I’m not sure that I address this well; I have a lot going through my head and most of it stems from current circumstances. If I’ve addressed something badly, feel free to engage with me and provide me different perspectives. I’m still trying to sort out the feelings I’m having regarding my situation, and I’m sure conversation that stems from such will be very helpful. It’d definitely be appreciated.

In the past week, I’ve written a dozen posts about abuse that have tried to discuss issues that I have with the way that we’ve learned about it and how we have conversations about it. It’s been far more difficult than I anticipated, and I’ve found that I keep coming up with different questions every time I write a new post and subsequently delete it.

Mostly, I keep returning to one question: How do things like culture and socialisation shape the way that we perceive and address abuse?

Obviously, there are so many pieces to this question. When it comes to physical abuse, most people are more likely to agree that it’s unacceptable and will take action against it. This is part of why we’ve seen an increase of discussion on Twitter in tags like #MaybeHeDoesntHitYou and #MaybeSheDoesntHitYou, where people have been continuing discussion about non-physical abuse. And we also have had #WhyIStayed to discuss the reasons why it’s sometimes quite hard to leave partners who are abusive.

These discussions are all fantastic and necessary; it’s great to see them making more people aware of the existence of things that are less obvious: emotional, mental, and financial abuse. These discussions are also outlining the fact that even hard evidence doesn’t mean you’re safe from the unnecessary critiques of those observing you, as we’ve recently learned with the high-profile news about abuse that Amber Heard endured. And it’s even showing that, no matter what, your actions are never appropriate. If you stay, you’re ‘weak’ and ‘asking for it’; if you leave, you’re ‘not trying hard enough to make things work’ and ‘are taking the easy way out’. For people perceived as girls and women, this is particularly true; there’s a reason that Australia has released an advertisement discussing the influences for domestic violence and how it starts with disrespect that appears to be okay within the society. For those perceived as boys and men, it’s just unlikely that they’re socialised to even discuss any abuse at all and are told to just ‘man up’.

And in any case of abuse, you never seem to have enough evidence.

But back to the questions I asked: How do we discuss abuse while also accounting for aspects of culture? Let’s me use an example of something that I endured growing up: fat- and body-shaming.

Throughout the world, people have generated conversations that have made it possible to view fat- and body-shaming as the abuse that they really are. We’ve found that the more you shame a person for their eating and exercise habits, people who are attempting to lose weight are less likely to achieve their goals; it actively pushes them in the opposite direction, leading many to gain weight despite attempts to do the latter. Even for fat people who may not be trying to lose weight, many have been found to comfort eat and feel less comfortable engaging in physical activities; it often scares them from just trying a new dance class that they’re interested in or joining groups playing casual games of soccer. More than any of that, it’s just absolutely atrocious behaviour to verbally emotionally abuse someone under the guise of ‘concern’.

I can say that all of this applies to me: I gained more weight due to comfort and stress eating. I gave myself ridiculous goals, trying to meet them any way possible and often failing because they were absurd, leading to further comfort eating. I frequently felt terrified going into gyms or aerobics classes, and I still feel uncomfortable and terrified blatantly exercising in public; the only exceptions are walking and biking. Even my middle and high school PE classes made me so nervous and uncomfortable, as they perpetuated the problems because my peers would hurl abuse and my teachers enabled it (or, at the very least, didn’t dare stop it). I still feel bad doing hiking trips with my friends, feeling as if I’m holding people back even when they tell me it’s okay. It’s made me hate doing physical activities in groups, like running and biking; people who ask me to do it with them always leave me behind, making me wonder why I even bothered to go with them. I get easily embarrassed if I mess up in the dance classes, and I always feel immediately uncomfortable upon entrance. Much like Lindy West, I wanted to make myself smaller, allowing my personality to take up as little space as possible; I still identify with that so much, even as I’ve allowed it to grow in recent years.

And despite the level of my own personal experiences, all of that doesn’t even get into the fact that there are also racist aspects of fat- and body-shaming. It also neglects that people are willing to include transmisogyny in their body-shaming tactics.

But these conversations, though they seem older in some demographics, are taking place in other areas as a result of memes that are believed to be unhealthy and overt restrictions. For example, the variety of body-shaming memes that have been coming out from China have sparked conversations among many people both locally and globally: the collarbone challenge, the belly button challenge, the A4 waist, the 100 yuan wrist, the 2B pencil face, and the iPhone knees and legs. There are quite a few of these viral memes (along with a few hoaxes); they come out on services like Weibo, become globally viral, and then make the rounds until they fizzle out or are replaced with a new one. These memes can be quite harmful locally, and there are people who are discussing things like fat-shaming within the culture. As these memes travel, however, they lose the cultural context that they may have; they become far more literal to many non-Chinese people, losing any meaning and context that they might have.

From my own experience of having lived for a few years between both Taiwan and China, I have grown accustomed to occasionally hearing my local friends and co-workers comment on my weight or the foods that I choose to eat. When visiting the families of my friends, their parents have sometimes commented that I’m “much too fat” and “should work harder to lose weight.” Though it’s not meant to be harsh, it becomes overwhelming to a person who has struggled with their weight since they were a toddler; it’s exhausting to put their concerns and comments into positive contexts, even though I have heard their same comments from the mouths of my family. It’s emotionally draining hearing people tell me that I should “stop eating,” especially when I have cousins back home who once told me that I “should become anorexic so that I could be pretty.”

For me, the fat- and body-shaming is abusive because of the contexts in which I’ve experienced it; for some of my friends, they view it as being helpful by merely telling the truth. I’m not willing to comment more than that, as I am not a member of either culture; I’m not an expert by any means, which means that I’ve definitely glossed over many nuances of what is taking place.

That’s not to say that all Taiwanese and Chinese people do this because they very clearly don’t. When co-workers publicly shamed me, I had a number of students – primarily those who identified as female – that came to tell me how ridiculous and cruel it was that they should say such a thing; they told me about how they were uncomfortable with people telling them how they should lose weight, eat less food, and that they should change their appearance in whatever way that might be most appealing. One of my closest friends often took it upon herself to tell me and other people, especially our students, who were on the receiving end of their comments how beautiful we were in every way and how hard we worked so that she could try to counteract the things our co-workers had told us.

It’s also not to say that places like America are without guilt; I have been misdiagnosed with having a “nervous stomach” and told to lose weight only to later discover that I was suffering from ulcers caused by H. pylori. I lost a significant amount of weight because I couldn’t keep food down; people congratulated me for my weight loss, disregarding the fact I lost it due to illness. My mother had to fight with doctors to get them to do testing to figure out what was wrong with her, finding out that she had early stage liver cancer; the first few doctors said that she was in pain because she was obese. We later found out that her being overweight actually saved her life, as the tumour would grow not into her liver but into her fat; it was the pulling of the tumour from the fat that caused her such pain, allowing her to diagnose her cancer early.

But this can be applied to all kinds of abuse, not just fat- and body-shaming. And it constantly leaves me wondering: How do we discuss these in cross- and multi-cultural relationships or settings? And how do we define emotional and mental abuse in these scenarios, when it’s already so difficult to explain within one culture?

How many times is too many when I have to explain to my partner, who is a non-native English-speaker and comes from a different cultural background than I do, about why it’s not okay to tell me that I’m “too sensitive” or “too emotional?” How many times do I need to remind my partner that they have to ask me to do something rather than assume I’m okay with doing it? How many times do I have to remind my partner and explain why it bothers me that they override or question my decisions, even if they think it’s for my benefit? When does it become gas-lighting? When does it become manipulation? When does it become abuse?

How do I make my partner understand that, while I’m more than happy to take their culture into consideration when understanding their actions, they have to provide me the same respect – making the same attempt to understand my experiences and background – in order to make the relationship work?

Because I feel like this is an often overlooked aspect of abuse, and it often makes it difficult to navigate the world in which we live because we’re assuming all cultures and people view abuse in the same way, leaving many people to remain as victims of abuse without providing them the necessary services and knowledge.

It should go without saying that I am capable of making my own decisions, and it should also go without saying that I don’t want unsolicited advice. Which also means that any unsolicited advice that you offer will only make me angry. There’s a reason for this: I didn’t ask for it, and I didn’t go out of my way to gain your insight on something you’ve got no right to advise me on. You’re not my keeper, and most of my decisions that you’re commenting on don’t even affect you.

I have yet to meet a person who likes unsolicited advice. Rather, let me amend that statement to be more accurate: I have yet to meet a person who likes receiving unsolicited advice. I have met so many people who enjoy giving unsolicited advice; most of the people I’ve met who do this, unsurprisingly, have been men. It’s generally when it comes to how I present myself, ranging from my sense of fashion to how I perceive actions in relationships to professionalism (which is pretty ironic when you consider how unprofessional most unsolicited advice is). It’s not just me who gets this slew of unsolicited advice about everything; it’s pretty common for most women, and it only seems to get worse once a person with a uterus decides to have a child.

That isn’t to say that men are the only people who do this or that women are the only people getting advice they don’t want; women are guilty of it, too, and it tends to be aimed at other women more often than not. It shouldn’t be shocking to learn how much the advice they give embodies patriarchal values: narrow beauty standards, how to be a mother, how to make yourself less intimidating, etc.

And it amazes me that there’s one simple fact about the vast majority of unsolicited advice: It has never been valuable or useful in my life. When my former 80-something-year old superintendent told me that I “should wear more make-up” because he thought I looked homely, it did nothing to benefit me; it did the opposite, and it made me realise that he only wanted young women around him for his visual pleasure rather than our genuine capability in the job we were hired to do. His advice made me uncomfortable at work, especially when I had to deal with him specifically. Every other young woman who worked in this school received the same advice, ranging from him telling us what kinds of clothes he thought we looked nice in or how we should all hurry and find a husband because we were “getting old.” (Side note: All of the staff members he targeted were 30 and under.)

But he wasn’t the only person to provide someone with unwanted advice in that school; a female teacher in her 40s, during a presentation about bullying, told the girls that they needed to consider “how they didn’t look ladylike while bullying someone.” There are very specific characteristics about what “ladylike” looks like, and most of them only serve to enforce some negative gender roles in girls that make it more difficult for them to speak up or have a positive body image, among other things. To her credit, she did respond positively when another teacher and I explained why we took issue with the phrase. Unfortunately, she proceeded to give students unwanted advice in a future presentation: Don’t wear your hat backwards because you’ll be a bully. As we’re all aware, style is the number one cause of a person treating others like garbage, not the fact that they’re an insensitive jerk.

It’s also not a coincidence that I’m exhausted from dealing with opinions about my capabilities and personality. When a person who is a friend or acquaintance tells me that I “should be nicer” and that I “shouldn’t argue with” someone, they have shown me that they really don’t know who I am. They’ve also shown me that they don’t respect my assertive nature, which isn’t uncommon; there’s a reason that we view assertive women as “bitchy” or “bossy” while assertive – and even aggressive – men get to be viewed as “driven” or “standing his ground.” My partner is one such person who has, whether he’s realised it or not, told me to be less intimidating to other people, even though he’s also claimed to “love my intelligence and strength.” He’s also given me explicit information about how to treat people, as if he seems to think that my strong-willed nature precludes me from having manners and being polite. Strangely, he didn’t seem to understand why that made me upset.

I’ve received that same advice repeatedly, and I’ve seen how that particular double-standard plays out in a person’s actions. At my former job, I gave the principal suggestions that I was receiving from students and other teachers that I felt would help make the school a better place and improve the quality of education for the students; he perceived everything I said negatively. When my male colleague gave him the exact same suggestions, he thought they were wonderful and could be implemented at a later date. Why? I legitimately can’t find a difference between how we made those suggestions other than our gender. I was accused of “making my boss look like a fool” and “being disrespectful,” but my male colleague was seen as “wanting to make improvements.” If I wanted to make a suggestion or if I needed resources for my classes, I had to find a male teacher to champion the cause for me because it would never get done otherwise. (Spoiler: There weren’t many of those who were willing to help, either.)

  • Things of that nature are part of why I hate unsolicited advice. I could fill volumes with all of the unsolicited advice I’ve received:
  • People telling what to wear (don’t wear blue because you’ll look sad, those jeans are too loose and don’t show off your curves, that shirt needs a jacket),
  • Irrelevant tips for when and how to do a teaching demo at a job interview by non-teachers (ask for another week because there’s no way you can possibly make a lesson plan in two days),
  • How to talk to people (never tell people how you feel, just deal with it on your own because they won’t change),
  • How my hair should look (you shouldn’t cut your hair short because it looks better long, never cut it, don’t dye it),
  • How much or what kind of jewelry I should wear (don’t wear gold, wear a minimum of three pieces, don’t wear more than two rings),
  • Non-teachers or teachers outside of my subject area telling me how to teach my classes and what topics I should cover (you’re including too many non-white people, there couldn’t possibly be this many women in history).

It literally does nothing other than make the person at the receiving end upset; when you provide someone with unsolicited advice, it shows that you don’t understand how it’s harmful, especially when you’re not bothering to care about how the other person feels when they receive it. It’s genuinely not functional feedback; it’s always on something they never asked for feedback about. Not least of which, it’s just bloody rude.

I’m confident in my abilities to do my job and conduct myself professionally, I’m secure in knowing how to interact with people, and I’ve been working hard to maintain a positive body image despite the fact that I’ve so rarely had one. But I also like being opinionated and assertive; these are not negative traits, even when we view them as such when women embody them.

So don’t give me unsolicited advice. I don’t want it, and it means nothing to me.

I used to find it agitating to be subjected to the music or entertainment preferences of people in public, especially on public transportation. It bothered me they would never wear their headphones to make sure that they were the only person enjoying their media, that it was a special moment between their chosen piece of music and themselves. I used to hate being made to listen to someone watch some sort of drama or over-the-top action film on my way to work, hearing the screaming sobs or the excessive explosions.

I don’t mind it now, though. In fact, I find it intriguing. What do people like that I love? Do they enjoy things that I don’t? Could they introduce me to something new? I don’t know when this changed.

Perhaps it happened when I was living in Sydney at the moment that I decided I loathed the idea of quiet carriages on trains, which seem to have no logical function other than to inconvenience more people than they benefit. This is especially obvious when you live somewhere that doesn’t have the appropriate capability of obviously labelling, which leads to a lot of upset individuals who all look suspiciously like those who attempt to avoid public transportation at all costs and may only use it once or twice a year because the car is in the shop.

Or it could be the introduction to many other cultural attitudes toward noise pollution, which were not present in the rural Midwestern town I grew up in. It was always quiet there, but we could get away with things that people living in town limits couldn’t. We could actually have bonfires, and we could have more pets than allowed (and my family did, as we lived on a farm).

But we weren’t allowed to have higher-than-average levels of noise, as the neighbours within earshot could potentially call the police on you. I remember going to a friend’s party when I was in high school where that did happen. She lived in much the same area as I did, which is to say she lived in the middle of a corn field. You couldn’t see her neighbours’ homes, and you’d never have known she even had neighbours if it weren’t for the fact they called the police on us for playing music too loud on only one occasion.

That’s probably why I love the fact that here in Tainan there is a constant stream of noise, which some people would assume to be unhealthy. It’s comforting to me, even if it sometimes gets on my nerves. I like hearing the garbage trucks playing some form of classical music, usually Beethoven, to let people know that they’re out collecting; I like that the man who collects and sorts through recycling plays what sounds like some midi variant of Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On to signify the same message. I like hearing the popping of the firecrackers at the temple across the street. I even enjoy the traveling campaign trucks and miniature parades that go by my flat.

And I even like going to quiet places like Shoushan knowing that, at some point, an older person will be hiking past me with their radio on full-blast.

I’m dreadfully confused by something, and I would be eternally grateful if someone could explain it to me in a coherent and logical fashion. Why is it that, in 2013, we still have to address the fact that rape is wrong? Why is it that people still think it’s okay to blame the victim for what happened to them?

The sad thing is that I realise how our culture perpetuates this. I’m not oblivious to the fact that even our rhetoric against rape continues to promote the same mentality that allows for it. I haven’t somehow missed all of the talk about how our “hook-up culture” perpetuates this “rape culture,” even if though I don’t agree with it at all.

Through all of this, I fail to understand why we are grieving the loss of the rapists (only to later to be outraged that people are calling you out for your response rather than rightfully apologising for it). I don’t understand why people continue to say that the victim is responsible, the victim’s actions gave good reason for this to happen, or using speculation to shame the victim.

I’m sure there are people who will be more eloquent than me (and I’ve probably linked to them somewhere in this post), and I know that I’m not the only one outraged over the responses. I’m not the only person who is upset over the fact that this (and any other) victim can be publicly shamed for speaking out against the wrong and improper actions of another person. What makes this even worse is that these people have visual evidence, and it doesn’t seem to matter. (Not that the visual evidence should ever be a necessity.)

And people constantly chime in with nonsense like “she shouldn’t have been drunk” or “she shouldn’t have been such a slut.”

You people realise it doesn’t matter, right? She’s not responsible for what they did to her; it’s not her fault, regardless of how drunk she was or how she was dressed. There is nothing any one of you can say to explain away how wrong it is to rape someone. There is nothing that nullifies the fact that violating another human being should never be done. No one can tell me that there is ever a reason for it to happen.

It doesn’t matter what I wear. It doesn’t matter if I’m being friendly. It doesn’t matter if I’ve had too much to drink. It doesn’t matter whether or not my lifestyle includes casual sex. It doesn’t matter who I’ve had sex with in the past. None of that matters at all. Those are not reasons to rape someone; those are not actions that give you consent. Those are all choices I’ve made, and they do not give you the right to lay one finger on me without my consent.

What does matter is that it is always wrong to rape someone. It is up to you to realise that it is wrong to have sex with someone who cannot consent; it is up to you to realise that a person who is passed out drunk is vulnerable and not an object to have sex with. It’s up to you to understand that there are boundaries and that only ‘yes’ means ‘yes’. This applies to all people.

I really hope that the victim of Steubenville (and, really, she is the victim of an entire community, not just the two rapists) has seen that there is immense support, even in the face of all the negativity thrown about on social networks. I hope that all victims, regardless of whether or not they’ve reported anything, understand that there are people out there that support them. There are people who realise that they are not at fault for what happened to them; there are people out there who realise that their attackers are disgusting excuses for human beings.

People who want to see society advance enough to be understanding of the fact that there is never a good excuse to rape someone really do exist. Maybe one day they’ll achieve this goal, but it’s something we really need to keep working toward.

This conversation needs to keep going because something needs to change.

The papal election has been a pretty popular topic. We finally get the first non-European pope of modern times, Catholics in Latin America are excited, people believe he’ll be more understanding to the plights of the poor, and everyone is focusing on Pope Francis’s apparent homophobia and feelings toward women. All of these are completely understandable topics considering the popularity of the Catholic religion and the influence of the pope on many of these people.

Now, I’m not going to go into the specifics about this event. First, I’m not immensely interested in it. I do enjoy hearing about my Catholic friends’ perceptions of it, and I enjoy hearing how they view news coming out of the Vatican. But I’m not really interested in all of the particulars of the pope. What Pope Francis says has nothing to do with my beliefs; it has nothing to do with my (non-existent) religious organisation. I have a vague understanding of how much of the process works, but that’s not what’s going to be discussed here.

What is going to be discussed is why we need historians.

Because it is actually big news that there is a change in the hierarchy of Catholicism, news stations have happily provided coverage of this event. One of those was NBC Nightly News, who had this lovely clip covering the apparent “Leaatin American” (see screen) influence in the Catholic Church.

Ignoring the apparent spelling errors of the transcript, the anchor wrongly assumes how long Latin Americans have been waiting for a pope of their own.

Ignoring the apparent spelling errors of the transcript, the anchor (who isn’t pictured) wrongly assumes how long Latin Americans have been waiting for a pope of their own.

The problem is that the news anchor wrongly assumes that Latin America has been waiting 20 centuries for this event to happen. This neglects an incredible amount of Latin American (pre-)history, including the tribes and civilisations prior to European conquest. It wilfully forgets that the European ‘discovery’ of the New World is accredited to Christopher Columbus (who we also celebrate in the form of a public holiday, annoyingly), and that didn’t happen until 1492. We even have an irritating poem that they used to teach in elementary schools so that children could remember what year he found a lot of new (to Europe) land.

In fact, it wasn’t until the early 1500s that Latin America was even really colonised by European nations. Following the subsequent creation of the many colonies throughout the Americas, thousands upon thousands of indigenous populations died to both exceptional violence and disease (and sometimes exceptional violence using disease, if the Europeans were feeling particularly accommodating). It wasn’t until that time period, known as either the Age of Discovery or the Age of Exploration, that there were really any populations of Catholics living anywhere in what is now Latin America.

Prior to that, you have the vast (and often unknown) histories of the Pre-Columbian civilisations and indigenous populations. And I’m fairly certain most of these people were not monotheistic; they were primarily polytheistic and many of the smaller tribes were also animists. These people couldn’t have cared less about a pope because he both didn’t have any influence over them, and they most likely didn’t even know he existed.

So no, NBC Nightly News, no person in Latin America has been waiting for 20 centuries to have a pope from their region. At best, they’ve only been waiting 500 years. And to be fair, the amount of time is probably lower than that because many of the people who colonised the region considered themselves Spanish or Portuguese (or whatever European nationality); it wasn’t until a many generations later that they started believing themselves to be distinctly Latin American and not European.

And that doesn’t even speak of the difficulty in the labels, the creation of terminology, or how these people view themselves in term of national identity. I’m just addressing this whole issue on a very basic level, but there is so much more that could be elaborated on.

Note: I love Latin America and its people more than anything, so I’m really happy for them since they’re getting the representation in the Catholic Church that they deserve (especially considering they’re such a significant population of it). I just wish people would learn something about an area’s history before spouting facts that clearly aren’t true and neglect the ancestral stories of people who do still exist, as there is a significant population of indigenous people throughout the region.

‹ previous · next ›