Are Asian girls too easily embarrassed?

Maybe that is unfair to generalize and say just Asian girls are too easily embarrassed. It might be context dependent, and situational embarrassment. There are also cultural forces at work here that are complicated and difficult to understand, but I think it is interesting to think about.

Last week, I attended a safety orientation session that was required for new staff and students at the university. The first session was on basic safety, first aid, and CPR. The second session was on fire safety. A few instances stuck out in my mind as interesting examples to consider. One girl wouldn’t give an answer when called on by the instructor. Granted, she was put on the spot to try to answer his question, but she couldn’t come up with anything and just shook her head, looked uncomfortable, and nervously touched her hair. Another girl looked completely mortified during the head bandage demonstration where the instructor showed the audience how to wrap a cloth bandage on her head. It also didn’t help that her “friend” in the audience was taking photos with her mobile phone (with the flash on!).

Finally, the last thing that actually made me a little annoyed was that no women volunteered to try to do CPR on the dummy. Absolutely no one was willing to give it a try, even after the instructor repeated many times that a very small proportion of people in Singapore know how to perform CPR, over one thousand people die each year in Singapore partially due to not receiving CPR immediately, AND that in most incidents where CPR is performed it is for someone close to the person (friends or family). It wasn’t a test. The instructor walked a male volunteer through the process and he did fine.

I’ve been certified for CPR 3 times (the first time as a senior in high school), and I know that seeing a demonstration is not enough preparation for actually doing it even just on a dummy. You need to practice at least a few times to feel comfortable and remember the steps. Not to mention, in a real life situation you will not be as calm and clear-headed. So the more familiar you are with the procedure the better!

In the end, the instructor picked me to give the demonstration. I thought it was silly that in a room of a 100+ people, only 1 man volunteered to try CPR on the dummy. I’m pretty sure that the instructor picked me because he didn’t want to mortify a girl by picking her randomly to try to do CPR in front of everyone. He had asked earlier in the session if anyone had learned CPR before, and I had raised my hand. Even though I didn’t want to take this opportunity away from someone who could actually benefit from the practice, I knew that I could do it and I was not embarrassed to do it properly and with confidence. I wanted the other women to think that they could do it too.

In the second session about fire safety, many of the women there were willing to step up and try out using a fire extinguisher during the outdoor practical part of the session. Maybe it was because we were outside and not in a stadium-style auditorium, or maybe they felt that trying the fire extinguisher was easier, or maybe it was more relevant to the type of lab work they are going to do. There is also a distinctly lower chance of embarrassing yourself while using a fire extinguisher vs. conducting CPR on a dummy just because of the nature of the acts. Something about putting your mouth on a human-like lifeless object makes the situation a little more comical and generally can make you feel self-conscious.

I hope that the other women in the orientation realized that CPR is an important life skill and I hope that some of them learn how to do it at some point in their lifetime. I know I can feel embarrassed easily in certain situations, so I’m not saying I’m perfect. I just hope that for bigger things I’ll be able to overcome self-consciousness and do what is needed.