Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Framing myself

I am reading a book about Social Constructivism and Discourse.

I am finally honing in on the analysis section of my thesis.  My main research question deals with how we form our identities through language or (reversely) how language shapes our identities.  I take up a post-structuralist understanding of language and identity.  I've spent the past few years reading about various theories trying to find which one pertains to my research while simultaneously negotiating who I am and how I come to see myself in this world.  That's really just a poetic way to say I am experiencing my very own identity crisis.

So finally after a good two-year break from my Masters, I'm back to the books.  I couldn't do divorce and thesis together.  The break was needed.  Yet, I still feel guilty knowing that I should be "done" this thesis thing.  I dread any questions related to my thesis, even though I know they come from a good place: are you done your thesis? how is your thesis going? when will you finish?

I still don't know how to answer these questions without feeling like I'm an impostor:  I'm not smart enough to do grad school, winning the scholarship was fluke, I have no idea what I'm doing.  I've been told it's normal to feel this.  Perhaps those of you who've shared in this experience can enlighten me.

I do know that my grad studies have changed me.  I was called to question more, to think more critically.  I challenge where my ideas and assumptions came from.  I've always been one to wonder.  I've always asked questions.  I've never just accepted the "status quo."  I recall peeing like the boys outside my parents' house wondering why I too couldn't write my name in the snow.  I couldn't maneuver my penis to spell the word "Jen."  I didn't have a penis (duh!) and my peeing device left me melting the snow in a big puddle before I could shape the letter 'J'.  I was five.  I was different from those boys.  It bothered me.

Fast forward to me trying to "fit in."  I got married, bought a house and got a job.  Believe me, deep down I believe in marriage and commitment to a life-long partner; I just don't adhere to the conventions that come with it.  I don't want to be restricted, bound by an institution that regulates behaviours and provides me with subject positions about what is and isn't acceptable.  There are expectations in marriage.  Society has an understanding about what "marriage" means.  If we didn't, we wouldn't be so concerned with divorce. Perhaps, I could negotiate these expectations with Sung Hyun but the language barrier made it too tough to even speak about such ideas.  Not only that, it was simple for him:  "A wife does X.  That's it.  You speak English so you need to take care of everything in Canada.  It's your job."  It was a "you don't question it, you just do it, this is the way it is" attitude.

I didn't like that it was my "job" to "take care of everything."  That's not how I saw myself in a marriage in Canada with my Korean husband.

The first day of couples counselling, eight years into our relationship, when the counsellor asked me why I was there, I replied, "my husband hasn't touched me in 10 months.  Literally.  No physical contact, not so much as even a hug"  When the counsellor turned to Sung Hyun and asked the same question his reply was a bit different:  "you know, my wife is, no cooking"

I will never forget these words.

"He just wanted rice?" I thought to myself.  He just wanted me to cook him white rice with kimchi.  He wanted to come home to warm house with a wife that had a hot meal on the table.

So simple.

I felt so stupid.  I wondered why he couldn't simply ask for something so simple as this.  But communication wasn't our strength, I realized.  I didn't understand the importance of this "image" of a wife he had which seemed to be internalized yet never talked about.  I thought he knew I wasn't that kind of person.  I think he did know and still does.  I didn't cook for him in Korea.  But that didn't stop him from desiring a more traditional woman.  I whole heartedly admit he worked very hard outside the home and was the reason for our financial success in Canada.  Making pennies in Korea to an income in the six-figures in Canada did something to him also, expectedly.  More on the eventual decline of my marriage later.

I guess what I want to say here is that I've always seen the world through discourses of power.  I just couldn't name it before.  So the more I read and understand post-structualism and theories of positioning the more I'm isolating myself from my family and friends.  I don't want to accept what is.  I want to challenge and question everything.  It's tiring for others.  People don't always want to talk about life in such depth.  It scares them (and me).  I want to explore consciousness, I want to understand human interaction and subjectivity, desire, needs, expectations.  I get mad when discourse are reproduced without being challenged.  I get mad when racism gets disguised as a joke and then therefore doesn't count as racism.  I'm honestly sick of it.  Look at the discourse aftermath of the Paris attacks: We must protect ourselves from Muslims!  The dominant discourse of "Muslims as Terrorists" reigns free in Western media (at least since 9-11).

Three years ago I decided to challenge my prejudices about Muslims.  I did this by picking up the Qur'an and attending Friday Jumah prayer.  I made Muslim friends and had discussions about what I means to be a "Muslim."   I wore the hijab for a day on National hijab day:


And guess what I learned:

1.  I scared a lot of people.

2.  Muslims are no different than me and you.  They're people first.  They're not killers, they're not terrorists.  Duh, Jen!

But seriously, it took me time and energy and effort to invest in understanding a religion that was so "backwards".  The more I investigated the more I realized that I too could one day become a Muslim (if I'm not already one now) and that besides a few ritualistic changes I would still be ME.  Why is that?  Because Muslims come in all shapes and sizes and share different understandings of what it means to be Muslim.  Some wear the hijab, others don't.

So I'm certainly changing as a result of my experiences.  I love experiences.  They are intangible, embedded in our minds, and to me, much better than any "thing" I could possibly own.

I have carved out a space for myself in academia.  But I struggle here too.  There's a lot I don't know.  I feel like it's not a world that I belong in.  But maybe it's just me not wanting to identify with my personal understanding of academia as "those people in their ivory towers."

I guess my research on identity is really about me: who is Jen?!

Thoughts, dear readers?  I'm curious as to your "outsider" perspective of me especially if you've been reading my journey on this blog.