Sunday, May 8, 2011

lady matters

happy mother's day, moms and children of moms! a series of recent events have made me appreciate and think a lot more about women and moms. call it a latent awakening.

when i worked at the firm, one of the very prominent male partners started a women's initiative, which was designed to encourage the retention and promotion of women. some women objected to the fact that a man was in charge, though many others (including myself) thought the program never would have gotten off the ground or supported with actual resources without a male rainmaker championing it. whether it was actually effective remains uncertain, but at least the program existed and not just in name.

say what you will about working at a firm, but i was fortunate enough to have a male supervisor who included me in important conversations, sought to introduce me to his clients, and valued my work. i never once felt singled out or differentiated because i was female. in fact, he taught me to have confidence in my work and also that male bosses could be respectful. he was one of the few men who felt secure enough in his own masculinity to consistently work with--and be challenged by--intelligent women. i definitely appreciated it at the time, and i lament that he may have been an outlier.

call me ignorant, but i really didn't appreciate how different it is to be asian and female in the professional world. thanks to the aforementioned boss, i was shielded from a lot of prejudices. i think growing up in a predominantly asian environment also helped; i never viewed my being asian as a handicap. hongcouver gave me the breathing space to try on different identities, free from the weight of having to represent an entire race or ethnicity. that's why when i got to college, i found it a bit laughable that i had to be part of either the gucci-clad asian mafia or the hymn-singing baptists to be sufficiently asian.

then i got to law school and i think at some point in my first year it hit me: i had never voluntarily spoken up in class. then i looked around in my section and realized that none of the other asians had either (though there were only like 6 of us out of 100 or so students). i thought all along that i just didn't like speaking in class, but this made me think, is it something about being asian that prevents me from speaking up?

before this turns into some gender and identity politics 101 term paper, let me give you a bit of context. this is not false humility, but i've always viewed myself to be somewhat asexual. and i don't mean that in a negative way, if that's possible. somehow i deluded myself into thinking that when people view me, they see just me, not asian. female. i've never felt the need to be overly aggressive to compensate for being female. i also don't tend to be the quiet, stereotypically subservient asian. then recently, i was interviewing this dude as part of my case, and he said something to me in a manner that immediately drew attention to the fact that i was the only woman in the room. it was fucking patronizing and unnerving. the senior male on my side came to my defense and subtly, but definitively, put this guy in his place.

over the following days and weeks, i started asking all of my female friends--who, by the way, are uniformly smart as hell and beyond accomplished--whether they'd been treated differently because they're female. they mercifully did not judge me for asking such a laughably naive question and shared their stories. while a handful of situations were a bit ambiguous and subject to interpretation, every single one had experienced discrimination and i appreciated their willingness to be matter-of-fact about their (sometimes emotionally fraught) stories. then it made me wonder, have i willfully ignored this subtext all along? maybe. it probably was some type of a survival mechanism. there is a fine line between recognizing this prejudice and allowing it to undermine your confidence.

what is the takeaway, if anything? a few things: this deepened my appreciation for two women in particular--my mom and hilary clinton. no, i'm not equating the two, you fools, though my mom was a pioneer in her own way. even though her own parents vocally discouraged her from pursuing any meaningful formal education, my mom defined her own way by building several successful businesses for herself by using her street smarts, instincts, and impossibly dogged work ethic. oh yeah, she had four kids on top of that, bitches! though she's not very traditionally feminine almost to a fault, she taught me many more valuable things than how to correctly apply make-up, cook an elaborate meal, or be a consummate (or even a middling) hostess.

then hillary clinton--i'm late to the hilary bandwagon. i always vaguely admired her for being tenacious and successful, but man, make it in that fucking boys' universe! i cannot even begin to understand the degradation and humiliation she has had to withstand.

anyway, the above photo is for all of your amusement. happy mother's day.

ps. best recent purchase? huey lewis & the news's greatest hits. amazing.


cold4thestreets said...

i am going to nominate this post for a webbie. it manages to shed some of those e (as in you, e) layers and navigates its way to real insight -- without devolving into lesson imparting, trite collegiate bullshit.

and your mom sounds like the best!

--your second mom, c4ts

cold4thestreets said...

also, thank god you finally got a baby picture up on the blog. mine was lonely.

did zuckerberg make a face mash for baby pictures? (cuteornot? tinyfacemash?) ours need to go head to head.

shit -- did i just give away a billion dollar idea on the internet?