Category Archives: From Beijing…

Sell-by Date: Fertility and F**kability

Contains strong language

A woman’s perceived value is tied up in her fertility and her physical appearance. The biological clock has supposedly ruled women’s lives for generations. In many industries, a woman’s sex appeal can equate to her recognition and success. So how does the notion of a “sell-by date” affect real women’s lives?

For generations, women have had their lives directed towards bearing and bringing up children. The average woman has lived her entire life with the overpowering idea that one day, her eggs will suddenly run out and she’ll be immediately infertile. A higher power will flick the off switch; there will be no prior warning.

Thankfully, the dominating premise of the biological clock is a myth. Fertility doesn’t switch off overnight. Of course it does decline, but does so at a different age, and a different rate for different women. Surprise surprise: not all women’s bodies are the same!

Still, a woman’s fertility is often conflated with her value: a woman’s usefulness to a company, a group, and society at large will often be calculated by her age, her marital status, and whether she has or plans to have children. While different organisations make different decisions, and cultural norms differ with cultural identity, some things are universal: a young, newly married woman who hopes to have kids soon is highly unlikely to get the job.

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Barbara Corcoran, 2014 | image: parade

Sexism is hugely hypocritical. We have a long history of punishing women for their youth and fertility, yet simultaneously praising young, fertile women for their sex appeal.

Many women use their sex appeal to their advantage in the workplace because it’s the best or only path available to them. In some industries, sex appeal can equate to recognition, promotion, and success. Barbara Corcoran, real estate guru and investor on ABC’s SharkTank said she used to “yank up her skirt” to get ahead in the business world.

When I was building my business, [when] I would walk into a room of 600 men in dark suits and I dress like a guy in a nice pant suit, no one would say ‘hi’ to me, no one would entertain me. The minute I started wearing bright suits and I would have a nice length skirt on, I would just roll up the middle and walk into that room, everyone paid attention to me.

Corcoran’s behaviour constitutes ‘internalised sexism’, because she’s enacting sexist actions and attitudes toward herself by asking to be judged on her appearance before her ability (hooks, 10). To both herself and those around her, she’s reaffirming the sexist notion:

A woman’s sex appeal decides her value.

This evaluation comes from anyone who decides to pass judgment – colleagues, friends, family, strangers, fans – thus many women have become experts at tolerating and deflecting sexist sentiments. It would be nice to imagine that certain arenas are free of this sentiment, but women in all arenas face a high probability that someone will judge her value entirely on her physical appearance.

Women in the most powerful positions are still subjected to comments on their desirability. In 2011, Sylvio Berlusconi, the former Italian Prime Minister called Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, “unfuckable.” As if that changed her value in the world of European politics.

Imagining we had a shortage of misogynistic fascists in contemporary politics before November 2016, now President ‘Cheeto Jesus’ vomited sexist comments all over the US election campaign season and hasn’t let up. He famously criticized Alicia Machado, the 1996 winner of Miss Universe beauty pageant, for gaining weight after winning, calling her “Miss Eating Machine” among other things. He terrorized her for years because he deemed her eating habits antithetical to her sexual appeal. ‘The Donald’ couldn’t abide that, because her physical appearance was the only part of her he valued.

This is a particularly prevalent issue in the celebrity sphere, an arena that sets a strong example for the rest of the world. Women are criticized for any change to their appearance that the media warrant ‘undesirable’, women are judged on their desirability throughout their careers and especially at their most vulnerable.

When Human Rights Lawyer, Amal Clooney delivered a call to action urging the UN to investigate allegations of genocide in Iraq by the Islamic State, some people failed to hear what she had to say. The fact that she was several months pregnant when she spoke at the United Nations HQ in New York City on March 9th did not affect her ability to do her job. Yet myriad media outlets reported on how her baby bump looked, “in a dark gray pencil skirt and matching cropped blazer”, rather than on what she said (People, tweeted by TIME). Some even substituted her job title for “the wife of actor George Clooney” as if her marriage is her best and only qualification. I doubt her Hollywood actor husband has to deal with this s**t.

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TIME’s sexist tweet caused widespread outrage | image: Mashable

Hollywood actresses, however, do have to. Women in Hollywood are subjected to an astronomical level of criticism about their appearance, the media postulating about their weight, relationship status, fertility, sexuality, age, and sex appeal, drumming up rumours in public reports. Perhaps the most sexist problem actresses face is the decline or dramatic change in their career when they reach a certain age. This is not something that male actors face.

In Amy Schumer’s sketch, ‘Last F**kable Day’, the comedian stumbles across Patricia Arquette (48), Tina Fey (46), and Julia Louis-Dreyfus (56) having a bucolic picnic in the woods. The three talented actresses are celebrating the eldest among them, Louis-Dreyfus’ Last Fuckable Day, because: “in every actress’s life the media decides when you finally reach the point when you’re not believably fuckable anymore” and she has apparently reached that point.

Instead of bitterness, though, Louis-Dreyfus expresses gratitude that she was able to maintain ‘fuckable’ status throughout her forties and well into her fifties, and relief that she is no longer required to ‘maintain’ her figure. She chugs a pint of melted ice cream in celebration.

It seems that one can always rely on comedy to cut through the crap and provide a new perspective on the kinds of issues we just can’t seem to resolve. Watch the sketch here:

Contains strong language

To the public consciousness, a man’s fertility is far less age dependent. Therefore his sex appeal is not tied to his fertility and thus has nothing to do with his age. As Patricia Arquette points out among rounds of laughter, “Men don’t have that day.” 


Read on

hooks, bell. Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics. (2000). Print.

The Foul Reign of the Biological Clock, Guardian

Should women use their sex appeal to get ahead at work?, hello giggles

Jeremy Paxman stuns Silvio Berlusconi with Angela Merkel insult allegation, Guardian

From ‘Cheeto Jesus’ to ‘F–kface Von Clownstick,’ the best and most creative nicknames for Donald Trump, NY Daily News

Shamed and Angry: Alicia Machado, a Miss Universe Mocked by Donald Trump, NYTimesA lawyer named Amal Clooney gave a powerful speech at the U.N. Some only saw her baby bump., Washington PostFemale Film Directors Share Stories of Hollywood Sexism in Anonymous Blog, Yahoo

S**t People Say to Women Directors, Tumblr

‘Pitch Perfect 2’ Makes 2015 a Historic Year for Women in Hollywood, Yahoo

Thirty-one Months Later: Adapting to Life in China

When I first arrived in Beijing in September 2014, I knew almost nothing about the country I’d just moved to. I was embarking on a new life that didn’t seem to have a sell-by date – I had no idea how long I’d stay or even when I would next go home.

While many of my initial questions were answered long ago, the questions never stop arising, and the number seems to grow rather than shrink. The deeper into creating a real life I venture, the greater my curiosity for this vast country grows.

About thirty months ago, a few weeks into my Beijing life, I wrote what was to be my first and only “Beijing Update”. I sent it as an email and posted part of it on my blog, as a list of weird things I’d learned about Beijing.

While I’d like to imagine I’ve shed my China naivety, after almost three years living here, I’m not even sure that’s even possible. At no point have I felt that I could ever stop learning about this monolith of a nation. So to honour that never-stop-learning spirit, here’s an updated look at those weird things I’m still about Beijing:

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Thousands of bikes crowd Beijing’s streets | image from guardian
  1. Health Check. All foreigners must go through a basic health check as part of their visa application. Only selected hospitals provide this all-inclusive test of sight, blood pressure, height, and weight. Patients get a little manhandled as they are passed from doctor to doctor, who take a blood sample, a chest x-ray, a cardiogram and an ultrasound. Standard procedure. Friends of mine speculate it’s all an elaborate ruse to check foreigners for HIV/Aids and other venereal diseases, which could result in a denied visa. I’ve luckily only been through it once, but I’ve got it coming whenever I change job or get a new visa.
  1. IKEA. I avoid Ikea in Beijing like the plague. Yes, it is treated like a social outing. Yes, people go there to sleep. Yes, people go there on dates. No, it is not a fun place to be. I went once and have never yet been back. I’ll just have to ensure I don’t wind up in a less-than-desirably-furnished apartment!
  1. Milk. Fresh milk appeared in my local supermarket a few months after my first frantic search for it. I stopped buying yoghurt and milkshakes by accident, and I only buy cartons of UHT from our closest shop during bouts of laziness.
  1. Long nails. A significant number of men have long nails on their little finger, often just on one hand. It’s a status symbol showing that the hands’ owner doesn’t work with their hands, but most people I see on the subway simply use their pinkie nail to dig that little bit deeper for ear wax.
  1. Public toilets. There are still public toilets all over the place, but only in certain areas. Bars and restaurants in the Hutongs don’t have loos, and will never have them. Some are kept clean, others are not. Most but not all are squatters. Many don’t have cubicles or even dividers. Few have hand-washing facilities and fewer have soap. Never forget to bring your own bog roll.
  1. Bikes. If I thought there were bicycles everywhere in 2014, you can’t move for bikes now. Cycling has become cool again, thanks to Mobike and Ofo, companies that enable you to hire a bike by scanning a QR code. Beginning with student areas like Wudaokou, these bikes have slowly overrun the city and clogged up an already slow-moving two-wheel traffic system. They’re dockless, so the rider can just leave them wherever his or her journey ends. More than once, I’ve seen men unloading 50+ Mobikes onto a single street corner in a busy area late at night. There are stories of burning piles of bikes. There’s less space to lock a bike you actually own, but less likelihood of theft.
  1. Holiday compensation. In 2014 I was surprised that I was required to work on a Saturday and Sunday to compensate for national holiday. I soon learned that this is common practice. Working at weekends (usually doing one or more six-day-week), is considered fair recompense for having consecutive days off. It gets particularly messy when the celebrated holiday falls mid-week. This never becomes normal; working ‘make up’ days in order to earn a holiday never seems fair. But it makes sense, given the size of the country and the familial nature of traditional holidays, to allow the population time to visit their hometowns for celebrations like Qing Ming Jie or Tomb Sweeping Day.

I’ve learned a lot in my thirty-one months in Beijing, and I have enjoyed the incessant challenge this metropolis poses. Although sometimes it feels the smog outweighs the curiosity, I don’t think I’ll ever stop (begrudgingly) raising questions. Which is why Beijing continues to be my home.

 

Read on

Header image from: Uber for Bikes: how ‘dockless’ cycles flooded China – and are heading overseas, Guardian

 

Closer Look: Jin Xing

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I was born in China. It is in China I must be reborn as a woman.

Jin Xing was the first transgender person to undergo sex reassignment surgery in China with government approval, and the first whose sex change was officially recognized by the Chinese government.

As a boy, Jin had an affinity for dancing and soon became a ballet dancer. At nine, Jin began performing in a prestigious troupe that was part of the People’s Liberation Army – ballet has long been considered a valuable propaganda tool – and serving as a soldier. By the age of 17 Jin was the number one male dancer in China, and had risen through the ranks to become a sergeant.

At the age of 19, she started set off to start from scratch as a dancer in New York. Jin, a major celebrity in China, was nobody in New York in the nineties. But that didn’t stop her. She studied modern dance with Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham and Jose Limon. News of her successes in New York reached Beijing, and she was promoted to colonel even though she was not serving. Her career took her to Rome, where she learned Italian, and she toured Europe before deciding that sex reassignment was the right thing for her.

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Jin Xing training as a PLA solder, age 9 | image from hollywoodreporter


When I was six years old, I thought I should be a woman. I myself knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what was wrong or what was mistaken.



 

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Jin Xing in New York in the 1990s | image from hollywoodreporter

During her years in New York, Jin began to explore gender and sexuality. She considered the possibility she was homosexual. But at that time, homosexuality was still illegal in China, and considered a mental disorder. Similarly, very few Chinese people had undergone any kind of sex reassignment and none had been recognised by the state. This was a new idea to Jin, but America had opened her eyes to new things:



I discovered words — transsexual, transgender. I said, ‘OK, I belong to that small island.’ Then I started researching.



Jin underwent three surgeries in 1995, aged 28. She emerged from the last surgery, which lasted 16 hours, to tell her father: “Your son has become your daughter.” In reply, he told Jin: “Twenty years ago, I looked at you and wondered, I have a son but he looks like a girl. So 28 years later, you’ve found yourself. Congratulations.”

Since her sex change, Jin has started a dance company in Shanghai, adopted three children, married, and begun presenting her own hugely popular television talk show, The Jin Xing Show, on the basis which she had gained the nickname “Poison Tongue”. She’s often billed as the Chinese Oprah. But she is so much more than that.

With her celebrity status, Jin Xing has brought attention to LGBTQ+ issues and the difficulties faced by the LGBTQ+ community, who struggle against social stigma and legal discrimination. She is loved as a beacon of hope by young people across China.



I don’t want to change the world… I just want to be myself.



Read on

Meet the Oprah of China, Who Happens to Be Transgender, THR

Jin Xing: China’s sex-change pioneer, CNN

Behind the Spotlights of Transgender China, Whats On Weibo

Looking Back

Reading this in China? View Narrate China on youku

“It was a very peaceful place… and up ahead, we hear this blood curdling scream”. When he met a traveller on the way to Huangshan (Yellow Mountain), Tom accidentally got more than he bargained for.

In this video, Tom thinks back on an old story from his early days in China as he packs up to leave after living in China for eleven years.

Read on:

Learn more about Narrate China

LGBTQ+ in China: a quick introduction

In China, the LGBTQ+ community face severe discrimination. Many LGBTQ+ people’s families and communities refuse to accept their sexuality or gender identity, and therefore find themselves in compromising situations like ‘fake’ marriages to fulfil their filial duty. Homosexuality was considered a mental disorder until 2001, and some private Chinese clinics still offer ‘electroshock’ gay conversion therapy.

Thankfully, there are many people speaking and acting out against such discrimination. In Beijing, the LGBTQ+ community are a strong driving force behind the feminist movement. We’re incredibly privileged to know women like Iron, who runs Beijing’s LGBT Centre, and Li Maizi who spoke in London last week. There are feminists across the country speaking out about everything from Trump to censorship, and campaigning non-stop when the two coincide.

Kick-start your understanding of China’s LGBTQ+ community with this informative video from Out China:

 

So, here’s to our LGBTQ+ friends in China and worldwide. May this be the beginning of a long alliance.

Words and Women: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie | image from guardian

In the face of the proposition that feminism has become too mainstream, that feminist activism has become an empty marketing tool, Adichie responds:

This idea of feminism as a party to which only a select few people get to come: this is why so many women, particularly women of colour, feel alienated from mainstream western academic feminism. Because, don’t we want it to be mainstream? For me, feminism is a movement for which the end goal is to make itself no longer needed. I think academic feminism is interesting in that it can give a language to things, but I’m not terribly interested in debating terms. I want people’s marriages to change for the better. I want women to walk into job interviews and be treated the same way as somebody who has a penis.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian novelist and feminist activist, who lives in the US with her husband and young daughter. Her most recent publication, Dear Ijeawele, Or A Feminist Manifesto In Fifteen Suggestions, is based on a letter she wrote to her friend, who asked Adichie for tips on how to raise her child as a feminist.

The book, which was published on 7th March 2017, focuses on teaching feminism to those we love through one’s own actions and relationships, taking Adichie’s suggestions far beyond the realms of parenthood. Dear Ijeawele is accessible to anyone anywhere, making it a truly intersectional manifesto for feminists the world over.

Quotation from Adichie’s recent interview with the guardian.


Words and Women is a regular feature that spotlights short quotations from influential women activists, artists, and authors.