Gender Inequality

Here’s how I’ve come to terms with the #MeToo Movement

Trigger warning: mentions of sexual assault and PTSD

On October 10th, 2017, my whole life changed. I remember each of me social media feeds being bombarded with the breaking news that Harvey Weinstein – arguably one of the most powerful men in Hollywood – had been accused of sexually assaulting over eighty women.

I couldn’t identify what I was feeling then, but as I read each name and each interview, I felt like throwing up. But that was nothing compared to what was going on inside my head. While I ruminated over the article, I remember all my group chats that day pinging with coverage updates and as I read every message coming in – I still couldn’t process it.

Later on, when I think back to where I was in October 2017 when the reckoning began (I call this movement a reckoning because I regard it as one of the recent watershed movements in women’s history across the world), I always remember it as an out of body experience.

The names play on a loop, phrases jump out at random and each recollection felt like being dealt physical blows. Repressed feelings and memories began to surface, things I thought I had buried for good, leapt out. Feelings that I internalized because I couldn’t process them started to bubble within.

I began to spiral, and I let myself drown.

The year I turned 8 or 9 (I can’t remember the exact age, the years blur as I get older, but I was in elementary school), something bad happened to me.

I was assaulted in an apartment elevator while coming back from our local grocery store. I can clearly remember what I was wearing (it’s not lost on me that these are details I choose to fixate on), they were clothes my mother had recently bought for me.

A teenage boy from my building got into the elevator with me and ran his hands up my thigh while the elevator went up. I remember it so vividly at times that I wish I could forget how many times his hand slipped under my shirt. I don’t know how I managed to compose myself after my assault but when I got home, it was as if nothing happened.

I can’t understand why I never told my parents about what happened; I just pretended it never happened. But I remembered rushing to my room and changing immediately. After that, I only wore skirts to school, because it was a part of my school uniform and that outfit would mysteriously vanish weeks later. I stopped going to the grocery store and running errands for my parents. I avoided leaving home unless it was absolutely necessary.

And there began my complicated relationship with my gender and sexuality.

I began to resent being a woman. I told myself that if you were a boy. You were safe. You were fine.

I was wrong.

That wasn’t the last time I was assaulted and I developed unhealthy coping mechanisms. But to survive, I buried my feelings and carried on – it would be years later before I confronted any of those feelings.

In university, I took a class called ‘Film Studies’ as part of my degree and in this class, we studied the history of film, auteurs and their respective schools of thought. I had always felt a kinship for television and film. Art, especially of the cinematic kind, was a safe space for me. In a way it nurtures me.

My professor took us through a time machine and showed us everything from Godard to Soderbergh, when he spoke to us about Wong Kar Wai and Akira Kurosawa, it was like coming home.

Nothing quite got me like cinema, and I was in love with films and all that they stood for.

Which is why nothing quite prepared me for the rage I felt every time Roman Polanski or Woody Allen showed up in a lecture. I had complicated feelings about both, especially after watching The Pianist and having my heart broken over the movie. The more they were praised and the more they were revered by my professor and classmates alike, the more that same out of body experience returned.

I never put a name to that feeling but when that viral op-ed by Dylan Farrow was published on the Woody Allen allegations, I couldn’t bring myself to support or care for either of the directors. People would argue with me, “You have to separate the art from the artist.” and would eye-roll anytime I voiced how problematic they were.

Eventually, Weinstein popped up in the syllabus too, because, how could he not?

He’s produced over three hundred films that have all been Oscar-nominated and has had his finger in nearly everything I love. This was around the time in which rumors about him were circulating on the internet but there wasn’t anything concrete. Harvey was skeevy but he didn’t mean any harm, after all he voted for Obama and did fund-raisers for Hillary Clinton. The #MeToo article wouldn’t break for another four years and while we watched Weinstein Company funded movies, I couldn’t help but feel torn.

In retrospect, I wondered how much longer would it be okay to study people like this? How long would we have to disregard their stains because the legacy was so addictive.

Can we really divorce art from the artist?

I had so many questions at the time and I was just beginning to grapple with my identity as a feminist. The more “woke” I became, the more I found myself at war with the way the pop culture and society as a whole, cushioned abusers, made them seem above reproach just because they gave us excellence.

The more I asked questions, the stronger the legacy grew to protect them.

Is this how we treat victims?

When disgraced comedian Louis C.K decided to come back nine months after being outed as a sexual predator, there were of course, a set of people online who told all the women he abused that he’s been cancelled enough, let him be.

Isn’t nearly a year enough to forget the horrible things he did?

Do we really have to cancel everyone?

I found myself thinking about my role in society as a child sexual assault survivor, I thought of the secrets I carried within me, the years that were taken from me and the way I am today because of all my experiences.

How do you heal when the court of public opinion asks you to be magnanimous? If we’re trying to move past cancel culture, how do we then hold people accountable for their actions? I don’t think cancel culture is a wrong thing per se, I think we should have actual consequences for actions.

Feminist author Roxane Gay penned an excellent op-ed in the New York Times titled “Louis C.K. and Men Who Think Justice Takes as Long as They Want It To” which I find myself thinking about a lot and going back to. “Should a man pay for his misdeeds for the rest of his life?” she asks.

Yes, I think that whether you confront, come forward, forgive or don’t forgive your abuser is entirely up to the survivors’ discretion. There’s no statute of limitations with how long you can carry your trauma; we all heal differently but we can’t let these people live the lives they had and influence the ecosystem they exist in.

We should be paid reparations for the number of invisible scars we live with – our stories matter, and we aren’t just statistics or a cautionary tale told to young children. The Boogeyman is real and we’re all living with them, Weinstein maybe rotting in jail but what about Bryan Singer? What about all those academics named in Raya Sarkar’s #MeToo list? What about Alok Nath?

There should be no statue of limitations for consequences. Your story matters. You matter.

You can take as long as you want to forgive (or not) your abuser, you can implode the world till you are heard. There’s no turning back now, not anymore. We must speak-up, even if it hurts. We must make sure that there are no more ‘#MeToos’ and we’re just starting out.


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World News Politics The World

Is Jacinda Ardern stan culture’s latest obsession?

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her political party have just won a landslide victory in the country’s 2020 election. In a historic win, the Labour Party secured all 64 of its projected seats in the 120-seat assembly and winning a rare parliamentary majority that has not been seen for 50 years.

But this really shouldn’t come as a surprise as Jacinda Ardern’s brand of politics is rooted in ideology of “being strong and kind,” and has now become the precedent by which all world leaders are measured by. There have been numerous thought pieces and social media discourse celebrating the importance of female leadership, and Arden is always at the center of it.

“New Zealand has shown the Labour Party its greatest support in almost 50 years. We will not take your support for granted. And I can promise you we will be a party that governs for every New Zealander.” – Jacinda Ardern

After all, in her chaotic first-term in the NZ office, she weathered a right-wing terrorist attack on the country’s Muslim community, reformed the country’s gun laws in its aftermath, demonstrated a masterclass in crisis leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic, all while parenting a toddler. When I lay it out like that it’s very easy to see why everyone is pro-Jacinda Ardern and slowly moving towards stan territory (I’m sure there’s a Twitter fancam somewhere), but I digress.

The praise is not underserved because if there were a politician that represented their people, no matter which ideology they subscribed to – it would be her.

In some ways, I can’t help but compare her career to that of former US President Barack Obama’s or even Premier Justin Trudeau (pre-blackface gate). President Obama was approachable, had a great sense of humor and you felt an immediate kinship with him because he dropped his annual Spotify summer playlists. Trudeau was known for looking like a Disney prince in his younger years – his boyish charm and good looks were integral in positioning him as a knight in shining armor.

Both men ushered in an era of “stanning politicians” who seemed relatable but also, were poised, articulate and had a larger-than-life persona. You’d want to get a drink with them or even discuss what happened during the Game of Thrones series finale with them, because they were that cool. That’s the sort of emotion they evoked in people. But as I think this over, I can’t help but feel that this culture of ‘stanning’ politicians has set the stage for things going wrong, very fast.

When has the cult of celebrity worship ever bode well for anyone?

Sure, you can praise Jacinda Ardern’s politics of kindness and her abhorrence for division. You can praise her for demonstrating decency and working to meet people (all kinds of people) halfway and engaging in healthy discourse. In fact, you can give her a big kudos and share an inspirational quote of hers every time she pops up on your LinkedIn feed.

When has the cult of celebrity worship ever bode well for anyone?

That sort of attitude is a breathe of fresh air, especially in a world divided now more than ever.

But if we’re letting people like her occupy spaces in the culture apart from politics and using her as an example for women’s empowerment – we’re also opening the door to let in less than savory and blatant opportunists like Tomi Lahren and Ted Cruz gain a foothold in stan culture (and believe me, there’s a whole audience for that).

We know the power of fandoms, especially with the rise of stan culture via social media. People are glorifying celebrities, artists, musicians and public figures and leaving little room for criticism. Just this past week, we had the Marvel group chat work overtime to get everyone and their mum to come out in support of Chris Pratt because Twitter called him “the worst Chris” for his shady political leanings.  Take the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who became a feminist icon in her twilight years because of a Tumblr post that popularized her as ‘the Notorious RBG’. While we celebrate her and all her accomplishments for women kind; she was also complicit in pushing an anti-Native American policy that prevented sovereignty over ancestral land. The blow was devastating to the Native American community but this is often brushed aside in stan culture.

Unlike stanning a celebrity, who you can break away and turn away your support easily, training this powerful weapon on a politician who is responsible, let’s say for matters that are life or death is opening the doors to sycophancy. The act of overlooking flaws, justifying their actions and placing lofty aspirations on politicians must stop. We must examine all our politicians with a critical lens.

Stanning a politician, even ones as intelligent, well-rounded, and empathetic as Jacinda Ardern is irresponsible and dangerous. The road to hell is often paved with good intentions and our past rodeos with world leaders have taught us just that.

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Press Pop Culture

Best of The Tempest 2018: 9 Stories from Pop Culture

It’s been a peculiar year in the realm of entertainment. We’ve had such big, progressive victories and such big setbacks and anachronisms in terms of representation, transparency, and inclusivity. Many LGBTQ+ artists thrived, and 2018 was dubbed 20GAYTEEN by singer Hayley Kiyoko. It was the year of Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians, and yet big name studios are still out there producing films that are imbued with racism, sexism, homophobia, and fatphobia as well as often promoting rape and hate.

We’re still light years away from consuming the egalitarian entertainment we deserve. I knew that very well when I became Pop Culture Editor at The Tempest. I understood that I would have to look closely at many media products that would make me mad, which I would rather ignore and avoid at all costs, but I gladly accepted the challenge. I believe our mission is to shed light on everything that is going on, and that includes denouncing the many injustices that occur in the entertainment industry. We can’t possibly stay silent about the things we deem wrong, because silence is complicity.

But we also don’t like to only see the glass half empty, and we love to admit that there are many things to praise and to celebrate. Without further ado, I present to you 9 of my favorite Pop Culture stories we published in 2018, a mix of the good and the bad.

1. Why are blockbuster films pretending that lesbians and bisexuals don’t exist?

Why are blockbuster films pretending that lesbians and bisexuals don’t exist?

Despite the good representation that television and the music industry gifted us with this year, blockbusters are still actively promoting the erasure of female queerness as well as employing queer bait. This is a trend that needs to stay in 2018.

2. What time is it, Hollywood?

What time is it, Hollywood?

What about what happens behind the camera? This article explores some trends of the entertainment industry from the inside out, because actresses are not the only people we need to protect. Let’s say #TimesUp to all kinds of discrimination.

3. Dislikeable female characters aren’t inherently feminist – but that’s okay

Dislikeable female characters aren’t inherently feminist – but that’s okay

There is a big misconception in fiction and in critique: that a female character who dares be different and dislikable is automatically a great feminist heroine. She’s not, and that’s okay.

4. Why I’m boycotting J.K. Rowling and her “Fantastic Beasts”

Why I’m boycotting J.K. Rowling and her “Fantastic Beasts”

We are tired of people giving J.K. Rowling a free pass for everything just because she wrote a beautiful book series 20 years ago. For a while now, she has been twisting things to appear “woke” instead of honestly admitting that as the times progressed, she also wants to be more inclusive. There is no need to say that she was planning plot twists all along when in reality the implications of that make her way more problematic. Read why in this piece!

5. Bollywood item numbers are more dangerous than we think

Bollywood item numbers are more dangerous than we think

If you don’t know what an item number is, you need to read this piece. If you do know, you need to read this piece. It’s eye-opening and I will never look at a Bollywood film the same way again.

6. This director’s approach to diverse female characters completely changed my movie-watching experience

This director’s approach to diverse female characters completely changed my movie-watching experience

Contrary to what some haters will have you believe about feminists, we do celebrate the accomplishments and achievements of men, when they deserve it. This article is a clap on the back of an Oscar-winning director for an amazing film that contributed to making 2018 better.

7. Yes, The Bold Type is unrealistic… just not for the reasons you think

Yes, The Bold Type is unrealistic… just not for the reasons you think 

You may or may not know this show, which was a true revelation for its honest representation of working (and woke!) millennial women. However, the show has been accused of portraying a utopistic world of equality (but it really doesn’t, the protagonists deal with misogyny, racism and homophobia every day). This article cleverly responds to that claim, contextualizing it particularly within the journalism world (where the main characters spend most of their time) that we know too well.

8. Karma has finally come for Chris Brown, and we can thank women for that

Karma has finally come for Chris Brown, and we can thank women for that

Abusers deserve to be held accountable for their actions. After the tidal wave that was the #MeToo movement, it’s good to see that celebrities are still being taken down after abusive behavior.

9. My mind tells me to read, but my body is overwhelmed and overworked

My mind tells me to read, but my body is overwhelmed and overworked

A constant struggle in the transition to adulthood is that we are burdened with too many responsibilities and we have too little time to do the things we actually want to do out of sheer pleasure, like reading. It does not help that books have gained a very strong competitor for our time and attention, the “monster” that are streaming services.

We’re ready to kiss 2018 goodbye. In the hope that 2019 will be a more satisfying year for women, people of color, and all oppressed minorities, happy new year from the staff of The Tempest!

Race The World Inequality

Asian Americans need to be participating in #BlackLivesMatter

A few weeks ago, I marched alongside my Asian mother with the #BlackLivesMatter movement in Washington, D.C. I never thought I would have the opportunity to write those words, or to spend four and a half hours talking with my mother about race, or to learn together about how our identities are connected to this movement. Despite how distinctive racial differences in our family and our communities were, we grew up never talking about it. We claimed the title of “global citizens,” ignoring the ways in which anti-Blackness and our longing for Whiteness defined the way we lived.

My mother is from northern Thailand and my father is from a small rural town in Minnesota. I am the mix of them both – a Thai-American, mixed race, Leukreung, woman of color. Leukreung in Thai literally means “Half Child,” an apt description of how torn between two identities I felt growing up. Yet, the halfway line was never clearly drawn. Often, my White Identity would fight for greater ownership, claiming more of me so that my connection to my Asian Identity – and therein, my Asian mother – would diminish into thirds, then quarters, then slices of eighths.

When you are Leukreung, you know that systems of racial hierarchy do not disappear once they are bound under marriage. I saw how the restaurant service I’d receive was dependent on which parent I would walk in with. I saw how my brother and I found greater value in our dad’s advice, how we sought his approval for our own self-worth, and how we knew that a “no” from Mom was insignificant as long as Dad agreed. I saw how embarrassed I’d feel to have my mom drop me off at birthday parties and soccer practices, how angry I was that she was never part of the PTA Mom Club, how frustrated I’d get when she asked me to write her emails, cover letters, and resumes for job applications I always worried would toss her materials aside.

Despite the hardships, my mother got her driver’s license at age 40, continued her education at NYU, became certified in holistic medicine and massage therapy, and helped support our family by working part-time at a spa in New Jersey, while still making it to all my sports games, forensics tournaments, and piano recitals. By many definitions, she was seen as the perfect “Immigrant Success Story” of how Asian Americans have “made it” in the United States.

The subtext of her Immigrant Success Story, however, was the unspoken expectation of gratuity. Japanese Americans were forced into internment camps during World War II, Chinese immigrants were looted and murdered during the Gold Rush, and Chinatowns across the country continue to be exploited by gentrification. Yet, any utterance of our past and present oppression are grossly taboo – both within the Asian American community, as well as within mainstream society.

Embedded within our expected silence is a deep-seeded sense of anti-Blackness. Walking along downtown Manhattan, my mother would pull me closer to her side whenever we passed by homeless Black men. In Thailand, skin-whitening ads are plastered on billboards and aired constantly on TV. All around us, we see the workings of the Model Minority Myth – a social construct where Asian Americans are used as pawns, charged with doing the dirty work to ensure that Black Americans remain at the bottom of our country’s social hierarchy. Until we acknowledge these unspoken truths we will remain pawns in the game of White Supremacy, allowing our identity to serve the needs of those in power while never granting us true liberation.

Thus, in the midst of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, we must understand that this concerns us. As Asian Americans, we have not “made it” if our success continues to be built on the backs of gunned down, incarcerated, criminalized Black Americans. Our safety subscribes to an agenda, and unless we tear down the systems designed to restrict our identities, we will never be safe. We must realize that our liberation is tied to our fellow Black sisters and brothers. We are not free until they are free.

As White people, our silence is violent. We cannot justify our inaction with ignorance, with “fear of saying the wrong thing.” While the #BlackLivesMatter movement is not for us, it involves us. If we truly believe that “all lives matter,” then we must be ready to listen to our society’s most marginalized voices and reject the institutions that were never built to protect Black lives. Appreciating the police officers who protect us is not mutually exclusive to demanding integrity and accountability in our country’s policing systems.

And lastly, to my Leukreung community, we must not allow our “Half Child” status to deter us from finding a whole-hearted place in the movement for racial justice. While the world may always see us in fractions, we must assure ourselves and our communities that we are unapologetically whole. I am both wholly Asian, and wholly White. By acknowledging the wholeness of our identities, we must also acknowledge the wholeness of both our oppression and our privilege. How can we learn the oppressive histories of our parents and channel them into power and self-love? How can we acknowledge the privilege that our proximity to Whiteness brings, and dismantle the oppressive systems upon which our privilege is founded?

Being Luekreung gives us both the curse and opportunity to act as bridges. As #BlackLivesMatter continues their fight, we cannot ignore the role we must play in bridging the contradictions of our existence and spreading compassion into the warring forces of our lives.

Politics The World

What hijab means to an ex-hijabi

I want 2016 to be the year where a piece of cloth stops defining a whole religion. I want 2016 to be the year where people stop politicizing the hijab, both Muslims and non Muslims, hijabis and non-hijabis alike. I want 2016 to be the year Muslims start addressing our problems without feeling the need to ostracize dissenting voices.

The recent op-Ed by Asra Nomani and Hala Arafa in the Washington Post was one of great controversy for many. Many Muslims expressed their frustration with the article, saying that the authors are forcing their opinions on others and that they have no authority to speak on hijab. Some even cited one of the author’s private life and their perceived wrongdoings in an effort to shame her out of speaking her mind. This is one of the many ways women have been silenced and discredited when sharing their narratives and opinions.

If you haven’t yet read the article, it’s basically just two Muslim women making a case against hijab, using different interpretations of Quranic verses concerning modesty to back their opinions. They argued that hijab is a fairly new trend for some Muslim majority countries citing the example of Egypt, which in fact only saw the rise of hijab as we see it today in the past couple generations.

The article was deemed offensive by many and caused outrage; something that I did not expect being that it was an opinion article written by two Muslim women on the ever relevant issue of hijab. As a Muslim woman and a former hijabi, I would like to share my take on hijab, Asra Nomani and the almost synchronized backlash from many in the Muslim community whenever dissenting opinions are voiced.

First of all, modesty is not a scarf you wear on your head. Period. This goes for both hijabis and non hijabis. The concept of “modesty” is one that has not been so kind to women, holding us to standards that are difficult and sometimes unnatural to meet. As a Muslim woman, I grew up with two very different narratives. One is that a woman is a “awra” or something shameful meant to be covered. The other is that women are so precious that, like jewelry or candy or a lit match or a sheet of glass (all very real metaphors I’ve heard) they should be protected from the outside world lest we be damaged.

I reject both narratives. I am neither shameful nor am I candy. I’m a human.

Another very interesting and recent narrative tries to politicize hijab by arguing that it is in fact a feminist statement and not one that degrades women. As controversial as it might be for me to say this, but I also deeply reject this narrative.  Nothing screams feminism about being told that to be respected for your personality and merits, you have to cover something as basic as your hair or else suffer the consequences of being sexualized and objectified. As if women can not claim both their bodies and their intellect without having to compromise one of the two. It has to be one or the other in the eyes of society. Misogyny does not stop at the feet of hijabi women nor do sexist patriarchs have any more respect for a woman that covers her hair than for a woman who doesn’t. In my opinion, the way hijab has been practiced and pushed onto Muslim women by conservative thinkers is nothing more than an appeasement to men who believe it is a woman’s fault for being sexualized for something as simple as her hair. That respect for a woman is decided on how many layers she has on and if her hair is covered or not.

In the eyes of a former hijabi and someone that has struggled with hijab for many years, the headscarf is neither a feminist statement nor does it protect women from the outside world. It should not be controversial for women who share that same opinion to voice our perspectives neither should we be accused of trying to speak on behalf of other Muslim women. Men and women who interpret the hijab in the form of a headscarf share their opinions with hardly any backlash and are seldom accused of speaking on behalf of the rest of the Muslim community.

However, those who choose to wear hijab should be very free to make that choice on their own. If people truly believe hijab is mandated by God in the Quran, then it should be practiced only to please God and not to make a political statement. People should be free to dress however way they want without having to think long and hard about how best to explain the political and social implications of their choices.

Returning to the article: I do not believe Asra Nomani and Hala Arafa were trying to speak on behalf of all Muslim women, but that they were arguing their own opinions. Many people, me included, agree with some of the points they made. Others did not agree. That’s the beauty of an opinion article. There are always two sides to each story if not ten. It saddened me to see so many Muslims attack these women for their beliefs and for speaking on a subject, that as Muslim women, they have every right to speak on.

I do however understand and even agree with those who are critical of Asra Nomani’s political views regarding the Middle East and Islam. Some would go as far as calling her a sell out or that she feeds into the conservative machine that is so blatantly Islamophobic. Her interviews alone have many talking points that would make a great case against her let alone her writings. Figures like her and the more extreme version Ayaan Hirsi Ali, have been used by Islamophobes as “evidence” to back their bigotry.

Would that have happened if Muslim scholars were open to hearing and discussing dissenting opinions? Maybe, maybe not.

I believe that it has become increasingly difficult for Muslims to voice our opinions about our own faith. Many who do not conform to the mainstream’s views are cast off as misguided at best. Our opinions are hardly taken seriously and we are discredited because, apparently, to have an opinion on your own religion, you must have a degree in Islamic teachings. As if religion is purely academic and not a personal relationship with the individual and their Creator. Is there a harmful conservative thought process amongst some Muslims? Yes there is, same as there are many conservatives in other religions who believe their opinion alone deserves recognition. This is not a problem specific to Muslims, but a problem that can be attributed to all of humankind. We generally do not find it easy to accept those who are different from us and will go as far as using religion to justify our bigotry.

I would hope that in the years to come, Muslims become an ummah that encourages individuality and different thought processes. I hope that we stop being so afraid to hear different interpretations of the Quran and of our religious culture as a whole. We owe it to ourselves to have open discussions about what concerns and sometimes even plagues our communities. As a Muslim woman, I urge all Muslims, whether Shia or Sunni or somewhere in between to stop being so strict in our ways that we forget that there are different ways to worship a God so great, that it really shouldn’t matter how we choose to display our love for Him. I would also hope that we stop politicizing hijab regardless of which side of the spectrum we stand on.