Stop Judging Women’s Bodies

After 36 hours of traveling, I finally made it back to Beijing. Although I am on a different continent, I never escaped the patriarchy and all the sexist remarks women face on a daily basis, even from my own family.

Don’t get my wrong. I am so excited to reunite with my family and friends after two months. However, I am bothered by how I am constantly greeted with comments of my body. All the deprecatory comments about my weight and the way my body looks reaffirmed how “socially acceptable” it has become for others, especially men, to make these comments with impunity.

Yesterday on my cab ride home, the taxi driver pointed at this woman crossing the street and said to me, “Her thighs are literally the same size as my waist!” and looked at me seeking approval. The whole situation made me extremely uncomfortable but I didn’t say anything or call him out.

There is an unreasonable and unattainable standard for beauty created by our patriarchal society that women are subjected to from the cradle onward. As a society, we promote the idea that women’s bodies are works of art and can be commented on by any spectator who happens to like or dislike what they see, men and women alike. Every time we comment on a woman’s “belly fat,” “flat chest,” “thigh gap,” we are contributing to a vicious culture that values women for the size of their jeans instead of their content. One might say, we also comment on men’s appearances, which is true. Nevertheless, women’s bodies are way more scrutinized than men’s. For example, our society is so caught up with this unrealistic beauty standard that tabloids obsess over female celebrities’ perceived weight gain, cellulite, and stretch marks. The media focuses on female politician’s clothing choices and appearance almost as often as their actual politics, which is very evident in our last presidential election.

As a society, we need to stop body shaming. We all need to make it socially unacceptable to comment on women’s bodies. Resist the urge to scrutinize women’s bodies in the way we’ve been taught by the patriarchal system. Remember that a person is so much more than a body. A person is human and lives with all sorts of troubles and pain and beauty that you can’t even begin to imagine. Last but not least, remind yourself that you are so much more than a body, and that judging yourself or others only fosters more fear, hatred and insecurity.

Calling All Men

As the Moxie project is coming to an end, I have begun to reflect on my experience living in New York City for the past two months. I am very excited to share my journey with my friends. However, the conversations have not been easy so far, especially with guys.

For example: Recently I brought up, to my friend Henry, the fact that women often add verbal qualifiers or present themselves as more hesitant through indirect statements. To my surprise, Henry responded by telling me he never noticed this.


Initially, I was frustrated. I thought to myself: If someone, like Henry, who is well-educated and actually believes in feminism doesn’t get it, how would other men understand the frustration women have to go through every single day, just for being women? I continued to share with Henry some specific difficulties that I’ve experienced, like going into the weight room and taking up physical space, or allowing myself to take up intellectual space in the classroom. As I shared, I slowly began to realize that Henry not only never noticed this trend in women’s behavior, he had also never had this kind of conversation with a woman. What I was sharing was new to him.

Privilege is invisible to those who have it. Most men do not actively choose to be ignorant or sexist. It is socialization perpetuated by our patriarchal system. It is masculine socialization that has ingrained in men from a very young age the idea that they are entitled to public space around them. When male entitlement is compounded with white privilege, socio-economic privilege, and other forms of privilege, an amplification of this privilege and entitlement is formed. Therefore, we often see men taking up more space than women in different settings without even noticing it.

If you are a man and reading this, take a second and reflect: Do you manspread on the bus? Have you ever dominated a classroom discussion or taken up a lot of physical space at a party? Call on other men to listen when you notice that they are interrupting or talking over. Pick up a feminist book, educate yourself on these issues.

I understand that it is not women’s job to teach men to recognize their privilege. Nonetheless, sharing your personal struggles with your male friends could expose them to how we live in a patriarchal society.

Taking Up Space

Last week after our reflection dinner, my suitemate Alex told me how she noticed I take up less space when I contribute to group discussions. She said I would cross my arms and legs and always start with “I don’t know if this is right…” when I speak. After she made that comment, I suddenly realized I do use verbal qualifiers quite often and I do tend to make myself smaller and look down when I talk in group settings.

As I reflect on how my body language projects uncertainty and a lack of confidence, I started to recognize how my low self-confidence can be limiting sometimes. From reading about why women don’t run for office to discussing women’s empowerment and activism last week in seminar, I started to reflect on my own behavior, especially in spaces that I don’t feel comfortable. Often times I don’t believe in myself and question my ability. I usually don’t contribute much in class discussions because I am not sure that my argument is as valid and well-developed as my peers’. Instead of getting competitive and speaking up for myself, I’ve frequently said things like “I don’t think I am cut out for that” or “I don’t think I have it in me” without even trying. I have lowered my expectations for myself and thus I never think I am qualified to do anything.

Our society urges girls to take up less space and boys to take up more. Gendered body practices are taught subtly and learned early. In “Throwing Like a Girl,” author Iris Marion Young points out that girls don’t take up lateral space, because the concept of femininity creates a set of structures that delimit the typical situation of being a woman in a particular society. Therefore, women learn to live out our existence in accordance with the definition that patriarchal culture assigns to us. Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said in her inspiriting TEDx talk: “We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, ‘you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise, you would threaten the man.”

These readings and conversations have helped me realize that there are so many little things I can change about my own behavior to fight for the right to space, and I challenge you to do the same:

1. Stop saying “I’m sorry” for no reason.

2. Drop the word “just” from every request.

3. Speak up when I disagree.

4. Speak up when I agree.

5. Take up space when I should.

More Confused Than Ever

These past three weeks have been confusing, but in a good way. I am confused because Moxie is constantly challenging my perception of the world and introducing me to social justice issues that I hadn’t paid attention to.

Last week we visited National Domestic Workers Alliance and talked about reproductive labor and its impact on women’s role in the private and public spheres. The readings and discussion really challenged me to think about the relationship between globalization and low-paying jobs, regarding both domestic work and offshore sweatshop labor.

Let’s talk about domestic work first. Because paid domestic work takes place in the home, a sacred place, and requires tremendous emotional investment, employers are often reluctant to establish a formal employer-employee relationship. People also remain profoundly ambivalent about positioning themselves as employers of domestic workers because of the implication of the racialized master-servant relationship. So should we establish a professional relationship when it comes to domestic work? If we do, how do people measure emotional labor? What can women do to effectively fight back the notion that performing domestic work is part of a feminine attribute? I would say I am starting to recognize the power dynamic in domestic work, but also becoming more confused. What happens when women challenge our social role in the gender-based division of labor created by capital?

The frustration does not end with domestic work. In order to keep labor costs down and profits high, many companies, including Apple and Samsung, have chosen to set their factories off-shore. These factories are more likely to hire women because women are viewed as docile, easily manipulated and willing to do boring, repetitive assembly work. Oh and because they can be paid less. It is upsetting and infuriating to see people still view women like this in the year 2017. What is more frustrating is that these companies are willing to expose human bodies to occupational diseases, such as leukemia, for faster production and higher profit. What else has to happen to make these companies stop? What can actually be done to change the entire industrial system?

At the beginning of Moxie, I was hoping to get answers for my questions on feminism and other social justice issues. However, I am now stuck with more questions that nobody knows the answers to. Honestly sometimes I feel like Moxie is messing up my world. This raising-more-questions thing is not working for me, because I need answers. Even though it gets frustrating sometimes, I am so glad that I am doing this program and that there are people working on these issues.

Expectations vs Reality

7:00 AM          Wake up energized

7:15AM           Go to the gym yay fitness

8:00AM           Head back to the dorm and get ready for the day

8:45AM           Breakfast time!!!

9:15AM           Go to GGE

12:00PM         Eat yummy lunch

6:00PM            Time to go home

7:00PM            Cook dinner and eat

8:00PM            Do Moxie Readings

9:30PM            Hang out with friends

11:00PM          Get ready for bed

This looks like a pretty productive day right? Work out in the morning. Check. cook all three meals. Check. Work on interesting projects at work. Check. Finish Moxie readings early. Check. I mean my mom would be impressed considering I spent the last two weeks watching TV and eating out back home. If you believed that this is how my first week of Moxie went, then you have been fooled. My day actually turned out like this…

8:20AM           Wake up tired and never made it to the gym

8:25AM           Get ready for work slowly

8:50AM           Munch on cereal

9:15AM           Rush out the door to go to work

12:00PM         Eat salad because I was too tired to cook the previous night

3:00PM            Tired… tired… tired…

6:00PM            En route to head back to the dorm

7:00PM            Too tired to cook so snacking on frozen mangos

8:00PM            Too exhausted to socialize

9:00PM            Get in bed

Adjusting to a ten to six schedule while recovering from a 12-hour jetlag, I’ve never felt this tired before. I come to realize real life is so much harder than college. There are no midday naps, no food points to eat in dining halls, and no work out sessions in the middle of the day. After a 40-minute commute home from work, I have to cook my own dinner, clean up, and run other errands.

Despite how tired I felt all week, I am so grateful and excited to work at GGE this summer! Even though I’ve only been at GGE for a week, I witnessed the impact GGE has on the lives of young women of color. At the graduation of Sisters in Strength–a two-year program that provides 15 young women of color education sessions on gender-based violence while equipping them with the skills to confront individual and institutional discrimination–I saw a roomful of confident, intelligent young women with big dreams. The love and support they have for each other filled up the space.

So, while living in New York might be harder than I anticipated, I love the city and the work I’m doing. I can’t wait to see what comes next!

My Very First Step

My life story is probably the reserve story of most Chinese immigrant children. Instead of moving to the United States to pursue greater opportunities, my family moved to Beijing from Ann Arbor, Michigan when I was five. I went to local school, celebrated Chinese festivals, and most importantly grew up in an abundance of Chinese culture.

I never recognized sexism in certain Chinese values until I was confused by the inverse relationship between personal success and social acceptance for women in high school. It all started when I experienced social backlash after I identified myself as a feminist. The jealousy, animosity, and cold treatment I experienced when I ran for Student Council President traumatized me. When I argued that China’s One Child Policy unfairly prosecutes women and leads to dangerous abortions and forced sterilizations, my friends called me crazy and said that women have to make sacrifices for the necessary policy. When I brought up the gender wage gap in my history class, my teacher said it is reasonable given how different men’s and women’s occupations have always been throughout Chinese history. People called my opinions too “aggressive” and accused me of exaggerating or complicating issues by bringing women into the discussion.

However, gender inequality does not only exist in China. It is everywhere. It is manifested by the wage gap, the objectification of women in the media, gender violence, and the lack of women’s political representation and participation.

I am so excited to work with Girls for Gender Equality this summer to provide girls of color the self-confidence and support I never had during crucial developmental periods. By helping them recognize systemic oppression and educating them on the importance of activism, I hope to give them the support to reach their full potentials and become leaders. I understand the short duration of my stay in New York will not change the world, but I am ready to offer my enthusiasm and determination to help GEE and learn from these driven, ambitious girls.