In response to AWARE’s proposal to amend its policy on male membership
November 26, 2016, 2:27 am
Filed under: By Rachel Zeng, Gender, Singapore

The following is written in solidarity with my friends from within the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) who intend to speak out against the proposal to grant voting rights and directive positions to men and individuals who identify as men. As a non-member of AWARE, I fully understand that the organisation does not have to take my views into consideration but I hope that as part of civil society and as a woman who identifies as a feminist, my views can contribute to the larger part of the conversation that should continue to take place beyond the EGM that will take place on 26 November 2016.

Gender justice, and the empowerment of women and non-binary persons
Indeed, we have gone a long way in achieving gender justice and the empowerment of women and non-binary persons compared to many decades ago. However based on my interactions with women and non-binary persons, especially those who live on and beneath the margins, more needs to be done.

Women and non-binary persons who belong to the working class due to their personal backgrounds and circumstances, and those who continue to face discrimination and violence for who they are and who they choose to be, need a voice and a champion to fight for a safer and more egalitarian space to exist. Although I certainly do not think that AWARE is and should be the only entity responsible for this, the organisation is recognised by the mainstream as the entity that campaigns for gender equality through its work to raise awareness to issues faced by women and non-binary persons and to call for changes to policies that have led to gender inequity and marginalisation. It is the organisation that many would approach in times of need.

As it stands, we have a society that is still not progressively educated about the notion of gender justice due to the fact that attempts to facilitate public understanding of the concept may have been coming from a certain place that have failed to forge identification with the discourse over the years. The culture and system in place is still far from being egalitarian, and patriarchal values continue to have a strong hold over the larger part of the society, especially among the marginalised. The scale is certainly tipped in a way that does not benefit many women and non-binary persons.

Therefore all of us who consider ourselves advocates, including AWARE, needs to focus on reflecting about the way we advocate and then find ways to reach out to those who have been beyond our reach and who do not find our messages accessible. We need to realise that we may be speaking in languages that alienate and disempower them, resulting in the lack of motivation to be part of the larger discourse to achieve greater gender justice and empowerment for themselves and others. We need to be more inclusive, diverse, and sensitive toward the situations and needs of those we mean to advocate for and with.

Including men in the discourse
Personally, I cannot emphasize more about the need to include men in the discourse towards achieving a more egalitarian society. In recent years, more men have publicly identified as allies and have made initiatives to participate in the discourse in various ways.

However we must not confuse the need to include and encourage the participation of men with the need to grant them the institutional right to influence the advocacy direction in a women’s organisation that campaign on issues faced by women and non-binary persons. The way I see it, this is a well-meaning but simplistic “solution” that brings about unintended consequences. Symbolically, it might lengthen the longevity of the patriarchal idea and practice that men hold a right to decide on matters concerning women, which is definitely not something that a women’s organisation should be encouraging. I strongly believe that there continues to be a variety of ways to involve men in the discourse towards achieving a more egalitarian society. As allies with a genuine understanding of how allyship functions, I do not think that they would be in a rush to say “Let me be a part of the decision making process of how we can make things work for you.” They would be more aware of the fact that one of the first steps in becoming an ally is to recognise the need for a space where women and non-binary persons get to hold on to their agency on how to deal with issues that exists in their lived experience, which is an important part of the process to foster empowerment.

Of course, this is not to say that men are not affected by the gender stereotypes and expectations that patriarchy imposes on them. We just need to recognise that patriarchy sets the condition for men to exist as the dominant gender and we need to recognise that in order to be equal stakeholders in the discourse, the power scale between genders need to be on a relatively equal level. As mentioned earlier, this condition has yet been achieved, hence there is a need to bring about agency and empowerment within and among women and non-binary persons, especially the ones who live on and beneath the margins first to talk about issues concerning them. Let the priority be on this for now.



Sex and having children out of wedlock are neither crimes nor immoral
August 7, 2015, 1:09 am
Filed under: By Rachel Zeng, Gender, Singapore

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:

unwed mums did make choices that led to their situation unequal benefits for single unwed mums a matter of deterrenceintention was not to draw parallel between single mothers and criminals



Some thoughts on the debate surrounding the Women’s Charter
April 26, 2014, 2:05 am
Filed under: By Rachel Zeng, Gender, Singapore

womens charter

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.



Nature vs. Nurture: Externalizing problem behaviours in boys
June 23, 2013, 1:10 am
Filed under: By Rachel Zeng, Early Childhood Education, Gender

(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.)

Introduction

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?

Literature review

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).

Critical analysis

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.

Summary

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.

References:

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.



Representations of Gender in Advertising
May 28, 2013, 12:31 am
Filed under: Gender, Videos



103rd International Women’s Day – A change of perception on gender is necessary
March 8, 2013, 11:52 am
Filed under: By Rachel Zeng, Early Childhood Education, Gender
"Starting in New York City in 1857, women workers made a tradition of labor actions and protests on March 8. In 1910, the first International Women's Day was celebrated on the same day. This photo shows an early Women's Day protest."

“Starting in New York City in 1857, women workers made a tradition of labor actions and protests on March 8. In 1910, the first International Women’s Day was celebrated on the same day. This photo shows an early Women’s Day protest.”

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?



Patriarchal values and the death penalty
January 2, 2013, 12:13 am
Filed under: By Rachel Zeng, Gender
Photo credit: Associate Press

Photo credit: Associate Press

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.