Sunday, February 19, 2012

My Feminist Rant - Wooooooohooooo!

I've been struggling for awhile with a way to get this from my mind to written word without coming up with something totally nonsensical, or writing with the wrong tone, and I am sorry to say that I'm not sure I can do it -  so I'm just going to jump in anyway.

Of course I'm still procrastinating - every time I get the chance I jump away to do something on Facebook or on a forum I like, purposely and not-so-subconsciously slowing down my writing of this post. I'm only still trying because I feel it needs to be said.

A former friend of mine on Facebook linked awhile back to two blog posts: I can't find one, but the other is here. Normally I wouldn't bother linking to such crapulent tripe, but it makes a fine example of what I'm going to talk about. Be warned, though: I'm not exaggerating when I say that it's crapulent tripe.

The one I couldn't find was all about how "Western women have lost their femininity" - but it made no clear points, it refused to even define femininity, it assumed we would all know what it was (like porn: "I know it when I see it") and then, after dipping her toe into what that might be, backpedals and includes a bunch of traits that could be both masculine or feminine, and a few that are generally associated with masculinity. At no point does she make clear what she's actually talking about, which is strange considering that she's claiming we Western women have "lost" it.

Now, I wrote an entire blog post about femininity and didn't define it, but then I was talking about a general feeling I had, not going on about what it was and who did or did not have it. I could have been more rigorous in my definition, but I do feel that my attempt to discuss my general mental state is quite different from pointing at a specific set of traits that an entire group of women has apparently "lost".

Back to the main topic.

What bothers me about this whole thing - "Men like Asian women because they are more feminine" or "cute" - is not that lots of men believe it, or that lots of them feel that way. Clearly, they do. Whatever - they can like what they want. It's fine: I have a certain set of traits that I find attractive, so does my husband, so does everyone. All it means for me is that if I were single, that men who feel that way aren't men who would be right for me, and that's OK.

It's more that it's racist, sexist (but not in the way that you think I might go off on) and overgeneralizing.

I don't feel it's sexist insofar as men should like Trait X but they actually like Trait Y. As I said, I don't care what they like - we all like what we like and it's fine. It's sexist in that it groups women into categories: cute and not cute, feminine and not feminine, Western and Asian. It makes blanket statements about women as though we are one amoeba-like mass of people who are all more or less the same in that we can be generalized about: Cute Women GOOD, Uncute Women BAD. Asian Women GOOD, American Women BAD.

I don't know about you, but last I checked most of us exist in more than two dimensions. I can be difficult, tough, even bitchy with people who piss me off, give me a hard time, say stupid things or make my life difficult. I can also be sweet as pie to good people. My friends, and Brendan, might describe me as "tough" or "stubborn", but not difficult - because I'm not. To them. I'm nice to them. I'm nice to people I don't know who give me no reason to be anything other than nice. I'm not so nice only if I need to be. It's the same for "cute" - while I wouldn't say I am cute, I have had people tell me I'm cute (apparently a foreign woman swearing in Taiwanese - 殺小! - is absolutely freakin' adorable). We - men, women, Americans, Asians, Westerners, Taiwanese - are not flat-screen displays of archetypes or stereotypes of the groups we belong to.

And yet, men who say they like "Asian" women because they are more "feminine" (or the one in the comment thread in the link above who said I was a "typical American woman") are assuming just that: where do they get off thinking that being female Asian or American, or that there even is a typical Asian or American woman, is enough information by which to judge a woman? Do they not know enough women to know that we are, in fact, individuals? Have they never met a cute, shy, quiet or sweet American woman EVER? Do they truly believe that 51% of a population of over three million would all share the same character traits in the same relative quantities and display them in the same ways?  Do they feel the same about this amorphous - and even bigger - group called "Asian women"?

Yes, there are ways in which one can generalize that contain a kernel of truth, but those generalizations about women - or anyone - break down so much at the individual level when you dare to look at someone in 3D that they are basically irrelevant. I mean, is it true that from a cultural standpoint, women in Asia face more pressure and social education to act a certain way that could be seen as "sweeter", "cuter", "more feminine" or whatever, and that many of them do follow those prescriptions? Is it also true that Western culture has a different view of what is and is not expected of women? Yes, and yes. But then I look at my Taiwanese female friends - one who swears openly and talks about sex happily, another who is strong, clear, independent and direct, another who is loud, talkative, opinionated and not even remotely meek, another who expects and demands equal and respectful treatment, another who can hold her liquor and isn't worried about being seen as stronger, louder or more stubborn than the men around her, and still more beyond that - and think, wait a minute. They're all Asian women. They're all very different people and not one of them fits generalizations about Asian women. Looking more broadly, I don't think I've ever met an "Asian woman" in real life who actually fits all the stereotypes about Asian women (some meet a few, to varying degrees). This is called being human and being an individual.

These women are not exceptions, is what I'm saying. There is nothing abnormal about them. They're examples of millions of other women who don't fit this generalization that's been built up about Asian women. You can say the same for American women, Western women or Whatever women.

What makes it sexist is that I am not sure these guys actually look at women in 3D. When I hear "Asian women are cute", I see a guy with a cardboard cut-out "Asian woman" in his head. I see a guy who doesn't think of women as actual individual people but rather as these strange, inexplicable Other being who can all be lumped together as "Asian" and "Western" in order to help him make sense of the world.

It's also sexist towards men, assuming that all or even most of them want the same things, but I'll cover that under "over-generalizing".

Finally, the post linked above is specifically sexist for the implication that if Western women want to "compete" that they should pay attention to this. Really - I was pretty sure that this whole "modern times" and "egalitarianism" thing meant that women were free to develop our personalities based on what our personalities naturally are, not on what one subset of men would prefer that they be. Why is it incumbent on us to change who we are to please a certain type of man, but not incumbent on men to accept that not all women need to be what they prefer - and that it's best for any given woman to just be herself rather than try to fit into some mold of what he wants? Why the implication that we should alter our personalities to get a man that we probably don't even want, who wouldn't want us if he knew what we were really like? That sounds like hell to me - did it ever occur to that writer that pretending to have a personality that is nothing like who you really are might make a woman unhappy, and that (gasp!) some women might just not want men who prefer personality traits that they don't possess - and that that's OK?

What makes it racist is, well, basically the same, just shift the emphasis from the gender to the ethnicity. "Asian" women are X, "Western" women are Y - what's not racist about that? There's nothing wrong with liking a specific woman from whatever ethnic or cultural background, or having a set of traits you prefer in a woman - it's thinking that all or even most women of that ethnicity share those traits that's racist. Again - have these men talked to so few women that they've never met a fair number of quiet American women or opinionated Asian women, or "cute" American women and "tough" Asian women? I mean, I'm a straight woman and I know enough of both to know that generalizations based on race hold no water at the individual level. Even if there's some truth to them, when it comes to dating any specific woman (or man), they are irrelevant.

It's the same reason why I avoid people who say things like "oh, I'm done with Western women. They're so ________" - so, you wouldn't even consider the possibility that some Western women aren't _________? Or even if you met one who wasn't, you would still avoid her because you're "done" with them as an entire group? thanks. I don't even want you as an acquaintance if you think that way, let alone a friend. I mean, change the sentence just slightly to "I'm done with black people / Jews / gays. They're so ____________." Then you see how offensive that really is. But somehow because it's about women, it's OK? (Which brings it back to "sexist").

It's over-generalizing not just because it over-generalizes about entire (MASSIVE AND GINORMOUS) groups of women, but because it does the same to men. It assumes that all, or even most, men want the same things. How is that not disrespectful to men? Plenty of men don't want those things. Just as not all women want a "provider" (I sure don't), not all men want a "cute" woman ("feminine" is harder to pin down), a "sweet" woman or a "submissive" woman. I have said (anonymously) that I am who I am, and my husband chose to marry me because he loves me for me - not gorgeous, really stubborn, quite loud, foulmouthed (sorry, moms, but I am), tough-when-I-need-to-be but also kind, loving, thoughtful, sincere, honest, hardworking and intelligent me. Often I get pushback - that I bullied him, or that he's just an exception, or he's with me because he can't do better, or that deep down he *wishes* I were more [insert trait they think women should be here] and will eventually tire of me and my troublesome opinions and outspokenness.

Yeah, uh, how is that not disrespectful to him?  Just because he chose a woman who doesn't fit some mold of what they'd prefer in a woman, that means he is either lacking in some way, or he settled, or he was bullied, or he doesn't really know what he wants? Yeah...uh, no. This is where overgeneralizing comes in - what's with assuming that all men want the same things? Are men not individuals who exist in 3D, too? Should we not also accord them the respect of knowing what they want even if it might be different from what you'd want, and trusting them to make those decisions?

Is it really so threatening to these guys that a man would choose a different sort of woman that they must assume he was cowed into it? Gee, I wonder why. What's so terrifying about the idea that someone might like something different from what you like?

What is so wrong with saying "*I* prefer [this type of woman]" instead of "*Men* prefer [this type of woman]"? If you did that, you'd earn a lot of respect from me!

I mean, sure, it's fun to pretend that I have a whip and a leash and I bend men to my will, but actually, I don't.

As for "cute" and "feminine", in Brendan's own words: "Well, if you ask me what attracts me, then yes, I can give you a list of traits I'd consider 'feminine' or that I like in a woman. But otherwise it's such a social and culturally specific thing and so subject to individual tastes and preferences that no, if you want to say these things are definite, then that's nonsense."

I say this because I know Brendan is merely an exception, and neither am I. We might seem to be in the minority but in truth, there are so many people like us - so many men who love assertive women, so many women who are not looking for certain types of men, so many people who do not fit the stereotype of what they "should" be. We're only an exception in that we prove that the rule is ridiculous. A mathematical proof along these lines would not stand, so I fail to see why a sociological one should.

And, again, you can say that there are general trends, but they're so irrelevant when it comes to individuals that I don't see why it should matter. Which is what bothers me about "this is what men like" - no, this is what YOU like. Don't pretend to speak for all men or even most men. That's sexist, too. Even if it's true that many men like these traits, it is meaningless when you look at what this man or that man likes.

I admit that this is, in part, why I am not that active in the expat community. While I realize that all expats are individuals (and am happy to befriend them as such), I run up against this attitude often enough that it's kept me away. I don't want to be around it, I don't want to hear it, and I don't want to be friends with people who spew it. Since I'm all on about "don't generalize", I will say that this hasn't kept me entirely cut off. Why? Because people are individuals and not all expat men are like this. Brendan's not. My friend J is not. My friends' husbands are not.

So, you know, wouldn't the world be a better place if we all just admitted that our tastes are unique to us, and that regardless of general truths about culture, people are individuals, and that two individuals deserve the respect of being seen as whole people who are influenced by, but not entirely defined by, their culture? And that some people like "cute" and some don't, and that people have varying definitions about what "cute" or "feminine" (or "masculine") even are? And then, can we banish the generalizations to the far corner of the conversation where they belong? Is this not a happier world, a world with greater respect for all?

In the end, I said something along these lines - but shorter - on the Facebook status update where the two links appeared. I figured, if someone is going to post something that controversial, then they clearly are fine with strongly opinionated replies. If they weren't, they wouldn't post it. I got defriended, probably not just because my reply contained an opinion, but also because I suspect the original poster disagreed.
I told a friend (Taiwanese, male - if that matters) about this. His reply sums it up: "Well, that is not any big loss."


Kathmeista said...

Thank you! Exactly that.

From another angle I am sooooo sick and tired of people coming at me with the "Asian men are less masculine" crap. It's just as bad and insidious as the "Asian Women are cuter" line. I know screeds of Asian women and they come in all personality types, but absolutely none of them are a pushover. Not a single one.

Jenna Cody said...

I'm happy the first comment wasn't some idiot coming in here to hang himself with his own words (although I will likely get a few of those - goes with the territory).

I have an upcoming post on Asian men which attacks this notion of Asian men as non-masculine (and also attacks the notion that Asian men don't like Western women - yeah, no, not quite right, that even though they can sometimes act like it).

I do know Asian women who are pushovers, but certainly not all or even most of them, and I know American women who are pushovers too. It's about individual personality, not culture, and that's what gets me riled up: that people who think it's about culture don't have any room in their heads for the idea that women are individuals.

Kathmeista said...

Haha happy to be of assistance! I don't doubt that there are Asian women who are not as tough in character as others, but I do find it interesting that I have never met one. It makes me wonder where the heck this idea of all Asian women as meek and mild ever came from.

Looking forward to your post on the men's side of things. May your comments section be filled with thoughtful and intelligent debate.

Nick Herman said...

I suspect there's a double feedback issue that occurs:. On the one hand, the images and attitudes of a certain culture (nurture) push people in certain directions, and in the other, a lot/most people reinforce many aspects of these things because it gives them some kind of identity, and culture/belonging is a powerful thing, and many people would prefer not to think for themselves and deviate from what's expected. This tends towards producing certain types of mindsets and people with certain preferences, whether real or imagined, fueled by understand or misunderstanding of other cultures...but anyways, like you, this doesn't involve me on my life on a personal level, because I tend to not spend much time around people who can't put effort into finding their own identity and thinking for themselves. Emotional hooks/sex is indeed powerful...but, c'mon, don't let yourself become a robot/slave to some conditioned response, whether real or imagined..

Jenna Cody said...

I just wanted to add that today I told a class of mostly women about that "Western men like Asian women because they're cute" blog post, and they all went "Pfffffft" (one blew a raspberry). I said I told the Facebook person who linked to it exactly what I thought of such festering crud, and got defriended (shocked looks), "but it was no big loss" (laughter and agreement).

So it's not just the white women in Taiwan who think the "Asian women are cuter" argument is ridiculous...

Gabe - I don't like to publish my e-mail address, but it's a well-known Indian vegetarian curry made with chick peas (spelled as all one word with no caps) at gmail.