[ Insert Obligatory Emily Dickinson Quote ]

I work in an office on the university campus. The campus itself is marked with slight potholes, sidewalks that are uneven in places, and gravel strewn about yearlong. The office is generally rather casual.

It would be a mistake to say that I like to dress up—the restrictiveness of non-elastic-waistband-type clothes is, to me, something of a little indignity. Still, I try to hold my head up high (not an easy feat when one is trying to dodge potholes and loose gravel) while I walk to work in my pearl earrings, soft pink top, pencil skirt, and high heels. And, at the start of the day I feel hope. I know that I work in an office in which the majority of my co-workers and supervisors dress in jeans and t-shirts. I just feel that if I look as if I work in an office that is inhabited by Nordstrom work wear models, then maybe I can become the type of person who gets her Ph.D and is offered a research job. Maybe.

 

In an interview with NRP on his book Anatomy of a Disappearance, Hisham Matar said,

Living in hope is a really terrible thing…People speak about hope most of the time as a very positive thing. … [But] it’s a very dispossessing thing, it’s a very difficult thing to live with. When you’ve been living in hope for a long time as I have, suddenly you realize that certainty is far more desirable than hope.

Matar’s words strike me as acutely true.

I burnt myself out last academic year trying to be so many things. What I felt people wanted of me got all twisted up in my head with what I wanted until I was only living for others, who, I felt, were just being constantly disappointed by my actions.

I fully believe that people need to push themselves so that they better understand their worth. I believe this even though I know that this idea equates things, accomplishments, with worth. Certainly this is a linear, hierarchical way of thinking. I wish I could pile these useless, tiresome beliefs onto a ship so that they could be buried at sea.

But it’s not so easy to get rid of the past, and I think that that’s a good thing. We learn things by living with them, living around them, and living without them. When I reflect on the last academic year I feel that I’ve learned many things—about injustice, indignity, and powerlessness; about hope, love, and trust.

Hope can be like a drug. I was working so hard hoping to make a difference. Any difference. The difference I made was in me, and I don’t know that I like all of it. I’ve thought a lot recently about just stopping. Looking for some private sector job after college and saving for retirement and making food on the weekends and nothing more. But, I have this hope that I might be great. I might just be good or even mediocre, but I would rather be mediocre and devoting the whole of my energy towards human rights than a comfortable middle manager.

 

Every day when I walk home from work, in that same area that I confidently begin my walk each morning, I have these fantastic visions of falling. Not just falling in the high heels I wear to work that most of the other people at work do not wear, but crumpling into a bloody explosion of pain and shattered bones. It feels like a small miracle when I make it home in one piece. It feels like hope’s antithesis, but I now know it for what it really is: in the absence of certainty it is the seed that sustains me until the next day.

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Making the Case for Being Militant

I used to be one of those “I’m not a feminist, but…” people. So, I understand when the people I meet in college, the well meaning people that populate most sociology/gender studies classrooms, say things along these lines. There are some things you only know with experience, and some people never have some experiences.

Last semester, for the final of The Identity Politics Class, we each had to write a research paper—anything about identity politics so long as it incorporated what we’d learned. We then had to give a short summary of our papers to the class.

One young, white, heterosexually-identified, non-disabled male wrote his paper on the movie version of Fight Club. [It agonizes me to admit that I live in such a climate, wherein writing a paper about a movie that was made over a decade ago and that has been the source of what I’d say is an undue amount of analysis, still seems like a viable final project. What can you do?] He ended his synopsis of his paper by stating that white men have feelings too, and they are also hurt by patriarchy. This brought forth a slew of mindless congratulations from my peers. “Finally!” they seemed to exclaim, “Finally we are taking the feelings of middle-class, non-disabled, heterosexual, white men into account! Hurrah!”

All snarkiness aside, this need (white, non-disabled) people have to bring up that white men are also hurt by hegemonic ideas is nothing short of ridiculous. It’s as if feminists as a whole feel that they must always assure those in traditionally powerful positions that they still matter, that, indeed, we’re also fighting for you!

Well, duh.

The push for an egalitarian society is exactly that: a society in which everyone is equal. It seems as if most people in power (especially those who most easily conform to hegemonic masculinity) see power as a zero-sum game. If <minority group> is getting their needs better met, then I, majority group member, must be somehow missing out. This is a logical fallacy, partially because it assumes that intangible resources, even when they have real-world repercussions (e.g. Civil Rights), are finite.

 

There are many feminists out there who caringly express concern over white men. By and large they are doing a great job at not alienating men. However this work towards equality is not always going to be easy or fun, and trying to convince people in power that they’ll definitely benefit from equality may keep us on the road to nowhere.

While it is important to remain compassionate and empathetic, I argue that it is sometimes more important to remain passionate for equality to keep from just being pathetic doormats. (Not that these are necessarily mutually exclusive.)

People of color know that you can’t wait around hoping that (the people who relate to) your oppressors will finally see that the bondage that holds you also holds them. It’s time that white, female feminists learn the same. Maybe learning this lesson will also help them see that equality isn’t equal until it takes all minority statuses into account—not just gender and sexuality.

Against Remaining Stationary

Tired of research, I decide to take a break to go through a box of stationery my mom gave me a while back. She found this box while she was visiting my granddad. I try to write him at least a letter a week (although I must admit I have been woefully relaxed about this as of late), and since he is not one to write, he generally saves stationery he is given or finds to give to me.

My mom had previously found a letter written by my grandmother in this box, addressed to a still-living person [she said to me, “I feel that I should send it.” To which I replied with an enthusiastic, “No!” I think that if I were elderly I would not want to receive a “How’re you doing?” note from a person nearly a decade gone.], and I had assumed she’d gone through the whole box and had only found the one written note. So, when I find two short letters and two “We’ve Moved!” notices in my grandmother’s hand, I am shocked. They all make me want to cry. Only one of the cards displays the handwriting I remember from my youth—thin ballpoint pen; neat, looping cursive; amiable and straightforward in text and type. The rest seem like echoes and forewarnings.

 

I admit that I did not begin to understand ageism until fairly recently. I understood it conceptually, but really, that means nothing. Conceptual understandings are red herring cloaks of superiority and invincibility—they make the owner feel good but mean absolutely nothing. “Action” stripped of letters until it is just “I.”

I was sitting in a gender studies class, when one of my classmates said, “I feel that as I’ve gotten older I’ve become invisible.” Another classmate (the only other student who was also older than the teacher) agreed. I did not think anything of it at the time [Do you see the extent of her invisibility?]. I’d been talking to a different professor outside of class about a book she was thinking of writing on aging, and I’d accepted everything she’d said about aging passively, lazily, without any real thought.

I had falsely equated the invisibility of aging with the invisibility that I felt that I faced as a young, Asian woman.

This is part of the problem of U.S. American feminism that Womanism, Third Wave feminism, and countless others before, after, and in between sought to correct: self-righteous egocentrism that denies the autonomy and reality of the other.

It is only now that I feel that I am beginning to understand the extent of my privilege. How would I know how often I am being ignored relative to an older woman? I think I am ignored often enough to make most people with more privilege uncomfortable (I do not know how many times a white person has told me that I am not being ignored when I recount an experience in which I feel I was blatantly disregarded). But, really, I cannot say how many times my young face and goofy smile and miniskirts and high heels have made me one of the noticed.

 

Humility is a lesson I hope to keep learning and never forget. It is a blessing to see illuminated all of the things I do not know.

Ageism is a real problem. This has become more evident to me as I become more aware and see it in the peripheries of my life and in myself. To treat someone as if they don’t matter or are incapable because of how we perceive them is the opposite of care and respect.

So, I entreat you, dear reader, to begin your interactions with humility, care, and respect. I know that there are many times that I fail in this, but it doesn’t make my successes any less of a success.