What’s in a name?

By Janet Lim

Freelance model Jvnne Zheng

A few Singaporean news blogs have recently reported that a Singaporean freelance model, Jvnne Zheng, has lodged a police report against a porn site for using her pictures without her permission and defaming her. To be perfectly honest, the article would not have caught my attention if not for the comments that ensued. Most of the people who felt compelled to respond to this story felt that the most pertinent issue to raise was the alleged stupidity of her name.

Here are some of the comments I’ve come across:

“What kind of name is Jvnne? Sounds silly.”

“How the hell do you pronounce this stupid name?”

“What kind of f***ed up name is that?”

“Pronounce it as jism.”

Also, it appears that the size of her belly is of great significance, “especially as she is a model”. Let it be noted that it is not only men who are making these remarks but women too.

It seems that when presented with a story about how a young girl has possibly had images of her used on a porn website without her consent and has been slandered, the reaction is to further humiliate and objectify her rather than ask why and how it is that so many women (and people in general) have their rights trampled on in this and other similar fashion.

Zheng is certainly not the first woman to find photos or videos of herself used in ways or displayed in places it was not intended for. Sexy celebrity photos and videos finding their way onto the web via vengeful or mercenary ex partners and managers is widespread. Paris Hilton, Pamela Anderson, Vanessa Hudgens, Kim Kardashian and Cecelia Cheung are just a few who have undergone it in recent years. Most recently, Tulisa Contostavlos  a judge from the TV programme ‘X Factor”, caused a ‘feminist sensation’ when she responded (in a sincere and heartfelt manner) to a video posted of her and her ex partner’s disembodied penis (and comments referring to her as a slut) by saying that the shame of such an act should not lie with her but with the person who has used this intimate experience as a weapon and currency against her wishes.

Tulisa Contostavlos at the National Television Awards in London

Even if it is the case that Zheng, some models and celebrities are trading on their sexuality, it is not acceptable to use photographs and videos of them without their consent in ways they have not intended. When this happens, it is a violation against them and the issue at hand should be that their rights have been contravened, not that they are sluts, they have somehow ‘asked for it’, or deserve it, or that they have ‘stupid names’.

As you might already know, celebrities aren’t the only targets of this kind of misogyny. Over the last few years, there have been more reports of ‘compromising’ photographs and videos of young girls in the nude or engaged in sexual acts being sent around to their schoolmates by ex boyfriends or bullies. Most of the time the boys in these video are elevated to hero status while the girls suffer violent bullying, failed exams, marred futures and even suicide. These cases, which are essentially about the desecration of a person’s rights become a matter of feminist concern because both parties in spite of being in the same situation are treated differently because of their gender. And it’s not just the men who lash out with sexist quips.

This brings me back to the point I made earlier about Zheng’s criticisers being both men and women. I did not raise this because I necessarily feel that women should be more sympathetic to other women. I raised it because I want to show that women can also be misogynists. In fact, a lot of people can be misogynistic when pushed on a point, even if they don’t admit or recognise it themselves. If, when you read the article about Zheng, your thoughts were that she deserved this, she’s a slut and/or she should be thinner because female models should be thin, you’d best ask yourself if there’s even a minuscule chance you’re being sexist.

Many of us women would have heard the remark (and some even been of the impression) that some other woman “probably deserved (insert sexist remark or treatment), she’s such a flirt or slut”. Zheng apparently ‘asked for’ this violation because she posts sexy photos of herself online, models underwear and ‘acts cute and sexy’.

This line of argument is terribly unjust and also flawed. We go down a very slipper slope when we start claiming people deserve certain treatment because they dress a certain way or are ‘too’ flirtatious or friendly. What extent of friendliness is considered flirtation then? And what level of flirtation warrants violation? Does a woman deserve to be called a slut because she smiles too much or causally touches a man on the shoulder in conversation? Is it okay to make slanderous comments about her because she laughs too loudly and wears a short skirt? Or perhaps her job as a model or even a ‘social escort’ (especially one with a silly name) suddenly makes it okay to violate her rights or defame her.

The point of all this is that a person’s rights were presumably violated. Does it matter if this person is a man or woman? Ideally, it shouldn’t, but because these particular violations are more common amongst women, it does straddle issues of feminism. Does it matter what this person is named? It shouldn’t, but because some people can be heartless idiots, it does.

Janet is a Singaporean web designer who lives in Manchester.

Image credits: Zimbio, Temasek Times

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Media Misogyny and its disastrous consequence

By Ghui

Media sensationalism is something we are all collectively complicit in. From the journalists who search for the most dramatic headlines to the readers who voraciously lap up the juiciest stories, we all have a part to play in the melodramatic theatre that is the modern media.

Indeed, exaggerated headlines and yellow journalism are so much a part of our daily lives that we pay its repercussions scant attention. But given its often damaging and irreversible effects, it is high time, we examine the implications of such scandal mongering tactics.

There are of course many cases of irresponsible journalism but in my opinion, there is nothing more tragic than innocuous misogynistic media portrayals that lead directly or indirectly to gross miscarriages of justice.

The Meredith Kercher sagawas one that held Europe and the wider world in thrall. Kercher, a fresh faced twenty-one year old student was found with her throat slashed. Arrested amidst controversy was her beautiful flatmate, Amanda Knox and her Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito.

Amanda Knox

From the get go, the case provided great fodder for the media. Here were two attractive young ladies embroiled in an alleged “sex game gone wrong”. Pictures of the two were splashed across the world and the media dubbed Knox “Foxy Knoxy”. Straightaway, the label created connotations of sleaze and the impression stuck.

In every good story, there had to be a villain and because Knox was good looking and sexy, she was immediately cast as the villainous femme fatale and Kercher who looked wholesome and sweet, the innocent “virgin to the slaughter”.

The media frenzy went into overdrive and in the eyes of many, Knox was irresistibly guilty before a trial date was even set. This subconscious but misleading inference of her guilt must have influenced everyone involved and with the intense media coverage, the Italian police were under pressure to come up with a suspect. Against the backdrop of dubious evidence, Knox was charged and sentenced to 26 years jail. She was later acquitted but in the drama of Knox’s conviction, valuable leads that could have unraveled the mystery of Kercher’s murder were lost.

In our quest for tabloid trash, Knox’s reputation was forever tarnished in the eyes of the world and we are still no closer to unearthing the mystery of Kercher’s death.

In truth, both women were probably just average teenagers who could not be simplified as either all good or all bad but because they were two attractive women, there was great allure in creating a scandal instead of a pursuit for the truth. Had these been middle aged men, would the same furore have ensued?

The sad reality is that both Kercher and Knox suffered under our collective need to typecast women with disastrous consequences – justice for none.

Tragically, there are other incidents where misogynistic manipulations have led to a miscarriage of justice. On August 17, 1980, Lindy Chamberlainsaw a dingo carry off her baby, Azaria on a family camping trip in Australia. However, as a result of the media portrayal of her character, no one believed her and she was wrongfully convicted for her baby’s death.

Lindy Chamberlain around the time Azaria went missing

However in a bizarre breakthrough years later, a routine police search discovered the remains of Azaria in a dingo den together with Azaria’s jacket. Chamberlain was proven to have been telling the truth from the very start but because of the police and the public’s desire to believe that she had to be guilty because she did not appear “sad enough” at the inquest, she had  spent years in jail.

At her trial, Chamberlain was criticised for her alleged coldness which was widely reported by the Australian media and her guilt was sealed. Chamberlain subsequently revealed that she had hid her emotions because of the pressure. But as she was a mother, the public felt the need to vilify her because she did not conform to their idea of how a mother should grieve. In our desire to stereotype women, we somehow forgot that Chamberlain was entitled to her own way of mourning. Illogically, we perceived her as unfeeling just because she chose not to tear her hair in public or wail uncontrollably for all and sundry.

In 2007, Chamberlain spoke about the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, offering support for her parents, Gerry and Kate. She saw parallels between how she and Kate were portrayed by the media saying “At the heart of it, there is a woman who has failed to play the emotive, feminine role scripted for her in this terrible soap opera”.

When Madeleine McCann went missing in Portugal, her mother, Kate was reviled for having left her children asleep in their bedroom as she had dinner with her husband. Never mind the fact that the restaurant was opposite the bedroom and that she went back regularly to check on them. Kate was by all accounts a good mother but because she fell short of the standards set by a sensationalist media, her image was forever tarred and the world blamed her for the loss of her child. She faced further abuse as she appeared composed despite the loss. Gerry, her husband was equally composed but because he was a man, he was not judged for that.

Kate McCann

Where is the justice for a woman who has already lost her child?

Newspapers will always invent catchy headlines to sell their tales so perhaps, we can never fully avoid a trial by media. But, as readers, we can start to turn the tide against unfair stereotyping by being aware of how women are labelled by the media .Otherwise, we will all have participated in trampling justice underfoot on the basis of our subconscious inclination to stereotype women.

A quote from Chamberlain serves as s stark reminder to what is at stake. As a result of her wrongful conviction (of which a misogynistic media contributed to), she lost five years of her life and her marriage collapsed. She was unable to properly grieve and Azaria did not get the justice she deserved.  On the 30th anniversary of her daughter’s disappearance in 2010, Chamberlain said “Our family will always remember today as the day truth was dragged in the dirt and trampled upon but more than that it is the day our family was torn apart, Azaria deserves justice.”

Image credits: BBC, Stuff.co.nz, CBS News

Posted in Media, Stereotypes | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

We’re Back!

We took some time out but are back this month with three new articles. Thanks for reading and keep coming back!

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People aren’t property!

By Veera Velu

The recent debate on whether domestic helpers in Singapore should be given a mandatory day off is appalling. By this I don’t even mean that some of the arguments are reprehensible, though they are and I will highlight some of them. I mean that the very fact that there is any debate and that there needs to be a regulation in place to ensure we treat human beings as human beings is disgraceful.

Here is a sampling of some of the offensive and degenerate comments made in response to the suggestion of this regulation (text copied as found):

 “Yippeee hooray! Maids get to get weekly off days by Jan 1st 2013. More horny maids will get more sex with more virile Blangladeshi labourers! More maids will get pregnant! More off day maids will spend and borrow more money and more maids will be indebted. More maids will become thieving maids! More maids may get killed by crimes of emotion. More employers will have more and more maids’ troubles on their hands. Inevitably, more employers will loose more money to replace more maids!” (AsiaOne News Comments Forum)

“Easy for you to say maids are human, give them freedom bla bla, but can’t you see if the maid gets pregnant there’s a hefty 5k fine for you? that’s the main issue for most. Dam if you do dam if you don’t…” (Stomp!)

With mandatory off days for maids, geyland’s budget hotels [Geylang is where one will find Singapore’s red light district) will be in for a booiming business. Maybe more killings.” (AsiaOne News Comments Forum)

“Good for those Hotels at Geylang earn alot of money.Better have sex with Bengalla than their Master”(Stomp!)

This is quite clearly, first and foremost, a human issue – whether domestic helpers are men or women is ultimately beside the point. Regardless of gender, domestic helpers are human beings whose employment (and human) rights should be no different from those of any other member of the workforce (and any human being).

It has however become a feminist issue because a) the majority of domestic helpers in Singapore are women and more so because b) one of the most outstanding arguments made against giving them the day off is that this day off would provide them opportunities to develop romantic relationships and/or have sex which might then lead to them getting pregnant. There is also the recurring suggestion on online forums that a day off for domestic helpers will increase prostitution – the gross assumption being that domestic helpers, who are mostly from impoverished communities in The Philippines, Indonesia, Myanmar (Burma), Sri Lanka and Cambodia, will use their day off to engage in illegal prostitution to supplement their income.

Domestic helpers on their day off

It is rather frightening that there are people who are against female domestic helpers having romantic and/or sexual relationships and also people who do not believe these women have a right to make choices about getting pregnant. The assumption is that if they do become pregnant, it is most certainly a careless and irresponsible mistake. Additionally, implying that these women would necessarily use their time off to prostitute themselves is both unjustified and betrays disturbing prejudices against women, particularly women who come from impoverished communities.

There are of course many who support the regulation and have come forward to argue the case for human rights and respect saying that domestic helpers are entitled, like everyone else, to companionship, romantic love, intimacy and sex and that the very fact that they are far from their homes and families means they especially need some of these things.

The comments from those who are against the ruling reveal concerns about how domestic helpers would spend their day off and what responsibilities would fall on employers should their domestic helpers get pregnant or ‘into trouble’. It would seem fair to be concerned about the former if employers were to be liable for what their employees do in their time off.

There has been much contention around this point, as foreign domestic helper contracts require that once a domestic helper gets pregnant she must be deported. Her employer would forfeit the security bond they would have paid to the Ministry of Manpower when hiring the helper and have to pay the helper’s airfare back home.

This regulation in itself is concerning for various reasons, not least because it limits these women’s choices. Also, making employers responsible for the social choices of their adult employees is akin to guardianship, which is quite a different relationship from that of employment. However (arguably) these women have freely signed employment contracts that stipulate these as terms of employment and are aware that if they violate these terms, they lose their jobs.

Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower has clarified that since January 2010, employer liability has been limited and employers are not expected to forfeit their security bonds if domestic helpers violate their own work permit conditions by getting pregnant or moonlighting. In spite of this, countless ill-informed people raise this ‘financial culpability’ as a reason for why they must be able to constantly monitor their helpers and why they should not be given a day off.

What seems to be underpinning many of the comments left on the online forums reporting this news is a worrying prejudice against women from impoverished communities. The misconception that they are mindless, irresponsible and lack dignity is all too apparent. So is the delusion that women who want intimacy and enjoy sex are akin to prostitutes, or that when in financial need, will necessarily turn to prostitution. Then there is the warped idea that they have given up their basic human rights or that these rights should be limited because they have chosen to work as ‘maids’.  At best, this reeks of modern slavery – as a friend disgustedly noted “human beings are not chattels!”

Be the change you want to see.

There is evidently a lot more to this debate than what I have raised in this article. Nonetheless, I have limited myself mainly to the issue that disturbs me most – that in debating this matter, people have chosen to focus on and demean aspects tied to a woman’s sexuality and her choices on the matter rather than concentrate on the more integral question of a human being’s most basic rights.

Veera Velu is an archaeologist.

Image credits: stoptheslaverytoday.tmblr, abolish slavery blog, Transnational Institute, Straits Times, Yahoo News, Transient workers count too (TWC2)

Posted in Legislation, Politics, Workplace | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Female Anthems: ‘You Got the Love’ by Candi Staton

By RJ Thomson

Feminism often finds its greatest expression in music. I state this often overlooked truth to open the first of a series of occasional posts about ‘classic’ women’s pop songs, written for the Mohini Myth blog. Most of the songs will be songs I love, the rest will be songs I find remarkable for some other reason.

There is no plan for the survey, other than to suggest interesting interpretations of songs, that might make you hear these songs freshly, hopefully want to listen to them again, or maybe even give you interesting thoughts about other things besides music. For sure, these posts will take it as a given that pop songs – as everything else – are part of a connected universal system that is open to our consideration in part and as a whole.

The feminist position that emerges through this process is unlikely to be made explicit too often. What can be said from the outset is that this ongoing evaluation of the position of classic pop songs sung by women will take it as a given that they exist as part of the wider system of politics, social norms, music-making and culture in general. This position in itself has a feminist dimension, not least because most misogynist arguments involve, on some level, a refusal to see, and to take responsibility for, the way in which things connect.

I will be taking a somewhat scholarly tone, offering the kind of analysis that would never really be possible from a first listen. I flag this up now partly as a warning, and partly to note that this represents no less passionate a response from me the writer: it’s just that I happen to have chosen songs you can listen to again and again and again.

Thanks for reading!

No. 1

You Got the Love, The Source featuring Candi Staton (Eren’s Bootleg mix / original mix, 1991)

Original Album Cover

*†

Intro… three high-pitched bleeps cascade in quick sequence like some science fiction computing code, rising and falling surrounded by stark silence. The tone is soft enough to make you want to hear more, but their repetition, ascending and descending, goes on for long-enough that you might just start to recall an emergency alert. Has something gone wrong?

Then the bassline comes in, low as a cold floor and indisputably ‘mean’. Before you notice how irresistibly exciting it is (oh yes, the appeal of ‘the dark’ is a key part of You Got the Love’s magic…) you clock the extreme contrast between these sonic opposites: this will be a track of extreme highs and lows, for sure.

But before the bass hook has repeated even once, Candi’s vocal comes in. We’ll come back to a consideration of THAT voice, and simply note for now that the lyrics confirm the atmosphere of the introduction:

Sampling of the lyrics

There again are those extremes of low and high, of desperation and exaltation, stability and abandon.

To hammer the increasingly evident point still further (I can go on like this for hours): what this track gets so right is the balance of opposing elements. Credit must go to producer John Truelove of ‘The Source’ for his instincts on this, not least because these oppositions exist in both the content and the form of the song. There’s the machine sounds of the backing track and the maximum soul of the vocal; there’s the repetition of sonic effects set alongside a grasp for transcendence; the sections that have been wholly sampled from other tracks (the shoulders of giants) and the deeply personal (yet universal) quality of the lyrics. History and future. The infinite and the individual. Personal suffering. And one hell of a party.

At the centre of all this is Candi herself. The vocal is a simultaneous plea and celebration, sung in traditional gospel soul mode by a woman blessed with a sweet yet powerful voice, who suffered greatly (to a large extent at the hand of her husband) and found strength in a strong faith in a Christian god. But where in the actual original version (it was a minor release for Staton in the 80s) this message dominated, it takes on new possibilities in the sparse landscape of the Source’s electronic setting: it could be a straight love song; it could (like so many classics of the rave era) be a paean to the drug ecstasy, or simply to the sustaining power of music.

Candi Staton

More than anything, it is the contrast between Candi’s personal pain – so evident throughout despite the euphoria – and the machine-like backing, that makes this a feminist as well as just a woman’s song. Not only is there loneliness, but there is a sense of desperation in the face of the implacable, a system, something repetitive and not un-threatening. To be quite clear, there is nothing explicit in this meaning; my interpretation is intentionally loose. But You Got the Love presents a sense of a woman’s oppression that feels acute and true.

Typically for a great song, the whole is greater than the parts that make it up. There might be a sweet voice, a rock solid beat and a collection of memorable hooks, but it’s the combination of perfect poise (of the musical elements) with intriguing ambiguity (of its meaning) that make it three and a half minutes of genius.

Some pop songs aren’t worth writing a word about. Some are worth exploring for years. You Got the Love combines impeccable, timeless balance of its electronic elements with a deep human pain and a euphoric human hope. Pulled together right at the end of popular music’s most creative period (dating back to the 50s, ending in the early 90s), and as part of one of the last truly original phases of that period (rave), this record is almost certainly the greatest pop song of all time.

Another way to look at it (why not?). If a committee of William Blake, John Coltrane and Kathy Acker were asked to imagine the magical music of the future (for a Bill and Ted movie, say), this is what it would sound like. And there’d be dancing in the street.

* The first thing to establish is the version of the song you’re listening to: there have been a number of different releases of the track. The first thing you hear should be a repeating high-pitched ‘beep beep beep’ sound (you’ll know it when you hear it). This 1991 version (here is my preferred link – there are other versions even of this ‘version’ though!) was originally called ‘Eren’s Bootleg mix’, though is now often inaccurately referred to as the ‘original mix’. Nothing makes a nerd angry more than false labelling…

A note on other versions; they’re not ALL bad. There are in fact three separate recordings all made by producer John Truelove – ‘The Source’. The first remix he put together (1986) is fun if a little cluttered. Then there is the 1991 version being discussed in this post. If you’re listening to a version with synths like strings behind the vocal, you’ve got a later 1997 edit (also by Truelove, having changed his alias to ‘Now Voyager’). With none of the precision I’m here to celebrate, it is a merely passable remix that, given the strength of the ‘source’ material, can only be said to be underwhelming. It was, appropriately enough, used to end the last episode of the TV series Sex and the City. Alternatively, the major recent hit for Florence and the Machine is a strong cover version:

Florence and the Machine version

the ever-so white Florence gives a touch of tenderness to the lung-tastic vocal part, and her producer Charlie Hugall has the sense to realise that this power, combined with his wall-of-sound backing, would be claustrophobic to the point of overwhelming, unless he makes the whole thing sound at least a little bit far away– a metaphorical trick that’s equally fitting to the subject of the lyrics.

RJ Thomson is a writer and arts producer based in Edinburgh.

Image credits: Amazon, EIL, allmusic.com, COLS Decals

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Get your ideas on equality shipshape!

By Ghui

On 13 January 2012, the Costa Concordia ran aground. She was
half capsized, heavily damaged and half-submerged off Isola del
Giglio, Italy. Up until yesterday, bodies were still being recovered.

The Costa Concordia

It’s been suggested that women and children were not given priority for
lifeboats when the Costa Concordia capsized. If reports are to be believed,
it was alleged that “It was every man – and crew member – for himself” and men
refused to prioritise women and children as fights broke out for spaces on
lifeboats (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/reality-check-with-polly-curtis/2012/jan/16/costa-concordia-women?newsfeed=true).

In the aftermath of any catastrophe, blame is bound to be apportioned
as the causes and effects of such tragedy are analysed. An interesting
chain of comments have arisen as a result of this disaster.

A source who only wanted to be known as “an anonymous male source” has
declared that women have not been prioritised because of women
clamouring for equal rights! Apparently, the emancipation of women
have reconditioned men into thinking that women are no longer the
“fairer” sex in need of protection.

While equality is indeed a good thing, I wonder if Mr anonymous male
has misconstrued the concept of equality between the sexes?

The word “equality” connotes ideas of fairness, evenness and
equitableness. It is about men and women being able to compete on a
level playing field, i.e. where there are no differences between the
sexes. Clear examples of this include equal rights to education, even
access to healthcare and promotion in accordance to merit (and not
sex) on the work front.  Where there are obvious distinctions between
the sexes, it is a different ball game altogether.

Gender Equality?

Women are not asking to be viewed as men. They are simply stating that
in areas where they are the same as men, they be viewed similarly. So,
in areas where physical strength is an advantage, no logical feminist
would dare suggest that women and men are equal. This is why sporting
competitions which involve strength and/or speed have separate
competitions for the sexes! No self respecting feminist would ever
challenge that. Men are generally stronger – FACT.

Women want to compete on an equal platform where neither sex has an
advantage. I believe that in addition to feminists, this is an
universal understanding of “fair”. In mayhem, where there is a mad
race to lifeboats, surely strength and speed are advantages? As such,
men already have the upper hand and fairness is already out of the
window!

I am not suggesting that men have an absolute obligation to protect
women in life threatening situations. No, not at all! All I aim to do
is to dispel the notion that the advent of women’s rights in some way
influenced the men on board the troubled ship to push past women!

Traditionally, societal ideals place upon the shoulders of all human
beings, the moral responsibility to take care of the weak amongst us.
Indeed, every major religion in the world would have teachings of this
nature! In the mad dash for lifeboats, women and children are
generally speaking, weaker than men and thereby disadvantaged. So, if
a man were to prioritise a woman, he is not doing so on the basis of
her sex but on the basis of her physical weakness in comparison to
him.

On the other hand, should he choose to trample her underfoot in his quest for survival, it is simply his desire to survive trumping any
moral duty to protect those physically weaker than himself (be they women, children or even other men who are weaker than himself).
Equality between the sexes has absolutely nothing to do with this.

The desire to survive is innate in humanity and in a calamity such as this, it is perhaps understandable that we revert to our animal
instincts to survive at all costs. This quest for survival is
something that afflicts both sexes and the men here were simply
reacting on instinct. Women would have been trying their hardest to
make it to the lifeboats as well!

Can humanity’s collective instinct for self preservation be blamed on
equality between the sexes? I would think, NOT.

In short, anyone who thinks that men have been reconditioned not to
prioritise women on the Costa Concordia as a result of women
clamouring for equality, needs to reflect on his or her own
understanding of the concept of equality between the sexes.

Equality between the sexes is about even competition and not unfair
contest. Generally speaking, women would never win if it was a fight
involving brute strength and men would never win if it was a
breastfeeding contest. On the chaotic Costa Concordia, the race to the
lifeboats was not one that was fair to begin with. The men’s reactions
had nothing to do with women’s rights but everything to do with
humanity’s innate desire for survival.

The emancipation of women should not be made a scapegoat for the breakdown of civil society as seen on the Costa Concordia. Those who
think otherwise are perhaps either confused by the notion of equality between the sexes or threatened by feminists who have rocked the boat by making waves in the battle between the sexes.

To those who are confused, fearful or both, please get your ideas on equality shipshape!

Image credits: femme-o-nomics.com, guardian.co.uk

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Antiquated ideals on marriage

By Ghui

Another article on being single by Dr Lee Wei Ling in The Sunday Times

As one gets older, it is common for one to reflect and to assess how one has lived his or her life. It is therefore no surprise that Dr Lee Wei Ling has written a post entitled “Living a life with no regrets”.

In this self-musing, she gives little anecdotes on her life and on her father, Mr Lee Kuan Yew. In many ways, her post is but a filial tribute to the contributions of her father and perhaps we should not read too much into it.

Be that as it may, a statement she makes in her article greatly disturbs me.

She states:

“About 20 years ago, when I was still of marriageable age, my father, Lee Kuan Yew had a serious conversation with me one day. He told me that he and my mother would benefit if I remained single and took care of them in their old age. But I would be lonely if I remained unmarried.”

This statement, however well meaning is certainly misguided. Not only does it misunderstand the concept of marriage, it also dismisses the meaningful lives led by millions of single women worldwide.

Does the concept of “marriageable age” still hold relevance today?

Of course, I am not pretending that biological clocks for procreation do not exist but surely that is a separate issue to marriage? Marriage is a celebration of love and commitment between two consenting adults. There are many couples that may, for various reasons, not have offspring. In that regard, marriage can occur at any age.

A 'cougar' refers to an older woman who seeks out younger men. Though not an entirely recent phenomenon, it has gained more attention in the last five years and cheekily challenges the notion of women needing to be of a 'certain age' to find a partner or marry.

Dr Lee’s remark on the idea of “marriageable age” therefore connotes some rather inaccurate assumptions. It typecasts the role of women in marriage and suggests that older women should not or cannot get married.

This type of generalisation is not only outdated but also damaging to Singapore’s development as a modern society. In Singapore, it is economic reality that women enter the workforce.

As women pursue their careers, they have more choices as to how they would like to live their lives. Women no longer need to depend on men for survival and so the notion that a woman needs to get married by a certain age for financial and social security goes out of the window!

Armed with the ability to choose, women have every right to decide not to get married by a certain age and start a family.

To think otherwise would be obsolete and out of touch to say the least.

It is a contradiction that while Dr Lee has exercised her choice not to get married, she still retains that antiquated ideal of “marriageable age”.

There is also that sweeping and stinging assertion that unmarried women would be lonely. I know many single women who lead highly fulfilling lives. They have successful careers, good friends and make meaningful contributions to society. It would be a travesty to assume that they are somewhat lacking in quality of life just because they are not married.

Dr Lee Wei Ling

Perhaps Dr Lee’s point of view comes from days of yore when women needed to marry young for social acceptance and financial protection. Those days have thankfully passed and it is disappointing that a successful woman like Dr Lee would put such “backward” ideas on paper. As a well-educated woman with an illustrious career who chose not to marry, she could have been such a champion for feminism in Singapore. Alas!

Image credits: Cartoon Stock, Singapore Newspaper Clippings, Asia One News

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