The one thing that underlies misogyny

You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.

– ‘Daddy’, Sylvia Plath (1981)

Fun fact: It was International No Bra Day yesterday.

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If you already knew that, more power to you, sistah (or brutha!) Until I caught it from the airwaves yesterday morning on my bus ride to work, I wasn’t aware that we had a commemorative day for bralessness, so it was with a tad bit of wistfulness that I missed out on a chance to legitimately unbound myself from the lady diaphragm wall, albeit for just a day.

What I have been aware of, though, is the Harvey Weinstein expose that’s been at the top of my BBC reader for the past week.

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Following from the Roman Polanski case in the 1970s, the Bill Cosby accusations a few years ago, and recent speculations of Oliver Stone also being a creep, it seems that sexual preying is endemic in Hollywood and the film industry at large, even in Asian regions like Hong Kong, Taiwan, Mainland China or South Korea, where they call the unspoken agreement between directors and actresses to exchange sex for casting opportunities “潛規則”, which literally means “latent rule”.

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Jay-Z bein like ‘You WOT, mate?!’

I find such news to be both saddening and intriguing; saddening because these men’s actions show how power pollutes, and intriguing because of how absolutely power pollutes. While I definitely think predators like Weinstein et al should get their just desserts, I don’t believe that these men, or anyone for that matter, are born ‘bad’. I’m sure they’re not stupid either, being super rich multi-award winning producers and directors, so the burning question for me is this –

Why do some men treat women with such criminal disrespect, even when they clearly know it’s against their better judgment?

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This overpowering force, I believe, is fear.

In fact, it’s never not about fear. Even when there’s no ostensible thing to be fearful of, people – men or women alike, fundamentally act out of fear.

Why do parents give their kids a hard time about not doing well at school? Because of fear they will grow up to be a ‘failure’.

Why do people stay in jobs they don’t like? Because of fear they won’t be able to find another job.

Why do couples hold on to unhappy relationships? Because of fear they will never find someone else, or that their ‘investment’ in the other person will all go to waste.

Weinstein and Cosby may be rich and powerful, but they are also human – mortal men who battle the same feelings of insecurity and inadequacy like their fellow non-Hollywoodians (oh, and who can forget about Woody Allen, Mr ‘The Heart Want What It Wants’?) Perhaps as directors and producers used to overseeing massive, multi-million projects, they fear the loss of control, from the ownership of their production company to the editing of the movie down to the bodies of actresses on the set.

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Perhaps, as men whose incredible professional success has convinced them they are deserving of more-than-average adulation, they require validation from every woman they see possible to victimise. After all, if he can ‘control’ their fates simply by deciding whether or not he wants them in a potential blockbuster, surely he’s entitled to controlling their bodies as well, goes Weinstein’s line of thinking.

This is why sexual abuse is almost always about the ego of the perpetrator, not so much the actions or the appearance of the victim.

Sure, a lot of the women whom Weinstein preyed on were physically attractive, but he preyed on them not because their beauty was too arousing for him to bear, but because his ginormous ego couldn’t stand the idea of beautiful women not wanting to throw themselves at him and be in awe of his masculinity and power.

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From left to right: Lea Seydoux, Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow, Rose McGowan

Disgusting? Yes.

Monstrous? No, just all too human.

 

What to do (and not do) when encountering misogyny

So far, I’m lucky to not have encountered sexual predators in the workplace, but I’ve had my fair share of misogynistic experiences, be it in a social, professional, or personal setting.

It doesn’t matter if it was the time when a casual hand travelled up my thigh at a club in Beijing, when an ex-colleague told me I should just ‘sit there and not speak’ in a meeting, or when a guy made awful comments after I adamantly refused to give him what he wanted, the point is to understand that such men do and say disrespectful things out of fear: fear of losing out on a piece of the ‘standard nightlife action’; fear of losing dominance in a work situation; or fear that a woman’s rejection of his advances implies a lack of sexual attraction or prowess on his part.

But here’s the thing: understanding what motivates them is the first step to prevention and protection, because simply by not being fearful ourselves, we as women are better able to not give in to men’s fear.

Instead of being afraid that speaking up will subject us to others’ judgment, know that there is nothing shameful about speaking your truth, because only by speaking our truth can we communicate the importance of our self-worth.

Instead of being afraid that men will taunt and scorn (and some will) when you rebuff their advances, say no if you don’t want to, because that’s the ultimate gesture of self-respect, and something that no amount of sardonic comments can take away.

So say no, firmly, reasonably and yes, I repeat – firmly.

And heck yes, shout no if you need to.

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This reminds me of a painful moment in the book I’m currently reading, Joyce Carol Oates’ We Were the Mulvaneys, in which the daughter of the Mulvaney family, Marianne, suffers in silence after being raped by her prom date, out of fear that she will bring shame upon her family in their insular upstate New York community.

Notice the self-censoring impulse of her responses, and the self-denying nature of her thoughts:

IMG_7842“Who was the boy, Marianne?” Dr. Oakley asked quietly. “What did he do to you?”

Marianne didn’t reply at first, then said, in the same near-inaudible voice, that she did not wish to say the boy’s name. She did not believe that what had happened had been his fault to any degree more than it had been her fault. She’d been drinking at the party, and she had never been so sick in her life. She had made a mistake to drink and believed that friends had warned her but she could not remember clearly. She could not remember much of what had happened and even the memory of the prom itself had become blurred like a dream you know you’ve had yet can’t recall. It was there, it was real, yet she had no access to it. And she did not wish to speak in error.

Dr Oakley said, frowning, “But something was done to you, Marianne? You’ve been – ‘hurt’?”

There was the evidence she’d discovered. Marianne said slowly, of certain injuries. On her body. She had struggled with him, the boy whose name she did not wish to say, but he’d ripped her dress, and might have struck her – unless she’d fallen, slipped and fell in her high heels, on icy pavement. Trying to run from his car. It had been very cold and windy and she didn’t know where her coat was and she’d been sick. She had never been drunk before but believed that that was what had happened to her – she’d been drinking something made of orange juice and she’d been warned but had not listened, or could not remember having listened, and could not remember who’d warned her. She did not wish to name any names and to involve her friends or anyone for no one was to blame except possibly herself. She might have been running and stumbling from the boy’s car because she was going to be sick. Ashamed to be sick, vomiting in his car. […]

For the past few days she had been praying and meditating upon what to do, and she had decided she must do nothing, for it was she who had made the mistake and not the boy and she must not bear witness against him. And Marianne began to cry again, helplessly.

(134)

“Did not wish”, “did not want”, “must not bear”, “she must do nothing”: Like many of Weinstein’s female victims, Marianne would rather write off the truth and white-out her memory, preferring to suffer in silence instead of seeking for help.

She fears that people won’t understand – won’t even try to understand, but do what’s far easier: speculate and shame the woman for seducing the man.

It’s the classic Genesis narrative – had it not been for that minx Eve who fell trap to Satan’s stupid fruit bid, poor clueless Adam would never had sinned.

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‘The Fall of Man’, by Jan Brueghel and Peter Paul Rubens

Misogyny, as we know, is no new thing under the sun.

Ultimately, people treat us how we want and teach them to treat us, so if we don’t think much of ourselves anyway, predatory men will pick up on our fear of not being enough from a mile away.

I’ve noticed, then, that the more confident and certain a woman is about her worth, the less likely she is to be a victim of misogyny.

But instead of seeing predatory or disrespectful men as ‘enemies’ or ‘monsters’, understand that deep down they harbour deep, crippling insecurities about their manhood, and as such are desperate for sexual validation, which they can only obtain from the other sex. In this sense, perhaps no one is more human than them.

So choose to feel sorry for these souls and step away, because your time is better spent with people who truly value your worth, be that your loved ones or yourself.

Namaste, ladies.

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Joyce Carol Oates, circa 1999

Feature image credits: Vanity Fair

 

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When traveling starts at home

To flit…
From high to low, from low to high, yet still
Within the bound of this huge concave; here
Must be his home, this valley be his world.

– William Wordsworth, The Recluse (1888)

Who doesn’t love traveling?

I honestly don’t know anyone who doesn’t. From the anticipation of jetting off to another place to the experience of seeing and tasting new things, there’s no denying that traveling is one of the greater joys in life.

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As travel writer Paul Theroux points out in Deep South:

[Most people] travel for pleasure, for a door-slamming sense of ‘I’m outta here,’ for a change of air, for edification, for the big vulgar boast of being distant, for the possibility of being transformed, for the voyeuristic romance of gawping at the exotic.”

(p. 20)

IMG_6965And yet, he questions the authenticity of modern travel, which he characterises as a kind of “dubious achievement [that sees people] enduring the persistent nuisance of a succession of airports in order to arrive at a distance place for a brief interlude of the exotic, maintaining the delusion that it is travel.” 

Ouch, but touche.

People are often surprised when I tell them my favourite place in Hong Kong is its airport, because the paradox inherent in my answer is that, well, my favourite place here is what takes me elsewhere. Like many globe-trekkers nomadic souls of my generation, I’m plagued with an incurable case of itchy feet (the figurative kind, mind you, nothing to do with my city’s namesake dermatological condition)

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Love this place… (cue choruses of ‘But whyyy?!’)

Whenever I used to think about travelling, what would immediately come to mind is the idea of flying away to another country, but in the past month, I’ve realised that there’s actually plenty to explore in my own city, which has much to offer by way of natural scenery and interesting attractions, as I made some forays into the more rural, idyllic parts of Hong Kong.

 

Green spaces in Hong Kong, where art thou?

Whenever foreigners ask me how I feel about Hong Kong, an urban cradle that I have called home for more than two decades, William Cowper’s description of London in The Task always comes to mind:

Oh thou resort and mart of all the earth,
Chequered with all complexions of mankind,
… in whom I see
Much that I love, and more that I admire,
And all that I abhor

In a nutshell, HK and I share a love-hate relationship, much like the one between children and parents. Whenever I visit England or other European countries, I would marvel at the sheer amount of green spaces there are, even in cities like Edinburgh, London and Madrid, where there’d be big parks in the middle of a bustling area, like St James and Green Park in Westminster, a central district in London, El Retiro Park in Madrid’s Plaza de la Independencia, and Arthur’s Seat, a hill that’s just a 15-minute walk away from Edinburgh’s city centre.

In short, I am perennially amazed by the comfortable coexistence of the urban and the rural in these cities, especially by the fact that they are juxtaposed in such close proximity.

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St James Park, London

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El Retiro Park, Madrid

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Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh (yes, that’s me)

Well, what about Hong Kong Park in Central and Kowloon Park in Tsim Sha Tsui, you ask?

To be honest, and I’m guessing those of you who have been to these two spots would be inclined to agree, I find the former to be more of a structural compendium of ‘things to include in what people would expect in a park’, and the latter to be little more than a designated area where more trees are concentrated than usual.

Neither strikes me as being organically developed green spaces, where people can stroll in and leave the metropolitan hubbub behind, even if only for a lunch break.

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These are the first images that came up when I googled ‘Hong Kong Park’ and ‘Kowloon Park’ #seemypoint

But then again, there are plenty more places in Hong Kong to explore by way of the truly rural, and I must admit that I’ve not exactly left enough tracks over my city to qualify for criticising its ‘lack of greenery and/or space’.

This month, however, my experiences of visiting Sai Kung Country Park and Nam Sang Wai in Yuen Long, made me realise that not all verdant areas are lost in Hong Kong, and just how much more there is in this city to explore.

 

Green places in Hong Kong, I found you

As my beau and I walked along the trail in the Sai Kung Country Park, I noticed tiny mudskippers scuttling about, while flocks of butterflies would gravitate towards us as we passed by low-tide mangrove areas.

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Towards Sai Kung Country Park

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People canoeing in the river

Another time, we drove past the Kam Shan Country Park in Shatin, where we stopped to see monkeys prancing about in the open parking lot. It was the most hilarious thing, watching those simian gremlins prancing about on Toyota minivans and dangling off windshield wipers.

I saw for the first time how agile monkey mothers could be even when carrying their children; as the latter would cling onto their moms’ inner torso with all four limbs, while the mom would jump from one ledge to another, from car boot to meter post to tree branch to hill slope, as if mom and son were putting on an acrobatic show for human onlookers like ourselves.

There was, I felt, no better representation of urban-rural juxtaposition than the sight of wild monkeys making their mark (and scratches, lol) on SUVs.

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Earlier this week, we went to one of the most iconic rural landmarks in Hong Kong – Nam Sang Wai, which is famous for its idyllic scenery, lush fauna, and natural wildlife. There were flocks of white cranes on an almost dried-up Kam Tin River, some of them fishing for food, others just hanging about and having fun (I guess). As we reached the sandbar between Kam Tin and Shan Pui River, I saw fiddler crabs jumping around massive potholes, as the odd bird would waddle about, ostensibly minding its own business but also peacocking to attract attention.

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Cranes on Kam Tin River

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The sandbar between Kam Tin and Shan Pui River

It’s not quite autumn proper yet, but the way dried leaves cracked under my feet as we walked along the tree-lined path reminded me of one of the favourite things I used to do back in England – stepping onto piles of dried leaves just to hear the crispness of that friction between the sole of my shoe and the surface of a leaf-lined pavement.

Yum.

Save for the weather, there were moments when I felt like I was back in Port Meadows in Oxford, which is not something I would ever have thought possible in what I’ve always thought to be a concrete jungle.

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An especially verdant path in Nam Sang Wai

All of this brings me back to my original question:

At what point does traveling start? 

Does traveling necessarily entail passports, customs and foreign lands?

Or can traveling begin at our own doorstep, requiring nothing more than a pair of comfy shoes, a genuine desire to explore, and a great companion – whether that be yourself as a confident solo traveler or a loved one as part of a team?

Now that I think about my travels in the past few years, I find it ironic that I’d always be so eager to fly away to another city, be it Ho Chi Minh City, Lisbon, London, NYC, or Shanghai, but have never really considered my own city to be a place ripe for exploration and discovery.

#greener #pastures #catch22

I suppose this is why, when people say to Paul Theroux that he’s “been everywhere” in the world, he calls it a “laugh”:

Yes, I had been to Patagonia and the Congo and Sikkim, but I – an American – hadn’t been to the most scenic American states, never to Alaska, Montana, Idaho, or the Dakotas, and I’d had only the merest glimpse of Kansas and Iowa. I had not travelled in the Deep South. I wanted to see these states, not flying in but traveling slowly on the ground, keeping to back roads, and defying the general rule of ‘Never eat at a place called Mom’s, never play cards with a man called Doc.’

Nothing to me has more excitement than the experience of rising early in the morning in my own house and getting into my car and driving away on a long, meandering trip through North America. Not much can beat it for a sense of freedom – no pat-down, no passport, no airport muddle, just revving an engine and then ‘Eat my dust’.

(p. 22)

I can’t agree more with Theroux. That’s some traveller’s wisdom right there. 

Ironically, though, as far as my travel bucket list goes, the prospect of going on a road trip across America, a country 8000 miles away from my home, remains and will always be – the ultimate goal and dream.

By the time I’m able to make it happen, though, I suspect that there will still be plenty of places in Hong Kong that await the gracing of my footprints.

Priorities, priorities, priorities…

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Nam Sang Wai ‘ferry’ – a boat ride of approx. 30 seconds

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Sai Kung pier

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Meadows in Nam Sang Wai

* * *

 

 

 

An interview with Samuel Ferrer, Man Asian Literary Prize-nominated author

“I find it amazing that the most prominent kingdom of the Indian diaspora completely evaporated, leaving nothing behind other than these stones.”

– Samuel Ferrer, The Last Gods of Indochine (2016)

I will admit it – I’m a picky reader.

There are certain genres that I used to love but now wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole (chick lit lad lit I’m lookin’ atcha), and I secretly wish that Top 10 Bestseller shelves could be consigned to the dusts of bibliographic oblivion.

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Fie! Fie! Get thee gone

I’ve written about my (much contested) aversion to sci-fi before, and I’ve always found the idea of fictionalising history a bit unsettling.

This is why, when author, double bassist and jazz musician Samuel Ferrer reached out to me a while ago with an invitation to read his historical fiction novel, The Last Gods of Indochine, I was skeptical. Looking back, I’d say I was thrown out of my ‘reading comfort zone’, given that a large part of it is set in medieval Cambodia – a period in history which I have absolutely no knowledge about.

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How women show their strength

What is most beautiful in virile men is something feminine; what is most beautiful in feminine women is something masculine.

– Susan Sontag

Back in October last year, I took up strength training as part of my fitness routine.

Since then, I have been lifting weights every week in full badass mode; headphones in, West Coast hip-hop on, huffing and puffing while I bust out 20 squats with 20-pound dumbbells in each hand.

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Not the most flattering self-portrait, I know, but no one looks flattering when they’re working out. And if you disagree, you’ve either not worked out before, or you weren’t actually working out when you thought you were.

#FACT #sorrynotsorry #keepinitreal

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Lessons & impressions from my trip to Shanghai

Shanghai people are distilled from traditional Chinese people under the pressure of modern life, they are they product of a deformed mix of old and new culture. The result may not be healthy, but in it there is also a curious wisdom.”

– Eileen Chang

In the past month, there’s been a fair few shake-ups in my life, hence the silence on this blog.

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At some point, I know imma have to retire the ‘life gets in the way’ excuse, but the fact of the matter remains that life keeps getting in the way – of writing, of thinking, of sleeping, and sometimes, even of living.

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I’m breaking up with sugar, and it’s been hard

Endless conveyor belts of sickness or litigation poured clients and patients into these midtown offices like dreary Long Island potatoes. These dull spuds crushed psychoanalysts’ hearts with boring character problems. Then suddenly Humboldt arrived. Oh, Humboldt! He was no potato. He was a papaya a citron a passion fruit. He was beautiful deep eloquent fragrant original – even when he looked bruised in the face, hacked under the eyes, half-destroyed.

-Saul Bellow, Humboldt’s Gift (1975)

Everyone has a drug.

What’s your drug?

Before you answer, I’ll clarify what I mean by ‘drug’: I mean anything that you find addictive – substance, food, drinks, activities, people.

But no, this post isn’t about that kind of coke; instead, it is tenuously related to the (marginally) less harmful kind one finds on supermarket shelves, because I’ve recently discovered that one of my biggest ‘drugs’ is sugar.

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An Interview with Albert Wan, owner of Bleak House Books

“If anyone knows of a pub that has draught stout, open fires, cheap meals, a garden, motherly barmaids and no radio, I should be glad to hear of it, even though its name were something as prosaic as the Red Lion or the Railway Arms.”

-George Orwell, ‘The Moon Under Water’ (1946)

Back when I was studying in the UK, I would notice how many more second-hand bookstores there were when compared to Hong Kong. Sure, you’d see the familiar signs of Waterstones and Foyles in the city centre (think Commercial Press and the former Page One in HK), but people would often go to charity shops, indie bookstores and Sunday markets for the hidden gems, like out of print works, first editions or even unpublished papers.

PrintRecently, I came across the website of an independent second-hand English bookseller called ‘Bleak House Books’, which immediately caught my attention with its nod to Charles Dickens.

The owner, Albert Wan, is a former civil rights lawyer from the US, and he is dedicated to selling “books that people want to read” and building “the best selection of used books in Hong Kong: literature, non-fiction, essays, cookbooks and children’s”. For now, Albert is running his store online, as well as selling second-hand books at pop-up shops and weekend markets all over Hong Kong.

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