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July 31, 2017 | by  | in Features |
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Words of Wisdom

CW: Mention of rape

 

“Mama told me tie my hair back all the way…” — Grace, “Dirty Harry” (2015)

 

A lot of Pasifika people can attest to the fact that we get lots of advice growing up, especially if we’re girls.

I’m from two of the Pacific’s regions — Melanesia (on my mum’s side) and Polynesia (on my dad’s). One of the things I feel this issue of Salient is about is opening up and continuing discussions about the way the various identity hats that women wear impact who they are and who they’re allowed to be. At least, that’s one of the things I hope this issue can do.

I’ll be listing here some of the shocking, “funny”, troubling, and most 18th century reminiscent words of er… wisdom that have been said, very nicely, to Pasifika women about how they should live their lives. I’ve also written how I wish I had responded when I first heard them, had I’d not been prevented by cultural respect.

So, in no particular order:

 

1) “Who should lead our committee? That one’s amazing because he’s very practical, that other one’s good because he’s business minded, and that female one is good because she doesn’t swear. A lot of other committee members swear, but she knows how to talk like a proper lady.”

If four letter words aren’t your thing (or three letter words in Samoan, hah), then I respect that. If you don’t want swearing at your meetings, celebrations, and so forth, that’s okay. Sometimes you just know what kind of language the people coming to your events will not tolerate. However, being “female” shouldn’t warrant applause for not swearing, while being “male” earns someone annoying praises of “he’s the maaaan” when they cuss. This is just one step away from saying, “If you swear, you are not a woman anymore.” If you don’t like women swearing, tell the guys to change their language, too. I mean, how can you say… (runs out of words) …know what? If you’re going to keep taking the initiative of determining who can say what, you seriously need to just F-U-C-K-I-N-G LEAVE OTHER PEOPLE’S VOCABULARIES ALONE!

 

2) “This lady is so annoying! She won’t stop talking, eh! She needs to be raped properly.”

She needs to be raped. Properly.

I mean… wow! So it’s messed up enough that a woman talking warrants rape, but here we have someone who went to the trouble of specifying exactly how this woman needs to be raped. So it’s not good to leave anything half-done, right? So… rape her so brutally that she will never again have the audacity to say more than five words per conversation, right?

What’s majorly messed up is the owner of the comment thought they were on my side. You saw that I was annoyed with her for talking on and on about math. Thing is, I was irritated because I failed it (miserably), NOT because she’s a woman. I’m am also a woman, and you weren’t being “on my side” by talking like that.

 

3) “Moana is the perfect representation of all Pasifika women and you should be proud of it!”

As a Polynesian woman, a Samoan woman, a descendant of high chiefs and navigators, I AM DAMN PROUD of this animated film! It speaks to me, it inspires me, and don’t even judge me for knowing all the words to the songs. Malo lava, and fa’afetai tele lava to Disney!

As a Melanesian woman, a Papua New Guinean woman… *crickets*

I feel that in order to truly appreciate films like Moana, it is essential that we acknowledge them for exactly what they are about, but also what they are not about, and who they don’t represent. Moana is about a Pacific young woman, yes. But there are Pacific women — two regions full of them, actually — who are not like Moana. The Pacific has Micronesian and Melanesian women, too. They have their own struggles, questions, and, of course, victories, which are so often left out of Polynesian-centric narratives. The word “Pacific” (or, as I prefer, Oceania), does not mean just Polynesia. Next time, you need to, I don’t know… choose your words wisely.

 

4) “I know you’re upset that he hit you for staying out late, but he’s just being a ‘good’ brother. It’s his job to keep you safe. You’re too young to think about boys. He only wants to protect you.”

And in order to do that he hit her?

Straight up, though: if you think it’s some kind of gender prerogative of yours to hit your sister for dating, or hit the guy she’s dating just because he’s dating her, you are not being a “good” brother. You’re being abusive, hypocritical, and chauvinistic. I’m so sick of this! Every time I say “oh, so I like this guy…” people always follow that up with annoying questions such as “does your brother know?” and what does he think?” Whether he knows or not isn’t my main concern. I don’t owe him (or any other man) an explanation of anything in my life.

 

5) “We’re so proud of you! You’re successful, ambitious, and beautiful. You deserve to marry a pālagi (white guy).”

As I type this, I feel all the energy being somehow drained from my fingers.

This comment was supposed to be synonymous with things like “you deserve to be happy” and “you deserve someone who will treat you well.” I mean, thanks for the well wishes but, seriously? Why is “white” always elevated much higher than not white? This sounds as if “white” is some sort of prize that only a select few can win. Anyone who is not white (especially when “not white” means black), has to prove themselves worthy by, I don’t know, not dropping out of high school? Thank you for telling me I’m “good enough” but…THE WORLD IS ROUND AND NOT FLAT and I will be with whoever the heck I want.

…also, you are objectifying pālagi guys by talking about them like this and I don’t think any human being should be treated like a trophy, “earned” by those who “deserve” them.

 

6) “Medicine? Really? Look, you are a girl! If you study that it will take at least seven years, and by the time you’re halfway through your second year, you’ll be already wanting to get married!”

This friend of mine was 17 when her search for advice about university applications earned her this “warning.” The worst thing about it was that the person who said it thought they were helping her. They genuinely cared about her future. They believed, thanks to culture (and church, let’s be honest), that this was the best thing you could tell a high school student who had big dreams.

Not everyone takes this kind of “good advice”, though. My friend is now in her mid-twenties, a university graduate, employed, and not married.

***

There’s a lot of encouraging and empowering advice that Pasifika young people, Pasifika young women especially, are given. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the words that can get me out of bed at 3.00am to finish my last-minute essays so I won’t be penalised. I’m proud to be a Pasifika person: Melanesian and Polynesian, on a bridge between two very different parts of the biggest ocean on earth.

However, I know that I can’t let that pride stop me from contributing to the discussions that we must have about the gender and sexual inequalities that still exist within the region. They are real problems that demand real solutions which cannot be reached if we bring the colonial ideal of silence into the rest of the 21st century with us. In order to ensure that we don’t do this, we must be prepared to tell real stories about real people who are feeling real pain, and making real progress.

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