I silently cursed him for shaking me awake; it was almost 4.00 am and until then I’d been enjoying a full surround-sound mental movie. Bleary-eyed, I sleepwalked to my computer. My fingers ignored the rules of grammar, continuity and spelling in their haste to capture our night together as I free-associated the stream of thoughts that poured onto the screen from a dream so vivid, I knew I must write down before it was lost. Then I stumbled back into bed, exhausted from the effort.
For the next 3 days I stared at my third-grade essay. Slowly, the symbols began their metamorphosis as consciousness grappled to apply its rules of logic and order. I recognised straightaway the places and everyday things he’d sequestered from my unconscious, like a baffling Sudoku to add potency and reality to his dream-work: a sofa from my shop, some surgical gloves used in the kitchen, some female faces I knew, the biography of an Indian I’d been reading. Even the Assembly Room from primary school, complete with its glass and wood panelled wall, copied faithfully from an old childhood photograph I’d just unearthed in our attic as my husband and I had been rummaging through our histories. My dream remains haunting to me, even now, as I search for a deserving narrative to link the elements to each other.
A boy and a girl are growing up together in a small town; they’ve been friends since infancy, more like a brother and sister. As they become young adults, their platonic friendship also matures as adult physical changes and emotions rise to the surface. He senses them but is not ready; I see he’s afraid to reveal these new feelings he has towards her. For her, she’s more emotionally aware and is wishing, hoping, he will touch her, kiss her, but she’s always disappointed by his crippling shyness.
There is an intense sadness as I watch him struggle with his torment and the sinking desperation of her slipping away, knowing he’s incapable of reaching across to embrace what he knows she wants from him. Eventually another man, a stranger, arrives in the town; he’s from the big city. She’s immediately drawn to him; he knows the ways of the world and she’s attracted by this novelty, so different from her past experiences.
Now she’s sitting on a large circular sofa, with others, but he’s watching from a distance. The stranger comes over, he’s tall, he touches her face. Oddly, he’s wearing blue surgical gloves. He kisses her lips; she’s warm and affectionate in return, embracing him. Next, she’s sitting in a corner, he tries to pluck up the courage to approach her but before he can, another girl goes over and starts talking to her. He knows his moment is lost. She looks at him and I sense her despair.
This worldly stranger has displaced him; he’s an innocent whose innocence is losing him his lifelong friend, who is moving into a different life. He’s crushed as she reluctantly turns her head away from him and towards the stranger. In a sad gesture he tells her he’s leaving the town and begs her to go with him. She says she’s going to the council to register her home for water, and she’ll allow the stranger to live there. He decides he’ll go to the council office for her, but she says she’s already been there and shows him a piece of white paper with the details. It is too late.
Next, he’s leaving. He walks down a corridor past the glass panelled wall of the community hall, and he sees her through the glass in a circle of dancers in the Assembly Room. Was the stranger there too? He supposes so. She looks up and sees him, and I feel her intense sadness again. Her voice falters momentarily from the hymn they are singing. He keeps walking, hoping she has seen him in his desolation, but he doesn’t stop. He keeps walking, not even looking back. Now there is talk of the Indians massing, led by Geronimo, and people are concerned. Maybe he leaves or maybe he stays now on hearing this news.
Finally, I’m walking back into the town and there’s a burning carcass hanging there. But everyone is dead. There’s an overwhelming feeling of happiness as a relief column arrives, even though there seems to be only me left. I’m walking among some unmarked gravestones, looking for something. I don’t know if the grave I’m looking for is of the stranger and the girl, or if it’s the grave of the young man I’m seeking, or something else. There are no names. And then I’m awake. It is very powerful.
Like all dreams, this one is open to many interpretations and, except for some standard archetypes most people could find, like the mandalas, the corner, the water and the burning carcass, it’s only meaningful to me and my own situation if it’s to make sense. Each time I’ve reflected on this dream, additional clarity becomes attached to the personal symbols my mind painted for me. Like the blue gloves: now they seem like those of a doctor wanting to take care of the girl, like she needs protection, or he does from her. Like the Indians: now they seem like a metaphor for a sweeping change, of killing off old ideas.
These interpretations make sense to me because I’m Chinese and grew up in a culture where women traditionally have looked after their men and been looked after in return. Now, as a businesswoman, like many other Chinese expatriates living distant from 5000 years of filial tradition, I’m now called upon to set the standards and direction in my own business for others to follow, to defend what I do, as well as form and express my opinions as a blogger, social commentator and writer. In this way, my dream is one of affirmation of my new self as a strong, independent woman and for the changes I have brought about in my life. And I like that affirmation.
We Chinese have been credited with spawning that well-known aphorism: “May you live in interesting times”. In truth, it’s more of a curse than a blessing as we prefer living in “uninteresting times”, by which we Chinese mean living a tranquil and peaceful life. But for women generally, they are interesting times indeed for us, as we strive to be “treated as equals” in everything we do, from equal pay to equal opportunity, to being safe walking home from the train station and in our own homes. We’ve come a long way in some, less far in others.
Do dreams really reveal anything to us?
We Chinese would have ceased to be a civilisation thousands of years ago without our beliefs in omens, fate and supernatural beings. We’re still a superstitious bunch, so finding guidance in dreams is almost second nature to many of us. So, does my dream offer anything beyond its meaning for me that others might find interesting and, importantly, useful?
Firstly, my dream tells me it would be an enduring shame for us women to give up our aura of sensuality and sexiness in pursuit of goals of equality and safety. Our much-vaunted “feminine wiles” have been celebrated in literature for centuries, even given as reasons for the historical achievements of some powerful women, from Salome to Simone de Beauvoir, from Wallis Simpson to Wendy Deng. What great role-models these women are: strong, confident, independent and powerful despite living in a male-dominated world. Let’s forget the idea those are undesirable female traits, unless you happen to be a man threatened by powerful, sensual women, and let’s not replace them with male-style aggressive approaches. These traits are the genetically coded gifts from natural selection we’re endowed with, and we should beware because they are under attack on several fronts: from “feminists” with their distorted view of equality, to men in powerful places with their distorted sense of entitlement. It doesn’t take a dream to tell me that, only to remind me from time to time.
By the way, I don’t hear anyone seriously asking men to give up their gender-specific macho instincts as they trample their way to the top of the dung-heap over the wrecked lives they leave in their wake. If the newspapers are to be believed, many are worshipping them as political messiahs and business heroes, despite their appallingly misogynous, pathological behaviour.
Secondly, I neither believe women are children who need protecting, nor do I believe men and women need equality, at least in the way men fear and feminists demand with their barely veiled hatred of men and sexuality. I, for one, do not recognise myself in this perversion of femininity. I am firmly in the camp of vive le différence and I love the views recently expounded by people like French actor Catherine Deneuve in her letter to Le Monde, calling for a more nuanced view on how to tackle sexual harassment than the one championed by the #MeToo zealots.
She wrote that: ‘I will certainly not defend Harvey Weinstein. I have never had much consideration for him, but what is happening on social networks around it, is excessive.’ She went on to say that a woman can, in the same day, lead a professional team and enjoy being the sexual object of a man without being a “promiscuous woman” or a vile accomplice of patriarchy.
‘Rape is a crime,’ she says, ‘but insistent or clumsy flirting is not, nor is gallantry a chauvinist aggression.’ And I heartily agree. She and several other French women argue that movements like #MeToo have used social media as a “kangaroo court” — judge, jury and executioner on sexual conduct — by publicly denouncing private experiences and seeking to create a totalitarian rape-culture.
The American writer Claire Berlinski is another at odds with such outraged feminism and calls the #MeToo movement: ‘a frenzied extrajudicial warlock hunt that does not pause to parse the difference between rape and stupidity’ and ‘a classic moral panic, one that is ultimately as dangerous to women as to men.’
They contend that the #MeToo movement has led to a campaign of public accusations that have placed undeserving people in the same category as sex offenders with no opportunity to defend themselves. This expedited justice has already claimed its victims, guilty or not: men barred from their profession, or forced to resign, while the only thing they did wrong was touching a knee, trying to steal a kiss, or speaking about “intimate” things at a work dinner or in text messages.
The feminist response, booming from their moral pulpit, has been contemptuous of Ms. Deneuve and her friends, believing they are only too happy to please their men and for being too accepting of their whims. It seems that not only are relationships between men and women bordering on a state of war, the battle-lines between radical feminists and women who revel in the ambiguity and charm of relationships between men and women, are also being drawn.
Ultimately, it may be this is as much a culture war, as a shouting match. The recent Golden Globes ceremony being a case in point where, mostly American women, turned up in black with their “Time’s Up” pins, daring anyone who might oppose their views to risk being branded a traitor or condoning sexual assault. We Chinese, and from what I understand, the Europeans like Ms. Deneuve, prefer to think in shades of grey, that things like sensuality, for example, are not the stark black and white these radical feminists see; a polarising view which seems to leave things like sensuality defined as some logical concept, which is really just another way of denying it exists.
The Harvey Weinsteins of the world are an aberration, a serious one it must be said, but like all aberrations will eventually be scoured from our everyday lives like National Socialism, polio and cigarettes as the community demand these changes.
But, ladies and gentlemen, when did we lose the marvelous idea that, for better or worse, seduction is a harmless and pleasurable game, dating back to our earliest classical literature, not to mention being fundamentally healthy to our souls? It has for generations lent a layer of sophistication and harmony to our human interactions; the joy of reading sensual literature allows us to feel exalted and to live on a higher plane.
Are we truly heading in a direction when this is to be thought of as past its time in the new age of a newly defined equality? The idea of burning books has a nasty pedigree and I hope even the most radical feminists are not suggesting this is the end game for them.
I will leave you in the sensuous hands of Simone de Beauvoir: ‘On the day when it will be possible for woman to love not in her weakness but in her strength, not to escape herself but to find herself, not to abase herself but to assert herself — on that day love will become for her, as for man, a source of life and not of mortal danger.’
Personally, I would hate to see another tenet of a civilised existence fall by the wayside. Vive le différence.
Visit Lily Yang for more social commentary, her published books and charity work.
This article was first published on Medium