Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Evolution of my Gender Role

As a kid, I loved playing with baby dolls and taking them out on goat herding outings and picnics.  I loved playing with boys racing and beating them as the fastest girl on the playground.  I found the physicality of boys rough housing and playing sports more appealing than the girls who would stand around the playground talking and putting on make-up.  I dreamed of being physically strong like males yearning for their privileges, and at the time didn't realize that I was already strong in other ways as a natural born leader in academics, extra-curricular activities, and sports.  When the high school commencement speech was given by a white male rather than the Asian female valedictorian, gender roles were re-emphasized teaching me that maybe men really did have a higher standing than women.
In my Alabama college with my first boyfriend, I fought gender stereotypes where the male gender role was of a chivalrous nature with the paying of meals, giving of gifts, opening of doors and carrying the weak female across a stream.  It was easy to fight these outwardly observable gender roles, but my personal challenge was the inward battle of trying to understand who I was as a female and how I interacted with and related to males.  As a people-pleaser I became a 1950's housewife following the male's lead, submitting to his will, ignoring my voice, and changing to try to fit what I perceived was his ideal woman.  My true self would remain hidden throughout the relationship until it rebelled so loudly that I would wake up and realize oh... a 1950's housewife isn't me and the relationship would end.
In Seattle a whole new world of gender stereotypes was introduced where not only were there the heterosexual models but also gender benders, androgynous people, femmes, butches, feminine masculinity and more...  I cut my hair short in protest of being seen and stereotyped as the exotic, feminine, submissive, Asian flower.  I didn't realize though that my body type and Asian features with short hair would lend itself to androgeny and being mistaken as male.  The next stage in my gender role evolution was struggling to understand how I may look male but my inner voice and mannerisms were female.  I struggled with society's expectation that because I looked male I would act male.
I think it is here living abroad for 6 years that has helped me evolve into a person more comfortable in her own skin, more comfortable with who I am in relation to gender roles.  Living amongst traditional cultures where the gender roles are even more defined than in the USA, I have had the privilege of living outside of these gender roles as the honorary foreigner with strange ways and mannerisms.  I have been able to define who I am without the influence of American male and female gender roles and because I am not African or Chinese there was little pressure to fit into those traditional roles. 
Rather than being defined because of female or male gender roles, it is liberating being able to hear my own voice and to define myself.  I can be logical, rational, non-emotional, strong, a leader, a giving caretaker, a listener, an introvert, and a loner without thinking in terms of whether or not these are feminine or masculine characteristics.  Even though the world may judge me according to gender roles, by living abroad for 6 years, I have managed to discover and define myself.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

How are you doing Jen?

It has taken several months to adapt to my whacky schedule and I am not even sure if I have adjusted because it is always changing.  I wonder how people who have rolling schedules where sometimes they work a night shift and other times work a day shift manage their exhaustion from not having a regular working habit.
Why is my schedule whacky?
Well my teaching schedule is not the same each week.  Some weeks I teach 7 classes.  Other weeks I teach 5 classes. 
My position at the PC office is not the same each week. Some weeks I go in on Mondays.  Other weeks I go in on Thursdays.  Plus I am available at any other time when I might be needed for example weekends and evenings.  I think I probably each month have only one weekend totally free from responsibility.
Otherwise I'm adjusting and am pretty happy. 
I enjoy my bike commute. 
I enjoy office hours, one on one time with the students.
I enjoy supporting Volunteers and PC staff.
I went on a day trip to an old town and a Great Wall of Chengdu with the tourism students who were practicing being tour guides.
I was requested the day before the actual performance to prepare something for the Freshmen welcome party.  My first idea was to teach an English song, but then I remembered that I have been practicing Kungfu for three years.  I could do that, so I spent a day and a half reviewing and received cheers at the evening performance full of bubbles and smoke that the President of the school actually attended.  It was a semi-big deal.
I am busy. 
Any lows?
Sometimes I feel guilty that I choose alone time over putting forth more time and effort towards community integration, language learning and secondary projects, but I try to keep telling myself that I have two jobs, teaching and the PCVL position.  I need my alone time too.
Grading mid-terms... I strongly dislike grading.

Legacy of Volunteers

Usually I hear so many good things about Peace Corps Volunteers.  For example, the other day someone told me, "Some people think that a PCV English teacher only helped my English; however, the Volunteer really helped me have the courage and confidence to discover and go after what I really wanted to do in life."
Yesterday one of the English teachers at my college said, "Oh you are a Peace Corps Volunteer?"
"Yes I am."
"When I was in college five years ago, I had a Peace Corps Volunteer teacher.  He would always come into class and tell us everything that he hated about China."

My Dorm Life

Living in a dormitory on the teacher floor where the other floors are used by students is a rare glimpse into the lives of Chinese college students.  Every evening Chinese and English pop music blares through the speakers till 9 pm.  Then at 7:30 am, music with a fast beat is our morning wake-up call.  At 8:10, all of the students stand in formation for their 30 minute morning reading. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

Secondary Projects: Love to Hear About Them

Greetings Volunteers who might read my blog,

If you are doing an awesome secondary project or know of any other Volunteers who've got a cool project, we'd like to continue recognizing projects in the bi-monthly newsletter.  I know that everyone has to fill out the vrf; however,  it is usually done at the end of the term.  The newsletter comes out more frequently.  Please send pictures and/or a write-up to your Program Manager or contact me directly.  If you aren't into writing, I am actually also looking for people who'd be interested in having a phone interview about their project.  Contact me if you'd like to be interviewed.

Be well,


Friday, November 04, 2011

Women's Issues

What are the women's issues for American, African, and Chinese women?

Personally, for me as an American woman, the issue is how to define myself as a woman and self-define my role as a woman including how to have a voice to express myself.  I have so many choices that are my own.  I can have a professional career or be a stay at home mother.  I don't have to worry about money because I am confident that I will always have a job to support myself.  I can choose to get married or to remain single and can choose for myself who I date and love.  

Educated American women have many opportunities and the freedom to make their own choices to create their own futures.

In West Africa, during my two years there I saw so many issues that were fundamental to survival.  Education was not equally provided to all genders.  By the first year of middle school out of 100 students, only 20 were female.  By high school, the number of female students probably dropped to one hand.  Health care and health education was an issue.  I helped with handing out food to mothers whose babies were under-weight and mal-nourished.  Women had little choice in who they would marry and how many children they would have.  Women did a majority of the work yet didn't have control of money or have the opportunities to support themselves.  In West Africa, the issues for women revolved around how to survive the hardships of poverty while trying to keep their children alive.

In China, I asked my students what are the women's issues for young Chinese women and for older Chinese women.  In no order of importance, they listed the following problems:
  • working towards the position of women becoming more equal to men's
  • the lack of job experience
  • domestic violence
  • health
  • body image, losing weight, high heel shoes, companies hiring based on height and beauty
  • can't deal with stress as well as men
  • can't drink or smoke like men
They said that for older women the issue was the fear of being homeless.  If a woman didn't have a responsible child, then she would have to live in a home for the elderly where the conditions were very poor.

I asked Chinese teachers the same question.  They listed discrimination in the work place, marriage and mother-in-laws, and domestic violence as issues for women.  They further explained that women have a great pressure to marry and have a child.  If they don't get married or don't have a child, then society will think something is wrong with them.  Marriages often have a lot of conflict because of the family.  There is a saying that I have often heard in China, "You are not marrying a man but his family." 

In my opinion, Chinese women have more choices than African women but fewer choices than American women.  Chinese women are equally educated, have their own careers, and have their own money.  They, however, unlike American women have a greater pressure to get married and to have a family.  Because of this pressure, Chinese women tend to get married sooner and quicker.  They get married to men who might not be their first choice but choose a man whom the family supports.  Even with a cheating husband or a bad marriage, Chinese women will stay married for the sake of the children.

Women's issues are different depending on the environment, culture, tradition, and even the laws of the land.