Asian-American Shame: entangled conflicts of multi-cultural standards

Typically, when I make a post, I don’t really care who looks at it or how many views I get. I mainly do it so I can look at my notes for future reference or to think through some thoughts. Today, I’m writing this post with the intent to share this message and to initiate a conversation.

Photo on 10-15-13 at 2.36 PM #2 Recently I finished reading Brene Brown’s book: Daring Greatly. I’ve already read 2 of her previous books (Gifts of Imperfection) and (I Thought It was Just Me) and I’m a huge fan of her research. When Brene first started her research on shame, she exclusively studied women. Brene describes shame as like a web to women – they are pulled in opposing directions trying to meet society’s unyielding expectations.  Recently, she published some research on shame and men, and describes that men experience experience shame as being trapped in a box, numbed without feeling, unable to reveal signs of weakness.

Today I’m furthering the conversation on shame. While the author does a great job helping us understand shame as it relates to men and women, I’m here to describe the shame I experience as an Asian-American male. The shame I experience is a web – being pulled in different directions that contradict each other. I am not here to complain. I am not here to advocate for change in society (not yet). I’m here to SPEAK SHAME and SHARE IT. I know there are must be many people who go through the same or similar things.

Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” – Brene Brown.  (You feel like you feel like crap, alone and unworthy of connecting with other human beings.)

The 12 Shame Categories
1. Appearance/ body image
2. Money/work
3. Motherhood/Fatherhood
4. Family
5. Parenting
6. Mental and physical health
7. Addiction
8. Sex
9. Aging
10. Religion
11. Surviving Trauma
12. Being Stereotyped or labeled

Examples of Shame
Try to identity which category each example belongs to.

  • Shame is getting laid off and having to tell my pregnant wife. (Money/ Fatherhood)
  • Shame is having someone ask me, “When are you due?” when I’m not pregnant. (body image)
  • Shame is hiding the fact that I’m in recovery. (addiction)
  • Shame is raging at my kids. (Parenting)
  • Shame is bankruptcy. (Money)
  • Shame is my boss calling me an idiot in front of the client. (work)
  • Shame is not making partner. (work)
  • Shame is my husband leaving me for my next-door neighbor. (sex/ body image/ family)
  • Shame is my wife asking me for a divorce and telling me that she wants children, but not with me.(sex/ fatherhood)
  • Shame is my DUI. (addition)
  • Shame is my infertility. (motherhood)
  • Shame is telling my fiancé that my dad lives in France when in fact he’s in prison. (family)
  • Shame is Internet porn. (addiction)
  • Shame is flunking out of school. Twice. (work)
  • Shame is hearing my parents fight through the walls and wondering if I’m the only one who feels this afraid. (family/ trauma)

How do you get past Shame?
Brene says the answer doesn’t lie in “fighting back,” shielding yourself, or “running away” from shame; although that is  a temporary fix that most people opt for. From her research, Brene found that people who live “wholehearted” lives are able to be resilient towards shame – or bounce back from it after having experienced it. Some of the steps (not needed to be done in any particular order) include to the ability to recognize shame. Are you conscious of shame when you feel it? Another step is practicing critical awareness. Why are you feeling that way? Is it messages from the media/ family members/ society? Are they realistic/ reachable? Another step is being able to own your story, admit that you have shame and sharing it with other people.

Conflicting, Confusing, Contradictory Expectations
Sometimes we feel ashamed, but in reality, we have unrealistic expectations set on us. This is the part where critical awareness plays in. Sometimes, you have to realize that you can’t win the “game,” you just have to admit that the “game” is  ridiculous. Here are some examples from women about the world we live in.

  • Be perfect, but don’t make a fuss about it and don’t take time away from anything, like your family or your partner or your work, to achieve your perfection. if you’re really good, perfection should be easy.
  • Don’t upset anyone or hurt anyone’s feelings, but say what’s on your mind.
  • Dial the sexuality way up (after the kids are down, the dog is walked, and the house is clean), but dial it way down at the PTA meeting. And, geez, whatever you do, don’t confuse the two — you know how we talk about those PTA sexpots.
  • Just be yourself, but not if it means being shy or unsure. There’s nothing sexier than self-confidence (especially if you’re young and smokin’ hot.”
  • Don’t make people feel uncomfortable, but be honest.
  • Don’t get too emotional, but don’t be too detached either. Too emotional and you’re hysterial. Too detached and you’re a cold hearted bitch.

This is the Pantene commercial that beautiful illustrates the struggles of the double standard that women live in.

My Shame
Okay, here is the meat of the post where I talk about the shame that I experience. Where the messages I receive from media (or whatever) seem contradictory and confusing.

  • My asian parents want me to live with them and take care of them until they get old, but American culture says that I should move out, be on my own and live independently. American society teaches me adults shouldn’t live with their parents.
  • Asian culture says that the son should default to his parents and listen to whatever they say. Obey their wishes. That is filial piety and the right way. American culture says that you should follow your heart and do whatever is right. Even if it means go against your parents and tell them they are wrong, you should do whatever you think is right.
  • Asian people are expected to be humble, modest and smart. At the same time, American culture expects you to be outgoing, sociable and confident. Most people have difficulty performing both roles. I can elegantly switch between acting American confident, and Asian humble… but sometimes feel like a phony.
  • Society says you should make a lot of money so you can support your family. But you should’ve be working a job for just the money. You should follow your dreams and do what you want.  (okay…)
  • Shame is not getting a full-time job after college. (I don’t have much to say about this topic, but I wanted to say this incase other people feel the same way. 🙂
  • Shame is being a virgin at 25 years old. Society says I should have probably “banged” some girls by now. That a real man will go get what he wants.
  • Shame is having a small asian penis. Haha. Okay – that was hard to write. But I’m sure there are a lot of asian guys out there who will relate to this pain. Size DOES matter or size does NOT matter. Does the size of your penis really determine your worth as a man? Should your worth as a “man” (as defined by traditional hetero-sexual american media standards) really determine your worth as a human being?
  • Men are expected to be ambitious, driven, take initiative, lead and have a future.  In the rush of having a great career, you shouldn’t forget to have fun, relax and have a sense of humor. I personally find that really hard to do.

This is a video that briefly touches up on how young men should be hypermasculine and shamed for being weak and vulnerable.

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