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)

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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.

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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

Lazy Pancakes

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Sunday cafe, 169 Hemingford Road, London N1 1DA

I love pancakes but am too lazy to make them. I prefer the American fluffy ones to French crêpes, but all the measuring and getting the right consistency is just too much for me in the morning.

In honour of Pancake Day, here’s a super easy and quick recipe for flourless pancakes, aka the lazy pancakes!

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Prep Time: 15 min
Yield: 9 mini pancakes

Ingredients:
1 banana (the riper the better)
2 eggs
Yup, that’s it! That’s all you need.

Instructions:
1. Mash the banana (with the back of a fork if you’re wondering how).
2. Add eggs and mix well.
3. Use a ladle to pour mixture to pan. Keep your pancakes small. Not only will they cook quicker, but they’re easier to flip as well. Another tip is to use a very thin spatula/turner/whatever you call it.

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I usually eat the pancakes as soon as they’re out of the pan while I make the next batch, hence the lack of a pretty pancake stack photo lol It’s a great way to use up that spotty banana in your fruit bowl. You can eat them with anything – berries, peanut butter, honey, syrup, whipped cream, but my favourite is nutella :9

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Children are (not) Maggots

“The books transported her into new worlds and introduced her to amazing people who lived exciting lives.” – Matilda, Roald Dahl

That, is the power of books. And that, is why I’m studying Children’s Literature. (Well, and because I love picturebooks more than children do!) Before I had the chance to take hold of a copy of Matilda, I came across the movie adaptation on TV one summer. I was seven. We have a copy of the book at home but I wasn’t entirely sure if I’ve actually read it. The story has always been so familiar to me. I reread it a couple months ago as an adult for coursework and was surprised at how different it is compared to what I remembered. I wrote an essay on becoming Miss Honey myself.

Last Saturday, I watched Matilda the musical with the Children’s Literature gang. I’m not sure if it’s normal but I cried, more than once.

***SPOILER ALERT***

No, I didn’t cry when I read the book or watched the movie, but the musical made me laugh out loud and brought me to tears. I loved the show before it even began – the staging was incredible! Book-like blocks of letter overflowed the stage, and if you look closely, you can spot words – it’s a great game for kids. Bookshelves were used as partitions, which in several scenes transformed the stage into a library. This is the best show for book lovers! The scene in which Mr. Wormwood tore up a library book appalled me; I gasped too loudly and was paralysed for a couple seconds…

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The pupils’ desks were hidden in the gridded ground. The first scene in the Year 1 classroom reminded me so much of teaching and my kids; little princes and princesses in their new uniform with their eager hands in the air (but instead of 9 pupils, I had 41 in my class lol). I cried when Matilda hugged Miss Honey for being nice to her. In Hong Kong, it’s ok for me to hug the kids and take pictures of/with them. Though it could be dangerous when group hug turns into an unintentional American-football-kind-of tackle, I do miss their smiles, I-love-you notes and drawings. I’ve kept most of them.

The songs were catchy and the lyrics were brilliant: addressing parents’ adoration of their precious little ones, empowering children, foreshadowing the reality/cruelty of school, and my favourite – looking forward to growing up. That made me cry. Swings were and still are my favourite. I remembered when I was little, I’d try to go as high up as I could (yup, I’m a thrill seeker since the age of 5), trying to touch the tip of the pine tree branches with my toes. When you’re little, you can’t wait to grow up and do things that adults wouldn’t let you do, such as “eat sweets every day” and “go to bed late every night”. Little did they know that growing up is a trap and the only thing you wish when you’ve grown up is that you never did. I cried again when Miss Honey sang her heart out in her cottage as the escapologist/her father joined her; it was so heartbreaking. I think music heightens emotion in a way that words alone cannot.

The musical was very faithful to the original text but with a few subplots; it’s all the better for it. Did I mention Miss Trunchbull was played by a man? Now that I’ve read the book, watched the movie, seen the musical and written an essay on it, I feel like my experience with Matilda is now complete.

“Never do anything by halves if you want to get away with it. Be outrageous. Go the whole hog. Make sure everything you do it so completely crazy it’s unbelievable.” Matilda is my hero!

Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!

“Harry’s mouth fell open. The dishes in front of him were now piled with food. He had never seen so many things he liked to eat on one table: roast beef, roast chicken, pork chops and lamb chops, sausages, bacon and steak, boiled potatoes, roast potatoes, fries, Yorkshire pudding, peas, carrots, gravy, ketchup, and, for some strange reason, peppermint humbugs.”
 Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997)

Twenty years after the first Harry Potter novel was published, I am now studying children’s literature in the most magical place that holds the legendary Harry Potter Formal. Though the food in Homerton isn’t the best (oh, but they make the best dessert!), the magic is in the details.

img_3113Along the corridor just outside the Great Hall, there were displays that only Harry Potter fans would appreciate: undesirable posters, old socks, potion bottles, muggle news and winged keys. Before you enter the Great Hall, there’s a coat stand for us to hang our invisible cloaks. If you were oblivious to all that and entered the ladies’, you’ll find Moaning Myrtle staring right at you while you’re trying to release yourself lol

The dining tables were decorated according to the four houses: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin. Though there’re no floating candles (the last thing we wanted was to burn down our beautiful Great Hall even though they’re building a new dining hall), Homerton’s Great Hall is pretty enchanting in candlelight.

Our awesome Graduate Tutor, Melanie, dressed up as Dumbledore was accompanied by the Dark Lord, who fashionably draped Nagini around his neck. The evening kicked off with the splendid performance by the Charter Choir, singing “Double Trouble” from the Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban movie. Followed by a brilliant short play, in which the Sorting Hat made an appearance. The script was epic – full of jokes on our rival colleges and university.

It’s been a long day and we were all nibbling wands, I mean break sticks, and popping Bertie Botts before food was served. Starter was pumpkin and ginger soup served in bread cauldron. Main was okay; I had garlic and rosemary roasted chicken with roasted potatoes and carrots. I couldn’t finish the chicken, but no matter how much I eat, there’s always room for dessert – a meal is not complete without dessert! It was chocolate fondant with vanilla ice cream and butterbeer sauce. Crispy on the outside, warm and gooey on the inside, together with the chilled ice cream, mmm it was sooo good.

You’d think that’s the end, but no. Trainers brought in Minnie, a lovely gorgeous white owl, and entertained us wizards and witches by making it fly across/around the hall countless times. It was gliding so low that I was worried its feather would touch the candle flame. I’m not a fan of birds usually (I hate pigeons), but he’s the cutest thing ever!

After dinner, people flooded the corridors queuing up to take pictures with owls in the owlery. While waiting, a Canadian witch picked up a fight with me and we had a duel outside the Drawing Room. No muggles were harmed. In the owlery, there was a big owl and an owlet. I was having a staring contest with the big one, but its eyes were so dark and mysterious I felt like its staring into my soul that I had to look away. Baby Owlbert was adorable! hehe

Growing up reading Harry Potter and having watched all the movies and the play, it has been and will always be a huge part of me. I will read all the books to my children against their will lol If you haven’t seen the latest illustrated version of the first two books, you have to. They are so cleverly and superbly done by Jim Kay. Best present for Harry Potter fans!

“No story lives unless someone wants to listen. The stories we love best do live in us forever. So whether you come back by page or by the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.” – J. K. Rowling

 

Drink Coffee like a True Italian

What is your favourite smell? Is it freshly baked bread, the sea, new books or fried chicken? I love the smell of coffee. I don’t remember when it was that I first started drinking coffee, but over the years, my coffee habit has changed and it has now become an essential part of my morning routine.

I make my espresso with a moka pot, which was a gift from an Italian friend. It is the Best. Gift. Ever. for coffee lovers (from £13 on Amazon)! My coffee would be ready before I finish washing up, and (apologies to my flatmate) the kitchen would be filled with the aroma of coffee. After being disappointed by the cappuccino from the buttery, I decided to get a milk frother and make my own. Life is too short for bad coffee. Now I make better coffee than the buttery and have saved enough to pay for a May Ball ticket!

Coffee might be something you drink to keep yourself awake, but in Italy, it is a way of life. You can hardly find a place that sells coffee-to-go. People go into a bar in the morning, have a quick espresso with a pastry, banter with the barista and they’ll be out of the bar before your full English breakfast is ready. Some bars serve espresso with a glass of sparkling water. It is intended to cleanse your palate before you sip your coffee. Ordering an Americano is a dead give-away that you’re a tourist! Surprisingly, I haven’t seen any latte art when I was travelling in Italy. Could it be something that the Americans have invented, just like the fortune cookies? (Oh yes, we don’t have fortune cookies in Hong Kong, and no we don’t eat dogs) I’ve been trying to do latte art but it’s harder than it seems to be.

There is an unwritten rule in Italy – never order a cappuccino after 11am. It is because Italians view milky drinks as breakfast beverage. They believe that drinking milk after a meal screws up digestion. In contrast, an espresso after dinner is believed to help with digestion. I’ve tried and I still slept like a top (to be honest, it’s very rare that I don’t). Don’t order a ‘latte’ in Italy, because ‘latte’ means ‘milk’. Another tip is to have your coffee at the bar instead of sitting down at a table. Usually they have two prices, and you could probably work out which is which. If you’re too embarrassed to ask or too lazy too google what the differences between cappuccino, macchiato, latte, flat white and Americano are, here is a pretty simple visual representation:

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I haven’t been to a lot of cafes in Cambridge, but Savino’s on Emmanuel Street is definitely worth dropping by if you’re in town and are sick of the standard high street chains. The only problem is they are always so busy!

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Originally written for The Cambridge Student newspaper