PechaKucha: The Long Take on Short Speeches

January 2, 2019

Kiku Gross

Kiku Gross is a writer and professional Asian Woman from the sunny state of California. When she’s not busy working her 9 to 5 agency job, she likes to cry over Queer Eye, drink lots of coffee, and occasionally, hang out at Punk shows that she might now be too old for.

PechaKucha-ers: Orit Peleg, Head of Brand Planning, Eleven, Inc. -  Angela C. Yang, Group Director, Social and Media Strategy, T3 - Rene Huey-Lipton, Vice President, Cultural Strategy, Sparks & Honey

PechaKucha (Japanese: ぺちゃくちゃ, literally meaning “chit-chat”). Twenty slides, twenty seconds each slide, totaling at six-minutes and forty seconds. Flat. The presentation goes on whether you want it to or not. It’s brutally short. It’s kind of like life. Enough with the chit-chat. Let’s get on with what went down on stage. 

7 TRUTHS: HOW WOMEN REALLY FEEL ABOUT FEMALE EMPOWERMENT

“What does progress actually mean to women?”

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First up was Orit Peleg and her rapid-fire research session. I don’t know how she managed to get seven truths into six minutes, but maybe Orit Peleg is a superhero. She certainly looks like she could be. 

Peleg’s PechaKucha was fascinating, because it revealed some important, and maybe even overlooked, points about how women really feel: 

  • We’re all different, and trying to reduce us down to one generic movement really bums us out. We want and need different things. 
  • We’re really, really tired of having to be everything to everyone.
  • Despite what the ultra-far-right wants you to believe, we don’t actually hate men.
  • Internalized misogyny is a bitch. (Internalized misogyny -- you know that thing where we as women are told to hate other women and feminine things because society demonizes it? Yeah, that thing.)
  • Women still feel a lot of pressure to be “attractive.” In fact, it still outranks “being successful at work” and “being healthy.” Oof.   
  • But what makes us really feel powerful? Helping and uplifting others (gosh, I love women!).

And, most beautifully:

  • We really believe that we play an important role in shaping the next generation of women, and by God, we’re going to -- and we’re going to show them exactly how strong, badass, and amazing they all can be.

That last point stuck out to me. The PechaKuchas came near the end of the conference, and I had spent the last two days feeling nothing but love, encouragement, and power from the women who came before me and who are coming up with me. I thought maybe I was just a lucky anomaly, but honestly, thank God we all seem to feel the same universal duty to fight for each other. 

We’re gonna need the solidarity. 

BREAKING THE BAMBOO CEILING

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Next, came Angela Yang with a quote that will be burned into my mind until I die:

“Don’t be a fucking banana!”

Banana - (AKA “Twinkie”) A derogatory term for an Asian-American person who “acts white.” Someone who is “yellow on the outside, but white on the inside.” 

Something I’ve been called my whole life -- something I never expected someone to shout at an entire auditorium full of people. 

But Angela C. Yang did. 

Angela C. Yang, not to be dramatic, but I would follow you off a cliff. I would lick the bottom of your shoe. From a Californian -- I would drive on the 405 during rush hour for you. Yeah, I really do mean that. 

Yang’s PechaKucha was all about the “Bamboo Ceiling,” AKA, the ceiling that she and I have to break through before we can even have the privilege of breaking through the “Glass Ceiling.” Yes, it’s the thing that keeps Asian-Americans out of leadership, makes people think that we’re disengaged and docile, and the first thing I will burn to the absolute ground when I finally get the chance. 

Ah, it feels good to know that I won’t be alone. 

Aside from the above quoted “don’t be a fucking banana!” moment that will forever be etched into my mind (and potentially put on all of my future business cards) it was also nice to hear there was somebody else out there who struggled with her first agency job, was told in no uncertain terms to “get her shit together,” and then grappled with the obvious question a lot of young Asian-Americans have to grapple with:

Am I being treated the way I am because I’m green, or because I’m yellow? 

I’m really doing my best not to just retype her entire speech, but everything rang so true to me. The fact that people viewed her as “leaning back” (being disinterested, or being quiet; seeming removed, or not assertive enough) instead of “leaning in.” The fact that she was one of the only Asian-Americans in her entire agency. The fact that she too, didn’t want to give up her culture, didn’t want to give up on herself just to pursue success. The fact that to her success is defined by hard work, humility, and perseverance.

The fact that her version of success doesn’t always line up with her other colleagues, but that she made it anyways. Because success can come from anyone, and anywhere. Just like her Grandpa. 

There was probably no greater moment for me at this conference than seeing Angela C. Yang get up on stage and bare her soul like that. 

There was nothing greater than knowing there’s somebody else out there who, in a small way, is just like me. That there’s someone who’s fought the same fights and asked the same questions, and still made it out the other end uncompromised. 

Angela C. Yang is proof that I can be successful too. 

And one day, when I work for her, we’ll celebrate over gin martinis, and warm our hands over a bamboo ceiling that we set ablaze. 

TABOOS ON WOMANHOOD

“You know what Tom? Fuck! It’s a heavy bleed day! How are you doing?” 

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Foolishly, I didn’t think there was anything I’d care about after the previous PechaKucha. Shattering (or, rather burning down) the Bamboo Ceiling is so very, very close to my cold, unfeeling heart. 

But then Rene Huey-Lipton came along.

Before I go into detail about how incredible and truthful her presentation was, I have to take a short detour to admire how she handled herself when her presentation ruthlessly proceeded on without her. With a rapier wit, it felt almost as if it was an intentional act -- to show the taboo of a woman “failing” (here, failing means: failing to present in your slotted time frame) is something we’re all pretty afraid to do publicly. 

Not that she really, actually failed, of course. Because her presentation was incredible. But, like, I’m a writer so I love metaphors. Anyways. 

Huey-Lipton was phenomenal because she was so, unabashedly unafraid to break the rules. She didn’t follow the PechaKucha format. She used words like “fuck” and “cunt.” She was loud. She was really, really funny. 

She admitted there was an entire swath of our lives we’re not allowed to bring to work, and Goddamnit, how can anyone expect women to do good work when we can’t bring our whole selves to the office? 

We hide so much from others and that makes us emotionally exhausted, as well as physically exhausted. We self-isolate, and since we act weird, people treat us weird, and view us as “disengaged,” when the reality is, we’re just tired. 

We’re tired of having to pretend that we don’t leak through our tampons during heavy bleed days. We’re tired of pretending that pregnancy makes us all “glowy” and that birth was easy, even though it’s considered one of the most painful experiences a person can experience. We’re also tired of having to pretend that breastfeeding is easy, because it most certainly is not, and most places don’t even have a room for us to pump in. 

That’s a lot of pretending. So naturally, we can’t deliver our best work when we’re busy pretending that much. And when we get called on it, when we get treated as aliens for being, well, just women, what do we do? 

We don’t get mad. We think that we are genuinely the problem and just try and work harder to make up for the fact that the world treats women as walking, talking taboos. 

So what if we celebrated the bleed, the breed, and the feed? What if we didn’t treat women’s bodily functions as some awful, terrible, forbidden thing? What if we treated womanhood for what it really is: a hundred-million difficult and wonderful things altogether.

Huey-Lipton asked us to be more vulnerable, and live the lives of authenticity that everyone keeps clamoring over, but no one actually does. Real authenticity is ugly and unpleasant. Two things women are definitely not supposed to be. 

But you know what? She’s right. We’ve got to stop treating ourselves like taboos. And if doing that means that we’ll see a lot more women like Rene Huey-Lipton in the world, then I’m all for it. Because the world really does need more of her.