Saturday, April 26, 2014

Everyday Sexism

This. Emma Stone called out Andrew Garfield on an unintentionally sexist remark he made. I chuckled to myself and thought, "Good for her! Good for them!" Good for everyone who benefited from that teachable moment.

Then I went and proved that I'm just as capable of everyday sexism as the next guy.

Dialogue A
Me: [catching the song playing in the cafe] Oh, this is Taylor Swift's "22"!
Friend: Wow... Divergent, Hunger Games, and Taylor Swift. I'm totally judging you right now.
Me: Yeah, I know, right? What am I, a seventeen-year-old girl?
Friend: ... Oh, honey, that's not okay.
Me: ... I'm sorry.

It's so easy for me not just to toss out stereotypes but to toss them all the way under a passing bus in order to validate myself or crack a joke. Not cool. And while being called out for it was uncomfortable and embarrassing, I'm glad it happened. Privilege must be checked, and responsibile women out there are making sure the prejudice is identified and weeded out regularly.

Now if only the same could be true of heteronormativity, especially here in Korea.

Dialogue B
Me: [sitting down in a bar with some new Korean friends] Hello.
(new) Korean Friend (whom I barely know): So, do you have a girlfriend?
Me: What? No.
Friend: Oh, nooo! Why???
Me: ...
Friend: Why don't you have a girlfriend? How old are you?
Me: 25 in Korean age.
Friend: Oh, nooo! You're young and handsome. It's too bad.
[Later...]
Friend: So tell me again, why don't you have a girlfriend?
Me: *sigh* I... don't have time.
Friend: You don't have time? Oh, that's too bad.
Other friend: He's very busy.
Me: Also, I don't need one.
Friend: What, you broke up?
Me: No, I said I don't need one.
Friend: When did you break up? That's so sad!
Me: ... [thinking] I would like this conversation to end.

It never ceases to amaze me how zeroed in on relationships Koreans are in general. Even my friend Ashley's elementary school students (6th graders) were convinced as soon as they saw their teacher with a male that I was her boyfriend. "Do you have a girlfriend" is a question I am asked every single time I meet a new Korean, especially one who is older than me. Like a kind, concerned auntie asking after my health. Every self-introduction requires name, age, employment, and relationship status. People in the States tend to consider the relationship question to be something too personal to ask about right away. And it's not just the obsession with relationships, of course -- it's also the inability to conceive anyone as anything other than straight. Come on! I don't have a girlfriend because I don't want one. But I can't say that.

Chalk it up to cultural differences! I'm used to the personal questions now, but being able to expect them every day does not necessarily make them less comfortable to answer.

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