Adding to the chatter about cat-calling (a personal take)

I’ve been walking to work lately. Three days a week, I walk home, too. It’s an enjoyable mile and a half each way, straight down the street. I could take the bus, but I prefer walking. I also routinely (at least once a day) walk through downtown to get to meetings and work sessions, since my department is headquartered on the university campus, but my office is in a building on Mill Avenue. One by-product of all this walking is that some people on the street – some “regulars,” likely homeless, and some random – pay a lot of attention to me.

For instance, the other day, a guy passing me coming from the opposite direction called out: “You’re as beautiful as ever!”

And I’ve been kind of perplexed ever since, because did I feel offended, demeaned, or dehumanized in any way as a result of this attention? No, I did not. I was not offended, and I was keenly aware of my indifference because according to the entire internet, I should have been offended. There’s a lot of discussion about cat-calling circulating around social media at the moment, and it all simmers down to: “Any type of attention a guy pays a woman in public is negative, even if it sounds like a sincere compliment, and everyone should be outraged by it.” So, perversely, the main thing I felt as a result of being cat-called that particular day was a tinge of weird guilt for not being offended, much less outraged.

Does that make any sense?

The truth is, sure, there are times when I actually am offended by guys on the street whistling and calling out to me… and there are other times, like the other day, that I’m not. It just depends.  It depends on what is said, and how it’s said, and it depends on my mood, and maybe even on what I had for lunch that day. I don’t know. It just depends. For me, there’s no hard-and-fast rule regarding taking offense at cat-calling. Not all cat-calling bothers me. It is what it is, and it’s odd to feel like I have to be apologetic about it.

Let me share an experience I had when I was a kid. This is an example of a case in which I did feel dehumanized by strangers, and it illustrates one of many variations on an incident I’ve experienced over and over throughout my life.

My family vacationed on the east coast the summer I was 14. When we were in Washington D.C., we visited the Smithsonian Institute. One day, toward the late afternoon, I decided to go outside to sit and wait while my parents and brother were still in the museum (I don’t remember which museum).

There was a reason for this, but I don’t remember what. My feet hurt? I had a headache? I needed some alone-time? Whatever the case, I was contentedly occupying a bench on the lovely, park-like grounds of the museum when a couple meandered over my way. They were obviously tourists, too, and older, maybe in their late 50’s or early 60’s.

First, they stopped in front of me from a short distance and looked at me quizzically with smiles on their bright faces as they murmured to each other. I glanced around. No one else was there. It looked like they were examining me and talking about me because… they were!

It was a surreal moment of feeling like I was still in the Smithsonian, but enclosed inside a glass case.

Then the pair came closer, and sure enough:

“Hello,” said the man.

“Hi,” I responded, guardedly.

Then the woman:

“What are you?”

Emphasis on the “are,” as if the “what” was no big deal. Smiling, eyes twinkling, the gentle tone and lilt at the end of the interrogative… there was genuine interest and wonderment in their voices. They were fascinated.

I didn’t say anything for a few seconds as my brain processed the question. “What are you” is a question I’d been asked before by random strangers, and it always made me feel scrutinized, alienated, and just plain uncomfortable.

I knew from past experience what they wanted to know. I mentally shrugged my shoulders in resignation and answered simply that I’m half-Japanese, half-English, and waited for the predictable follow-up, which the woman provided on cue: “OH… that’s such a beautiful combination! You’re so beautiful!” And the gushing began, the effusive admiration of my looks, along with the picking apart and analyzing of my features, which ones were Asian, which ones were not, etcetera, ad nauseam. Looking back on it, I still don’t understand the reason for their interest and excitement, exactly. I was just a tired kid sitting on a bench. I remember thinking that their accents sounded mid-western.

Now, here’s the thing… as a female of mixed color, incidents like this with (white) strangers are far more offensive to me than any guy on the street simply telling me that I’m beautiful and continuing on his way.

Both the guy on the street the other day and the pair of tourists on the grounds of the Smithsonian Institute over 30 years ago trespassed into my personal space to comment on my looks, but the guy told me that I was beautiful in passing. The couple at the Smithsonian, on the other hand, approached me while I was sitting on a bench (I felt pinned down), carefully examined me (I felt naked), talked about me (I felt like I wasn’t there), asked me what I was (I felt inhuman), and then told me that I was beautiful, after which they waxed euphoric on the aesthetic merits of being of mixed heritage (I felt objectified).

So, let me get this straight: It’s inherently dehumanizing to be asked what you are, but it happens all the time, anyway, to the concern of no one… and I’m supposed to be offended and feel dehumanized when a dude walking by tells me that I’m beautiful? Really?

To be clear, I’m not defending these guys. I’m not making light of street harassment. I’m not saying that it’s okay to cat-call or wolf-whistle at women on the street, I’m not denying that such behavior has potential to escalate into something more sinister, and I’m certainly not implying that women “overreact” to this kind of unwanted attention. I’m just saying that in the broader context of the dehumanizing things people can say to other people, and in my lifelong experience of being approached by strangers in public, I didn’t feel dehumanized in the case of the scrappy white kid in downtown Tempe, Arizona, whereas I did feel dehumanized by the nice, retired white couple in front of a museum at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C.

As I’ve already stated, there are some instances of cat-calling that do annoy me, and I also admit that I now try to avoid walking by certain spots at certain times because I know that some of my “regular” street fans will be there, and I’m tired of them. But even then, those guys merely annoy me. They don’t give me the heebie-jeebies like the people who prefaced their “compliment” with What are you? (“I’m human” is always the first answer that comes to mind.)

I’ve tried to laugh off these incidents, and this is a part of the bigger reason why I named this blog “That Asian-Looking Chick.” Sometimes, all you can do is laugh at stuff like that, especially since no one is addressing this shockingly common occurrence that people of mixed color have to deal with.

It’s hard being a mixed-color kid, in general. You don’t fit in anywhere. Growing up, I was too Asian to avoid racist teasing by white kids in California, and too haole (white) to avoid racist teasing by Asian kids during our summers in Hawaii (my family is from there). Then you go to Washington D.C., and a pair of white tourists studies you like you’re a curiosity on display and asks what you are.

It’s just confusing to feel like I’m obligated to take offense every time a random guy says anything in my direction… and if I don’t, then I’m somehow betraying my entire gender.

And in case anyone is wondering, this is how I dress these days as I’m doing all this walking around town:

 

I cover up to keep the sun off my skin while I'm walking. Add to this a baseball cap and mirrored shades, and there you have it.

I cover up to keep the sun off my skin while I’m walking. Add to this a baseball cap and mirrored shades, and there you have it.

 

If a stranger is going to tell me that I’m beautiful, I’d rather they cut to the chase and just say it. Asking me “What are you?” first is NOT cool.

[NOTE: If we know each other and you ask me what I am, I wouldn’t be offended. This rant only applies to complete strangers, since that’s what we’re talking about in this unwieldy conversation about cat-calling.]

200th Post! Le Deux Centième!

Well. Today marks a milestone for this blog, because today, exactly one month short of two years since my first post, I’m writing here for the 200th time!

 

Capture200

 

*throws confetti*

Of course, I got to feeling reflective as this milestone approached.

This blog began, in part, because I missed LiveJournal, which I’d more or less abandoned several years earlier. Facebook eventually replaced the social aspect of it, in a sense, but I wanted to journal again. Moreover, I was living in France, in limbo, not working, and I could feel my brain cells disintegrating while my writing muscles atrophied. I did write some poems. I also intermittently worked on a big writing project, but fiction really isn’t my forte… I missed writing creative non-fiction. And when I tentatively returned to writing in LiveJournal, it just didn’t feel the same. For me, the old LJ magic had left the room (but that had happened before I’d quit, which was why I’d quit). Something had to be done!

I went to create a WordPress account, and I was promptly reminded that I already had one. I’d just never used it. How convenient! I named it “That Asian-Looking Chick,” bought the domain and jumped in with the goal of posting two or three times per week. It’s been hella fun, and rewarding, and instructive. I never missed a week, but it wasn’t until March of this year that I fell into a twice-weekly schedule that stuck. By April, it’d evolved into a Tuesday/Friday thing, and eight months later, I’m still comfortable with that.

Surprisingly, getting settled in a regular posting schedule coincided with going back to work. In the same month, Callaghan and I established a consistent routine at the gym. It was interesting how once I was anchored at a job, other things like blogging and working out sort of fell into place. It was like a “structure begets more structure” kind of thing.

I typically just glance at my blog stats and search engine terms, since the superficial layer is right there before my eyes, but in honor of my 200th post, I took a more in-depth look. Some fun facts include:

–Since Netflix released the second season of Orange is the New Black in June, hundreds of views have resulted from searches for the Asian girl who plays a character in those episodes, as I’ve already mentioned. Yes, the OITNB Asian girl madness continues to rage on today! It’s been five months now. (I still wonder whether Kimiko Glenn has any idea of the scope of her popularity.)

–WordPress stats include visitors’ countries. I did a country count and found that, as of yesterday, people have read this blog from exactly 100 different countries. I’m ashamed to admit that a couple of the places on the list are countries that I hadn’t even realized were actual countries. This blog has opened my eyes to the world, and that is fabulous. (Also, if I needed any proof that English is a language spoken, or at least read, world-wide? I’ve got it.)

–You’re mostly a silent crowd on my posts, except for when I wrote about the casting in the film Jack Reacher.

–A few of you have commented with helpful tips in response to my posts, and your sharing has been wonderfully beneficial. For instance, thanks to your awesomeness, we’re hooked on The Following (T.V. series), and I found my favorite Korean facial sheet masks – the Epielle ones I’ve raved about several times – at Big Lots! For an amazing price!

 

Epielle sheet masks at Big Lots!

Epielle sheet masks at Big Lots!

 

–Because of the search terms, I also know that I’m far from the only one looking for that old (1970’s) Charleston Chew candy commercial, the one featuring King Louis. I trust that if anyone finds it, they’ll come back here and share it.

So, as I reflect back to the beginning, I wanted to thank you for reading and hanging out here with me over the last 200 posts/23 months, or however long you’ve been here. I don’t know about you, but I have no idea where all that time went!

Those of you who’ve been here the longest remember when I was an American ex-pat in France who had no clue that she’d move back to the States. You were here when I was an Arizona girl in Texas who had no clue that she’d move back to Arizona. You spent two birthdays with me, you share my “Little Things” (monthly favorites) joy with me, and you’re privy to my enthusiasm for pop culture and martial/fighting arts. You tolerate my kitty blather and pics (mostly Ronnie James, aka the Wrah-Wrah) and “NOT UNLIKE” comparisons. You read about Callaghan’s shenanigans, and you read my embarrassing stories. You follow my occasional cultural comparison observations. You hear me out when I feel the need to rant. You’ve been there during more personal moments, too, such as when my Mom set off on her journey to fight cancer (she’s doing really well, by the way)! And you laugh with me, which I love.

Some things I want to do here in the future? Well, I’d love to get more active as a blogger, reading more of other people’s blogs. I’d also like to mix it up more, spend more time writing about topics that matter to me profoundly. While my routine is fixed, time is actually a constraint (as it is, I’m usually up at around 5:00am to write here). I’d still like to find time to carve out for non-blog writing projects, as well – I currently have a prose piece in the works, and I’d love to pick up on the poeting – so we shall see what transpires over the next two years!

 

Monday lunch hour selfie (October 27, 2014)

Monday lunch hour selfie (October 27, 2014)

 

And who knows… I may yet divulge the story of My Most Embarrassing Moment.