On Aziz Ansari, and Talking to Men

In a recent conversation in the wake of the story about Aziz Ansari I found myself trying to explain to a man that thing that many women do around men. If this were a circus, it could be something sensational and cute: the Magic Shrinking Act, the Play-Doh Woman, the Mansplainer Charmer. But it's not a circus, just daily life.

By way of explaining, here are some stories.

There's T., a guy I know. We were at a social event together once when some other guy provoked him--maybe with some comment about T.'s purported romantic prowess or lack thereof. T. responded by loudly declaring something to the effect of "just wait until I show them my [tech company] pay stub, which is bigger than yours." I made a joke about that, at which his expression darkened. Knowing that he could be quick to anger, I hurriedly said, "Sorry!" Another time, he gave a couple friends and me a ride. He swore at almost every other driver on the road. I laughed nervously and tried to k…

Tidying Up

I recently spotted Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: the Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing on sale for $2. Tidying is a self-help staple. What Dr. Spock was to nervous new mothers in the 50s and 60s, I imagine Marie Kondo is to millennial women trying to get the #minimalist #aesthetic for the 'gram.

I've read the book before, but $2 was hard to beat. I snatched it up to bring to my parents' over Winter Break.

Kondo's book advocates aggressively removing any items from your home that do not "spark joy," in the pursuit of creating a more fulfilling, functional, and minimalist living space. Grown out of those clothes ten years ago? Sell them. Don't know why you own twenty-eight dysfunctional pens? Throw them out. Finish reading a book and think you won't read it again? Give it away.

"I'm going to start consolidating around the house. I bought The Life-Changing Magic-whatever book on sale," I announced at di…

An ode to BART

I recently met an SF resident, a friend of a relative, who I'll call Trina. She said blithely that she had never taken BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit, our local subway system).

"I just Uber everywhere," she said, shrugging.

To well-heeled Bay Area tech workers, the cost of Ubers everywhere might be chump change. But it's actually incredibly costly in terms of its effects on governance and society. Folks like Trina choosing to never step foot on a BART train has detrimental consequences for the system's maintenance and further development--as Keith Barry writes in Wired, public transit is underfunded because the wealthy don't rely on it.

On another level, there's something about public transit that teaches you about how to be in the world, how to sit with people who look and talk and think differently from you. After high school and college, where people from different kinds of family backgrounds get squished together in lunch periods and dorm rooms, there …

Half a Motherland Part 3: Vote

“The faceless, sexless, raceless proletariat. The faceless, raceless, classless category of “all women.” Both creations of white Western self-centeredness.” - Adrienne Rich
In spring semester, campaigns for elected student government positions at my school are in full swing, and I’m reminded constantly of the identities we prioritize with every candidate's Facebook post. Someone promises to represent the South Asian community at Berkeley, posting Instagram photos from Holi and a “Dosas and Mimosas” night hosted by the South Indian students’ group. A frat guy I've never met, poised to uphold the interests of the ROTC and International Relations communities. I’m kind of shocked that IR even counts as a “community”; when I think back to my last Development Studies class, I remember looking around at a group comprised of profoundly disparate elements: a few international students who rarely spoke up in class, a lot of white girls in athleisure leggings and Birkenstocks who sipped …

Half a Motherland Part 2: Pride

"In order for a culture to be really itself and to produce something, the culture and its members must be convinced of their originality and even, to some extent, of their superiority over the others" -Claude Levi-Strauss
I'm proud to be X.
Insert what you want for X: Asian-American, mixed-race, woman, descendant of ridiculously long-lived Chinese people except for one unfortunate soul who died from dysentery, descendant of a Czech orchestra player whose violin my sister inherited and plays, and--according to my grandma--also a descendant of Mayflower dude Miles Standish. 
“I’m proud to be X.” 
Insert what you want and I still can’t say it. 
Maybe it’s a vestigial hang-up from my white side. Racial pride in the hands of ethnic minorities is the wholesome material of multiculturalism in modern liberal democracy, of urban parades and campus celebrations. Racial pride in the hands of white people is combustible material. But accepting this set of facts in my own divided bod…

Half a Motherland, Part 1: Labels

Should I get this "Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders for Hillary" shirt? I mused last November, my finger hovering over the laptop trackpad as my eyes darted back and forth between t-shirts on the Hillary Clinton Store webpage. Am I Asian-American enough to wear it?

I asked an acquaintance once about the topic of identity politics and group affiliation. We were hiking in a group, and I remember thinking about the subject, wondering who to ask, and immediately looking at her--the sole other half-Asian in the group. The other girls had golden ponytails that caught flecks of burnt amber from the setting sun.

"Do you consider yourself Asian-American?" I asked her.

She shook her head. "Not really."

I ended up just buying a black shirt, with "Hillary" in printed in blue on the front. I went running in it once. There was a man out on a walk with his 5-year-old daughter, all pink puffer jacket and strawberry-blonde hair. I smiled at her; he saw my shir…