Friday, February 24, 2006

Made in China

Left: Michael Wolf, The Real Toy Story, 2004, Mixed Media installation (detail)

Last week, my Modern Asian History class went to "Made in China," an instillation at the Museum of Contemporary Photography. My teacher's intent was to give the class some visuals of China today and an idea of the consequences of Western imperialism. The whole exhibition is filled with great stuff, but I worried about the neutrality of it. It provides examples of clean, productive factories, the dorms in which workers tend to live alongside of images of poorer working conditions, i.e. sweatshop labor. China wasn't necessarily put in a bad light; in fact, I was impressed that the photography managed to put a human face on an issue that is percieved as threatening by some in the United States. What I was concerned about was the fact that the companies, or the United States itself, was not put under any scrutiny. It was all "Look what these American companies have done for the poor people of China!" when we were presented with positive images or "The Chinese government is absolutely horrible" when presented with the negative. (Don't get me wrong, though, the Chinese government does practice some absolutely terrible things--but this is not the fault of the general population of China.) The piece I thought that tried to rectify this gap was The Real Toy Story--it's a piece that could be easily misconstrued because it features photographs of people working in less than desirable conditions, and once again the blame could just be placed on the leadership of China. However, surrounding the photographs are pieces of Happy Meal items and other cheap toys--toys encompassing pop culture for American kids. I was struck by the Batman and Doug figurines, two cartoons that I watched religiously when I was around ten. I also noticed the personified chicken mcnuggets that I used to play with in the bathtub when I was even younger. There were also Barbies; one had a black eye. (Drawn on by it's previous owner?) This specifically makes you aware that we are on a two-way street with China. Our consumption, yes, gives money, yet puts these people in a situation with few viable options. Capitalism in its truest, most disgusting form.

I left the exhibition upset. I know that I don't have any solutions, so I feel powerless. But I do know this: the United States is far from innocent, and in the words of Cat and Girl: "Capitalists do it ruthlessly."

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Biggest. Onigiri. Ever.

I think one of these could actually feed a family of four.

via Kotaku

Monday, February 20, 2006

Gender Norm Violation

1) I chose for my gender norm violation to have a goatee. I had a hard time figuring out what to do for the presentation, but knew that I wanted it to be something that was specifically appearance-based. I have always been aware that as a woman a lot of things are based on how I look, such as what kind of person I am. I have a friend who took a class in theatre make-up, and he offered to give me a goatee, since facial hair on a woman is something that is definitely not seen every day, yet we are all familiar with the carnival stereotype of “the bearded lady.”
2) I believe that facial hair is seen as a sort of rite-of-passage for men. Boys in high school who can grow thick facial hair are seen as more mature or manly. Old men with facial hair are sometimes thought of as having wisdom, and we have the old Bible story of Samson and Delilah, with Samson losing his power because Delilah cut off his hair. Women have narrower faces without facial hair, thus they take up less space. And as I’ve I mentioned before, there’s a lot of pressure on women to be pretty or feminine-- often to the point where it’s distracting. It can take up a lot of a woman’s time. I think it can be argued that this keeps women regulated to a certain place that isn’t as strongly related to power or even wisdom in our society. Furthermore, since we see men and women as very different, we expect certain physical aspects not to be same and facial hair is definitely one of these. A woman who has facial hair is seen as weird or as a sideshow freak. She may also be seen as butch—not as a true woman in a sense of the word.
3) I hypothesized that when I went out with facial hair that a few people would stare at me, that others would look away, and that some people might laugh, albeit nervously.
4) I chose to do my norm violations a) during the day on Michigan Avenue, where a lot of tourists would be b) during the day at a Bank, which would be an office-type setting c) At night at K-Mart, in my neighborhood which is more or less made up of people from the lower middle class and below and d) at night at a Whole Foods in Lincoln Park with mostly middle and upper middle class people.
5) At each place I tried to conduct myself like I normally do. On Michigan Avenue I walked around while window shopping, at the bank I had a check cashed and at K-Mart and Whole Foods I made some purchases.
6) The whole time when I wore the goatee I felt uncomfortable. I noticed that I looked down at my feet a lot when I was wearing it, and that I didn’t want to look people in the eye. I felt ultra-sensitive in that I feared that people were judging me. I felt relieved when I could finally take it off. I know that I felt this way because I’ve internalized the norm that women who have facial hair should get rid of it. I felt that with facial hair, I didn’t look attractive or like a normal person, instead I felt like I was actually breaking a rule.
7) Most people did a double take when they saw me. At first I don’t think they quite believed that they saw a woman with facial hair. Some people grimaced, while others, maybe because I was with my friend who is male, looked at us with visible disgust (because we might have looked like a same sex couple). No one said anything outright to me, however. It felt, however, that there was a purple gorilla in the room and everyone was doing their best to ignore it.
8) What this exercise taught me is that gender norms are deeply ingrained. I didn’t think I would personally have such a hard time walking around with facial hair for a school project, but it really did bother me. It gives me admiration for those women who do choose to have facial hair, but I don’t blame other women for wanting to be rid of theirs. I think we like to think of appearance as something that is trivial, but I don’t think it is. Appearance goes hand in hand with gender expectations, which dictates that men and women to look differently. This expected differentiation is a result of patriarchy, but I believe that it also furthers this system because it helps us believe that men and women are inherently different. This in the end can therefore make it more difficult for us to achieve a more egalitarian system.

Friday, February 17, 2006

A little History

A component of my Poetics class is learning how to write historical poems. This poem is a result of one of our exercises, which was to write about a place in Chicago, from the perspective of the past. Here's my result, a little rough since its only a 2nd Draft. Please not that the formatting is off because Blogger isn't Microsoft Word. The italicized quote is left justified, while the stanzas are supposed to be right justified, though formatted to look like a newspaper column.

The Murder of Charles Sing, 1913

“Unsuspecting white girls like Alice quite often were lured into Chinese men’s parlors, stores, and chop suey

Alice Davis Sing, of 3460 Archer Avenue,

grew up a Christian missionary. Her husband,

Charles Sing, had wooed her in Kansas City’s Chinatown

over plates of Foo Young Dove and rice. He’s the one,

she told her father, she liked the best. Really, loved:

“From the first time I saw him, I loved him.

There was something about him that fascinated me.

He was quiet, lithe, and graceful. He was mysterious,

and I guess that is what attracted me. He never laughed out

loud no matter how happy he was. He chuckled.”

by their pleadings and outward gentleness, then, captivated by the apparent luxury of their lives and apartments

And they married. She converted to Buddhism,

little statues. Fingers that ruffled the edges of pork

and leek dumplings. Spoke Pidgin English fluently.

Charles would pitch forth money for style: red

lace-trimmed cheongsam dresses, blue silk nightgown.

they visit them again and again

It didn’t last long, not after he wasn’t

going to take her to China. When she found that out,

she slipped the knife into him. The blood ran out from

his chest and dried: red and sticky. Barbecued duck,

hung whole in the grocery store front window.

until their ruin is accomplished.”

Grief, when the Chicago police came, sobbing

and dark mussed hair. Wisps that stuck to her

bloated cheeks. They determined murder, though without

sufficient evidence: Regular quarrels, a nation-wide

smuggling ring, a love quadrangle with Alice

and Charles, her sister Emma and Charles Norn.

Monday, February 13, 2006


I came across these bento images when I was searching the San-X site. I'm not sure what the stencils are for in the bottom picture. Maybe to make designs in rice? (I'm taking a little break from reading Percy Bysshe Shelley's "A Defence of Poety." Which makes me feel like I'm dumb, but that's another story.) I wish I could make food like this. Hell, I wish I could eat food like this.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Best American Poetry

Last year I co-edited the 18th issue of the Columbia Poetry Review, a literary magazine which publishes the poetry of students at Columbia, alongside the poetry of well-known poets. In many ways edited the issue was incredible: we decided to have a theme issue in which we celebrated the work of women poets (because much to our own dismay, we felt that female poets are not being published as much as male poets.) It was also terrible in the ways that we were disorganized--there were some typos in the issue, and our database was wiped out by a virus. All in all, we published it, and I wiped my hands of it.

Until today. I found out from one of my teachers that one of the poems that we published, written by Denise Duhamel (one of my all-time favorite poets) was chosen for Best American Poetry 2006--not only that, but Billy Collins is the guest editor(!). I've never been the largest fan of Billy Collins--I like poets that are more experimental--so I'm surprised. The poem that made it in, a villanelle, almost didn't make the cut (for many different reasons.) I'll be finding out from my teacher if any other poems from the issue will be published.

This means that CPR, though it does pretty well for itself, will get noticed. I feel good, specifically, that our women's issue will get more attention.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Get on the Bandwagon

As I mentioned a couple of days ago, there is controversy stewing over Blizzard banning a GLBT friendly group. I'm glad that this has become an issue, that people are weighing opinions and are discussing identity politics, but the more I read, the more I feel that a lot of people have a hard time realizing heterosexual privilege.

Full disclosure: I do not play World of Warcraft. Therefore, I don't know the game, the atmosphere of the game, the politics of the game. I read and hear about it, but know nothing first hand, which is why I initially didn't want to post about this. However, I am familiar with how people generally act on gaming message boards and chat rooms. I know the language and assumptions that are thrown around, and know specifically that "yr so gay," "fag," and worse, are run-of-the-mill insults. Frankly, I don't think we'll magically see a change of heart any time soon.

Therefore, many people complain that a GLBT-friendly guild is openly declaring that other guilds, or generally that the world of WoW, is less than GLBT-friendly--or worse, homophobic. Well yes, GLBT-friendly guilds act as a "safe" place: a buffer zone from idiotic comments and harassment. It's also a place for community. It feels good to be around people who have the same interests as you, who have gone through similar life experiences. There's an instant bond. Frankly, Blizzard might be right that a GLBT group might incite unwanted harassment, but it's a hell of a lot easier to deal with harassment, which will occur anyway, when you're with a group of friends. Strength in numbers and all that.

There's another argument being tossed around that says that people need to leave their real-life identities behind when they play videogames. When you're privileged--say, you're white, straight, male--it's easy to leave behind your identities simply because you are society's norm. If you don't belong to the white/male/heterosexual group you are constantly being reminded that you're deficient, less-than, weak or dumb. You're not the default. I constantly think about how I'm a woman. It never leaves my head. However, if you've ever heard about how someone who's skin color isn't white is constantly reminded how they aren't white, you might catch my drift. If you're white, is race or the color of your skin something that you're always thinking about?

I can honestly say that I don't, and that's a privilege of mine. The same goes for sexuality. You can't just check it at the door, and in WoW, even though it might be beyond the scope of the actual game, people pick each other up, characters get married or "have" sex. Therefore, sexuality is an issue.

It's too bad that the members of the Stonewall Champions feel that they have to sue Blizzard over this issue, and I'm bracing myself for the inevitable backlash from people who aren't sympathetic towards GLBT rights. In short, because of our culture's history, it looks bad. However, I applaud them for sticking their necks out. Social disobedience gets attention, and if anything, suing Blizzard keeps this issue from being ignored--it's going to keep GLBT rights in the spotlight a little longer. Hopefully what this does is to keep people thinking about it--after all that's one of the few ways towards progress.

Also, in regards to those who think that GUN isn't racist: it's a game that glorifies killing Native Americans. Yes, free speech is sacred, but don't defend a crappy game that recycles the American naivete that Native Americans deserved to get slaughtered.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Girls Cry

The pressure is in my temples, in the back of my eyes. My ears are clogged, the right ear more so than the left. The copy machine is chucking out paper and the telephone is ringing the adjunct faculty room. My nose tingling, I sneeze. Smooshing the back of my left hand against my nose, I flick open the flap of my Mario messenger bag with my right hand and pull out the last kleenex from it's Cinnamoroll holder and mop the mess off my face. I find another unused spot on the tissue, and blow the rest out of my nose.

"Oh, don't cry. Life can't be that horrible."

I look up into the grinning face of a Faculty Member who had just Bestowed His Great Wisdom upon my unsuspecting ears and squint my eyes. He laughs. Behind the protective shroud of my damp kleenex I mumble "I'm not crying. I just have a cold."

Dumb anecdote. And why am I wasting my time dramatizing it? Because it's not the first time in the past two days working-with-a-cold that a male faculty member has come up to me when I've been blowing my nose to ask me if I've been crying. Or he's benevolently telling me not to cry.

Weirder for weird, I work in a bizarro world where in the past I've had to file a complaint of sexual harassment against a male faculty member. Not to say that he was the only person making rude comments to me in the office--he was just the worst. Now a year later, a coworker of mine is going through the same thing with the same faculty member. Except she's not stopping with the formal letter of complaint like I did, she's going to go the top, she's going to wade through the whole mess of papers, investigations and interviews. She is demanding results. I admire her: I wasn't able to go through the whole process because I didn't feel strong enough. I was paranoid that I was being to sensitive, that I couldn't "take a joke." Even though I felt horrible, I also felt as though I had provoked him. I didn't feel as though it was in my right to be one of "those" women, an Anita Hill. It's a pain in the ass to file a complaint of sexual harassment, and its even worse to have to work with the person while the investigation goes on. More salt on the wound that after you go as far as you can, nothing changes, and you still are the recipient of his poor jokes--not to mention dealing with other male faculty members he think they're so damn cute.

I'm sick of it. I'm sick that my supervisor has to regularly email memos out to the faculty to remind them to respect the staff. I'm sick that the faculty members in turn complain to said staff about the memos, all because they fail to realize what they're saying or doing. I'm sick that my co-worker had to go through the same thing that I did because I didn't far enough with my complaint. I am also sick of the fact that when my male co-worker blows his nose, no one ever assumes that he's been crying.

How to make a difference knowing that this can and probably will happen with other jobs? Do I say nothing, "Shut Up, Dumbass?," "You're sexist"? The thing is, how do you get through someone's thick skull that they're being inappropriate when we live in a society that is sexist, where it's okay to demean women and get away with it?

Turning a Corner

Sometime in between the last time I wrote on the internet and now I started a new semester of school. In this time period, Alito has been confirmed, Bush gave another State of the Union Address, Blizzard won't allow a guild to recruit members in thier World of Warcraft game because it's GLBT friendly, and my brains have been frying over reading Plato or Aristotle. Again. I was also asked to do a reading for Columbia and I will be paid. Score.

I've added some new blogs to my sidebar, mainly in the comics section. And my teacher for my Poetics class is truly awesome. You can find his blog here.

If you live in Chicago you should go to this:

Chicago Premiere of "Turning a Corner"

"Turning a Corner" is an hour-long film that tells the stories of peopleinvolved in the sex-trade in Chicago and their efforts to raise publicawareness and promote needed reforms. This groundbreaking film, produced byBeyondmedia Education with over a dozen members of the ProstitutionAlternatives Round Table (PART) tells their stories of survival and triumphover homelessness, violence and discrimination, and gives rare insights intoChicago's sex-trade industry.

Monday February 6, 20065:30PM - 8:00PM

Free Movie and $7 Parking

Thorne Auditorium
375 E. Chicago Ave.
5:30pm - 6:15pm Reception & Art Show
6:15pm - 7:30pm Film Screening
7:30pm - 8:00pm Panel Discussion