I wrote this for a gender, media & technology class a little while back. Enjoy.
As the fourth daughter born to a Chinese household, I always felt constructed as a girl since birth, even when my mom dressed me in “boy” hand-me-downs from my cousins Michael and Daniel. I watched my three older sisters – with age gaps of ten, twelve and fifteen years from me – grow up in a society completely different from their roots. They were all born in China, and I am the only Canadian-born.
We were lucky in a sense, our parents never scolded us for our choices in fashion and allowed us to explore our creativity in art and music. Mom and Dad were also not strict in what we wanted to study in school; my mother worked various jobs in factories, home-care, and child-care and my father worked in construction. Family-friends would always ask my parents if they ever wished for a son, and each time they would respond no. Not once did I ever question my value as a girl growing up.
My sisters and I all identify as heterosexual and cisgender. They have all since moved out, wed, found jobs, and taken care of kids with their husbands. I sometimes believe I am an only child, because of the large age gap between myself and three older sisters. What I found difficult compared to my sisters is how my gender has been shaped with never-ending technologies, and social media that manipulate our everyday thoughts. As an Asian-Canadian, the most significant gender issue I personally face is the fetishization of Asian women in Western culture, specifically in my appearance and dating life.
I was raised and still live in Etobicoke, a suburb just outside of Toronto. My area is multicultural, – there are many Whites, Blacks, Hispanics, Indians, Middle-Easterners, the list goes on – and never have I felt out of place because I was Asian. I first started caring about my appearance when I hit eighth grade. Many girls were developing breasts, curves, and wore light makeup. Being a skinny, flat-chested girl, I was insecure because I was unable to share the horrors of bra-fittings and growing out of jeans.
My mother never had a skincare routine or wore make-up, and dressed in what she could afford working and supporting a family of six. In gym class, I started to notice my prickly leg hair, and wore sweat pants to hide them so I would feel more comfortable around the other girls’ smooth, moisturized legs. I wrote a letter on a piece of paper to one of my sisters, asking if she could show me how to use a razor.
Never did I question why I felt embarrassed, and was never taught in class that girls must be smooth within every crevice of their body, unless it’s the hair on their heads. These ideas were constructed in our society where beauty stereotypes – standards like hairless Asian women, curvy Latina women, and light-skinned Black women – determine whether or not we are beautiful. To this very day I still shave my legs, wear make-up and grow my hair long, but sometimes I wonder if I do it for my own desire or because I am afraid of being judged.
I was fifteen when I started dating boys. All three of my sisters have married Chinese men, but dated outside of our ethnic background in the past. My parents are very accepting to the men in our lives and believe that love is love, or as my mom would say, “It doesn’t matter how wide his eyes are, as long as he has a good soul”. During my second year of university, my best friend Michelle and I started using Tinder. It is legitimate – I met my current boyfriend on Tinder – but I was surprised to see how shallow some men could be.
Then again, Tinder is an app where you judge your potential partners based on two to five photos and a description of themselves. I was picky in who I swiped right to, and did not discriminate – I liked who I genuinely thought appeared as a good person. This was until the messages started coming in. Messages asking me if it’s true that Asian women have tighter vaginas, if they only date White men, or if they were submissive in bed. I was disgusted and repulsed.
Where do they hear these things? More specifically, do most people I know think these things about me? I went on Google for answers and realized that most of these so-called expectations are implemented in minds from media, especially in pornography. I contemplate on how Westernized, Asian women can shift from being seen as submissive compared to other ethnicities and realize it is difficult to do so.
Overall, there are many open-ended questions we can ask about regarding gender in our society. I feel that the people around us have a strong factor in how it shaped my gender growing up as a young adult, despite being raised in a family where girls were no different than boys. My values in appearance were mainly because of the media and how girls are portrayed to succumb within beauty standards. I hope that our society will see the day where nobody is questioned on why they deem a certain ethnicity beautiful or not. A person should be valued for who they are as a human, regardless of their gender and physical appearance. It is easy to say, but difficult to change an entire perspective without educating others about all these societal expectations.