As Jessica Yee posted a few days back, the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre / Multicultural Women against Rape has been hosting a series of herstory (instead of history) events designed to recount our stories, remember our common purpose, embrace the activist in all of us, and to redefine feminism on our own terms. All of these reasons to get together sounded noble, so off I went.
Plus, it was just fun to see Thea Lim get interviewed by a lovely, well-worn pink plushy pig with pearls, who spoke from the comfortable position of Thea’s right hand. And this puppet piggy asked some tough questions! Only Thea Lim would dream up interviewing herself in such a way. I laughed so hard I almost dropped my Bundt cake. Here are a few highlights from Thea’s irreverent take on her developing years in feminism as a novelist, blogger, waitress, and cultural activist.
While I love Thea’s silly style, I really love how she connects her learning about feminism to everyday life. “I learned the most about feminism from working in a bar,” she explained, where she saw how women were treated, or ignored by customers, and was once told by someone that he and his friends had a bet going on her ethnicity. At her cocktail waitress job, she also spent a great deal of time watching television. Although Thea expressed some misgivings about the medium (“If TV is to be trusted, women would only be interested in rich hunks and clump-free mascara”), she also told of her love for pop culture as a way of connecting to feminism.
Using her Shameless posts about the Spice Girls and Mariah Carey as examples, Thea explains that she was never drawn to reading feminist classics like The Feminine Mystique (yawn). Instead, pop culture icons provide a means of talking about feminism using people and subject matter that almost everyone has access to.
On the topic of feminism, Thea figures that “to be a good feminist, your activism has to extend past your own social group. If your feminism is only benefiting you, then you probably aren’t a good feminist.” She read some powerful excerpts from her Racialicious post “Whose Feminism.” After seeing how much of the focus and definition of feminism was too narrow to include the concerns of many communities of colour, Thea admits that she is feeling “out to lunch right now” on defining herself as a feminist. To focus on gender as the only defining factor in discussing oppression and liberation seems foolish because “who is only a woman or man and nothing else?” She introduces us to the term kyriarchy, as a method of remembering the multiple facets of our identities and our common liberation.
Coming to feminism has meant coming to anti-racist feminism for Thea. Growing up in Singapore as a multiracial child, she was often perceived as white. And she thought of herself as white. It was only after moving to North America that people saw her as something else, and Thea says that this was “shocking and difficult.” (Jokingly, she compares herself to Richard Prior’s blind character in the film See No Evil, Hear No Evil, who is told halfway through the film that he is Black and he doesn’t believe it!) As her mom is white, Thea explains that she is just as white as she is a person of colour – and many friends of colour had difficulty with her saying this. Thea’s point is to say that being white is not a monolithic experience, and that questions of race authenticity are complex. She credits much of her consciousness on race and racism to the Asian Arts Freedom School, http://www.myspace.com/asianartsfreedomschool a creative arts workshop on radical Asian history here in Toronto.
Lucky me, I have had lots of opportunities to have these conversations with Thea about coming to feminism and to anti-racist feminism. I will miss her here in Toronto, but she will continue blogging from her new home base in Texas, where some shiny university MFA in Creative Writing program is going to whip her pen into shape and there will be novels pouring out all over. We can’t wait!