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

Growing old, growing up

“And when I grow up
I will eat sweets every day
on the way to work and I
will go to bed late every night!

And I will wake up
when the sun comes up and I
will watch cartoons till my eyes go square
and I won’t care cause I’ll be all grown up!”

Matilda the Musical reminded me of how much we look forward to growing up and doing all the things that adults wouldn’t let us do when we were young. Little did we know that growing up is a trap and the only thing you wish when you’ve grown up is that you never had.

At one of the boys’ birthday party

My friend from San Francisco once told me that guys in the Bay Area are known to have “Peter Pan syndrome”, a pop-psychology concept of an adult who is socially immature. While it can affect both sexes, it appears more often among men. Some characteristics of the disorder are the inability of individuals to take on responsibilities and to commit themselves. Humbelina Robles Ortega, an expert in emotional disorders, points out that, “Sometimes they can have serious adaptation problems at work or in personal relationships.”

Psychologist Dan Kelly also used the term “Wendy Syndrome” to describe women who act like mothers with their partners or people close to them. Like Wendy, they make every one of their partner’s decisions and take on various responsibilities, thus justifying their significant others’ unreliability. Researchers state that you don’t have to look far for Wendy, “We can find [her] even within the immediate family – the over protecting mother,” – and sister I would add (guilty!)

Here in the UK, studies show that Britons do not believe they are fully grown up until they reach the age of 29. Living at home longer, playing computer games and watching children’s films are some of the most common reasons for people not feeling like an adult. Sociologist Dr. Frank Furedi stated that, “More adults than ever before are leaving it later in life to move out from the parental home, get married or have children. This is having a knock-on effect to how ‘grown-up’ people actually perceive themselves to be.”

So when do we actually grow up? Research shows that what people really believe constitutes being an “adult” are actually significant life events that give them adult responsibilities, such as buying a house, getting married, becoming a parent, and, interestingly, looking forward to a night in (I’ve definitely grown up then if by the last indication lol).

Growing old is inevitable. Growing up is optional. It is less about age and more about reaching milestones in life. As we celebrate my friend’s 26th birthday, she looked back on those carefree days of her childhood wistfully, but at the same time is excited about what lies ahead in life.

Originally written for The Cambridge Student newspaper