I wrote the following to Today on 4 August 2015, in response to two letters regarding unequal benefits for single and unwed mothers that were published on Today. Since my letter was not selected for publication, I am posting it here instead. Interestingly, the writer of the second letter responded to his critics with this letter, published on 6 August 2015, saying that his letter was “perhaps satire, but in bad form”, and he apologised for it.
While I respect everyone’s right to hold and express opinions, I am appalled by the attitude expressed in the letters, “Unwed mums did make choices that led to their situation” (Aug 1) and “Unequal benefits for single unwed mums a matter of deterrence” (Aug 3).
Both letters contain statements that not only support the continued institutionalised discrimination of women based on their marital status, but call upon society to blame women for not falling into line with the status quo. The writers have also failed to see the need for social inclusion or the need for all children to be treated with equity, and have patronisingly insisted that marriage is the only way one can legitimately have children, or engage in sexual activities.
First of all, the role of men seemed to be lacking in their arguments. They seem to have excused the men who have found it right to pack up and leave the women whose children they have fathered, and instead blamed women for finding the courage to take up the responsibility to bring up their children single-handedly.
Secondly, not all unwed mothers are single. Although it is still not very common in our society, there are couples who choose not to go down the path of marriage, but are still committed to one another as well as in their roles as parents. Besides that, there are some same-sex couples who may choose to have children, but due to the fact the same-sex marriage is currently illegal in Singapore, they are seen as single and unwed parents. Does the society then punish children from these non-conventional family units, because some hold contemptuous views against the decisions made by their parents?
In addition, what about women who have made the decision to adopt? It is legal for single and unwed women to adopt, so why should they not be included in the incentives provided by the system?
We should not dictate what women can or cannot do with their bodies and lives, or insist that marriage is the only option for every single member of society who wants to have children or even just sex. We should also reflect upon the way our system seems to hold those who do not fall into line with the status quo hostage through institutionalised discrimination, while at the same time demanding them to contribute to the country’s economy through holding down jobs and paying taxes.
Finally, premarital sex and having children out of wedlock are not crimes, nor are they immoral. The “threat of inequality” as a deterrent to prevent unwed women from engaging in premarital sex and having children, is grossly authoritarian, sexist since men are rarely held to the same standards, and the imposition of patriarchal values on women who deserve the freedom to choose what they do with their bodies, their sexualities, and their reproductive lives. We should become a more inclusive society that favours equal opportunities and incentives, over discrimination.
Screenshots of the letters, for archival purposes:
The debate on the whether the Women’s Charter should be reviewed and renamed has surfaced again, and rightly so.
For many years now, I view it with disdain as I consider many aspects of the Women’s Charter outdated and hence, irrelevant to our society in this day and age.
Being outdated, several aspects of the Women’s Charter have contributed to the flawed understanding of feminism and feminists, as well as the movement to achieve gender equity. Unintentionally, these aspects also contribute towards the continuation of gender stereotypes, and gender discrimination.
Now, the Women’s Charter was relevant at a time when women were held disadvantaged by feudal practices when it came to marriage and gender. It was indeed a great achievement in the quest to emancipate women from such disadvantaged positions. In order to maintain its relevancy however, it should also be progressively reviewed so as to achieve greater equity within the society whose members the Act strives to protect.
Regarding the debate, some have called for the total abolition of alimony while others think that alimony should stay. I feel that the issue cannot be debated or discussed based on such a binary as there are many factors we have to consider. So here are my thoughts:
For those seeking for the abolition of alimony, I hope you will consider this –
Although in this day and age whereby the employment opportunities and education levels of women have improved, it is still not going to be a smooth sailing journey for women to immediately get a job after being full time home makers for several years. Alimony when granted, should cover this period of time as it is just fair to ensure that women who were fully dependent on their former partners, are able to financially survive while attempting to get back into the workforce again. The amount should be reasonable, and equivalent to the amount she was being supported with before.
For those who insist that alimony should solely be granted to women –
This is pure sexism, and promotes the idea that women are an inferior and are not able to support themselves. This insistence also discriminates men who have been home makers, and dependent on their wives financially. They should equally be eligible for alimony as well, in the time where they try to get back into the workforce.
This hasn’t been brought up as far as I have read, but should be considered –
Where children are involved, I am of the opinion that both parents should contribute to a child support fund, that will ensure that children coming from broken families do not suddenly become financially disadvantaged as a result of the divorce – something which they did not ask for.
Custody of children –
Granting of custody should seriously cease to be bias. Society should cease to see men as inferior individuals when it comes to providing a nurturing and supportive environment for their children, and women should ceased to be seen as having more ability to do so.
In addition, no parent should restrict the other of visitation rights unless there are concrete evidences that this will put their children in dangerous positions of being harmed (e.g., all forms of abuse).
Regarding the name of the Women’s Charter –
Let’s just name it the Family Charter, or Family Law Act instead, because this is what it is all about.
(This paper was written in January 2013 and submitted as a final assignment for a module on helping children cope with stress, while doing my Bachelors. Regarding the referencing, my template on WordPress kinda messed up my indents as required by APA so I have decided to do without the indents.)
In many studies on emotional distress due to extreme adversity, boys reportedly react with more aggression and externalizing problem behaviors whereas girls respond to similar events with more internalizing problem behaviors such as depression (CelebiOncu and Metindogan Wise, 2010; Giannopoulou et al., 2006; Monahon, 1997; Vizek-Vidovic et al., 2000; Winje&Ulvik, 1998). Although gender differences were found to be too small to be of any significance in some other studies (CelebiOncu and Metindogan Wise, 2010) the existence of externalizing problem behaviors such as aggression, delinquency and hyperactivity among boys, cannot be ignored. This is because according to Wefald (2005), “the lives and futures of women and girls are interwoven with those of men and boys” (Froschl and Sprung, 2005, p. 1), therefore the indication that more boys than girls are prone to displaying externalizing problem behaviors, especially aggression, raises the concern of the possibility of future increase in violence towards society-at-large, including women and girls. Also, although externalizing problem behaviors are described as a separate phenomenon from internalizing problem behaviors, they often co-occur (Pesenti,-Gritti, Spatola, Fagnani, Ogliari, Patriarca, Stazi, Battaglia, 2007, p. 82). Besides that, externalizing problem behaviors affect the learning and developmental well-being of all children. Hence, the purpose of this report is to explore the following questions:-
1. Are the reasons behind externalizing problem behaviors displayed by boys due to nature or nurture?
2. What can parents and educators do in their part to raise and educate healthy boys in the face of adversity?
Externalizing problem behaviors
According to Campbell, Shaw and Gilliom (2000), cited by Liu (2004), externalizing problem behaviors in young children refers to actions and expressions observed in children’s outward behaviorthat negatively affects their external environment (p. 93). Rubin, Bukowski and Parker (2006) state that children displaying externalizing problem behaviors such as aggression may become angrier and more hostile over time as they may encounter rejection and victimization from their peers (Eisenberg, Valiente, Spinrad, Cumberland, Liew, Reiser, Zhou and Losoya, 2009, p. 990). In addition,Farington (2001) also mentions that early manifestations of aggressive and antisocial behavior are “a strong predictor of adult crime and violence” (Liu, 2004, p. 95 – 96). Similarly, Loeberand Hay (1997) mention that, “most violence appears to erupt in youths who have been aggressive earlier in life” (p. 384). In contrast to girls, boys reported a higher tendency to display externalizing problem behaviors (Besser and Blatt, 2007, p. 127).
Genetic/ biological risk factors
Liu (2004) lists several maternal pathophysiological factors such as malnutrition, smoking, drug use and alcohol consumption during pregnancy as well as “a genetic predisposition to externalizing behavior from both the mother and father, and birth complications” as biological risk factors (p. 98). Prenatal exposures such as cocaine and alcohol were found to be one of the risk factors related to problem behaviors among children in a study conducted by Delaney-Black, Covington, Templin, Ager, Nordstrom-Kee, Martier, Leddik, Czerwinski and Sokol (2000, p. 782). The study also concludes that boys who were prenatally exposed to cocaine “were twice as likely as controls to have clinically significant scores for externalizing and delinquency behaviors” (p. 782). Prenatal exposure to substances such as tobacco, alcohol and cocaine has been linked to learning problems (Minnes, Lang and Singer, 2011, p. 67). Low intelligence has been associated with violence and delinquency among children and adolescence. The relationship between low intelligence and antisocial behavior is more applicable to males than females (Lober and Hay, 1997, p. 390).
Genotypes may also contribute towards children’s response to adversity. In a study conducted by Caspi, McClay, Moffit, Mill, Martin, Craig, Taylor and Poulton (2007), it was found that maltreated children with a genotype conferring high levels of monoamine oxidase A (MAOA), an enzyme located on the X chromosome that helps to break down neurotransmitters such as serotonin, have a lower tendency to develop antisocial behavior. Citing Brunner, Nelen, Breakefield, Ropers and van Oost (1993), Caspi et. al also mention that a null allele at the MAOA locus in human beings was associated with male antisocial behavior (p. 851). In addition, aggressive behavior has been linked to testosterone, a hormone which is found several times more in males than females (Yang, Gao, Glenn, Peskin, Schug and Raine, 2012, p. 15). Yang et. al (2012) mention that in a meta-analysis conducted by Brook, Starzyk and Quinsey (2001), there lies a “modest but robust” link between antisocial behavior and testosterone although it was also noted that according to Banks and Dabs (1997), studies of testosterone and its link to aggressiveness found in children and adolescents “yielded mixed results” (p. 15).
Psychosocial risk factors
Psychosocial factors are factors that are not biological (Liu, 2007, p. 99). Examples of psychosocial factors listed by Yang et. al (2001) include “low social status, peer influence, physical abuse and parental rejection” (p. 3). Other factors include home environment and neighbourhood. Lober and Hay (1997) state that exposure to physical abuse alters children’s relationships with other adults outside the home (p. 400).
Most common psychosocial factors such as premature maternal detachment, parenting styles and adult attitudes, peer shaming and media portrayals of masculinity fall into the “the boy code”, a term coined by Pollack (1998) refers to the expectations society have for boys, leading to what Kindlon and Thompson (1999) call, “emotional illiteracy” or the inability to deal with emotions (Froschl and Sprung, 2005, p. 3). Pollack (1998) mentions that through high and premature expectations for boys to embrace what society perceives as masculine traits, boys are socialized to hide their emotions, be independent and displays strength in their personalities (p. ii). Similarly, Somoch and Elizur (2009) also spoke about “masculine honour”, a code under which males are expected to “express toughness, strength and dominance in public without showing fear and signs of weakness” (p. 606).
Yet on the other hand as society modernises, boys are also expected to shed their “macho assumptions”, be open about their emotions and sensitive towards their peers. These contradicting ideals result in confusing boys, and may lead to frustration, depression, anger, low self-esteem, failure to succeed in intimate relationships and violence (Pollack, 1998, p. ii – iii).
Biosocial interaction model
“Resilient children are not “born that way”. They are also not “made from scratch” by their experiences” wrote Wang and Deater-Deckard (2012). This indicates that nature and nurture cannot be sole predictors of a child’s personality and in the case of this report, conduct problems. Using a biosocial interaction model of childhood externalizing behavior, Liu (2007) hypothesizes that a connecting relationship exists between biological and social risk factors leading to externalizing problem behaviors (p. 98 – 99).
From the literature reviewed, it is apparent to me that there is no fixed pathway towards developing externalizing problem behaviors in children and specifically, in boys. Genetic/ biological risk factors such as genotype mutations are most of the time, unavoidable. Prenatal exposure to intoxicants and toxins however, can be avoided but we also have to understand that due to the addictive nature of some substances, avoidance may be difficult. As nature and nurture work hand in hand, we have to understand that although nature has dictated certain characteristics in some children, nurture can step in as intervention. Reading Pollack’s (1998) work has reaffirmed my belief that the quality of early experience, specifically with regards to attachment, matters to children. This is because attachment helps children develop their sense of security and as a result, it helps them achieve social competence. In his book, Pollack (1998) mentions that part of “the boy code” includes premature detachment of boys from their mothers as boys are expected to be independent as young as the age of five and six (p. ii). This could perhaps lead to a sense of vulnerability which may come to affect the personal confidence of boys and their sense of security. In a study done by Davidson and Demaray (2007) found that social support from teachers and peers for male victims of bullying are lacking, and hypothesized that teachers may perceive the victim as a target of harmless teasing, or dismiss the behavior of the perpetrators as “boys will be boys” (p. 401). As stated by Froschl and Sprung (2005), when “the teachers began to see the boys as gendered, the notion of resistance came forward. As the teachers’ relationships with each other developed, the resistance subsided and they confronted key issues, such as the strong emotions that boys can elicit and their own resistance to their school’s definitions of gender for themselves and for their students” (p. 13).
Therefore in order for parents and educators to ensure the healthy development of boys, we have to change our attitudes and expectations towards the gender and recognise that they too, are emotional beings who need a safe and non-judgmental space to express themselves.
This literature review sought to answer the following questions:
1. Are the reasons behind externalizing problem behaviors displayed by boys due to nature or nurture?
2. What can parents and educators do in their part to raise and educate healthy boys in the face of adversity?
Materials read with the goal to address the first question show that externalizing problem behaviors displayed by boys cannot be necessarily predicted based on genetic/ biological or environmental factors alone. Instead, it has been hypothesized that there exists a connecting relationship exists between biological and social risk factors leading to externalizing problem behaviors, a hypothesis which I am in agreement with.
Addressing the second question, parents and educators have to be aware of the fact that the different attitudes and expectations they may portray and harbour for both genders might contribute to boys’ display of externalizing problem behavior and girls’ display of internalizing problem behavior, both of which are detrimental to the mental well-being of both genders.
During the process of finding materials to address the above questions, I feel that there seem to be a lack of literature on the actual extent by which gender differences exist. One recommendation that I will suggest to future researchers is to conduct longitudinal studies looking further into the factors influencing gender differences with larger sample size and clearer explanations of how each factor links to another.
Besser, A. & Blatt, S. J. (2007). Identity consolidation and internalizing and externalizing problem behaviors in early adolescents. Psychoanalytic psychology, 24(1), 126 – 149.
Caspi, A.,McClay, J.,Moffit, T. E., Mill, J., Martin, J., Craig, I. W., Taylor, A., &Poulton, R. (2007).Role of genotype in the cycle of violence in maltreated children.Science, 297, 851 – 854.
CelebiOncu, E. &Metindogan Wise, A. (2010). The effects of the 1999 turkish earthquake on young children: Analyzing traumatized children’s completion of short stories. Child development, 81(4), 1161 – 1175.
Delaney-Black, V., Covington, C., Templin, Ager, T., Nordstrom-Kee, J.,Martier, S., Leddik, L., Czerwinski, R. H. &Sokol, R.J. (2000). Teacher-assessed behavior of children prenatally exposed to cocaine. Pediatrics, 106(4), 782 – 791.
Eisenberg, N.,Valiente, C., Spinrad, T. L., Cumberland, A., Liew, J., Reiser, M., Zhou, Q. & Losoya. S. H. (2009). Longitudinal relations of children’s effortful control, impulsivity, and negative emotionality to their externalizing, internalizing, and co-occurringbehavior problems. Developmental psychology, 45(4), 988 – 1008.
Foschl, M. & Sprung, B. (2005). Raising and educating healthy boys: A report on the growing crisis in boy’s education. New York: Education Equity Centre/ Academy for Educational Development.
Liu, J. (2004). Childhood externalizing behavior: Theory and implications. Journal of child and adolescent psychiatric nursing, 17(3), 93 – 103.
Loeber, R. & Hay, D. (1997). Key issues in the development of aggression and violence from early childhood to early adulthood. Annual review of psychology, 43, 371 – 410.
Minnes, S., Lang, A. & Singer, L. (2011). Prenatal tobacco, marijuana, stimulant, and opiate exposure: Outcomes and practice implications. Addiction science & clinical practice, July, 57 – 70.
Pesenti,-Gritti, P., Spatola, C.A.M., Fagnani, C., Ogliari, A.,Patriarca, V., Stazi, M. A. & Battaglia, M.(2007).The co-occurrence between internalizingand externalizing behaviors: A general population twin study. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 17(2), 82 – 92.
Pollack, W. (1998).Real boys: Rescuing out sons from the myths of boyhood. New York:Random House. Somech, L. Y. &Elizur, Y. (2009). Adherence to honour code, mediates the prediction of adolescent boys’ conduct problems by callousness and socioeconomic status. Journal of clinical child & adolescent psychology, 38(5), 606 –618.
Yang, Y.,Gao, Y., Glenn, A.,Peskin, M.,Schug, R. A.&Raine, A. (2012). Biosocial bases of antisocial behavior. In DeLisi, M. & Beaver, K. M. (Ed.), Criminological theory: A life course approach. Jones and Bartlett Publishers.
102 years have passed since the first International Women’s Day was commemorated and we are celebrating the 103rd IWD this year. Although the rights and political and social contributions of women are more valued than before, we must realise that the work does not end here.
More than ever, women are being objectified and there is still a set of fallacies about their “natural instincts” and “social behaviour” adhered to them (common across most cultures). Most women are overworked and under-appreciated as they are responsible for contributing towards the family income AND do what they “naturally do best” – housework, being a nurturing mother and wife. Housewives are considered “non-working” members of the society although they sometimes work from day to night, ensuring that the household is in order. In some cultures and communities, violence committed towards women is still considered a common phenomenon. This stems from the fact that such cultures and communities still hold on to the fact that women should be “punished” and “suppressed”, because they are mere objects whose existence are not considered too important to society-at-large.
Gender inequality affects men too. When men choose to become house husbands, they are considered “lazy” and “useless” members of society. When men choose to pursue their occupational passion in any of the sectors dominated by women such as becoming an educator in a childcare centre, they are considered “unmanly” and many times, barred from doing certain duties because of the general assumption that men have a higher tendency to be pedophiles (a gross misconception). Also, men are expected to hold “masculine” traits, become the main breadwinners of their families and protectors of the “weaker gender”. Those who fall out of the expected set of behaviours and attitudes in life are being labeled and discriminated.
We need to recognise that nurture plays a very important role in shaping behaviours, preferences and attitudes in life among both women and men. No women was naturally born to love pink, diamonds, children or shopping. Likewise, no men was naturally born to love blue, soldiers, adventurers or become leaders in the community. All of these are results of nurture and in order to be fair to our generations to come, we need to work on exposing children to various forms of activities from sports to fine arts without pushing children towards conforming to gender stereotypes.
This is not about inciting a war between the various genders. This is about educating our future generations towards creating a progressive society that gives equal opportunities and respect towards each gender. And to do so, we have to first change our own flawed perceptions about gender roles and the messages we are sending to the young.
I think we can all do it, if we hold enough respect for all human beings in general. What are your thoughts on this?
Hearing about the death of the woman who was brutally raped and violently attacked in New Delhi was one of the saddest and most disturbing moment of 2012 as the year ended. Following the reports that described how she was being violently handled by 6 men and all the call for the death of her rapists/ murderers, I have realised that the world has not gotten anywhere more enlightened nor civilised.
Patriarchal values lead to sexism and gender inequality
Despite more equal opportunities for women in the areas of education and jobs as well as status in society, inequality between genders due to patriarchal values and sexism still reigns in many parts of the world and in many segments of society. To cut the long story short, I will keep the focus on India.
According to a report by Reuters, the men admitted to raping and torturing her in order to “teach her a lesson” after she and her male friend did not take their taunts (of being out alone at night with a man) lying down. The fact that she was alone at night with a man became a point for the group of men to pick on, was a sign of gross patriarchal values at work.
Patriarchal values exist within the police force as well… remember the case of the 17 year-old teenager who killed herself after the police pressurised her to drop the case and marry one of her attackers who had raped her? It left me very angry and disgusted. And according to an acquaintance of mine who currently works in New Delhi as a researcher, he told me that justice is almost always not being upheld when it comes to sexual crimes against women because their perpetrators are of a more superior gender. He said “The police will usually look for reasons to justify the rape. In other words, women are usually blamed for being out alone, being out too late at night, wearing clothes that show their curves or behaving suggestively.
As if the crime was not horrendous enough and as if sexism coming from men is not enough, Dr Anita Shukla, a woman scientist in India, blamed the victim for her own fate. According to Daily Bhaksar, she said that “Women instigate men to commit such crimes” and that the victim was being “insensible” for staying out after 10pm.
My goodness… that was utterly disgusting, especially coming from a woman. So while there is no restrictions for men to stay out as late as they want, women have to stay at home after a certain hour of the night to remain “sensible” and not “instigate” men to commit such crimes… how’s that for gender equality?
Now that says a lot about how deep patriarchal values have been embedded in India’s society… so much so that sexism and gender inequality can be expressed from both women and men from different segments of the society.
Blood for blood?
I disagree with the idea that the rapists who are now tried for murder, should be sentenced to death. Sentencing the brutal criminals to death is a short-cut method to “right” what has been wrong for a very long time. Rather, what is required is a social revolution that needs to happen immediately. Sentencing these men to death reeks of revenge and I believe that if a society is against murder, they should not practice the hypocrisy of supporting state sanctioned murder.
In my opinion, the death penalty will not change how women in India (or anywhere else in the world) are being treated and viewed as – weaker and inferior to men, and in some instances, sex objects that do not deserve equal respect as men. In order to change a society, the call of equal respect is required. Men needs to recognise that women and men are equally human beings. In July 2003, Marina Mahathir wrote:
“What prevents violence against women is instilling in men and boys the belief that women are equal human beings who are to be respected. Have we ever known an abuser to say that they think highly of their victims?”
The death penalty only creates fear and instilling fear is not an effective way to deal with crimes. The society has to understand why they should not violate another human being through violence and sexual crimes, rather than through fear of punishment which is temporary and which will never help to improve women’s standing in society at all.
In this very case of India, the only things that should be granted the death penalty, are patriarchy and sexism. And to be honest, patriarchy and sexism should have been given the death penalty a long time ago, all over the world.
Let us not forget our sense of humanity, just because something so inhumane has happened. Support justice and gender equality instead of the death penalty.
Note: There will be a candle-light vigil in honour of the victim happening on the evening of 2 Jan 2013. For more details, do check out the event page set up by the organiser.
My name is Vanessa and I’m part of the SlutWalk Singapore organizing team. Thank you for being here today, and thank you to those who are here for the second time. Thank you for joining us in this symbolic gathering to show solidarity with survivors and their supporters. Thank you for being here to show Singapore—and the world—that people DO care, that people ARE sick and tired of rape culture, and that people DO want to stand up against impunity and ignorance.
I would like to share a little on what has changed over the past year, and what is different with SlutWalk this year. Well, for starters, the media is no longer interested in us because they turned up last year and were sorely disappointed that they didn’t see scantily clad women. Boo them for not reading our manifesto before turning up. There is also a noticeable lack in the number of people standing behind bushes with their telephoto lenses hoping to take photos of scantily clad women without our explicit and voluntary consent.
We take heart that many new conversations were started, and that a small group of people have started to reject—or at least question—the culture that we live in. The concept of consent is no longer as foreign as before, and that we are braver when it comes to calling out practices of victim blaming and slutshaming. This runs in line with SlutWalk’s aim to introduce new vocabulary for us to be able to think and talk about sexual assault and the excuses that come with it. As we all know—we cannot solve a problem if we cannot name it.
However, in the larger scheme of things, we are definitely weary to adopt a celebratory attitude. I think it is safe to say that most people still believe in the rape myths that we are trying to debunk. We still hear arguments that women SHOULD not stay out late at night, that women SHOULD not be promiscuous-and-save-it-for-marriage, that women SHOULD not go drink and dirty dance in clubs. Cause if they do, they deserve to be raped. And this only just touches the surface of rape culture. Rape culture is not simply a “women’s issue”, it permeates through society and affects all of us—some in more ways than one.
This is why we call it rape culture. We call it rape culture because these practices of victim blaming and slut-shaming are so ingrained in us that we never sought to question them. They have gone invisible for decades because people simply thought that “that’s the way things are”, even though some of us get this nauseating feeling in our guts that something’s not quite right. It is so ingrained in us that victims of sexual assault more often than not blame themselves for what happened to them. We are here to say, it is *never* your fault—the responsibility for the crime lies on the criminal and on rape culture.
We call it rape culture because it is embedded in multiple levels in our society. For one, our sex education teaches students to—and I quote—“Recognize that there are different ways of inviting sexual intimacy, namely through dressing, speech, actions, and choice of dating venues.” In other words, our sex education system teaches that a DRESS means YES, FLIRTING means YES, going to their homes means YES. For two, the National Council for Crime Prevention ran this disgusting campaign that read “DON’T GET RUBBED THE WRONG WAY”, instead of saying “DON’T RAPE”. In addition, our media glamourizes and capitalizes on rape; our laws do not consider rape of a man’s wife as rape; our parents, teachers, friends, social workers, counselors, and many more, tell us to “be careful” without questioning why.
We call it rape culture because consent continues to be constantly undermined in this society. Section 377A of our penal code criminalises sex between two CONSENTING male ADULTS. When the 80 over men were convicted for having sex with an underaged social escort, her CONSENT was deemed irrelevant (it was not even brought up in court). When the high court overturned the rape conviction of Ong Ming Wee, the victim’s NON-CONSENT was deemed inconsequential because she could “call for help” and was not able to remember how many times she said “no”. These are but three instances although they are in no way isolated cases. What I was trying to illustrate was that society’s disrespect for someone’s consent or non-consent is a reflection of how there is this sense of ENTITLEMENT to other people’s bodies: the law is entitled to gay men’s bodies; the law is entitled to the social escort’s body; the rapist is entitled to the victim’s body.
When we talk about consent, we simply want to put across one message: NOBODY IS ENTITLED TO YOUR BODY, MIND and SOUL.
Victim blaming and slut-shaming reifies that sense of entitlement by letting the rapists walk free. Victim blaming and slut-shaming are EXCUSES made to the benefit of the rapist.
But not only that—victim blaming is a form of control. As Theodor Adorno said back in 1947, victim blaming is “one of the most sinister features of the Fascist character”. It is a way to say that I think you are doing something against what I think is right, and as a result, you deserve whatever repercussions that comes along with it. As Heather Jarvis—founder of SlutWalk Toronto puts it: “If when calling somebody a slut or any word like this, you had to, in the same breath explain what it can mean—that you aren’t worthy or deserving of equal rights and protections; you deserve to be harassed for years, have your life go off-course, and you should probably be raped and I don’t have to care because I don’t like what you did. If you had to say that, would you still say it? Would you let others say it?”
It is a form of control because it is a way to police people into behaving a certain way. And if you fall out of those arbitrary rules and regulations, you deserve to be punished. For women, our sexuality is constantly under surveillance. Our worth is measured by our “purity”, by the sanctity of that piece of membrane that came to be invested with the meaning of virginity. Our worth is measured by how we do not embrace sex and sexuality. These forms of policing become even more nuanced when we talk about lesbian women. Lesbian women are deviant because they stray from the compulsory heterosexuality in society. Let’s not forget the bisexual and pansexual women: how dare they sleep with people regardless of their gender! And again, these forms of policing get even more visible when we talk about transgender women. The violence against straight women, lesbians, bisexual and transgender women is real. It is hard enough for a straight woman to report rape without having to face victim-blaming mindsets; what more for women with different sexual orientations and gender identities? They are not even protected by the law!
Speaking of the types of rape that are not covered by the law, we are cognizant that the rape of men is not considered rape in Singapore (unless he is a minor). Neither is it something that we as a society talks about. There’s this assumption and expectation that “men are supposed to be strong” that they should be able to fight off women! But rape is never about strength. That said, in the first place, why would men want to decline sex, they think about it every [insert arbitrary number] seconds! In this society, we assume that an erection constitutes consent as much as we assume a short skirt consents for us.
Let’s not forget about gay men—if they are raped, there is absolutely no form of legal recourse and there is that additional threat of being charged under 377A. Besides, nobody cares about that because gay men are deemed indecent and immoral in this society—they were probably asking for it, or in any case, they deserve it for not being straight.
Victim blaming is not just based on your gender, gender identity and sexual orientation. 1 in 10 foreign domestic workers in Singapore have been sexually assaulted. Yet the mentality that they lie about rape runs deep. We have heard of cases where police officers believe that the worker is merely trying to get a free ticket out of their employment contract after they had a good time here. People living with disabilities are thought to not be able to consent for themselves because they are seen as “lower beings” in need of sympathy and compassion instead of empathy and solidarity. Your marital status with the perpetrator will nullify your claim of rape. Two weeks ago was World AIDS Day—yet the myth that promiscuity increases your chances of getting infected ran throughout the campaigns. In other words, your HIV status is probably your own fault.
Victim blaming is discrimination. Let’s be clear about that. It is prejudice against a group of people who behave in a way that one deems wrong. Or in the case of marital rape, it is prejudice against a group of people who are EXPECTED to do something they do not want to. It is prejudice because it justifies the violence against them.
These are forms of control, forms of discrimination, forms of ignorance and its manifestation. Rape is not just about power—as in the case of rape as a weapon of war, it is also about society’s expectations, assumptions, misconceptions, biasness and discrimination. Our tagline has always been “moving against intolerance and toward education.” We would like to propose new (duh) ways of thinking that will put an end to impunity and disrespect.
If there is one thing I would like to emphasize in this speech, it is that Hong Lim Park is not a safe space. One can only guess how many victims are not here today—either because they don’t want to or because they feel the judging eyes of society. We—all of us here—privileged with the ability to stand out here in this crowd, have a role to play. And that role is to educate ourselves on rape myths, on consent, on boundaries, on the cycle of abuse. Only through our understanding that we can make society a safe space for survivors to stand up and say hey look—that person raped me. It is when we are ready, that survivors can be ready. It is to create these various networks of safe spaces; it is to create a new norm.
Thank you to all of you who have decided to come out despite the rain. Thank you to those who do not identify with the word “slut”, who find it offensive and hurtful, but yet believe that we need to rethink these value systems behind the word.
Thank you also to our sponsors who have lessened our monetary burden. Thank you to BackatMonks, Drinkdings, Eros Coaching, Lush Events and Marketing, Home Club, CMX International, Van Lee Fitness and our friend Tania De Rozario. Thank you to AWARE, the Independent Archive and Resource Centre and to HOME for kindly allowing us to use their spaces for free to conduct workshops. Thank you.