What did you want to be when you were a kid?
A marine biologist. I’ve always been an environmentalist at heart and, thanks to the inspiration from my wonderful 5thgrade teacher, I spent many of my young teenage years making household cleaning detergents out of lemon and vinegar and designing educational toys for orangutans living in captivity. I’ve also always loved water, so I thought, “What would be better than being able to save the environment while being in the sea?”
What happened in-between?
Growing up in Beijing (which is quite far from the sea), I began to be more interested in human injustice and inequality. In my first year of uni, I randomly selected an ‘Introduction to Gender Studies’ course and the way I saw the whole world around me shifted. All of a sudden, it baffled me why, when I needed to pee, I associated myself with a stick figure in a skirt rather than a stick figure in pants, even though I usually wore pants! It was like I had put on ‘gender awareness glasses’ and I couldn’t take them off. I enrolled in more and more Gender Studies classes, eventually doing Honours in Gender Studies and Asian Studies and, later, a Masters in Gender and Development. Through the years, I worked for everything from small NGOs to the UN, and my focus moved towards deeper forms of gender injustice: violence against women.
What are you doing now? Do you like that?
I’m based in beautiful Timor-Leste, which is my home for now, coordinating research and programs around Asia and the Pacific to help understand the best ways to prevent violence against women. It’s great – I get to help make the world a healthier, safer, and happier place and see the sea every day!
Does the patriarchy get you down? Like, do you ever just feel really annoyed by the way women get treated?
Yes – pretty much every minute of every day. Those ‘gender glasses’ are just glued to my head so I can’t help but notice the inequality all around us. I recently saw a placard from the Women’s March that read, “If you aren’t horrified, you aren’t paying attention.” That’s pretty much how I feel. Apathy is one of my least favourite things so, for me, being horrified is what gives me the energy and drives me to help change the situation.
Who's your fave feminist icon?
So many to choose from but I’d say Bell Hooks and Chandra Mohanty because reading their works for the first time when I was 18 changed my universe by enriching and nuancing the way I understood inequality. My parents also had a massive influence on my passion for gender equity, as, through example, they showed me that people’s abilities and strength have nothing to do with gender – they may not be feminist icons to the world, but they are to me.