Friday, June 27, 2014

Social Experiment Reportings

Having cut my hair, I was prepared for the physical changes (hair completely drying in 45 minutes instead of 5 hours, no need for using and losing ponytail ties, headbands, and bobby pins, using less shampoo and conditioner, and exposing my neck) but I wasn't prepared for the psychological changes (how men and women respond differently to drastically short hair, how long hair can define "feminine beauty," and the amount (or lack of) of masculine attention.)

So I decided to do a social experiment: using the most shallow online dating medium to find out if men are more attracted to women with short or long hair.

The medium of choice of course was Tinder, because for an app that was an upgraded version of Hot or Not, where users literally swipe left if they like your pictures and swipe right if they don't. If there is mutually photographic attraction then a line of communication is open within the app and the next steps depends on the users. Men tend to view it as a hookup site (can you really blame them?) and women may view it as more.

So I scoured for pictures of my new super short do by begging co-workers and friends to take pictures of me because I refuse to do selfies, started up the Tinder account again, and let the experiment run for 3 weeks.

Based on an N of 1, as a 30 year old Asian American woman I received way way WAY more "matches" on Tinder with my long hair profile which was active in winter of 2014 for about 3 weeks. With the short hair profile for 3 weeks in early summer of 2014, I got 20-30 percent of "matches" compared with long hair profile!!!! It was astounding considering:
- The blurb about me was pretty much the same and stated that I'm based in a certain city and am not interested in smokers, drug users, and random hookups.
- My criteria for saying yes hasn't become more stringent.

Upon being matched, I do not take initiative to start communication (at least not initially) and the number of people who reached out to long hair me was at least 5 times more than those who reached out to short hair me but keep in mind I was "matched" with fewer people in the first place. When engaging in conversation to ask about hair length preference, most males acknowledge that they like longer hair on me and on women in general. Even with 3 short hair photos and 1 long hair photo the men still asked me if I have long or short hair (if I have long hair then why would my profile mainly feature me with short hair!?).

Now one may hypothesize that men who say yes and initiate conversation with women with short hair may be more discerning and truly "like" me for who I am but I received similar ratios of sexual propositions and digital booty calls.

Is this earth-shattering ground-breaking "research'? No, absolutely not but there is a difference between knowing that men prefer women (socially because of all the years of Pantene brainwashing and long hair expectations, biologically because long hair can signify reproductive years since hair thins with age and most older women have short hair) with long hair and understanding it because it can be disconcerting to have people choosing to associate (or not) with you or other presumptions based on hair! To be viewed so differently because of a cut has really taught me that appearances matter very much and sends a signal to other. On one hand I feel almost naked without my hair to bolster me as a woman but on the other hand it is totally freeing to be outside that box.

So what does my haircut say about me? That I can be unconventional and unbound by standards of "feminine beauty", perhaps "brave" for chopping it all off (as commented by several females), or I am just very lazy and want my wet hair to dry lot faster!

Disclaimer: Long hair profile may also be influenced by testing time period where people may be more Tinder happy during colder less active times of winter vs. the nicer more active times of early summer.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

When I am with...

When I am with older people I feel younger, more naïve, less bent, more hopeful, less hopeful, have more intricate conversations about feelings and theories, mind the generation gap, want to absorb their lessons then blithely proceed on without pause, muse about is that what life is all about, see life as a marathon not a sprint, see how much having children affects your life, and how much strength life can give and take from you.

When I am with younger people I feel older, more mature, like I am not mature enough, sometimes think they are silly to agonize over certain things but then find myself doing something similar, exuberant and reckless, scoff at their silliness, am a teacher and sharing my experiences, feeling inadequate when they are so "successful," am glad I can afford to live on my own, and revel with them.

Regardless, I learn from all.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.

-- Lao Tzu, philosopher and poet

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

My Journey to Feminism

So let’s talk about the f-word, no not that one but the other f-word: feminism. It comes with many different definitions, perspectives, and agendas. Here is mine. 

Like most births, no one truly remembers that moment of becoming into being but once something is given life it is hard to snuff it out. So is my journey to feminism. 

I would like to say that I was a docile child: always pleasing my parents, doing as I was told, a paragon of Asian filial piety but the reality was I was quite bossy, bullied my younger brother of four years, picked fights with kids at school because I did not know how to express my anger, and had screaming fits directed at my parents about 3-5 times a year. The cornerstone of all of this was “fairness.” It was unfair that I am born female and my brother male so he gets to be coddled while I wasn’t; unfair that I am the eldest and had to break all the rules while my brother had it easy; unfair that other non-Asian kids get allowance for doing nothing at all while I got nothing for doing a gajillion chores at home (this only improved slightly in high school where I got $10 a month in the 1990’s); unfair that we were so poor that McDonald’s was a treat for good report card grades (Thank god for that! My parents never let me develop addiction to fast food); unfair that we don’t get to drink soda (Kudos to frugal Asian parents!) unless it’s the holidays or someone’s birthday celebration; unfair that I wore hand-me-down clothing despite being the eldest kid, unfair that I’m short; unfair that our house had cockroaches and mice that crawl around at night casting shadows via the night light, scaring the crap out of me and turning me into a slight insomniac; unfair that I’m being compared to the genius kids of my parents’  friends who always got great grade and is going to be a doctor. The list can go on and on and on. So one can see that while I was obsessed with the righteous definition of “fair” I was also an angry kid.   

Surprisingly this concept of “unfairness” never prompted me to be a feminist yet because I was a huge nerd, actually enjoyed school quite a bit, and did well enough academically which engage and challenge me at the same time. The closest I ever got to feminist studies was in college while pursuing my biology and East Studies (with a concentration in Japanese) majors that I decided to take a Japanese women writer course that took care of 2 birds with 1 stone: liberal arts and writing requirement. I saw how “unfair” it was within the Tale of Genji, that Japanese noblewomen were treated as sexual playthings to Prince Genji but the “unfairness” never touched me because it was in the past and everything was romanticized in my quaint naïve adolescent mind. 

But oh how I read! Since I learned to read, I devoured books from the library like a starving person at a buffet because it was a way for me to escape from growing up in a poor immigrant family where we had no means to own a book. The library was a magical place that houses an infinite number of friends, possibilities, and adventures that expanded my small world to beyond my imagination. My readings should have tipped my off about my feminist tendencies because while I like fairy tale with beautiful princesses, magic, love, and happy endings, I especially loved stories with strong female characters that save the day because I imagine that one day I too can be the main character and hero.

My journey to feminism didn’t proactively metamorphosized till coming back to the East Coast after a sales rotation in San Francisco. Maybe it was the liberal west coast air or that everything is better out west, or just that I have a lot more free time to peruse the internet in an office job setting, thus I began to read. I’ve always been an avid lover of reading, with my taste shifting from sci-fi fantasy of childhood to actual interest in non-fiction writing. As I kept reading I noticed that the articles I gravitate to are 1- usually about inequality (socio-economic, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, class, gender, etc) and 2- about women. The more I read the more I can’t stop but from 2012 onward there was also a dramatic shift in American culture and politics. Mitt Romney’s “binder full of women” snafu was repeatedly called out/made fun of, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler emerged as the funniest comedians around, America’s love/hate relationship with Hilary Clinton is still very much love/hate, Miss Representation documentary exploring the damaging relationship between women and media, and Sheryl Sandberg stepped out from being a TED talk darling to a Lean In machine. All of this I devoured ferociously. 

At the same time I was also looking at my career, or maybe lack of. Despite being part of a rotation “program” the company was in an industry of mergers and acquisition, downsizing, and lackluster pipeline. I look at senior management and all I see are “pale frail male” aka old white men. I do not see role models for me as a woman or an Asian American. This made me question if I am cut out for slugging it out to climb this corporate ladder (or jungle gym or whatever metaphor people like to use about career management.) It has been shown time and time again that if one does not see someone like them in aspirational roles, the individuals have a hard time aspiring.
At the same time I found a group of college female friends who have been traversing this feminist journey that was similar but separate to mine. One is a PhD candidate for Japanese literature (specifically Chosen literature (written Koreans living in post-World War II Japan)), another taught English abroad for a few years and has joined the corporate world (she is also the one who wordsmithed “pale frail male”), one is a publishing house editor, one is a pharmacist, and one is a lawyer. All of us through different walks of life are suddenly converging organically to want to talk about being a woman, the opportunities and obstacles arising from our gender, and what does it mean to navigate through personal and professional lives. Albeit some of us are much more passionate about the topic, we all were finding a voice that resonated with each other. We would have ginormous email chains that would break Gmail because there would be over 100 emails with 800 word essays about our views on a NY Times or Atlantic article, personal happenings, opinions about Lean In (oh what battles we would have about this!), a Buzzfeed list about women or people in their 20s/30s, or academic analysis of gender inequality. Such an insular sisterhood that was analytical, self-aware, and amazing! 

Bolstering this digital connection was my own real life connection with Asian American women in the city I was living in. I have joined an Asian American professional organization upon moving to my 4th city and sought involvement with the organization, which didn’t come to fruition till in 2013 when the local chapter decided to launch a women’s group within the Asian American organization. Working with a team of talented, dedicated, and amazing women we worked throughout that summer to officially launch the Asian American women’s program via a panel of Asian American women small business owners and entrepreneurs. Countless hours of coordination, venue planning, logistics, naming the event, and marketing drew a crowd of over 80 women and men. I was so caught up in the event planning that it was so gratifying to learn so much from amazing women who have forged their own path by taking a place at the helm. 

Since then my journey continues and I am learning much about myself, the world, and others. Assuming more leadership in the Asian American women’s program has grown my sense of leadership, made me question is the program mainly to provide a “safe space” for Asian American women (or should the program go beyond to really encourage the dialogue between men and women about gen inequality instead of having one-sided monologues?), made it harder to meet and date a man who can be truly be my life partner, realized my sense of self in different ways, and pushed me in ways I didn’t expect to be pushed. 

I know that “women” and “feminism” is a hot topic right now. It’s amazing how my journey has gotten me here and I am truly grateful that I was not involved in women’s study during college or younger because I would burnt out by now. My sense of “unfairness” would have erupted into anger that is fueled by youth and personal righteousness that would quickly die down due to exhaustion and also personal sense of lack of impact or ability to change the status quo. It’s been amazing to see so many women come to terms on their own in this mass journey to feminism. Yes the whole world is gearing up for election 2016 despite the fact that it is 2 years away, yes it is a media sensationalization at its finest, yes it is trendy to be a feminist (look at Beyonce!) but I hope this is not just a blip in time, that the current dialogue will continue to grow a future where not all men aspire to be CEO’s and not all women want to be housewives. That our potential in life is not inhibited by the gender given to us, or at least the hurdles and barriers will be lowered so that regardless of being female or male we can realize our greatest potential for impact, happiness, and harmony.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

A Beautiful Sight

This was so beautiful that it took my breath away: Bonchon (darn good Korean fried chicken!) is coming to Philly!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A Social Experiment

Pst, I'm going to do a social experiment. One where I revisit the world of online dating but with shorn hair and record the receptivity.

All in the name of science and data gathering!

Monday, June 9, 2014

We Are Not Our Hair…or are we?

“How was your Memorial Day weekend?” a friend asked me over text. 

“Good, went to visit the family in Brooklyn, got a haircut, and BBqed.” 

“I just saw your facebook picture. You cut your hair that short?”

“Yes, I told you earlier I got a haircut.”

“You didn’t say it was that short!”

I went from having long coarse thick mostly black but about 20% white hair that was several inches past my back bra strap to a boy short haircut that was about an inch around and about 1.5 inches at its longest. It was drastic and when asked why I did it, I joked: “I need a change. I can change my job, move to a different city, or get a boyfriend. This is by far the easiest change.” 

My hair suddenly felt a pound lighter, I had phantom hair syndrome (similar to phantom limb syndrome, but where I felt I need to take down my pony tail before going to bed), I suddenly was way over using shampoo and conditioner, but was discovering how much upkeep short hair really was (Really? A trim every 4-6 weeks? There goes all the savings from the shampoo!) My hair follicles, used to years of being weighed down was suddenly liberated and didn’t know where to go, so they went willy-nilly everywhere: poking out of my head, making me at least 1.5 inches taller but made me worried about being a poofy-head but at the end opted out of using hair products since I didn’t want to wash my hair every day! On the flip side I also did a good thing by donating to Pantene’s Beautiful Lengths program, similar to Locks of Love but for women with cancer.

I was prepared for all the change to my lifestyle but I wasn’t prepared for the reception. Friends, family, and co-workers all had different reaction, if not treating me differently. It made me realized how much I was partially (if not more) defined by my long black locks. Long hair has always been a defining hallmark of feminine beauty. From Barbie to all the fairy tale princesses to even most modern day women: they all have long hair that is shiny, inviting, feminine, mysterious, and luscious. It was a relatively phenomenon that promoted the short bob, along with flapper dresses and women’s liberation. Relative because hey Eve had long hair.

Going from mid back to top of neck length was an unexpected experience in de-feminizing. Females would come up to me and gush about how nice it looks, how it suited my face (which was surprising given the Asian lack of cheekbones and relatively smaller eyes), and how “brave” I was. “Brave?” I asked myself, “I didn’t fight in a war, defend justice, or defeated imminent danger. How is this brave?”

Males on the other hand didn’t know how to respond. They were similarly stunned like the females but lacked words. I don’t expect to have men normally comment on women’s hair but when one hacks off a good foot of hair one expects at least a “Oh you cut your hair” comment. Some men quickly recovered and say how it looks good on me; those are usually the ones with good female influence. Others just make a comment and gives off a vibe of “I don’t think it looks good but I don’t know what to say.” Others just sit there and pretend I didn’t lose a pound of hair. 

The funniest story was from work. I had a meeting with 3 older gentlemen. The Latin American and American (this sounds like a beginning of a bad joke but I promise it’s not!) were already there but the Israeli was running late. The LA and A men just took a look at me made no comment and proceeded with the meeting. When the Israeli finally arrived, he shouted “Oh my god! PJ, you cut your hair!” in this loud booming voice. “Don’t take this the wrong way but it looks great!” and proceeds to share that his wife has short hair too. Sometimes people surprise you.

All in all having short hair made me questioned not only how poofy or big head I have but also my femininity. I become more conscientious of wearing clothes that are more feminine and become starkly aware of how androgynous I look when I wear my normal t-shirt and shorts. My mom’s comment is that I look “asexual.”  When I go out, I notice less masculine attention was given. A friend of a friend also noted similar experience with short hair and was thinking about cutting her hair short again to escape such attention, while enjoying the convenience. 

So we are not defined by our hair (although a bad hair day does not help!) but it has been fun confounding people while they try to make heads or tails of the drastic chop.