Moana and Gender Studies


Many of you might know that my thesis was about Moana, but what’s that got to do with gender? You see, Moana is a “boy story” with a female protagonist that celebrates both her “masculine” and “feminine” qualities – that is what we need to teach children.

Literature, films and cartoons affect how children perceive themselves the same way that social interactions and expectations do. Not only do they shape children’s understanding and acceptance of dominant ideologies, but also reinforce gender stereotype through reproduction.

Children, in spite of their sex, should be raised and encouraged in the same way. Personal qualities should not be categorised as two sets of opposing ideals, and boys and girls should be taught to embrace both their masculinity and femininity. Only then can they fully develop and maximise their potentials.

In Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, she writes that, “In each of us two powers preside, one male, one female […] The androgynous mind is resonant and porous […] naturally creative, incandescent and undivided”. I see gender as a continuum and that our gender identity can be measured by the levels of masculinity and femininity in us.


So, those who have a higher level of male sex hormones, reflect less of the traditionally considered feminine traits and perform a rather masculine role – physically, visually and psychologically – the person would be in the blue zone. A child who is biologically female, has a short hairstyle, prefers to wear trousers to dresses and likes insects could be in the light blue and/or light pink territory. The yellowish-lime area represents those who do not consider themselves as masculine or feminine; it is what we usually regard as the grey area – something that is not clearly distinguished. People who are androgynous or ambiguous about their gender would belong to that region. The white corner – which symbolises nil or emptiness – that says agender refers to people who do not identify with any gender.

There is no judgment of right or wrong, good or bad in this diagram; it has more space for diversity. Our gender identity is fluid and keeps evolving as we grow up. Gender is performative; I would dress, walk, sit and talk differently in different contexts. Gender is something one does, not something one is.

Gender equality is not a women’s issue, it’s a men’s issue too. Men and boys are also imprisoned by gender stereotypes. Policies and laws have to be changed, but there is nothing more important than changing people’s attitudes and mindsets, what we believe and what we value about gender.

As a teacher myself, I have to admit that I have had gender biases which affected my interaction with my students, assessment of their work and classroom management. It is unfair to the pupils and could affect their personal and social development. In creating more gender-neutral, nonrestrictive environments for children, we could help to nurture more heroes and heroines who are not afraid to show their true colours.

Homerton May Ball 2017

May Ball is a ball at the end of the academic year that takes place at any of the colleges. We have it here in Cambridge, and Oxford does it too. It starts around 6-9pm and ends at 5am, with unlimited food and drinks and lots to do. I knew I’ll be going to one and brought a gown from home (planning ahead you know; thank goodness I could still fit in it, given the fact that I bought it two years ago!).


St. John’s May Ball is renowned world-wide but it’s more about who you go with. As most of my friends are from Homerton, it was an easy decision to make. I unintentionally avoided the queue since I didn’t get back to Cambridge till 9 coming back straight from a holiday in Spain. I didn’t mind getting in late because it’s all night long. There were inflatable ball pit, swing rides, helter skelter, live music performances, dance tutorials, face painting and so much more. I loved the ballroom and latin dance session. They were doing one of my favourite dances – Jive – when we joined. It was the silent disco that kept us up all night! My friends were impressed with my posing skills in the photo booth LOL We Asians are very well trained indeed :p

To be honest, I think I’m too old for unlimited food and drink and party till sunrise. I definitely didn’t make it worth even a quarter of the amount that I’ve paid but that’s not the point; I’ve had an amazing time with my friends and that’s all that matters (though I wish I have a date). At the end of the night, at 5 in the morning, those who made it would take a “survivors’ photo”. You have no idea how overjoyed I was at the thought of shower and hitting the sack!

It was definitely a once in a lifetime experience but I’m so glad that I’m only going to one (I know someone who’s going to 4!). I went to bed at 6.30 this morning and had 6-hour sleep. After “breakfast”, food shop, laundry and Skyping with my family, I took another 3-hour nap at 6; I finally felt better at 11 after a very late dinner. I don’t think I’ll be fully recovered and get back to my normal routine in a couple days. It’s hard to focus and work indoor during May Week with so much fun stuff going on and the weather being so nice outside. However, with my thesis deadline in three weeks’ time, and having been away for a week, I really need to get back to work 😦


Travelling Solo

Are you the kind of person who would never ever go to a restaurant or the cinema alone and has to be surrounded by people all the time? Or are you the kind of person who needs to introvert in your room to recharge and enjoy solitude a bit too much? I am the latter, more of an extroverted introvert. You might be wondering where this is going, just keep reading.

I don’t remember when my first solo travel was, but I just know I prefer travelling on my own (well, maybe until I find an adventurous soulmate who would do all the crazy stuff with me). I’ve only travelled with friends on a couple trips; it was fun but we had to compromise and it involved lots of planning (pain). There is also the possibility of ruining your friendship when you travel with even your best friends – I’m not kidding! I, am going to persuade you to travel. solo. For at least once, please, in your life, even if the idea scares the shit out of you. Or maybe you’re just uncertain and needed a push. But be careful, cuz it’s addictive.


Travelling solo is challenging. I hope you have a good sense of direction or could at least read a map, okay don’t fret, there’s something called Google Map – it’ll be your best friend. When you are in a foreign place on your own, it could be exciting or terrifying. There is no one to depend on, you have to figure everything out by yourself: how to get from the airport to city centre when you can’t read the bus schedule, which platform is your train departing from that’s leaving in 8 minutes and the most important, what to order. My advice? Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Ask the waiter what he/she would recommend. Ask the guy in the uniform who looks really bored to take a look at your ticket and direct you to where you need to be. Ask someone who looks like a local how to get to that secret lookout which is not on the map. You’d be surprised how helpful people are.

Travelling solo is not caring. This is my favourite thing about travelling solo! You don’t have to wait for your friend to get ready. You can sleep in and no one would say a thing. You can walk as much as you want without someone complaining that their feet hurt. You can eat whatever and whenever you like. You can stay as long as you want in that art museum. You can read in bed and not go clubbing. Basically, you get to do whatever you want. No compromising. No arguing. Just you (and your book).

Travelling solo is looking inside yourself. It’s a self-discovering journey. You learn so much about yourself, what you like and dislike. You test your limit; you’d be impressed by yourself at the end of each trip and feel like you’ve accomplished something. I often see “travel solo” on lists like “10 things you should do before turning 30” – it’s cliché, but I highly recommend doing it. 😉

Travelling solo is opening yourself up. I always stay in hostels because it’s cheap and I get to meet people alike and make new friends. This is when my extroverted self takes over. Pluck up the courage to talk to the person next to you, ask them how long are they staying, where are they from, where’s next, what have they seen/done or simply what are they drinking. The more you do it, the less awkward it’ll make you feel and it’ll get easier, trust me. I love talking with people from different culture and learn new things. I met a German police officer in Lagos, he was telling me about China lol When I click with someone, I’d suggest to explore the city together or meet for dinner the next day. You never really travel alone. The world is full of friends waiting to get to know you. 🙂

I can go on forever but I think I’ll stop here. Of course there are downsides, for instance no one to share food with, which means you can’t order a lot or try many different dishes/snacks cuz you can only eat that much. Safety’s another issue. Luckily, I haven’t had any bad experience travelling alone so far cuz I’m always very cautious. I might write another entry about how to travel safely, especially for women. That’s it for now. I hope you’re thinking about doing it! Do it. Do it. Do it.

Porto: City of Azulejos

I’ve never really thought about visiting Portugal until my friend sent me a cork postcard from Porto. My first encounter with Portuguese “culture” a.k.a. food was on a short trip to Macau, a former Portuguese colony an hour away from Hong Kong.

I am the laziest traveller cuz I don’t do any research prior to my trip; also because I didn’t have time as I was finishing my essay. I hope you’re not expecting to learn facts or read about Portuguese history in this blog post – cuz that’s what Wikipedia and Wikitravel are for – but there’ll be loads of pretty pictures and food recommendations I promise. Where was I, right, no research, it has its upside because the best way of exploring a city is to get lost in it!

I decided to fly into Porto only because it’s cheaper than flying to Lisbon, which worked very well for me because all the other places that I wanted to see are to the south of Porto. It was all sunny and warm in the UK the day before I left, so as you can imagined, I was a bit bummed when I arrived in cloudy Porto which later started to rain – I was planning on getting a tan 😦 But nothing’s going to ruin my holiday.

I arrived on a Sunday, so most shops are closed. I had my first meal in Café Luso (Praça de Carlos Alberto 92) and tried the traditional “francesinha”. It’s a sandwich layered with bread, ham, sausage, steak and covered with melted cheese and gravy served with fries – basically a heart attack lol Personally I didn’t like it, but I love trying local dishes when I travel, then you can tell people whether or not you like it and why.


Porto is rather small, just the way I like it – everything’s within walking distance. Two days is more than enough to do all the touristy things on your checklist: Torre dos Clérigos, Ponte D. Luís I, Igreja de São Francisco (not that impressive imo) and Estação de São Bento (stunning!) to mention a few.

If you’re a book lover and are always drawn to bookstores, Livraria Lello is a must-go. It’s one of the oldest bookstores in Portugal and one of the most beautiful in the world. I’ve been told that it was frequented by J. K. Rowling when she taught English in Porto. It seems to me that everyone’s trying to make money out of Rowling, you know, this and the Elephant House Café in Edinburgh. I wanted to get an English translation of their traditional folktale, but sadly their English section is very limited (and disorganised; I started rearranging the books for half a minute and stopped when I realised what I was doing lol).

My favourite thing about Porto/Portugal is azulejo, their traditional painted tin-glazed ceramic  tilework. You can see them everywhere, less in Lisbon though. Blue is my favourite colour and I gasped a little too loudly when I accidentally found Capela das Almas 😮 São Bento train station is also known for its tiled panels.

Everyone has been to Lisbon, but Porto is so underrated. If you love wine, there are some great wine/port tour that I didn’t have time to do. I don’t think I’ve seen Portuguese wine in shops or on menus (outside Portugal I mean) but they’re really good and cheap! The river is so calming; the alleyways are full of surprises; Portuguese people are very friendly and speak good English (I’m so disappointed with myself for my Portuguese has not improved at all after travelling in Portugal for 10 days). I’m so glad that I’ve decided to see Portugal 🙂 Below are some recommendations:

Best sunset spot/view of the bridge and river: The Gaia Cable Car upper station, Calçada da Serra 143. It’s just right off the bridge on the other side. I didn’t pay to take the cable car, instead I just sat on the edge of the wall. If you’re classier than me, there’s actually a wine bar right next to it.

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Best sandwich shop: A Sandeira, Rua dos Caldeireiros 85. Best. Sandwich. Ever. Terrific lunch deal between noon and 3pm. Limited space though. Closed on Sunday.

Best seafood restaurant: Adega São Nicolau, Travessa São Nicolau 1. Mixed reviews online but I really enjoyed my 2-hour dinner with the view of the river. Good food, good wine and free port with dessert. Must make reservation in advance.

Best hostel: Gallery Hostel, Rue de Miguel Bombarda 222. Hostel in an art gallery, wonderful staff who gave me the most elaborated tour of the city on a map upon arrival, spacious and clean room with comfy beds and nice hot shower. Big breakfast included and also got a rooftop terrace.

More than just hair

“A woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life.” – Coco Chanel

In summer 2008, after a long day at work, I walked into a hair salon that I’ve never been to and told the hair stylist that I want a change. An hour later, I met up with my family for dinner with my new crop – you should see their faces lol I miss my short hair from time to time, especially when I needed to wash and dry my voluminous hair. That’s the only time I wish I were a guy (ah, and also when I really needed to pee and there’s a massive queue for the ladies and none for the gents).

Long hair is irrefutably feminine. I like it long also cuz there’re so many fun things that I can do with it: ponytail, pig tails, fishtail, plaits, chignon, messy bun – the list goes on and on. For the body’s most versatile raw material, our hair can be cut, plucked, shaved, curled, straightened, braided, greased, bleached, dyed and decorated with pretty accessories. When we were little, my sister and I had a box (or was it two?!) full of hair ties that we’d pick one from every morning. I’d be munching on my piece of toast while auntie combed and tugged at my hair before we rushed off for school.

A change in the way one wears one’s hair can affect the look of the face and alter a mood. It applies to both men and women but I’m not going into men’s hair today. I think a crop makes me look younger and I feel refreshed and energetic. Whereas long flowing hair makes me look more mature, womanly and elegant. Wavy hair is sexy but mine are so dead straight. Often in literature, a deep sense of loss from a romantic male perspective is illustrated when a woman cuts off her hair. In O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi (1906), a hank of hair is a woman’s greatest treasure. If one doesn’t feel that short hair is a tragic feminine loss, the story loses much of the poignant drama. In Little Women (1968), Jo March sells her long thick hair so her mother can travel to her sick father’s bedside. She is not immune to the sense of feminine loss as she sobs in bed at night.

I’ve cropped, permed, dyed mine out of boredom. A woman will often decide to “do something different” with her hair (or do something stupid, like getting a tattoo) after a difficult crisis, for a new way of wearing the hair gives the impression of a new lease of life – does it really? Who are we fooling? Is hair just hair, or is it more than just hair?



F for Fabulous Females and Feminism

On Saturday, my friends and I decided to watch Hidden Figures to celebrate the end of term. It’s perfect for me as I’ve been working on a feminist picturebook for my essay 2 and was still in the feminist-zone. It was a good two-hour spent; I left the cinema with a smile on my face. The film was humorous, heartwarming and empowering; shocking and saddening too as to how coloured people were being segregated and oppressed at that time. Set in 1960s Virginia, based on a true story, Hidden Figures centres around the trio of African-American female NASA scientists, Katherine Johnson (Taraji Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe).

I liked how each character gets her own arc – Katherine became the first woman to be part of the Flight Research Division, Dorothy became supervisor of the West Area Computing unit, and Mary became NASA’s first black female engineer. The costumes are simple yet elegant, making the girls stand out from the sea of white shirts and ties. I also enjoy the occasional jokes. Oh and that opening scene of  little Katherine solving quadratic equation on the blackboard, man I miss maths! I’m such a nerd lol

As mentioned earlier, my case study looked at children’s responses to a feminist story. Following is an excerpt from my essay on feminism:

Reading is a social practice within a culture; and as part of that culture, literature both makes and remakes its readers. Children’s youthful reading can be formative in that it sets an expectation to our future experiences, provides us with scales of value, and influences how we see the world in relation to how we see ourselves. Unfortunately, the world is a different place for girls and for boys. In a patriarchal society, woman is often seen as the Other and is marginalised, silenced and objectified.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, feminism is “the belief that women should be allowed the same rights, power, and opportunities as men and be treated in the same way”. In other words, all people should be treated equally. When it comes to defining feminist children’s stories, I find Roberta Trites’ definition closest to mine; “a feminist children’s story is a story in which the main character is empowered regardless of gender. In a feminist children’s story, the child’s sex does not provide a permanent obstacle to his/her development”. Most protagonists in feminist children’s stories tend to be female because it serves the purpose of correcting the traditional images of feminine passivity and docility prior to the women’s movement. However, we should not forget that boys could also be victims of gender stereotype. Stories that transcend gender roles and embrace and celebrate femininity, despite the sex of the protagonists, should also be considered feminist stories.

Yet sadly, in real life, sex does happen to be a permanent obstacle to many people; this also includes those who do not fit into the binary of male and female. As the recent election of Trump shows that even a capable woman like Clinton is not judged by the same standard as a man, nor is she treated the same by the law. Social oppression can also be inflicted on a micro level – victim blaming, body shaming, and catcalling to name a few.

Marilyn French describes feminist power as having power to do what one wants rather than having power over someone else. Feminist power is not about controlling other people; it is the awareness of one’s agency that makes one powerful, no matter it is in fiction or in real life. Feminist children’s stories make girls realise how she can be in control and allow them to reposition themselves in the world. Often in stories or in real life, we would come across gender-related conflicts, but if we are aware of our own agency and our ability to assert our strengths, there is no need to sacrifice our individuality to conform. It is the overcoming of oppression that makes feminist children’s stories empowering and triumphal. When girls feel strong and equal to boys, their potential is unlimited. Let us not forget that it takes more than self-empowered women to transform the society. People, regardless of their sex, need to be educated to respect and treat women equally.

It doesn’t matter that Hidden Figures didn’t win any academy awards, what matters most is that their remarkable story is being heard and girls are inspired by them. “So yes, they let women do some things at NASA, Mr. Johnson. And it’s not because we wear skirts. It’s because we wear glasses.” That’s my favourite quote from the movie. Girls with glasses rule! hehe

P.S. On a completely different note, here’s a bunch of great films about racial oppression that I really enjoyed watching: Finding Forrester (2000), Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002), Precious (2009), The Blind Side (2009), The Help (2011), 12 Years a Slave (2013)

i carry your heart with me

It was when I watched Cameron Diaz’s In Her Shoes (2005) that the poem tugged on my heartstrings:

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

– E. E. Cummings

For someone who has OCD, the punctuation bothers me, but I can’t help loving it because love is irrational and inexplicable; it makes you do stupid things knowing clearly that you shouldn’t, just like how the lower-case type and punctuations violate all grammar rules. The parentheses are like hugs and the lack of spacing and run-on lines intensify the emotion in the poem. The lower-case type is almost like a soft whisper and takes away the otherwise prominence and dominance of a capitalised I, creating a more well balanced relationship between the persona and the lover. The love depicted in this poem is fearless and beautiful. It is unconditional like the sun and moon.

Being away from my family for the second time, there is no one I miss more than me sister. Despite our differences in terms of appearance, personality and taste in men/fashion/food etc, she is the closest person to me in my life. We grew up sharing a room, working and sleeping side by side; she is the root of my root and the bud of my bud. Cummings’ use of extended metaphor of nature creates a strong foundation and a never-ending sensation to the love. Throughout life, my sister and I will be there supporting and sheltering each other. I may not tell her I love her enough, but she will always be part of me and I will carry her heart in mine wherever I go, never without it.

And I shall read this poem to her at her wedding, just like what Diaz did in the movie.

Originally written for The Mays XXV blog