A Public Affair

February 16, 2011 § 1 Comment

My capstone class is one that I was initially very reluctant to take: Journalism and Democracy is a course advertised as the “capstone for people who no longer want to do journalism after graduation,” and I was extremely displeased when I didn’t make my first capstone choice.

However, it has turned out to be much better than I expected. The work is probably less practical [and just less in general], but our readings and discussions on ethical issues and how journalism relates to democracy make for some interesting brain food.

Today, we read Ethics: Going Public with Rape from Time magazine and debated the pros and cons of publishing a rape victim/accuser’s name in print. It doesn’t seem like a big deal at first, but editors have to go through a number of ethical processes before coming to a decision. Even my professor admitted to being torn on the issue.

Our visceral reaction is to probably take the side of not publishing victims’ names. I frowned in class when I was assigned to the “pro-publishing” side of the debate. To have that kind of personal trauma broadcasted publicly seems like the wrong decision automatically. And there’s the very real possibility of the “secondary injury,” which would impede the victim’s recovery. You could also argue for the potential of the perpetrator to find and harass the victim, though 84% of women know their attacker, according to I Never Called It Rape by Robin Warshaw, so the accused being able to discover the name is not the problem.

As journalists [and rational people in general], however, we can’t base these ethical decisions on immediate reactions.

Rape is one of the most underreported crimes both in terms of being reported to the police as well as reported in the news. The impetus for the story in Time was Nancy Ziegenmeyer’s decision to let the Des Moines Register publish her name, by which “she hoped to focus attention on this underreported crime and thereby prevent other women from being raped.”

Rape as a crime is treated differently than other crimes. If a woman is beaten up and mugged, it wouldn’t be such a difficult decision to publish her name as opposed to if she were raped. The difference in treatment could be valid. Or you could blame it on “society.” In any case, journalists have a duty to take the more ethical decision.

One obstacle is the widespread practice of victim-blaming. “Naming cannot be divorced from blaming,” Katha Pollitt wrote in a 1991 article on the subject. It’s been two decades, but “she deserved it” is still an implied or explicit response from many. This ignited a short vent from one of my female classmates whose guy friend always tells his female friends to “be careful and make good decisions” when they go out. Even though his advice might be given out of genuine concern, let’s not forget that rape is a deliberate crime, not some occupational hazard. Men could use more of the “scantily clad does not mean TOUCH ME and neither does a fancy dinner” lesson.
“There seems to be an emerging consensus that women should be encouraged to admit that they have been victims of a form of assault for which they need bear no guilt,” wrote Andrea Sachs in the Time article, which is notably from 1990.

Nothing has changed much since then. Most newspapers stand by the policy of not publishing victims’ names, but that hasn’t ostensibly benefitted society as a whole. Rape is still stigmatized and underreported. My professor pointed out that by hiding the names of accusers, it makes it seem like there’s something to hide. Certainly, I wouldn’t expect a rape victim to tell the whole world about his or her experience, but nothing is going to change if we don’t question the status quo. I also wouldn’t expect an individual woman to “become the face of” a crime she didn’t bring upon herself, just like Rihanna didn’t go around addressing teenagers about domestic abuse after the Chris Brown fiasco.

Another related issue that I learned about in sociology was that many times, the press focuses too much on the victim. Rape is somewhat sensationalized, and so the details of the crime tend to render the rapist invisible with something as simple as language. “The woman was raped” should be changed to “The alleged offender raped the woman” lest we forget that rape doesn’t just happen by chance.

In the end, my group decided that the best choice would be to only publish victims’ names with their consent. I’m not even sure if this blog post made sense because I’m simply regurgitating my thoughts as well as built-up frustrations at the system — I could probably write on and on about how much I hate how rape is handled in our society.

You Gotta Be A Diva

January 25, 2011 § 2 Comments

I’m currently taking an Editorial Writing class, which is basically teaching us to write our opinions persuasively and effectively. “Don’t be afraid to have an opinion,” my professor says. In fact, we’ll probably fail if we don’t present our opinions with enough punch and bias. Upon reflection, I find that I try to stay somewhat neutral in my blogging — wouldn’t want to offend anyone! But I won’t survive in this class with that kind of bland outlook. So as a preliminary exercise, I’m going to express my opinion on an issue that has bothered me for a few years. Of course, it’d be great if I could get people to agree with me, but because this is merely a rough editorial piece, eliciting any kind of reaction would be a boon. It’s a bit longer than the recommended length of typical editorials, but I suppose that’s because I have a lot invested in the backstory…

//

Sexism is pretty deeply entrenched in the Christian church structure. We have multitudes of complementarians to thank for the lack of women in the higher strata of ministry – pastors, deacons, etc. Worship leaders also come in mostly the male variety, and as far as I know, worship leaders are the ones that write most of the worships songs used in contemporary churches.

Although they compose compelling songs, they naturally do so within a musical range that is comfortable for them to sing, and my seven years of youth group took place under male worship leaders that fit worship songs to their vocal ranges as well.

My voice is naturally lower than those of most women, putting my range somewhere between the typical ranges of males and females. As a teenager in my church congregation, I was at a loss during many songs simply because they were too high for me to sing. As the boys sang comfortably and the girls stretched their falsettos, I forced myself to learn to harmonize in order to participate. I gained an invaluable skill, but it planted a small seed that blossomed into resentment as I grew older and became more aware of the male-female imbalances in the world.

Last fall, I served as worship team leader for the Asian Christian Fellowship at Mizzou. It was my first time being a worship leader, and because I had difficulty playing either piano or guitar while leading, I could only lead vocally while the rest of the team took care of instrumentals. Thankfully, one of my friends served as the team’s mentor as well as member, and his expertise in both playing guitar and leading worship helped things run smoothly on the musical side of things.

Excited to have such a privileged position, I went through my entire 250-page songbook and transposed all the songs I knew into keys that I could sing comfortably — I knew from the beginning that most songs did not fit into my range in their original keys. I didn’t expect this to be a problem until our mentor brought it up during a practice early in the semester.

“These chords make it too low for me,” he said during a pause in the playing. “I don’t think most guys would be able to sing it.”

This happened more frequently than I would like to recall. Each time, we had to stop and come to some sort of a compromise. Either we would tweak it a little, or he would end up leading it in its original key, or we would nix the song from the set list completely.

I realize that being a leader means being a servant, and to serve my fellowship is to consider their needs. If the guys can’t sing part of the song, then it’s not very considerate of them, is it? And I might be espousing my opinion due to years of built-up bitterness, but I believe that I have a point worth arguing.

Even when I was a vocalist on my youth group’s worship team during high school, I don’t recall anybody wondering, “Is this too high for the girls to sing?” In most worship services that I’ve attended, it’s either sink or swim. The women don’t complain because they’re simply used to this treatment.

Men, on the other hand, are raised with inherent privileges that they don’t even realize. They expect small things like a worship song to be done in a way that is most beneficial to them because that’s the way it’s done. It’s no wonder that women are more successful in the corporate world when they behave like men, or that women who participate in “manly” activities [such as watching football] are glorified vastly over men who enjoy “effeminate” activities [such as knitting]. In this society, to be a woman is still to be a second-class citizen, no matter how rosy and progressive things might seem.

During today’s worship team practice, we played “In Christ Alone,” a hymn containing soaring verses that are typically way out of my range. Though I’ve retired as worship team leader, I’m still a member, as is our ever-faithful mentor. Our current leader, PN, was a soprano in choir, but even she had to transpose the song down a few keys to get it within range.

Our mentor usually played it in the key of E major. Transposing it to D was still somewhat uncomfortable for PN, so we tried it in C.

“C is too low for me,” our mentor said after going through the first verse. “I would prefer D.” He also mentioned something about “most guys.”

Blessed with an eternally good nature, PN agreed. I bit the insides of my cheeks and swallowed the protests that rose in the back of my throat.

Did you not hear that we were struggling to reach the high notes in D? Did you not hear her say that it was uncomfortable for her? Do you think that just because we could narrowly squeeze the notes out that all of the rest of the women in our fellowship will enjoy hearing and following our high-pitched melodies? And do you really think that the men will lose that much from not being able to sing a few lines when our needs as women have been overlooked for as long as I can remember?

He tries. I know he tries. But I’m outlining a larger issue here. It’s tiring to carry around this resentment, which is why I’m finally laying it out now. I don’t think anyone cares about this as much as I do, and if I have to come under fire for my opinion, then so be it. I would love to have kind thoughts and think lovingly of my brothers in Christ all the time, but in this area, it’s about time they tried putting us first.

Tiger Mother

January 15, 2011 § 1 Comment

I just finished reading Amy Chua’s “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” a hotly discussed excerpt from her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.  The first time reading through it was difficult. Somebody asked if it was a satire, and I wondered the same thing. It sounded like somebody was writing based off of pure stereotypes to portray Chinese mothers as ruthless tyrants.

The fact is that Chinese parents can do things that would seem unimaginable—even legally actionable—to Westerners. Chinese mothers can say to their daughters, “Hey fatty—lose some weight.” By contrast, Western parents have to tiptoe around the issue, talking in terms of “health” and never ever mentioning the f-word, and their kids still end up in therapy for eating disorders and negative self-image.

This is like taking the little things Asian kids joke about to each other and publishing them as rote truth. I couldn’t even read this in one sitting because it just seemed so negative. Articles like this don’t do much to dispel the “model minority” myth. It’s not hard to see why there was major backlash against Chua after this was published; tales of no sleepovers and hours of piano practice will probably cause a visceral reaction in anybody raised in the United States, myself included.

But I read on because I really wanted to know what she had to say.

For their part, many Chinese secretly believe that they care more about their children and are willing to sacrifice much more for them than Westerners, who seem perfectly content to let their children turn out badly. I think it’s a misunderstanding on both sides. All decent parents want to do what’s best for their children. The Chinese just have a totally different idea of how to do that.

Western parents try to respect their children’s individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they’re capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.

If anything, the final two paragraphs of the article are the most worthwhile to read. I don’t want to condone this kind of “extreme parenting” just as much as the next person. These lines from the Huffington Post describe me exactly:

Chua is prescribing life motivated by perfectionism — fear of failure, fear of disappointment. Not only is this a vicious form of unhappiness, but research by Carol Dweck and many others shows that kids who are not allowed to make mistakes don’t develop the resilience or grit they need later in life to overcome challenges or pick themselves up when they do fail.

So I have to say that even if Chua’s advice is not good & true, it’s at least accurate in my life.

My mother was born in the year of the tiger, and it’s something she treasures. Back when Beanie Babies were popular, we’d always have two of them displayed prominently on a bookshelf in the house: a bull for my father and a tiger for my mother. She wasn’t as extreme as the cases outlined by Chua; I was allowed to go to the occasional sleepover, and she never bothered coercing me into more than 1.5 hours of piano practice.

But I’ve also had my share of threats throughout the years, including this morning in the car, which was another lecture on the overall uselessness of my life. If my mother ever cared about my happiness, it was only from the perspective of happiness approved by her, based off of her own principles and priorities.

Ultimately, I’m not sure either the “Eastern” self-esteem-based-on-parental-approval method or the “Western” self-esteem-based-on-personal-approval method would bring true happiness to a child. People are so prone to mental and emotional changes that something as fragile as self-esteem can only be considered solid if grounded in something unchanging, like the eternal God.

In any case, I don’t hold Amy Chua’s work against her. I just hope that she doesn’t misrepresent Chinese people, and I hope she doesn’t damage her children, because they won’t always want to laugh and cuddle after hours and years of forced piano practice.

This Land Is Your Land, This Land Is My Land

November 17, 2010 § Leave a comment

I’m taking a US Environmental History course this semester to fulfill my upper-level social science credit — it sounded boring [what could there possibly be to talk about? Changes in climate?] but I would do anything to avoid taking a political science or economics class.

Once again proving that my assumptions are almost always incorrect, this class has taught me more crucial information than any other gen-ed I’ve taken. It is, in short, a study of how humans relate to their environment and vice versa.

When you look out at a typical American landscape, you see grass, trees, and a clear expanse of sky. The suburbs in which I’ve grown up, at least, differ drastically from the hazy pollution of urban China, and I’ve always consumed the clean air and water of America with confidence.

Yet I’ve never seen the ecological battle that occurs every day on this continent. We’ve learned that the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, of which I had only barely heard about in elementary school, was not a freak incident of nature but a result of massive erosion due to poor farming tactics that stripped the land of its natural vegetation. During the beginning of America’s colonization, flocks of birds numerous enough to darken the sky were hunted mercilessly for sport; dams and overfishing have cut off many fish from their natural routes between hatching and developing, not to mention the endless invasive species transported to various bodies of water to keep some semblance of life. The earth is struggling around us.

Our first lesson was about Native Americans. Most people, currently as well as in the history of our nation, have had a romanticized vision of the nomadic American Indian who only kills what he needs and uses every part of a bison, demonstrating a spiritual connection to nature and as small of an environmental footprint as possible. But this is inaccurate, a stereotype, not too dissimilar from the “straight-A student” ones that Asian Americans face today.

When colonists first set foot in America, they stepped into a landscape that had already been transformed by the people living there. Native Americans regularly set brush fires to clear the plains of shrubs, and they also had bison jumps, which were basically cliffs from which they drove herds and herds of bison to their deaths. It was certainly a wasteful way to hunt, since there was no way to preserve the piles of carcasses, but it’s an intelligent strategy much safer than chasing a bison with a spear. The point here is historical agency — our idealized notion of Native Americans robs them of the power to change their environment, which they inarguably did because they were reasoning, capable people.

But the breadth of environmental change caused by non-Native Americans has been so much more devastating.

For the past week, we’ve been watching a documentary called Blue Vinyl, created by Judith Helfand. The film documents the consequences of PVC plastic, primarily in the form of vinyl siding used on millions of houses across America.

A clip:

In summary, this is what I learned:

1. PVC, a cheap and efficient form of plastic, is everywhere from the side of your house to your pipes and toys and other plastic things.
2. PVC is made from vinyl chloride, the life cycle of which makes it one of the most hazardous consumer products in existence due to the toxins that are released when PVC is produced and disposed of.
3. Burning PVC, which is the most common and easiest way to dispose of the product, produces toxic fumes.
4. These toxic fumes are dioxin, which causes tumors in those exposed to vinyl chloride. Factory workers as well as those who live near factories develop angiosarcoma of the liver, a rare form of cancer.
5. European vinyl chloride manufacturers actually signed a pact of secrecy with American companies not to publish scientific reports that showed correlations between vinyl chloride exposure and angiosarcoma.
6. When the documentary was being made, PVC executives in Venice were being charged for manslaughter due to deaths of their factory workers. The thing is…they simply don’t care, and were all acquitted by the jury.

It’s hard to fight vinyl. The plastic is cheap, durable and ubiquitous. Realistically, most people can’t afford to build their houses with another material. Blue Vinyl highlighted the fact that vinyl corporations donate millions of dollars in products to Habitat For Humanity in order to provide families with affordable housing.

But cheap consumer prices don’t reflect the cost to the environment. As Americans, we can’t escape the capitalist frame of reference: our minds are always thinking in terms of cost-benefit analysis. Recycling vinyl is immensely expensive, so is it worth the effort? Is it worth it if the trade-off is the release of cancerous chemicals into the environment?

I have a friend who is adamantly against recycling, something about the effort being more expensive than simply throwing the materials away. But when you pit monetary cost against ecological cost, is it really okay for the environment to come out on bottom?

Vinyl is worrisome, but there are precedents of hazardous materials becoming obsolete. Before 1900, asbestos was a popular building material, but after discoveries just a few decades ago that exposure led to diseases such as cancer, governments began passing laws to phase the material out of consumer products. It’s possible for us as consumers to take control of what is sold to us and how it might harm our world; it starts with educating yourself.

What If…

September 20, 2010 § 4 Comments

Today while drifting off at some point during my 7 hours of meetings/worship team practice, I started thinking about the Internet. How does it actually work? I mean, we use it all the time, but what is it actually made of? Like, all these web pages exist in some void we have to have an Internet connection to see. So it’s like they’re floating above the clouds, and we have to have Jack’s beanstalk to reach them.

What if everybody on Earth lost Internet connection for life except one person?

Would that be like if all of New York’s population suddenly vanished, leaving only one? That person would have the freedom to do anything, but it would be incredibly lonely. The Internet allows us to connect with anybody except maybe those in China or North Korea, etc., and losing all of it would be like wandering around a completely deserted city. Web pages would sit un-updated. Youtube video views would only go up as much as that single person watched them.

Would that one person eventually get tired of the vacant space and drop out of the Web too?

What if the Internet just…stopped?

Recounted To Me By A Friend:

May 11, 2010 § 1 Comment

HA HA wait you did what?

We [3 girls] were standing at the checkout at Wellcome [a Hong Kong supermarket] near the condoms, and someone commented that they cost more in HK than in Canada.
“No, I think they’re about the same, aren’t they?” said Person 1.
“How much are the ones you use?” Person 2 asked.
“Actually, I don’t really know; my boyfriend’s the one who buys them,” Person 1 replied.
General laughter ensued.

[I laughed too.]

Even the girl telling me this story didn’t seem to think much of the incident, but I never expected to witness such openness about sexual relations from people with whom I had gone to church that very morning. It’s not that I’m judging her; I’m simply amazed because I would die of shock if I heard that among my friends at my home church. Nobody would openly admit to having had sex with a significant other [especially a current one], and if so, it would most certainly be done with an attitude of shame and remorse.

What’s the difference?

Is it because we’re all temporary-ish friends? Is it because every single one of the girls from that night is in a stable dating relationship, while most of my friends have never dated? Or does it have more to do with the church culture in which we were raised? Anyway…things to ponder.

Equal Opportunity

October 25, 2009 § 3 Comments

Excuse me, Yahoo?

It’s every woman’s worst relationship fear — that her man is cheating.

What, then, is a man’s worst relationship fear? That his penis will get “snipped off” in his sleep by his vengeful partner once she finds out?

We’ve all heard the statistic: half of all men cheat. And some experts say that number is even closer to three quarters. Could it be happening to you?

Well oh my goodness, men are that bad at controlling themselves? COULD it be happening to me?! Thanks for the helpful advice, Shine: Yahoo! Your female-targeting “service journalism” doesn’t make me paranoid at all! At least you’ve given me hope that it’s possible for cheating to help my relationship.

You know what these women’s websites [and, by extension, magazines] lack? A section dedicated to pictures of gorgeous, partially-undressed men. Dieting? Check. Parenting? Of course. Pecs and biceps? Only on gay websites.

I think one reason I like Kpop culture so much is that they have equal objectification. That doesn’t make it right, of course, but it’s certainly difficult to fight. On the other hand, I suppose it’s good that American women are not spending all of their time looking up pictures of naked men.

This isn’t necessarily a coherent blog entry, but I wonder if all men are attracted to the women that the mainstream puts up on pedestals. For example, there are many women who think John Mayer is basically the sexiest man alive, but he is completely ugly to me.
I had to buy the November issue of GQ for magazine editing class, and the cover stared me down uncomfortably. Would all straight men have a positive reaction to this picture? I wondered.

Not sure where all this is going. I simply don’t want to start on my massive pile of homework — I’d rather ogle my newest mini-obsession [he’s of age! I checked!] and think of Halloween costume ideas…

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