Crazy Successful!

If you haven’t yet seen the hit movie Crazy Rich Asians, what are you waiting for??

A surprise box office smash when it first came out in August, it’s still playing in theaters. The Huffington Post reports that it is currently the highest-grossing romantic comedy in ten years: almost $166 million as of this weekend, Sept. 29-30.

There’s much to like about it: good acting (many were unfamiliar to me, but I’m definitely a long-time fan of veteran Michelle Yeoh), clean humor (not raunchy or juvenile), an exotic location (Singapore), beautiful people, good music (performed by Asian musicians in Chinese), great production value (loved the social media scene in the beginning). Yes, yes, it’s an all Asian cast, and much has been made about this in the media. But the story will appeal to most film lovers in our global community. This is movie entertainment at its best.

For those like me with an Asian background, we so appreciate seeing the Chinese (people and culture) honestly represented and contemporary characters who look like us. Watching this movie was an emotional experience. I teared up several times, both in laughter and happiness, mostly happiness that “I am seen,” not invisible like so often happens to many marginalized people.

cr-asians.jpgMost Asians are far from being crazy rich for sure. And this is a good reminder to non-Asians that Asians come from diverse backgrounds. Still, there are some cultural touches in the film that ring true for many Asians, like Rachel’s mother providing food in Tupperware for their international flight (food is family) and the deference to elders, especially the cool relationship between daughter-in-law and mother-in law. Also, how Asian Americans are considered different from Asian Asians. The food scenes are also emblematic of Asian cultures, so the film offers lots of “eye candy” for foodies.

Based on Kevin Kwan‘s novel, which is back on best-seller lists and on my to-read list, the movie is in the genre of rom-com with Rachel Chu, an Asian American economics professor, going to meet her boyfriend’s family in Singapore. Little does she know that Nick’s family is crazy rich and live like royalty. It’s a setup for conflict on several levels.

Lots of discussions and reviews are available online. One of my favorites is in The Atlantic featuring the reactions and comments of four female staff members. This movie has sparked much discussion because it marks a cultural moment, not just in Hollywood and pop culture, but also in our larger American culture. We’ve seen best-sellers by and about people of color for many years now, why did Hollywood take so long to produce another movie with a cast of mostly Asian actors? Where have they been? Hopefully they now get that movies with non-white leading actors and casts (the only white actors were the hotel employees in the opening scene and some in crowd scenes at the bachelor’s party) can be successful. Crazy successful!

Even when cultural details are not fully explained, audiences can enjoy and understand the film because this is a very human story. Those with Asian backgrounds will have more visceral appreciation for many scenes, but this doesn’t take anything away from non-Asians.

For me, the best line of this movie (and perhaps any movie) is when Astrid tells her cheating husband, “My job is not to make you feel like a man.”

Wow! For any woman to say this, but especially for an Asian woman, this is seismic!

So, this is another reason this movie was so powerful for me. Although the main characters are undeniably Rachel and Nick, female relationships are very central to the story. Friendships as well as competitive meanness. Power struggles between Nick’s mother (Eleanor Young) and grandmother and between Rachel and Mrs. Young. And the mother-daughter relationship between Rachel and her mom. As in life, women’s stories are important.

I kept waiting for Nick’s dad to show up. Never happens. Instead of patriarchal power, we have one that is matriarchal. The best scene is the mahjongg game between Rachel and Mrs. Young when Rachel tells Nick’s mother why she is leaving and that she understands the importance of family. She is not defeated and demonstrates she is just as powerful and strong as the older woman. For an Asian story and stories in general, I am cheering for strong female characters.

The female gaze is also apparent in the film. Most movies focus on the male gaze, but here we have men’s bodies (those abs!) on display for the delight of the women in the movie and in the audience.

I love this film! Thank you, author Kevin Kwan and director Jon M. Chu and kudos to all the wonderful actors and crew. I’m looking forward to the sequels and more films featuring talented and beautiful people of color.

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Women’s Stories Now

When author Stieg Larsson introduced readers in 2005 to Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, I was mesmerized by this gritty, fearless, whip-smart character. I believed then as now that women experienced vicarious pleasure when Lisbeth took revenge on those who tortured and raped her, when she outsmarted everyone who tried to limit and control her. Whether they had been sexually harassed or assaulted themselves, women identified with her; Lisbeth became a cult hero and the Millennium Series became a global phenomenon.

The women speaking out against sexual predators may not be Lisbeth, but they are surely courageous in revealing their stories, their vulnerabilities, and trauma. Many of these men are powerful and wealthy. They have been successful in their fields, while these women have carried their shame and pain for many years, maybe decades. Their lives have been unequivocally altered. They have suffered in innumerable ways: emotionally, financially, etc. And yet, they are stepping into the public spotlight to tell their stories.

Because the few have become the many, more women are coming forward. And I suspect more will come because in this cultural moment, they are being heard. Believed. Instead of being dismissed, ignored, demonized. Both men and women are recognizing how some workplaces have been toxic for women and the pervasiveness of these attitudes that devalue women. The conversations include both men’s and women’s voices because these horrendous behaviors affect all of us.

Thanks to New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohy who broke the story about Harvey Weinstein on October 5, 2017. Remember their names! These women’s investigative reporting began a cultural revolution. So many voices could no longer be silent and broke through the dam created by power and privilege.

#MeToo is just one example.

Now Marti Noxon has created Dietland, a new TV series on AMC that taps into women’s stories, our complex lives, and the things/events that impact us. It’s based on Sarai Walker‘s novel and had been in development for two years, before sexual harassment and assault became part of our national dialogue. In an article for The Atlantic about Noxon, Sophie Gilbert describes the book:

…[A] guerrilla group of women kidnaps and murders men who’ve been accused of crimes against women, ranging from institutionalized misogyny to violent sexual assault. But that’s just the subplot. The rest of the novel deals with toxic beauty standards, the weight-loss industry, a magazine called Daisy Chain, rape culture, feminist infighting, and the coming of age of a lonely, 300-pound writer named Plum.

So, I was gobsmacked to see frequent commercials during the breaks for an online discount designer fashion site. Hello?? Yes, this show probably gets a huge female audience, but is anyone at the ad agency following the show’s themes?

Noxon is a writer, producer, and director of TV and film. She has worked on shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Grey’s Anatomy, and Mad Men. In Dietland, women are channeling their rage to fight back at men and institutions that diminish and harm women. That’s not easy. The guerrilla group is called the Jennifers, and they have announced a list of men they are targeting called “The Penis 100.” 

Not sure who is on this list in this work of fiction, but unfortunately, we women can come up with plenty of names for such a list. Forget the border wall, we need a Wall of Shame for these names. 

If you have enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale TV series, but have felt despair about how the government has oppressed and controlled the women and children of Gilead, Dietland may feel like an antidote. But don’t be fooled. Patriarchy and misogyny are still rampant in this series. The feel-good message offers women intelligent enough to fight back and send messages that they are not buying into the marketplace standards and values of what women should be and look like. These issues are systemic and not simple to fix, but meanwhile the show offers women revenge fantasies. 

Yes, we all should feel despair that safety and equality for women is far from a reality, but we shouldn’t feel hopeless. Nor powerless. The stories are coming. We need to pay attention, listen, support, and honor the storytellers whoever they are, wherever they are. The more that women tell their stories, the more power we garner to dismantle the status quo of toxic masculinity that prey on women and children. All the cultural warriors, both fictional and living, are inspiring us to fight back, speak up, and cry out for justice.

March!

March is a special month for me. It’s my birthday month and it marks the coming of Spring. The promise of Spring brings hope to a wintry world that warm days, new growth, and blooming flowers are ahead.

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It’s also the only month that can also be a verb, a call to action: March!

On March 3, girls are celebrated in Japan. Hinamatsuri is dedicated to the happiness and health of girls.

On March 8, we celebrate International Women’s Day.

This combination of action and women seems no accident. Women are marching! We are marching for equality. We want personal safety. We want to stop sexual harassment, domestic violence, an end to the rape culture. We want a lot and we are speaking truth to power. Women are rising and standing up!

In my writing group of four women, I mentioned how girls are not taught to say NO! STOP THAT! GET YOUR HANDS OFF ME! HOW DARE YOU TALK TO ME LIKE THAT! We need to rethink how we can raise girls to be both nice and tough, to be fierce and loud when necessary.

Author Barbara Kingsolver writes about empowering girls in The Guardian. In “#MeToo Isn’t Strong Enough: Now Women Need to Get Ugly,” she says:

Let’s be clear: no woman asks to live in a rape culture: we all want it over, yesterday. Mixed signals about female autonomy won’t help bring it down, and neither will asking nicely. Nothing changes until truly powerful offenders start to fall. Feminine instincts for sweetness and apology have no skin in this game. It’s really not possible to overreact to uncountable, consecutive days of being humiliated by men who say our experience isn’t real, or that we like it actually, or are cute when we’re mad. Anger has to go somewhere – if not out then inward, in a psychic thermodynamics that can turn a nation of women into pressure cookers. Watching the election of a predator-in-chief seems to have popped the lid off the can. We’ve found a voice, and now is a good time to use it, in a tone that will not be mistaken for flirtation.

March is also Women’s History Month and I can’t help but think of all the strong, loving, and supportive women in my life. Because of them, I completed my B.A. at the University of Washington and I’m a writer with a completed memoir manuscript and continuing to explore my creativity; these are goals that seemed unreal when I first arrived in Seattle in 1986 and was scrambling for a job and living space and new friends.

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So many people come and go in the course of a lifetime, but each person can touch another life in profound ways. This has been especially true for me in regard to my community of women friends and colleagues, past and present. I have been able to grow and blossom as a strong and creative woman because of them. YAY, WOMEN!

Hidden Figures

What a great title for a missing part of American history. This is the untold story of the vital contributions of African American women to American aviation and the NASA space program. Untold because historically women have been diminished or ignored, moreso women of color. In other words, this is a story of inequality based on race and gender.

Hidden FiguresStill playing in movie theaters after opening last December, the feature film based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly has struck a resounding chord in our culture. It captures the American can-do spirit with female protagonistsintelligent, strong women of color who don’t take “No” for an answer. I can’t think of another movie in recent years with female main characters working in a math and science environment.

I was mesmerized watching Taraji P. Henson in the role of Katherine Johnson writing math equations and solutions on a blackboard with supreme confidence. She was simply demonstrating what she knew, but also informing the room full of men that a black woman has just as much intelligence as they have. And maybe more.

The film has adapted a small section of the larger story of these women who worked as human computers verifying the computations of white male engineers. This was during the time of segregation so they worked as a separate unit from white men and women. Some of these hidden figures later advanced to work as peers with the men. The encouragement of their forward-thinking, enlightened parents permitted these girls to study and enjoy math. Most ended up as teachers; some heard about better-paying jobs in the federal government aviation program in Hampton, Virginia, which later became NASA.

After seeing the movie and reading the book, I experienced feelings of immense triumph for these women and women in general.  A sense of sadness followed. I was thinking about many other girls and women who don’t have opportunities for education and therefore can’t discover their talents, skills, and passion. This is a loss for individuals, yes, but also for our society and country. The women in Hidden Figures made significant contributions to their families, communities, and our country. How many people’s ambitions and potential are thwarted because of racism, sexism, and other biases?

Imagine if each American child has the same opportunities for education regardless of class, race, and gender. 

Imagine if they have the freedom to explore their talents, to challenge their minds without fear of failure and shame.

Imagine if each female is unhindered by sexual harassment or assault or any kind of sexism that would make her doubt herself.

Our current rape culture on campuses, in our armed services, in our families is destroying lives and compromising human potential. Many women don’t report these crimes because the system does not provide fairness, support, or justice to most victims. Few perpetrators are punished. In fact, victims are often blamed and punished for being raped.

The April issue of The Atlantic Magazine features an article that reveals how qualified women are still facing gender bias in the workplace, specifically in computer science. “Why Is Silicon Valley So Awful to Women?” reminds us how slowly attitudes are changing. As we’re encouraging girls to enter STEM programs to provide skilled workers in science, technology, engineering, and math, thus providing higher-paying jobs for women, the work environments in these fields sound all too similar to what Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson faced in the 1940s and 1950s.

The old boys club is alive and well, with all its ploys to keep women “in their place.” Women    in male-dominated fields today, like technology, are finding a hostile work environment where they are being blocked in getting promotions and creative opportunities. The article describes a survey of women in technology: “84%…had been told they were too aggressive; 66% had felt excluded from key networking opportunities because of their gender; 90% had witnessed sexist behavior at conferences and company off-site meetings….” And so it goes.

Gender bias still exists and is detrimental to individuals, society, and our country. It pulls everyone down, wounds and weakens our democracy. It’s true that there have been moments of success and triumph when a woman has stepped forward out of the shadows and been recognized for her talent, courage, or contribution. But many of these stories are still hidden. I wonder what would have happened to John Glenn’s space flight if Katherine Johnson had not provided the accurate computations for his return to earth. She did and he became an American hero. Only now decades later, she is receiving the recognition she so rightfully deserves.

America, We Need To Talk

Something has been bothering me for many years. Now that it’s become a topic in our national elections, it’s out in the open, and we need to talk about it: violence against females in America, aka our rape culture.

We’ve all heard the statistics, right? I mean is anyone really surprised? Most women are not surprised because this is our reality. Chances are you are one of these women. If not, you certainly know women who have suffered some form of sexual assault, whether verbal, psychological, or physical. I’m not talking about other anonymous women. I’m talking about your sister, spouse, daughter, cousin, aunt, or mother—someone you love. Your teacher, boss, neighbor, or co-worker—someone you see often if not daily.

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A certain Donald has never been challenged, never sued, prosecuted, or punched for the way he treats women. He has gotten away with being a misogynist and feels entitled to do whatever he wants where women are concerned.

Until now. Women are stepping forward to challenge his denial of what he said on videotape. He claims it was just guys talking and that he never behaved in the manner he bragged about. Women are saying: Wrong! He’s guilty of sexually assaulting me! He walked into our dressing room knowing full well that some of us would be naked or partially clothed.

This is the core character of someone who would be president. These are deep-seated values. Hard-wired. He and his buddy Roger Ailes, the deposed head of Fox News, apparently have no impulse control, no sense of propriety and decency, and absolutely no respect for women. Zero.

Their behavior speaks volumes. I have to wonder: Why do they hate women so much?

This is the central question regarding this epidemic of violence against females, both women and girls.

Unfortunately, they’re not alone. I hate to admit that I’ve dated men like this. They’re everywhere in society. They appear charming, but the big bad wolf is still there. They may not have the wealth and power of these guys, but their misogyny is just as toxic. Because of men like this, we have new language to describe them: toxic masculinity. Here is just one article on this subject. Google this term for more.

Talk is cheap. Action or inaction says it all.

That swimmer at Stanford who got caught raping an unconscious woman. That judge who reduced his sentence to a mere slap on the hand. Another judge in Montana in an incest trial who sentenced the criminal father to a meaningless 60 days in jail. The 12-year-old child was repeatedly raped by him. Those hundreds (thousands?) of rape kits in police departments across the country that are never processed. Those college administrators who choose to not fully investigate sexual assault incidents to avoid scandal. And these are only very recent examples.

There’s my friend who got grabbed when she was in her 20s and was working as a cocktail waitress; she got grabbed in the way that certain D (I can’t bear to even say his name) described he could do. She made a scene. The well-dressed customer denied it and she got fired. Decades later she has blogged about it. 

Women’s well-being is consistently being marginalized, declared unimportant by those holding power. That man’s behavior during the debates was especially revealing: We knew about his pathological lying, but his constant scowling, his use of intimidation (stalking and name-calling), and general lack of respect were astonishing. I can’t imagine how many thousands of women were triggered by such behavior on national television and by what was revealed on those videotapes. I can’t imagine how many women are remaining silent after being sexually assaulted by this man because they fear repercussions. Because you and I know he has done this numerous times. He gets away with it and he keeps doing it.

This kind of male privilege contributes to our rape culture. And rumors of rape have indeed surfaced in connection with this toxic man.

It’s not easy for those women who are speaking out. This is a topic I’ve written about from my own experience. It wasn’t easy to recall those events. It wasn’t easy to write about them. But it was something I had to do. I used to feel ashamed, but writing about these events made me realize this shame doesn’t belong in my body. Women are constantly being made to feel shame when they’ve done nothing wrong. Shame is being used as a weapon to keep us females in our place. It’s about power.

Like rape. Like sexual assault. It’s about exerting power over others.

When that man chants and encourages his followers (both men and women) to chant, “Lock her up,” I cringe. An involuntary physical reaction. They’re not talking about me. They’re not even really talking about Hillary. They’re talking about all women! They want to silence all women. To keep women powerless. Unequal.

They should be ashamed of themselves.

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Kudos to those stepping forward to tell their truth, speaking truth to power. Bullying and intimidation aren’t stopping them. More than ever, women need to tell their stories. Women need to use their voices. Women, we need to ROAR to stop this violence! And we need all decent men to stand and support us. Because this is not a gender war.

Violence against females hurts EVERYONE.

 

Performance!

I am a writer, not a performer. However, I have done public readings, which is a form of performance when done well. Recently, I read with eleven other Seattle writers in a program called “Listen To Your Mother” (LYTM). Feeling the energy in the room from the audience and from each other, we were all transformed. We had rehearsed before the event, but everyone stepped up and gave more of themselves during the program, a performance anthology of stories about mothers and motherhood.

It was magical! See for yourself. Here’s the link to my performance. You can also watch the other fabulous writers; I still laugh and cry when I see/hear them.

 

After this performance, I began thinking about what happens during a live performance. What makes live performances so exciting? When I go to a theater or concert hall, why do I feel a little nervous, this low hum of electricity in my body that makes me breathless?

From a performer’s perspective, I want to do my best. I want to convey my story, let the words flow through my body in an expressive way that the audience can relate to. I had practiced how to use my voice for emphasis, dramatic pauses, and to include a variety of intonations. I had practiced using my body to communicate a shift in the story, to look and connect with the audience.

On the day of the performance, we lined up to get ready to go on stage. We all felt some combination of excitement and butterflies. We got the signal and began walking to our chairs. When the audience started clapping during our entry, I teared up. I thought, “They want to be here! They want to hear us!!”

We sat on the stage and gave our attention to each writer as she took the podium. We all loved each other’s stories and had quickly bonded during our few meetings. We gave each other our attention, love, and support, and we could also feel this from the audience, mostly family and friends of the writers. But they were sending positive energy to everyone, not just the one writer they knew.

When I took the podium, I was still teary from the initial welcoming and the wave of support I felt from the audience.

It’s not easy to take the stage. When artists, whether musicians, singers, dancers, actors, or writers, perform live, we are communicating our art to connect with an audience. We strive for perfection, but mistakes can happen. But so can brilliance. Anything can happen when art is being created. In the moment. Right here.

Honestly, I am more comfortable being in the audience rather than on the stage. I find it magical to watch another human making art, to let the words or the music wash over me, to feel the rhythms and sounds, to experience the story come alive with the staging, lights, sets, and costumes all working together with the performers—the various elements coming together and coalescing into something whole and unique and hitting all my sensory receptors. Even in a public setting, this experience can feel intimate, like sharing a secret.

Any time people are performing, the audience becomes an integral part of that performance. The audience is not passive. There’s social interaction with those who accompany you and perhaps with other audience members. The fact is, when someone chooses to leave the comfort of their homes to be present in a particular location, they are making a decision to interact. With other people and with the performers. It’s an unconscious contract. It’s an energy exchange, this flow from the stage to the seats in the auditorium, concert hall, or even the park; whether it’s laughing or crying, holding our breath, feeling shock, applauding or booing, the performers can feel the audience and its moods, and they respond accordingly. The audience offers both silent collaboration and dynamic, spontaneous responses.

I am so, so grateful for having had such a wonderful, supportive audience at the LTYM event. Their energy contributed to our success. They were moved. We were too. Dare I say, together we were brilliant!

Hitting the Refresh Button for May

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One of the big events for May is Mother’s Day. This year I was thrilled to be selected one of twelve writers for the Seattle production of “Listen To Your Mother.” We presented personal stories about our mothers or being a mother. The words originated in each writer’s heart and rang true for an appreciative crowd at Town Hall on Sat., May 7.

LTYM programs were presented in 41 cities in North America this year. That’s nearly 500 stories! Many thanks to Seattle coordinators Jill Ginsberg and Jennifer Scharf for making this amazing event happen!

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The fabulous women of “Listen To Your Mother” 2016.

I want to acknowledge the range of emotions that Mother’s Day generates for people. Not all mothers are loving. Not all mothers will inspire their children to think about them with gratitude, about buying cards and gifts, flowers and candy. People are complex, and it’s not unusual for love/hate relationships to develop between parents and children. Or it could even be worse. Like other people, mothers are capable of extreme cruelty, awful decisions, even life-threatening ones, and harmful, irrational behavior that can traumatize their children. For the children of such mothers, Mother’s Day might conjure up anything but celebration. Survival might be a more appropriate word.

Still, Mother’s Day is only one category of women.  Motherhood is a huge commitment and an enormous job. No question. Even though I have no children, I’ve observed my friends who are mothers, sometimes up close and personal. The challenges are many. This is a job that’s never done. This is a job that’s not for everyone. And many women are choosing to be childless.

Not only is Mother’s Day only for mothers and grandmothers, it is only one day out of  the year when we think about honoring women and the importance of their role in society.

Generally speaking, women should be respected and honored every day. Instead, what I’m seeing is evidence of misogyny at all levels. This concerns me. For example, on May 24, 2016, The Seattle Times featured three disturbing stories about women.

One featured Bill Cosby. Eleven years after a woman reported that Cosby sexually assaulted her, the case if finally headed to trial in Pennsylvania. For years we have been hearing about dozens of women coming forward with their allegations about Cosby’s misconduct: drugging and raping them.

Why has it taken the authorities so long? Are these women’s stories discounted because of Cosby’s celebrity status or simply because of male privilege?

The second story described the “Highway of Tears” in British Columbia where up to 50 indigenous women have disappeared or become unsolved homicides. These crimes are happening in all parts of Canada, and the Native Women’s Association of Canada estimates the number of disappearances and homicides could be closer to 4,000 instead of the official count of 1,200 cases.

If these were white women, there would be a public outcry. If these were men disappearing, resources would have been found to solve these crimes for a manhunt to  find and prosecute the perpetrators.

The third story reported about the working conditions for women employed on Wall Street. Twenty years ago, 23 women working at Smith Barney filed a class-action suit against their employer for sexual harassment and unequal pay. If you saw the movie The Wolf of Wall Street, you have a good idea about the outrageous behavior and sexism that this male-dominated culture encouraged. Almost 2,000 women eventually joined the case.

Even though Smith Barney paid out $150 million in settlements and awards, women still are frustrated today about disparities in income and promotions. In other words, conditions have not changed much. In addition, women’s hands are being tied in bringing legal action because they are required to sign away these legal rights if they want a job on Wall Street. Instead, they have to submit to mandatory arbitration.

Violence against women takes so many forms: economic, physical, emotional, cultural, medical, even judicial. It’s happening with such frequency everywhere.

In our rape culture, the latest outrage was the rape of an unconscious young woman behind a frat house at Stanford University in January 2015. Good people actually caught the rapist and he was charged. There was no question of Brock Turner’s guilt. He committed a violent crime. The prosecutor expected a sentence of six years for three felony counts. But he was a white male athlete attending a prestigious university, and the judge sentenced him to six months in prison and three months probation. Judge Aaron Persky of Santa Clara County thought this was fair. Instead, he was violating the victim once again.

White male privilege? You bet! The old boys’ network is alive and well, and violence against women will continue because apparently there are no consequences.  When will women’s lives matter in our society??

Mother’s Day. Women, let’s not be lulled into accepting this one day out of 365 when the reality is persistent and pernicious misogyny.