thankfully a girlfriend kept me company), I was finally
Meanwhile, I couldn’t handle being out after dark. For weeks I didn’t want to do anything outside after 6 PM. When waiting for the train, I always needed to have my back against a wall. I was extremely alert to everyone around me in public, though not in a calm, aware way, but more of a terrified and urgent way. I thought this must be how cops feel, being alert to one’s surroundings all the time. It just left me feeling exhausted. If you watch Jodie Foster in The Brave One, you’ll know exactly what I mean. I also had problems with my short-term memory, and because of the serious bruising on the back of my head, I could only sleep on my stomach. The night of the mugging I couldn’t sleep at all and a friend — who tends to stay up late — saw me online and ended-up coming over and holding me while I cried. (Thank you D!) It took me a whole year to get the guts to enroll in a women’s selfdefense class. I picked it because they specifically dealt with how women are attacked on the streets, which is different from how martial arts are usually taught. Women are usually attacked predatory-style (from the back, by surprise), while martial arts are usually quite formal and taught head-on. We also learned strategies that emphasized our lower bodies (hips and legs), which are stronger in women versus upper bodies (which are usually men’s strong suits). The other amazing thing about the class was that the instructors offered us a chance to completely hit a guy — full out, no holds barred — in every class. Because the man was padded from head to toe (with a helmet twice the size of a football helmet and major padding in his crotch), we could hit him as hard as we wanted and thus truly get to put into practice what we learned. Since in real life situations you instinctively do exactly
Manifesto For Young Asian Women practice. I learned a lot during that self-defense class. Most importantly, I learned how far I’d be willing to go to save my life. You have to ask
what you practiced, it is very important that you get to hit full force in
yourself the question: When it really comes down to it, are you willing to hurt someone else in order to protect yourself? Many women knew right away that they would go to great lengths to protect a loved one, but hesitated when it came to protecting themselves. Somehow, when it was their own lives at stake, women found it much harder to fight. And yet, these are important questions to answer as you may very well find yourself threatened, and you will need to be prepared as you most likely will not have time to ponder such emotionally deep-seated questions in a critical moment. I learned that, as much of a feminist as I’d like to think of myself now, I still have a huge fear of getting into any kind of a physical fight even when my safety or life depends on it22. That is what my childhood abuse left me. And if I hadn’t worked on expunging those emotional scars and simultaneously practicing and learning real-life self-defense skills (physical, mental and verbal), those fears of physically not being able to stand up for myself (from my childhood), would have stayed with me forever. A year after the attack I was finally ready to say, “I will
For example, it is a little-known fact that, if kidnapped, you should fight as hard
as you can to prevent being taken away. You will have a much better chance of being rescued if you fight to get away then and there — even with injury — than later when you’re taken away and have no idea of your whereabouts. It will be much harder to rescue you then. To learn more, read The Gift of Fear.
never let anyone do that to me ever again. I’m prepared to do what’s necessary to protect myself if need be”23.
The group is called IMPACT. Their website is <www.prepareinc.com>. The head
female teacher is very good at pushing you mentally and physically, while at the same time allowing for you to deal with the emotions that will inevitably come up while practicing real-life danger situations. She makes sure it’s a safe and comfortable atmosphere for everyone.
Manifesto For Young Asian Women
I have been told to shut up at two major points in my life. First, when I was young by my abusive Dad, and, second, by racism after immigrating to the U.S. I finally got sick of it, and here I am, preparing to embark on yet another scary adventure — public speaking. Just to break it down — though I’m sure you’re clear about what child abuse and racism entail — I’ll explain the process and how it kills one’s self-esteem. Apparently I sensed from the womb — and we all can — the dangers that were happening around me. Sure, I couldn’t articulate them into the same language that you and I now speak. But I sensed something. And I knew it was not good. My Mom told me that my birth was easy and smooth, which I have always taken as my first act in attempting to alleviate the pain in her already difficult life. You’ve already learned some of my Dad’s favorite techniques in “handling” my brother and me. I’ve only recently started discovering the emotional baggage that he handed me at that time as well. Some of the harshness that I feel inside (which comes out during my counseling sessions), shocks even my own ears. Also, there are my occasionally irrational fears when dealing with confrontations with men. Some of the voices in my head that I have to battle daily — especially when I am writing and making myself boldly visible — are: Who the hell do you think you are?
Do you actually think anyone cares? Who are you to teach people anything? Like you have all the answers? Nobody cares! Just shut up! Just shut up! Now look what you’ve done. Now you’re injured — you’re a burden on the family. All because you wanted to have fun. You’re so selfish. So, imagine a six year-old girl moving across the world to a country where she doesn’t speak the language to join her Mom and her new “American” Dad, where people look completely different from her, where the culture is almost the complete opposite from the one she left — yet, she learns to read and write so quickly that very soon she’s better at reading and writing than most of the kids in her class. However, she is still behind the other American kids in one major subject — Speaking Up. (She was better at it in elementary school. But then having to move back to Taiwan at age twelve, right when she had just become an all-American girl, and being treated like she was mentally slow in Taiwan because she, once again, couldn’t speak the language did not help in the Speaking Up department.) Then, two years later, moving back to middle-class white American suburbia shut her right up again. The subtle, insidious racism that crept through the halls daily left her feeling stupid, scared and alone; but, not having yet learned about oppressions, she had no one to blame but herself for her awkward and dumb feelings. It was oppression at its best, invisible, yet powerful, and so berating and constant that she didn’t even realize the full effects until long after graduation. She could
Manifesto For Young Asian Women had been and how she had inadvertently blamed herself for everything. Why couldn’t she do well in AP History class? (Because it was a racist version of history.) Why wasn’t she popular? Why didn’t she
finally look back, years later, and realize how absolutely miserable she
have a boyfriend? Why didn’t she even go on one date? Why did Kelly Brennan feel the right to slight her, and why did she even care? And although she had begun working at the Asian American youth organization, it wasn’t until she began her counseling group and studying how hurtful patterns set-in and started talking about her experiences that she really started getting a glimpse of how oppression worked and how hard she was on herself.
Oppression vs. Cultural Traditions
This is an interesting controversy. I have mentioned many ways where I intentionally oppose the way Chinese culture teaches young women to act. I suggest that you speak up rather than stay quiet. I offer that you should take care of yourself first, before your boyfriend or husband. I believe that you should pursue what you are passionate about and not what your parents want you to do. This may sound like I am telling you to “go against your culture.” However, I believe that there is actually nothing inherently oppressive about any culture. It is not essential to bind one’s feet to be “truly” Chinese, just as it’s not necessary to take five wives. I believe you can be a strong, independent, self-empowered woman and still be very much Chinese. Chinese culture is not inherently oppressive. It is the patterns of behavior that people have picked up (survival patterns, for example), that are oppressive. They served a purpose at one point by indeed protecting those who followed the rigid rules of behavior. For example, “the nail that sticks up will be hammered down,” was used as a warning to protect families from a very real danger if they spoke up or acted out in any way. However, we as Chinese immigrants now in the U.S., maybe second or even fourth generation, do not need to adhere strictly to these out-moded patterns anymore. This includes a woman obeying every other male in the family first (even her son), instead of sticking up for herself24.
Confucianism was a moral belief system that was established in China to help govern
the country. People were expected to adhere closely to this strict set of moral codes. Unfortunately, sexism was tied in throughout the system.
Manifesto For Young Asian Women
The Oppression of Young People and Young Adults
The oppression of young people (ages 0-18) and young adults (18-30) are oppressions that we don’t often talk about in society, and that you may never have even heard of before. However, these oppressions are everywhere and affect us all. The oppression of young people is the first oppression to hit us all. Unlike racism or gay oppression, it is unfortunately something that all of us go through and something that we all grow out of (literally), and often promptly forget. It is the first oppression we face and thus the foundation upon which all subsequent oppressions are born. Because we are hurt first as young people, we tend to more easily justify further oppressions like racism or classism. The oppression of young people includes assuming that young people are not intelligent because they cannot “speak” yet. We are actually very intelligent when we are born, though we haven’t yet learned to speak the same language that adults do. Oftentimes we are not asked what we want because we are young. We are not given the right to make decisions that affect our lives. And even when we are old enough to understand what is going on around us, we still do not have the freedom of decision. There is an assumption that, because we do not yet have a wealth of experience, we are not as intelligent. And when we disagree with the adults around us, they often fail to encourage us to have minds of our own and to think for ourselves. We are told that play is not important and to act like little adults, i.e. boring and stuffy. We are told that we are good if we do as we’re told and that we’re “bad” if we don’t. This is far from the truth. We have important thoughts and have great insight into what is going on around us even if we are five years-old.
When we become young adults (age 21-30), we face a different type of oppression, also based on our age. Expectations from society start streaming in unexpectedly from everywhere; for example, society expects us to have a successful career. And we’re suddenly supposed to have everything in our lives set up perfectly. We should have our finances in order: checkbook balanced, credit cards in order, savings for god’s sake — though no one ever taught us how to do any of these things or even how we’re supposed to save money when we’re paying most of our incomes towards rent and food every month. We’re supposed to have a group of friends that we go out with and go drinking with every weekend as a way of dealing with life’s stressors. We’re supposed to drink and smoke (or at least drink — it’s hard to be social and not drink), but preferably not too much (we don’t want to be obvious alcoholics). Everything is supposed to be perfectly balanced and in order — though, again, no one taught us any of this in high school or college — we’re just supposed to know! And then suddenly everyone around us seems to be getting married and pregnant, and we realize that we probably should have found a steady boyfriend by now. And if we’re perpetually single, we start wondering what is the matter with us. And if we are artists or writers or in non profit or trying to be activists, we are even more fucked. Where are we supposed to get all this money for a down payment on a house anyways? And do we still do all the same things that married couples do, but just as a single person? Or do we need to wait and get married first? And what if we’re already past “marriageable” age? Like, god forbid, thirty? And what if we have dreams that are not the typical, mainstream, acceptable things to do — like run off and live and surf in another country? What if we don’t want to be a productive cog
Manifesto For Young Asian Women in society and “just” want to paint? Does that make us bad Chinese daughters?25 The pressures are infinite. The answers few. First of all, there are no right answers. It is your life to explore however you wish. Let me say
that again. IT IS YOUR LIFE TO EXPLORE HOWEVER YOU WISH. Unfortunately, many of us did not have encouragement or practice or training in discovering and pursuing our dreams. Instead, there was AP Calculus and Economics 101 and “International Relations.” I didn’t learn how to calculate my monthly expenses until I was 21. Even then it was not planned or intentional. Somehow it came up in conversation that I didn’t have a clue about my monthly expenses. So, my landlord/ friend (who was twelve years older), taught me. The truth is, limits are in your mind, and we can be our own worst enemies. We simply need support and encouragement in figuring out what we really want to do and enjoy doing. We know what we “should” be doing or what our parents want us to do. That is all too clear. What we want to do or truly love doing is not. It took me a long time to even let myself pursue what made me really happy. At age 26, I up and moved to Hawaii without knowing a soul in the world except for one girlfriend (who incidentally was not very encouraging).
Or it just means you’re poor? And does poor automatically mean “bad?”
Capitalism has essentially taught us that we need to be productive cogs of society at all times, which means making money. It does not necessarily encourage creative outlets like making art or writing plays or anything that is not based on gaining profit. If we do not behave according to a specific set of behaviors, or if we dare to wander outside of them, we can be threatened with being locked-up behind bars (i.e. if in being creative you act too “crazy”). This is often why we are enamoured , even enthralled, when we see many of Johnny Depp’s movie roles or The Blue Man Group or Little Miss Sunshine or unicyclists, because we are seeing people acting outside of capitalism’s principal code of behavior: that anything and everything we do must be for a profit-making purpose. We are afraid of pursuing activities such as hula dancing or sculpting or rock climbing. Though these may be our passions, they do not have an obvious money-making purpose. Many of us are pulled into “corporate jobs” after graduating from college. And the pressure from parents, family, friends and society to have successful careers and to get married and have kids is so omnipresent and invisible that we often don’t stop to ask ourselves if this is the path we want to go down. Do we really want to have kids? If everybody else wasn’t expecting it from us, is it something that we would actually freely choose or desire? Have you heard the phrase, “If you follow your dreams, the Universe will provide?” That is the belief I now subscribe to. Sure, I still presently have my day job. But I am also going for my dreams more and more every year. (And my day job allows me to do so). I go for things I believe in, though they absolutely terrify me. I go for them in spite of
Manifesto For Young Asian Women my fear and maybe also because of it. I don’t think, “I don’t have
money for that” or that I should curb my dreams based on the balance in my bank account. I dream big regardless of my bank account, and I scheme-up ideas of how I can do all the things I want to do in spite of it. I recently started giving myself long-term savings goals. I have projects up my sleeves that allow me to do what I want, tell my story and let me be my own boss.
Go For Your Dreams
Many of us learned to settle long ago. Or we may have had our freedom of choice stripped from us for so long that we don’t know what we want anymore. I know that’s certainly the case for me. When I was grappling with the decision to marry or not, I had no clue what to do or what I wanted. When I’m ordering food at a restaurant, I often feel indecisive or “afraid” of ordering the “wrong” thing. There is no “wrong” thing, and what am I afraid of exactly? This is no life or death decision here — this is lunch. But there must have been a time (when I was probably very, very young) when I was faced with decisions much harder than I should have had to face at that age. And I had no support or idea around making them. (And later, when I was older, I was still not allowed to make basic decisions about me and my life.) So this is a two-step process: first, figuring out what you want that will make you happy. And let me reiterate; this does not mean something that will make your parents happy, and thus inadvertently make you happy. You need to figure out what will make you happy, what will make you excited to get up in the morning, what you care about doing more than anything else in the world, that moves you to tears, that calms your restless soul, where you finally feel at home. For me, it’s surfing, but also writing. Just doing one or the other is not enough for me. They satisfy different parts of me and both are essential to my emotional and physical well-being. I have known people who went into corporate jobs for a few years and
Manifesto For Young Asian Women then decided to leave. I have known a girl who rushed into getting
married so her dying Dad could see her get married before he passed away. As for myself, I have rebelled against my Mom’s wishes my whole life. That sounds worse than it really is, but it’s true. I have never cared about job security. Sure it’s “secure,” but to me that elusive “security” feels more restrictive than reassuring. It’s more like prison to me. I care about art and creating and enjoying life. I don’t like being told what to do and that I can only have two weeks of vacation a year. And because of that, I have not built up much of a “career” in the traditional sense and have never stayed at a job for more than two years. I believe in developing my art (my writing) and sharing what I’ve learned with other young Asian women. The second part is jumping — that is, taking the leap of faith in yourself that you can do whatever you want to do and believing that the risk of failure (which is always there no matter what you choose) is worth the possibility of success. And remember what I said before: we always learn more from our mistakes than our successes. When I left Boston for Hawai`i, I was scared shitless. I was leaving everything and everyone I knew for a place where I had no friends, no job, no apartment. People thought I was insane and, yet, were jealous of me at the same time. And honestly, if it wasn’t for Hawai`i being so fucking amazing I couldn’t have done it. I was tired of Boston for a long time, but I was too chicken to leave. Finally, it was the amazing allure of Hawai`i that made me put one foot in front of the other and get my shit together to move there, in spite of my fear of leaving everything I knew for a completely new and strange territory.
Don’t Care What Other People Think or Say
I still need to learn this lesson myself or at least remind myself of it on a regular basis. Just recently, I broke up with someone and was absolutely terrified to have the break-up talk with him. I realized only after the fact that I was scared shitless of him hating me. (It went really well, incidentally). Really? Who cares?? Who cares if he hates you? Who cares if the rest of the Asians in your community talk behind your back and judge you for going out dancing by yourself even when you are married? I don’t mean a defensive kind of, “Who cares?” But a genuine nonchalance towards people’s gossip and a real security in knowing who you are. And knowing that your strong sense of self is most important. It’s something that I’m still working on, but it’s a great goal to strive towards. And I’m looking forward to it having less and less hold over me.
Manifesto For Young Asian Women
Take Care of Yourself First
You know how in airplane emergencies there’s an oxygen mask that automatically drops down, and they say to first put it on yourself before putting it on your child? The same thing applies to relationships and to life in general. You won’t be able to take care of someone else if you don’t first take care of yourself. In relationships — even if both people enjoy taking care of each other — things will ultimately go better for both people if each person takes care of herself or himself first. That does not mean being selfish or unthoughtful to the other person. It just means not putting the responsibility of taking care of yourself on your partner. Who knows your needs or desires best? Who knows when you’re hungry? How about when you need to start exercising? Who knows when it’s time to call your parents? It’s not your boyfriend’s or girlfriend’s job to take care of you. Sure, you’re there as support for one another, but that does not mean expecting them to take on the main load of taking care of you. And vice versa. It’s your responsibility to take care of yourself. They’re just there to share their life with you. And hopefully both of your lives are enriched with the other’s presence.
Love Your Life; Love Yourself
I have often thought I am so happy and grateful that I live in a time when my life is up to me. I am not given away, literally, at age twelve to marry someone I don’t know who is four times my age. I am not forced to break my bones and bind my feet. (I only wear heels when society requires it of me and when I voluntarily choose to torture myself). I have a plethora of jobs available to me that allow me to support myself and live on my own, and society does not look down upon me for doing so. Loving yourself is a little bit harder for some people. Once again, it may sound “cheesy” or uncool to say out loud, “Yes, I think I am really awesome.” But if you don’t, who will? I realized that after I became single, one of the things I missed most was getting to hear, “You are so beautiful” everyday. But I could say that to myself. It’s no different. The only difference is that it’s your opinion about yourself, and you shouldn’t disregard it simply because it is your opinion. If you don’t hold your own opinion in high regard, who will? One thing I do when I’m down on myself is to list five things I appreciate about myself or five things I’m proud of that I’ve done lately. Both help to lift myself out of my doom-and-gloom mood and put true reality in perspective. What is true benign reality? It’s that I have done really well considering all that I have been through. And the same is absolutely true for you.
Manifesto For Young Asian Women
Share Your Stories
I read an interview last year with a sex worker. She talked a little about what it was like in the sex work industry, but she was not willing to divulge too much she said because she was worried her Mom would read it26. On the other hand, as artists, I feel it is our duty to be honest — utterly, painstakingly honest - because, first of all, if we aren’t, who will? And the only way others can benefit from our stories is if we go for the truth and talk about the embarrassing Moments, the humiliating Moments, and truly be vulnerable about our struggles. This way other young women can see they are not alone. They are not freaks for also feeling isolated, awkward, embarrassed, ugly or fat. There is a systematic oppression that exists for the benefit of capitalism that makes us feel constantly deficient, inept and insecure so we will buy more things. (We can’t start a revolution if we feel shitty about ourselves). It’s not a coincidence that, after reading a fashion magazine, you will want to go buy make-up, clothing, accessories, jewelry, sunglasses, lip gloss, vodka and cigarettes so you can be cool and hip (and weigh a hundred pounds) just like the models in the ads. It’s also not a coincidence that you feel shitty about yourself too. The good news is that you are not alone. I wish I could have read about other young Asian women growing up in white suburbs when I was in high school. It would have helped with all the racism I was internalizing. I thought my boobs and eyes were
I guess that’s understandable and I wouldn’t put as much expectation on her as I do
upon artists. And while dancing is an art form, stripping is not inherently artistic. It’s a job, like anything else—you do what you have to do to get paid.
too small, my features plain, and though I thought all the guys in my class were immature jerks, I still wanted very much to be cool, which meant (among other things) having a boyfriend.
Manifesto For Young Asian Women
Make Your Own Decisions
That does not mean don’t listen to other people’s advice. For big decisions, I definitely encourage asking advice from people whose opinion you respect. But then you still need to sift through it, sit down with yourself and make the decision yourself. That way, later on when you decide either (a) it was the right decision or (b) that it was a mistake, you can’t blame anyone else for the consequences. That’s not to say you should blame yourself either. You are always doing the best you can under the circumstances. But at least if you do fuck up you won’t get mad at someone else whose advice you took. It’s your life and your decision (or mistake) to make. It’s great. It’s a great time to be alive and a great time to be an Asian female, (though sexism and racism is still rampant). We’ll never learn if we let others make decisions for us. And remember, we always learn more from our mistakes than our successes27.
Let’s say someone tells you to choose Door A and you don’t understand why, but
you do what they say anyways. Even if they prevented you from making a mistake in the end, you will not have learned as much as if you had chosen Door B and made the mistake and then gotten yourself out of it.
Don’t Feel Bad
Do you often find yourself going through lists in your head of things that you screwed up that day? Do you find yourself focusing on the one or two small mistakes you made that day instead of the many great things you did that day? Do you constantly wish you were better at whatever it is that you spend most of your days doing? Do you use punishment as an incentive to push yourself to do better? Do you only allow yourself to feel good when you are productive (and automatically feel bad when you’re not)? These are all signs that you are being hard on yourself. Improving and changing this habit is not an easy thing to do. I am working on this at this very moment. But it is an exercise and goal worth trying and achieving. Most likely, you are a perfectionist and oftentimes very hard on yourself. If this is the case, the next time this happens, stop and take a deep breath and tell yourself, “I am doing the best I can and that is enough.” If you fucked up, OK fine. Don’t replay it in your head for days on end, constantly feeling bad over it. So you fucked up. Oh well. People fuck up all the time and don’t feel bad about it. Use them as your role models.
Manifesto For Young Asian Women
Be Gentle With Yourself
Similar to my advice above — don’t feel bad — instead, be gentle with yourself. And don’t feel bad about feeling bad or being hard on yourself. Treat yourself as you would treat your best girl friend. You would tell her to be kind to herself, right? Well you deserve the same thing. Don’t wait for a boyfriend to treat you well. You can treat yourself to nice things too: flowers, a good meal, appreciating and being thoughtful of yourself. These may not sound like revolutionary acts, but you are actively going against racism and sexism when you do so. Oppression tells us we should be taking care of others, not ourselves. And if we think about ourselves then we’re being selfish. Fight oppression by, first, being gentle with yourself!
Don’t Take Things Personally
This one, honestly, took me years to figure out. Whether it’s someone’s look, words, or actions that seem off or downright rude, you shouldn’t take it personally. They’re probably having a bad day (worse than yours) or maybe they just can’t handle it as well as you can. Whether it’s the asshole bus driver or your boss, you shouldn’t take any of their comments personally. Just like with acting auditions, there may be many reasons why you did not get the part that have nothing whatsoever to do with your acting skills. Maybe you remind the director of his ex. Maybe you’re too hot. Who knows! Just know that whatever “off ” thing you experienced has nothing to do with you and everything to do with that person and their own baggage and mood that day.
Manifesto For Young Asian Women
Decide. Act. Discharge.
This goes along with the pursuing one’s dream section. When there’s something you know you need to do — like follow your dream — but you’re scared shitless to do it (which is totally natural and normal), simply: decide, act and discharge. Decide: Make the decision to do it, no matter your feelings of terror, uncertainty or possibilities of failure. Decide to do it in spite of your feelings. Act: Do it. Sounds simple enough. And it is, if you can set aside your feelings enough to do so. Discharge: Co-counseling lingo for talking about or venting your feelings. The idea here is to not wait until you no longer feel scared to do something to do it. Just because you see people on stage performing does not mean they are not scared. The only difference between you and them is that they have made the decision to perform regardless of their feelings. I once had a girl congratulate me in the bathroom after a spoken word performance. She told me I was great, that she could never do that. Not true. She had assumed that by my going on stage and performing well that it must be easy for me to do so. Actually, it isn’t easy for me. I actually hate being in the limelight with a passion. However, because I felt that we needed more women and more women of color onstage performing and sharing our stories, I made myself do so. (If we all sat around pointing accusing fingers at each other, we’d never get
anywhere). I decided and acted, in spite of my feelings. And then after I walked off the stage, shaking and terrified and ecstatic, I was able to go and vent and discharge my feelings with a friend and hopefully shake off some of the terror before my next performance.
Manifesto For Young Asian Women
Suggested Reading Resources
Emotional, Spiritual Growth and Self-Reflection The Human Side of Human Beings by Harvey Jackins www.rc.org Career, Creative Income-Making Sources The Four-Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferris www.fourhourworkweek.com Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki www.richdad.com Marketing, Business-building, Entrepreneurship IdeaVirus by Seth Godin www.sethgodin.typepad.com Fiction The Secret Lives of People in Love by Simon Van Booy www.simonvanbooy.com
104 Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell Feminism, Activism Manifesta OR Grassroots
by Amy Richards and Jennifer Baumgardner www.soapboxinc.com Backlash by Susan Faludi www.susanfaludi.com Ending Violence Against Women Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft www.lundybancroft.com The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker www.gavindebecker.com
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