has been one of the most common compliments I receive. The blank could be anything like women, Asians, Chinese, immigrants, nerds… I used to thrive on this compliment—of course I am not one of THOSE women who are shallow and stupid and soft and don’t know how to drive or THOSE Chinese who spend 70 (sex-less) hours a week in the lab while others go out and have fun. But you know what, I AM a Chinese woman. Back in China, I had never been singled out for being different from other Chinese (or more precisely, Han) people (well, I cannot think of a place where I am not singled out for being a SPECIAL, i.e. independent, intelligent, rational, strong…, woman—hurray!). Turns out only in a world where I am inferior does it matter whether I am unique. And my uniqueness only counts positively when I also conform to other not so unique expectations—I have to be pretty and thin and sexy to be a good bitch/weirdo, otherwise, I am just a bitch/weirdo (which I claimed in the first draft of this blog is fine by me but in reality, may make me quite uneasy and I doubt in that case the opening sentence of this blog would have contained the word “compliment”). (I can probably discuss my internal contradiction of transgressing certain [middle-class] social norms while conforming to others in another blog, so let’s focus on the point of being “different” in this one.)
Sociologically, this probably isn’t that surprising: we are all measured against standards set up to fit the dominant groups and hierarchy is most effectively maintained when members of disadvantaged groups internalize such standards and strive to single themselves out as exceptional individuals (and of course the power to define which exceptional individuals are the worthy ones still lies beyond their control). My awareness to this tendency is probably a result of years of training in questioning the status quo and numerous conversations with friends who are equally if not more critical. I write these “unsurprising” facts down because however much I theorize them, they continue to exist and disturb me every day. My struggle in this case lies in how I and other “unique” individuals who have gained a place in a system that is not designed for us maintain our places without losing ourselves to the game. Or is it just a fantasy to stay and not be co-opted and become one of the token Asian faces (or worse, one of those who trample on those underneath her to get up)? Is my concern over livelihood only a coward excuse for not giving up my privileges and embracing the real fight? How should I guide my students from disadvantaged backgrounds without either making them into parts of a monstrous machine that chews up people like them or leading them into a bloody battleground where they are doomed to lose?
That’s true right? It all fits together. The blonde lady who smiles at everybody and tries to save the world, the public sociologists who get all the Facebook likes, the theorists who seem born knowing who invented which term, the demographers with all their fancy models. Everyone fits in perfectly. But none of them is me. Oh, and of course, there are the critical folks. They are the coolest and I so want to be one of them. Sometimes I almost feel as if I am one of them. But then that doesn’t seem quite right. How could my 23-years of brainwashing education make me capable of critical thinking? My country didn’t have an anti-colonialist history (according to everyone from the former colonial powers) and as a matter of fact, it’s becoming a neo-colonial power—there goes my ability to critique global inequality. Plus, I am too good at statistics—everyone knows you cannot be a real critical thinker if you understand numbers. So maybe I could fit in as a statistician (however much I would have hated that label is not important, having a label is)? I am an East Asian and everything. But then I am also a woman and apparently would never be good enough to assist in advanced stats class. So, I am a highly educated soon-to-be-professor who cannot find her place. Is that how you spell irony or hypocrisy?
Bitterness and snarky jokes aside, this does feel strange. I had to stop here last week when I was writing this post as I realized that I am not quite sure whether my confusion comes from my awkward position as an intellectual or my ambiguity about who I am as a person. Maybe it’s about how weirdly those two morph together. As a person, I am probably boringly normal, with my tiny cute smile decorating my feminine Asian face. It throws people off when I walk around with a “BITCH” tank top. My struggle to be taken seriously intellectually seems to be deeply connected to the assumption that I am not supposed to have a bitchy personality. So I suppose my confusion comes from how much who I am dictates what I can/should/do know and think—to me and to others. This is probably not necessarily a negative thing if I truly reject the idea of any knowledge being “objective”. Then why am I also angry and frustrated all the time for not being able to find myself a clear label if all these labels are just made up? Or am I more frustrated with the fact that nobody else seems to be struggling when they should? (Maybe they are just not telling me?) Why can we not just all be weird and without a place?
Then I became confused by all this confusion and ambiguity I have: Without my credentials as a future university professor or the reassurance that my closest friends (who also are very high in social and cultural capital) share at least some of these sentiments, would I still have all this nonsense in my head? Would I feel safe to put it in words? Maybe the space for a non-place and being/becoming what Unamerican calls “someone who is hyper-aware of her own thoughts” is what I should be thankful for and aware of as my privileges? Then who am I to judge who should or should not be comfortable with their labels?
So a while ago I decided that I should start a feminist/critical sociological blog and shared the idea with a group of my beloved sociologist friends. I received loving support from all of them and Bodhi and Unamerican even started writing blog entries, powerful and moving words. Then I don’t know how to move forward. The thought that my ideas might actually become something, even just more ideas on the Internet, is strange, and strangely paralyzing. What if people who read it get offended? What if we are tracked down by our employers? What if I encourage my friends to charge at all these tall, thick, and cold walls and in the end just break our own heads and bones? What if I am being naïve and unfair when I got angry for the world being fucked up? What if I am just being a bitch?
Then I remember that it is exactly these fearful thoughts that took me here: the moment when my friend commented on a neighborhood being “bad” because it’s not majority white and I did not say anything; the confusion of whether I should feel offended when my English was complimented; the ambivalent feelings toward all the people that I respect and love with my whole heart thriving in systems that I find unjust and corrupted; the exhaustion of over thinking the implication of each and every word and action by myself and by others ; the anger toward myself for always being angry. Small, uncomplicated, insignificant moments that build up and lead me to decide that I need support and companionship in fighting the battle.
Maybe sociology HAS ruined us all as it takes away our ability to take everything for granted, suck it up and make peace with it. Now that we have been ruined for good, maybe it’s time to do some damage to the world as it is.
So here we are, with love and solidarity, and once in a while, rage.
BEWARE OF THE BITCHES.