What Feminism Means to Me

by Change Maker, Alex Tan

boy-femNot long ago, I had a discussion with my friends about feminism. Their reactions to my internship at AWARE were predictably lukewarm. They informed me that while they were “all for gender equality”, they felt that the feminist movement today runs contrary to the ideal of equality. In their opinion, it actually aims to shift the power imbalance in favour of women by “bashing men up”. It is easy to dismiss these views, but exhausting to fully explain how problematic and ridiculous they are. In this post, I will address three common misconceptions and their flawed assumptions.

Myth: Feminists are reverse sexists.

Granted, men can be victims of prejudice, just as women can. But sexism is systemic oppression. Reverse sexism does not exist because the unequal status of women is institutional and deeply entrenched. For example, in Singapore at present, there are only 18 elected female Members of Parliament out of a total of 84 elected members. Only 7.3% of board positions are held by women. There is a lack of female representation in political, socio-economic and military institutions. This means that even if a woman feels prejudice towards a man, she is powerless to institutionalise this feeling the way men can. Sexism and misogyny therefore do not happen in a vacuum. They take place alongside pervasive culturally-reinforced messages of inherent female inferiority. As such, prejudices against men cannot be considered sexism, given that men already enjoy privileges on a structural level by virtue of having been born male.

Myth: Feminism aims to establish a matriarchy.

28toge-600This is based on the misunderstanding that feminism ignores men’s issues simply because the focus is on women’s rights. Feminism creates a space of female solidarity and gives voice to women in a world already dominated by male narratives. It would be indecent and oppressive for men to demand attention when they already benefit due to existing power structures. Furthermore, feminism is not completely disconnected from men’s issues because it seeks to eliminate gendered expectations and roles which also affect men. In Singapore, National Service is compulsory and male-exclusive for citizens and permanent residents. Evidently, not everyone has military aspirations or capabilities suited to National Service. Forcing it onto men who will not find it fulfilling is unfair, but so is excluding women who will find it meaningful.

However, making National Service compulsory for women as well will not bring any resolution. Instead, a possible solution would be to make it optional for both men and women. Not only does that achieve equality of choice for both sexes, it also discourages the narrow-minded notion that serving in the military is the singular standard by which contribution to the country should be judged. Similarly, rather than expose women to the punitive measure of caning, we should ban the practice entirely. I support AWARE’s stance: “Neither men nor women deserve to suffer from caning. Our stand is not that this practice be extended to include women, but rather that caning be abolished completely”. Violating more human rights as a means to achieve gender equality seems to me both ironic and hypocritical.

Myth: Feminists are un-feminine, unmarried women. 

Other than this being an obviously inaccurate generalization, it is further problematic because it suggests that a woman must be feminine and/or married and implies that femininity and feminist ideals are mutually exclusive. It also perpetuates the damaging idea that a woman’s identity is only valid if she is married to a man. Needless to say, this erases personal agency and objectifies women.

Sometimes I think about the multiple questions associated with being a male feminist, as brilliantly articulated by Arthur Chu here. I dream of a world in which everyone is not socially defined by their gender, but is instead treated with the dignity that human beings deserve.

At the heart of feminism is the freedom of individual expression regardless of whether that image fits society’s restrictive standards.  Feminism disregards and rises above those standards. What comes to mind is a quote by journalist Helen Lewis: “The comments on any article about feminism justify the existence of feminism.” Until the day that feminists will no longer receive backlash for fighting for gender equality and social change, feminism remains urgently necessary.

alexblogpicAbout the Author: Alex likes many things, like Virginia Woolf, Welcome to Night Vale, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Arcade Fire, blogs that criticize what’s problematic in pop culture, articles about the tensions of postcoloniality, any form of media that subverts narrative tropes and long words (e.g. omphaloskepsis) that he probably will only ever use once in a pretentious poem that he has yet to write. Oh, and he is also a feminist. 



Traditional Gender Roles: A First-Hand Account

by Arvind Soundararajan

Shampoo-brand-takes-on-gender-stereotypesWhen my parents migrated to Singapore from India around 20 years ago, they were in a whole new environment. Everything was different, from the climate to the living conditions. However, one thing remained the same – the cultural norms they followed strictly. We live in a patriarchal society that views men of higher status than women. Men were the sole breadwinners and heads of the family. Meanwhile, no matter how educated the women were, they were still relegated to domestic affairs such as taking care of the house and children. This has been ingrained in our culture and our minds for generations. It has lead to many repercussions, one of which include the mistreatment and objectification of women.

I grew up hearing stories from my grandmother about the hardships she faced in pre-independence India. She felt that the hardships of being a women affected her the most during those tumultuous times. Back then, the status of Indian women was at its lowest point. My grandmother used to tell me that wives were living their lives like slaves. She couldn’t leave the house at all and was not even allowed to look out of the window; she was imprisoned in her own home. Even when she had the opportunity to leave her house, she had to wear clothes that covered her entire body to ensure no skin was exposed. This was both for her safety as well as dignity. My grandmother used to tell me of times where she would sneak out of her house just to get a breath of fresh air. Hearing these stories really impacted me deeply. I began to wonder and feel sympathetic towards the plight of women in India.

Fast forward to the time when my parents moved to Singapore, things were not as bad as they were during my grandmother’s time. However, women were still being relegated to domestic affairs only. This was the case for my mother. Even though there were many opportunities for her to go out to work and my father was completely supportive, she felt it was her duty as a woman to stay at home to take care of the children. Looking at my own mother restricted by gender norms proved to be a significant turning point in my life. Seeing that it impacts women even in the 21st century gave me an insight into how grave this situation actually was.

This form of backward thinking will lead to negative repercussions. In order for society to grow and develop, there has to be an equal treatment of both genders. Campaigns such as the We Can! Campaign have been introduced to tackle this problem. These campaigns address the harmful misconceptions that perpetuate violence. You too could become a part of this initiative by joining the We Can! Campaign as Change Maker. Every individual effort counts.


Sexism Is Never Okay

by Jeriel Teo

accompanying image 2One of my earliest memories of secondary school life was being sexist. If you heard the word “fag**t” being thrown around my classroom, chances were they emerged from my mouth. One of the incidents I remember was offending an entire table of girls with an offhand sexist remark and walking away pleased with myself. I remember thinking, “Girls, right?

After two years and many apologies, I find myself sitting at a communal table at the AWARE centre. I remember nervous thoughts about girls, exams and the urgency to “become a man”. Such were the pressures of a thirteen-year-old in a boys’ school, eager to prove himself. Being 13 was to be aching to grow into a man of substance yet lacking the maturity to grow beyond the stereotypes of a man. I wasn’t particularly close to my father as he was a very aloof parent. My mother was preoccupied with responsibilities such as managing the household expenses and making sure I wasn’t slacking off at school. Thus, my idea of masculinity was almost entirely shaped by movies and I thought being a man meant:

  1.  Being muscular
  2.  Being heterosexual
  3.  Swearing
  4.  Making offhand sexist remarks

Accompanying imageThe media often portrays men as inherently sexist. It seems to send the message that men are misogynistic and can’t control their sexual impulses. Such a message is problematic as it justifies misogyny. If one were to make a sexist joke in a boys’ school, one would probably get away with a joke or two. After all, we’re guys, right? We’ve been conditioned into thinking that sexist jokes are a quintessential part of the male experience, that to be sexist is normal and excusable. Some of us know about male privilege and understand that we are complicit in patriarchal oppression. Yet no one is speaking up about male privilege or sexism in boys’ schools. By remaining silent on the issue and propping up the status quo, patriarchal oppression is justified and we shirk the responsibility for working towards change.

Patriarchy affects not just women, but men as well. It drives us to police our own behaviour. Words like “faggot” and “girl” are used as insults to enforce strict gender norms. The current superficial concept of masculinity has disappointed many. We need to reconsider the existing concept of masculinity and acknowledge our male privilege.

Jeriel imageAbout the Author: Jeriel is a Year 4 student at Raffles Institution, skilled air guitarist and full-time disappointment to his parents. He is passionate about drama and literature, and enjoys writing both fiction and nonfiction, neither of which is particularly good, though on days when his cynicism muscle is on leave, he hopes he can improve it. He believes strongly in gender equality, and that men have as much a stake in it as women. His pet peeves include writing about himself in the third person and irony. 



No Excuse For Abuse

by Vincent Pak

Picture receiving an invitation card to the party of the year. You make your way there and find only one other guest with an overly-excited host. It’s a dud. You’d think to leave immediately.

Many women do not share the same sentiment when it comes to an abusive relationship. It is immensely difficult for them to do so as they have to deal with distressing emotions, fear of isolation and the lack of support and understanding from others.

Chloe was my classmate back in junior college and she had a boyfriend of two years. On top of being unfaithful, her boyfriend was abusive in multiple ways. During one incident, he locked the both of them in a car and refused to let her out until she conceded that he was correct regarding a disagreement they had. She called her mother to no avail and seriously considered reporting to the police. Chloe eventually gave up on that idea, afraid that they wouldn’t give her situation the attention it deserves. Chloe suffers silently in a dysfunctional relationship, afraid to end her relationship as she fears incurring his wrath.

AWARE conducted a survey in 2012 that showed only 2 in 10 people believe that under no circumstances should a woman remain in an abusive relationship. That also means 4 out of 5 people subscribe to the notion that violence is acceptable and tolerable in a relationship.

Assisting a victim of an abusive relationship requires you to listen with a non-judgemental ear and trust that their story is what they say it is. They are more likely to confide in a friend or a family member than to the authorities, so your encouragement and support will be significant in helping them make their own informed decisions. Both the victim and the confidante must agree that any violence in a relationship is unhealthy and cannot be condoned.

We must realise that a relationship between two people have to be based on mutual respect. Tolerating violence in any form is giving it impetus to be socially acceptable when it should not be. Being a women must no longer be synonymous with a lesser being. Let us all be a part of the fight to end all violence against women.


About the author: Someone once told Vincent that liking pink as a favourite colour was perfectly fine. That was enough reason for him to subscribe to feminism, because it allowed him to drink strawberry milk with confidence. Still serving his National Service, Vincent enjoys the occasional fantasy that sexism is dead in the military, but stalwartly trusts that he won’t be in denial someday. He is passionate about naps, and prefers baby blue over pink now.


“That’s So Gay”: A Crisis of Masculinity

by Alex Tan, Change Maker

During our brief two-week stint at AWARE, my friends and I were tasked to produce a short video on the societal construct of masculinity and the pressures it exerts on youths. We went around to different places to collect responses from male students of various secondary schools. One of our questions was “Have you ever called any of your friends ‘gay’?” Overwhelmingly, all the people surveyed said yes. We then asked what actions provoked or warranted the use of the word ‘gay’. I divided the public’s answers into three large categories.                                                 

Firstly, there were students who used the word ‘gay’ on friends whose behaviour and mannerisms were considered effeminate and unmanly. There were also students who would use the word to mean ‘homosexual’ upon seeing displays of affection or intimacy between two male friends. Then there were those who did not seem to have reflected on the true significance of the word at all, or the potential implications it might have on the people around them; they used it casually, unthinkingly.

1alexThis range of reactions simultaneously worried and angered me, stirring reflection about the deeper causes behind our careless use of the word. I realized that it had become so commonplace in my life that I had never spared it a moment’s thought. Even though I never felt the inclination myself to label other people as ‘gay’, I rarely called my friends out on it. My silence, therefore, made me equally culpable and complicit in the oppression.

The way the word ‘gay’ is hurled tactlessly as an insult at others is indicative of continuing homophobic attitudes. Nowadays, it almost seems to be interchangeable with ‘bad’ when people criticize things as being “so gay”. Its negative connotations imply that homosexuality is incorrect, somehow less valid than the norm of heterosexuality.

Also, when people use the word ‘gay’ against actions that are deemed unbecoming of a man or uncharacteristic of how a man should behave, it reveals a flawed assumption that being gay is equivalent to being un-masculine. Such a conflation of sexual orientation with gender identity is a sweeping generalisation, uninformed by logic or science.

It is even more problematic because it suggests that society’s conception of what a man “should” be is fixed and immutable, and that deviating from that standard is wrong. We end up policing our own gender identities, and stifling our diversity. It is sad that society’s gendered expectations have become so normalized that we never take a step back to see the bigger picture or think of how we have been consumed by the system.

2alexRecently I saw a scribbling that read: “Argue less about the language of oppression / argue more about the material basis of oppression / or just do something about it.” Peppering our speech with such words may seem inconsequential in comparison to the material struggles against oppression, but our world views are arguably influenced by linguistics.

In my opinion, being more aware of how our remarks could victimize others – whether intentionally or not – increases the likelihood of a shift in our thoughts and actions, which could pave the way for greater social change. Altering how we speak and, by logical extension, how we think does constitute “doing something” about oppression. A project founded on a similar basis is the “Spread the Word to End the Word” movement, which aims to end people’s use of the word “retarded”.

 4alexI write about homophobia and gay rights because it is closely linked to gender equality, which adopts inclusiveness and intersectionality. These are issues marginalised groups struggle with in the face of discrimination and oppression. As Leow Hui Min writes in her recent blog post, the support for the LGBTQIA+ movement “emerges from the recognition that it is not only cisgender and heterosexual women affected by anti-woman sexism, from the understanding that many oppressions overlap, and from the principle of solidarity that should be at work in all progressive movements.”

More relevantly, I feel that it is a crisis of masculinity and the struggle to conform to what it means to “be a man” that leads to the power imbalance and gender inequality in our society. Partly it is through establishing dominance over women – traditionally regarded as the “weaker sex” – that enables men to gain an inflated sense of identity. Violence against women, sexism and misogyny can therefore all be said to be encouraged and perpetuated by the crisis of masculinity in our society.

3alexWe often feel inadequate and paralyzed after reading about sexism, misogyny, homophobia and other forms of oppression. We imagine that our efforts will be limited and therefore ineffective. But our actions need not be measured by how wide an impact they produce, as long as we are sincere in our intentions and tactful in our execution. To quote the closing line of David Mitchell’s ‘Cloud Atlas’, one of my favourite books: “What is any ocean but a multitude of drops?”



alexblogpicAbout the Author: Alex likes many things, like Virginia Woolf, Welcome to Night Vale, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Arcade Fire, blogs that criticize what’s problematic in pop culture, articles about the tensions of postcoloniality, any form of media that subverts narrative tropes and long words (e.g. omphaloskepsis) that he probably will only ever use once in a pretentious poem that he has yet to write. Oh, and he is also a feminist. 



On My Unrequited Love for India

By Kokila Annamalai, We Can! Singapore Campaign Coordinator

I just finished the book ’Shame’, which is about forced marriage, honour killings and domestic violence in the South Asian diaspora of Britain. The author is a Sikh woman from Derby who survived very brutal oppression and violence by her family and community, and has spent her life supporting and advocating for other South Asian women and girls in Britain, mostly of Pakistani origin, who’re affected by the same conditions she was in.

What struck me about the book, apart from the horrifying experiences of some women, is the author’s evident pride in her South Asian identity, though she consistently refers to the South Asian community – its culture, norms, traditions and practices – as a site of inequality, discrimination and very violent crimes against women.

Like the author, I too identify deeply with South Asia and South Asian culture, especially India. Though I was born in Singapore and have spent most of my life here, my family is from India and has always taught me that India is home. Since I can remember, we went back to India every year for annual holidays. I’ve spent three of my adult years in Tamil Nadu and had quite a few other stints in different parts of India.

I have always loved India dearly, but because of my own experiences and the overpowering narratives of violence and oppression that is the reality of many South Asian women, it is a very difficult relationship – full of contradictions, shame, confusion and even guilt. But the feeling that has been strongest since reading ‘Shame’ is a very personal kind of pain and anger. It’s the same kind of pain and anger I feel every time I read or hear someone say that India is one of the worst countries in the world for women to live, and say it as though it is the most important thing about Indian society, notwithstanding everything else that is beautiful or remarkable about the place or the people.

I get angry not because they’re wrong, overgeneralising or reductionist in their accusations, but because they’re right. I recently came across an organisation called No Country For Women, which fights against gender-based violence in India, and I was taken aback by the truth in that name. It forced me to confront the fact that the love I have for India, at least for now, is unrequited.

Because the place I love is also a place in which I feel very unsafe; because many of the films in my language are deeply misogynistic and promote rape; because when I was sixteen, I was sent away to India where my relatives pretty much kept me under house arrest for six months because I was suspected to be dating a boy in Singapore; because many of the people I worked with in rural India and adore only respect me because I cover up around them and don’t share many parts of who I am or what I believe in with them.

My own community, both here and in India, accepts dowry, tolerates domestic abuse, forces women into marriage, and some people in my family still rebuke women who dare to call their husbands by their name.

Some of the oppressive practices in South Asia have a stronger hold on diasporic communities like mine, which cling on to them as a source of comfort, security and identity in foreign lands; but for me, growing up with other influences, opportunities and identities in Singapore has allowed me to reject those practices and those who impose them on me.

A part of me has always wanted to live in India and contribute to the feminist movement there. And having met my partner there, I’ve had to consider more seriously the possibility of moving there in the next few years to live with him, but I’m finding that it’s such a difficult decision to make. Because of our families (which are conservative), communities (which are punitive), socioeconomic status (not being able to afford the luxuries of private transport makes things even more restrictive and unsafe for women), jobs and other factors, I’m fearful that we cannot live the lives we choose, and that I will be forced to give up some of the things I believe in.

But here is the reality check – these compromises and restrictions are meagre compared to the situation of many women who can’t choose to stay away, who don’t have allies, who can’t support themselves financially, whose rapes and murders don’t make it to the news – hell, they don’t even make it out of their homes – who don’t have the power to reject the oppressive conditions they are in or be heard.

This is the reality check that makes me want to go and not want to go, at the same time.


About the author: Kokila Annamalai (pictured, left) is the campaign coordinator for We Can! End All Violence Against Women (Singapore chapter), a global movement against gender violence.


Step In The Right Direction

By Akshita Vaidyanathan, Change Maker

“Yes, I kick like a girl, and I swim like a girl and I wake up in the morning because I am a girl and that is not something I should be ashamed of” – Always #LikeAGirl advertisement

Why is it that the phrase “Like a girl” is an insult?

The new viral advertisement by Always speaks to this negative stereotype in quite a heartfelt and touching manner. Always brought together a group of people, both male and female, and told them to do things like ‘run like a girl’, ‘fight like a girl’, or ‘throw like a girl.’ All the older participants’ portrayals, male and female alike, were comic caricatures of what they thought that phrase meant. They didn’t run nor fight like a normal girl would. Their portrayals showed something that is deeply ingrained into society – a notion that if you do anything like a girl, you are weak, and the phrase “like a girl”, as one of the participants states, is said as if “someone is trying to humiliate you.”

Gender stereotypes and insults are strongest when they are most subtle. And because “like a girl” has such a strong negative connotation, we’re inherently saying that one gender is better than the other and perpetuating gender inequality at an extremely young age.

disturbing-life-lessons-learned-from-disney-movies2135738640-jan-31-2014-1-600x400Disney movies are another good example of gender stereotypes that young children, notably young girls, are exposed to. Cinderella teaches girls that they aren’t worthy of a prince unless they look beautiful, but also have all the domestic skills a women must have. This stereotype is reinforced in Snow White, as Snow stays at home to cook and clean while the dwarves go off to do “the real work.” I wouldn’t be the first person to note how Beauty and the Beast normalizes the existence of domestic abuse and violence within relationships.

And it’s not just Disney Movies. These stereotypes are widespread throughout the media, as voiced in the 2011 documentary “Miss Representation.” This documentary, directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, illustrates the inaccurate representations of women in mainstream media. It discusses how media often fails to represent women in power in a favorable light, but very often represents women in a trivial, disparaging fashion. As we all know, we live in a world where media presence is so ubiquitous that this disparate portrayal of women has an extremely negative effect.

tumblr_mbcareFTtI1rfir01o1_500When a force, especially one that has as much social power as the media does, labels women with these stereotypes, they are perceived as real and can translate into real life environments. Women encounter the consequences of these stereotypes at the workplace, as they confront the glass ceiling while men glide up the glass escalator. They encounter these consequences in their own home, if they aren’t as domestic as they are “supposed to be”, or are unmarried, or don’t have children. In arguably one of the most violent ways, women encounter the consequences when they are blamed for their rape or assault because of the way they dress, or the way they act – because it wouldn’t have happened to them if they had done something differently, if they had somehow turned into the fictional women everyone sees on the media.

On the flipside, mass media has recently taken a step in the right direction. Television shows like  “Orange is the New Black,” “Orphan Black”, “American Horror Story: Coven”, “Girls,” and “Veep” reject such stereotypes of women, and have strong female leads. They aren’t beauty and romance-centric, something that is a definite change in the representation of women in the media. Although a few movies in Hollywood have strong female leads, we have yet to see this become widespread throughout the movie industry.

Website “,” recently posted an article titled “23 Women Show Us Their Favorite Position,” using a pun on the innuendo in a much more empowering way. It shows women holding up their favorite positions on placards: reading “CEO,” “President,” “Engineer.”


Of course, the Always advertisement does something very similar. In the second half of ad, we’re shown something that you don’t often see in advertising – something truthful. The younger female participants in the group are told the same things that the older participants were, but these girls don’t run comically. They run as fast as they can, they fight with grace and with strength and they throw their hardest. These young girls, run like themselves, fight like themselves, and show the strength than any girl has. As they should.

I urge you all to watch Always’ #LikeAGirl and help to rewrite what it means to be a girl.

imageAbout the Author: Akshita is currently an undergraduate student at Tufts University in Boston studying Psychology and English. She was born in India, but grew up in Singapore for most of her life and attended UWCSEA Dover. She has a keen interest for gender equality and women’s and hopes to play her part in bridging the gap in gender equality, both here in Singapore and worldwide. In her free time she loves reading, spending time with her friends, binge watching television, writing (both creatively and not), and her favourite pastime – reading curious articles and about interesting studies on the internet.  


Step off your pedestals, men

by Vincent Pak, Change Maker

The problem with gender today is that we don’t realise there is one. We don’t notice the things we say or do: did you tell someone to “stop being a girl” or decide on a Barbie doll set for your adolescent niece just because she’s a girl? It’s true that gender equality in Singapore is more practiced than other countries around the world, but should we settle for the status quo? Sexism isn’t discernible all the time; it’s often the ignorance of our actions that perpetuate violence against women. When we are not aware of the underlying sexism that accompanies our language and actions, we unwittingly encourage it.

Feminism begins with awareness, and here’s how men can demonstrate that they care about gender equality and become better allies.

Recognise your privileges as men

UntitledAs men, we are given privileges that many women around the world are denied. We are generally physically stronger; we are linguistically favoured (e.g. ‘mankind’, ‘freshmen’); we are socially and culturally preferred (male babies are more popular in many cultures, even in Singapore); our salaries are fatter (in Singapore, women earn 77 cents for every dollar men earn); our sexual freedom is celebrated (‘stud’ vs ‘slut’); we are overrepresented in almost every institution, including politics, media, religion and business. The inexhaustible list goes on.

These privileges are often overlooked, but recognising them is the first step to realising the imbalance of power as a result of gender. Know that these privileges are awarded to us simply because we are men, and they are denied to women, simply because they are women; only then can we start to understand sexism. Denying them is akin to denying the woman’s experience, something we should seek to learn about.

Watch your language

1I’ve heard men tell me they aren’t sexist when I talk about gender issues. The same men who call other men “pussies” and tell them to “man up”. I suppose they don’t realise it, but it is no excuse that we utter and echo misogynistic language because we don’t know better. We communicate more than just words when we speak; we convey emotions and intentions that can marginalise and objectify women. Before you make an association between weakness and femininity, before you slut-shame a girl because she has numerous male friends or sexual partners, before you call someone a ‘lady doctor’ or a ‘woman lawyer’, think twice. Opt for gender-neutral language like ‘chairperson’ and ‘firefighter’, and respect women’s lived experiences, choices and liberties.

Chivalry is, in its most literal sense, medieval

It’s 2014. We are Singaporeans, not Knights of the Chauvinistic Gentlemen Order. There is no need to take it upon yourself to protect the damsel from, ironically, the harms of other men. You don’t have to bring home the bacon whilst keeping your wife at home in an attempt to take care of her. Don’t take ownership of a woman because you feel that’s your responsibility as a man. Women deserve, and have repeatedly proven, their economic and political independence. Look at Ho Ching! The next time you hold the door open for someone, do it out of goodness from your heart, not because she’s “easy on the eyes”.

Cease the censorship

10155289_10203719654859712_7225947257474577733_n We teach and expect girls to cross their legs, to hide their bra straps, to conceal their sanitary pads in a “feminine hygiene carrier”. We cringe at women who discuss their sexual habits, and police them by telling them to shave parts of their bodies to look appealing. As men, we need to ask ourselves: why do we teach girls shame for the same things that we celebrate in boys? If you believe in equality, stop imposing double standards. Realise that they can and should live without censorship, like many men do.


Feminism isn’t about men

3If you recall the recent #NotAllMen saga where men who felt attacked by women calling out misogyny and violence against women in society hijacked the issue and made it about them, that’s a clear example of what not to do. It really isn’t about how feminist outcries hurt men who don’t rape or mistreat women, because defending yourself in a conversation about sexism silences women. We are all part of the problem that is gender – join the discussion instead of exempting yourself while you continue to enjoy your male privilege.

These are five ways to demonstrate you believe in gender equality as men, but don’t just stop there. It is a gradual effort to eradicate sexism, and we can start by altering our daily habits as we interact with each other. There is much to unlearn, but that makes learning a whole lot easier.

About the author: Someone once told Vincent that liking pink as a favourite colour was perfectly fine. That was enough reason for him to subscribe to feminism, because it allowed him to drink strawberry milk with confidence. Still serving his National Service, Vincent enjoys the occasional fantasy that sexism is dead in the military, but stalwartly trusts that he won’t be in denial someday. He is passionate about naps, and prefers baby blue over pink now.

How I Coped With Dating Violence

A recount of struggles with dating violence and getting through it by Nicole Laurens, Change Maker

You can watch Nicole read her speech here!

Let me start by asking you this – how many dating violence cases have you heard of? A few? There are many more – some just choose to tell only those they ‘trust’. Which sometimes aren’t exactly the people who will help them get out of the current situation. Some are afraid of the consequences of coming out with their story. I was one of them, but I have turned that fear into something positive to encourage people to realize their self-worth as well as know their rights to live as a human being, not under anyone else. I don’t share my story for any other reason, than to make this group of people realize that they are not alone in their battles.

G44A0914Let me move on to describing what I see as abuse and show you why people take it really lightly. When you think of abuse, you think of… blood? Bruises? Scars? Well dating abuse comes in many forms, mainly physical, emotional and psychological. Violence, in the physical abuse sense, doesn’t just occur on its own. Whatever physical abuse you see or hear about has a much bigger abuse story behind it.

How do these people get into such relationships? Most of the time it starts with low self-esteem, having the habit of giving in and overlooking major flaws instead of rectifying the flaws. Why do they stay? The same reasons, and most commonly, fear. How mine started was with low self esteem. A school jock actually asked me out on a date and I was like, whoa, who me? Nobody was interested in knowing me, not that I was bothered but it was a big thing for me when he asked me out. He used this to his advantage, constantly reminding me later into the relationship that because of him, I was brought up to a higher social status and everyone knew me. Before he came around, I was a nobody. He reminded me of this several times and me, I felt like I owed it to him.

So it starts with these unhealthy thoughts, not respecting yourself and knowing your self worth enough. In other words, not loving yourself. When you start of with these things, you tend to overlook many occasions that disrespect yourself as a human being. I received my first slap a few months into the relationship because I wanted to leave him. Apart from not being allowed to call him by name, to walk away from a heated argument was considering rude instead of mature and not using up all my energy to apologise for something was considered little effort on my part.

So slowly it turned into fights in public areas, during my A level examination period, during work etc. Pulling of hair, pushing, getting screamed at, getting bruises from his really strong grip became norms. I’m not saying I’m an angel, yes, in self defence I learnt that being violent back got us ‘even’. Whenever I cried about getting hit, he’d say, ‘you hit me back the other day’. How did I ever think that was okay? So I got used to it, and I was so afraid to do so many things. Asking for a breakup was a ticket to getting into an emotionally exhausting argument that could last for days and sleepless nights. If he asked for a breakup and I didn’t disagree, I would be accused of being a liar, and getting called many degrading names also became a norm. Fat, ugly, dirty, smelly – if I didn’t date you, you think anyone else would? If you don’t lose weight, don’t be with me. I cried almost everyday until I woke up every single morning planning my day just so I don’t get him angry. If I did something wrong, I had to beg him for forgiveness. This snowballed into something so psychologically abusive that I turned into a completely different person and lost almost all my friends. I graduated with a handful of friends, mostly my classmates. The rest gave up on me, and they asked, ‘Why is she so stupid to stay with him?’ That’s how it snowballed, from a simple mistake on my part – not respecting myself enough. He kept saying, ‘You are the only one who will ever tolerate my attitude and the way I treat you. So when the day comes that I become better, you will be the only one who deserves me at my best.’ Constant forgiveness leads to you waiting for…. Practically nothing.

My colleague lodged a report for me, but my family dropped the charges, why? I wanted a better future for myself and I wanted him to change himself for his future and not ruin it. I wasn’t going to stoop to his level, trying to destroy someone else’s future. I’m better than that.

However, the question asked is such a common question – Why does she stay with someone like that? Or in other cases even, Why is he still with her when she abuses him? I feel that that shouldn’t be the first question on anyone’s mind when they hear about an abuse case. Shouldn’t they be asking instead – Why is he or she abusive? Why does he or she think they have the right to do that? Why does he or she event think that the victim is deserving of all of this? The same concept as when it comes to rape – instead of saying, Don’t get raped, people should be saying, Don’t rape. The antagonist in the situation shouldn’t be made to think that he or she has the right to continue doing what they want as they like.

For me, I knew that I had stop being afraid of all the threats and blackmails he dared to impose on me. I took the risk finally, left, and suffered consequences you cannot imagine. Threats given were carried out, my worst fears. He always said, ‘if you hurt me once, I’ll give you back ten fold’ and guess what, he meant it. I was distraught and my parents were disappointed because he got them involved. I couldn’t leave my house without being afraid that he might pop up somewhere unexpected and give chase. Which happened, of course. I spent my days running, not being able to live my life in peace. I hurt my parents so badly, the people who truly loved me, because of someone who had no clue what love was. Losing friends was hard but losing my parents, even for a week, was unimaginable.

Let me be honest, I was at my lowest – at my weakest. I took pills, a lot of them. I tried pills with alcohol. I took cough syrup. Which I realized, after talking to some people, was something a lot of people were actually taking to forget their problems. Yes I had complications with my body but none enough to end everything. So what I did was write a list of things I would miss, and the list of people who might miss me. Since I had nobody, I tried to get up myself and start talking to friends I lost. I’m glad to say, I got some of them back. It wasn’t easy, definitely. But I did it. I got these friends to support me. It wasn’t easy getting friends who genuinely wanted to help. Some people are just there to judge you, trust me. I’ve met too many of them. All they want to do is get into your life, know your story, then talk about it to their friends. Biggest mistake.

G44A0653I will not let my experience sink into me and affect what I have ahead of me but I will definitely put it into good, positive use. Since my downfall and my struggle to get back up, I have joined AWARE as a Change Maker, mainly because I want to raise awareness of dating violence and abuse as a whole. I plan to attend more workshops and hopefully eventually come up with my own because it irks me that people are in such situations, thinking they have insufficient support or that they’re too weak to step out of it.

To sum up, I lived a little over three years of my life believing that this was the only way to be strong – to hold on and not give up. To accept that there was no other way to save my life. Since I broke free from this prison, I had a few girls come to me telling me their issues. And these girls – they have no idea how to step out of it. I’m pretty sure there are a lot of girls and guys going through this. We think it’s love but love is not about possession or getting your way. Efforts do not mean you have to chase your partner for hours just to show it, or leave them 60 missed calls to prove you’re apologetic.

And you need to realize this.

Abuse, is not about blood, bruises and cuts only. Dating abuse is about how your life is affected by a relationship. Mine was extremely unhealthy but there are a lot of unhealthy relationships out there, no matter how mild you think it is. Step out of it. I allowed myself to let mine snowball into the unthinkable. It was very hard for me to recover. I had nightmares every single week due to my anxiety. When I tried moving on, I had the biggest fears that chased people I just met away.

Find people to speak to. Professionals, or people with experience who will provide that strength for you. You are NOT alone. Find help because some of us are more vulnerable than others. Fear is temporary. The loss of self-respect is extremely detrimental – I learnt that the hard way. There will be people who understand you, but of course you need to know who exactly. No matter what, life goes on. Love yourself before anyone else because when all else fails, only you are gonna there for you.

If you know of anybody going through any form of abusive relationship, please know that whatever you see happening, is only a tenth of what the victim goes through.

Of late, I have been providing support for a few girls who have come to talk to me since I reached out with my story.  Inspired by the event where I was being abused in school and not a single person came to stop it, I am also currently working on a dating abuse awareness campaign to hold in my university, hopefully early 2015.

Thank you.


Redefining Masculinity

A recount of the struggles of navigating and defining masculinity and what it means to be a “Real Man”
by Robert Bivouac

When I was 7, I had an operation done on my left ear. I couldn’t eat at all for 12 hours before that and I told myself I would never go hungry again. Back then I didn’t know what calories were and I got a dollar a day in allowance, just enough to buy a bowl of lor mai kai for recess. I knew it made me feel full, so I think I ate that at least twice a week, and on the other days I ate things like pork bao and those chicken-flavoured Petit Brunch crackers.

When I was 8 and our class was held back for recess I cried. I remember the teacher’s name. I think it was Mr Wong, or Mr Fong, or something. I don’t actually remember the teacher’s name but I remember what he did. He went over to my desk and looked me in the eye. He had this habit of puffing his cheeks up before he spoke. I don’t remember why I remember that but I remember what he told me. He told me that I was a boy, and boys don’t cry. I was a boy, and I was going to be a man in a few years, and men don’t cry either. I tried to stop crying and after I did, and he let us go for recess, some kid came up to me and told me I didn’t need to eat recess anyway. That was the first time I realised I was fat, and it was only the first time.

G44A0821In hindsight it was mostly the boys who bullied me, and in hindsight I should’ve known it was going to get worse in my all-boys secondary school. Literally the second week of class in Sec 1 someone had already broken my stuff. I think it was a pen, but eventually someone smashed my calculator. There was this thing going on where they’d take my stuff and run around with it because they knew I was fat and slow and I couldn’t catch up and when I couldn’t catch up they called me names. I remember being called a bunch of slurs strung together the way someone who doesn’t really know what they mean would use them. I remember my classmates pinning me down or slamming me into walls. I remember I was so physically weak that hitting back became an excuse for them to hit way harder. Someone threw a chair at me once and then someone threw me into a chair, and then into a table, and then into the lockers at the back of the class. I didn’t cry.

I didn’t cry, but I was short, I was soft and I was physically weak, and to top it off I was in choir. I spoke a lot in class, did better than every single person who came at me and went up every week to challenge the principal during assembly. I didn’t know my place, apparently. In a school full of boys I was not a man, and I didn’t know my place, so that was all the excuse they needed. When the school counsellor and house head were brought in to investigate they told me what they’d heard. My “friends” thought they were training me to be a real man, as if all the insults, stealing and hitting could “fix” me; as if I needed to be “fixed”.

10458342_775298422505091_3667291884959981461_nThe thing about being “fixed” is that if you need fixing, that means you’re broken, as if not being a “real man” means you’re broken. See, if you’re a man, but not a “real man”, it seems you’re doing something wrong and if you’re doing something wrong, you need to be taught a lesson. It’s not just kids who do this. Like, turn on the television some time and you’ll see a bunch of “real men”, doing really manly things. “Real men” are strong and violent. “Real men” work hard and protect their families (which, of course, they want). “Real men” are attractive, or else “real men” are heroic, and “real men” always get the woman (and it’s always a woman), even though sometimes they really shouldn’t. It’s not all the time, but the implication is this: this is what a “real man” looks like, this is what he does and this is how he does it.

Guys, we’ve been caught. We’re told by these so-called “real men” to “be a man” when we’re hurting, when we’re sick, when there’s nothing else you can do but they want us to do it anyway. We’re told that if we don’t look or act like “real men”, we don’t deserve to be men at all. We’re something less than men if we aren’t “real men”, something they have permission to dominate, to hurt and to exploit. Frankly, guys, I’m tired.

I’m tired of this “real man” crap. All men are “real men”. We are men simply because we choose to identify as such, and nobody gets to decide otherwise. Not your parents, not your friends and certainly not anybody who thinks taking your stuff and hitting you is a good idea. We need an understanding of manhood that doesn’t exclude people who don’t fit the traditional idea of a man. We need to acknowledge that men who can’t or don’t want to find a partner, who aren’t straight, who were told they were something other than men at birth but consider themselves men, are real men. And yet, we also need to acknowledge that the men who do bad things? The men who hurt other people? The men who hurt me? Are real men too.

If we want a more inclusive understanding of manhood, we need to accept it’s for everyone, not just the good guys, and we need to do our part, as men, to fix it. Real men still do bad things, but good men stop them. and you, every single one of you boys and men in the crowd, can be a good man.

If you see a man who’s angry because he can’t get laid, tell him he’s got a problem. Tell him his problem is not that he can’t get laid, but that he believes he needs to get laid to be a real man. Tell him that he’s already a real man, and that no matter what he does, he will never deserve to get laid. Tell him that maybe he’ll find someone, or maybe he won’t, but either way it’ll be alright. He’ll still be a real man.

Youth at the event came up with different gender stereotypes they'd like to break. Warning: images in this mirror might be distorted by socially constructed notions of beauty.If you see a man going off about women, saying they’re the cause of all his problems, tell him he’s going in the wrong direction, and maybe ask him why he feels that way. Take his rage and point it at whoever told him women were to blame, because they’re lying. Tell him that’s who he needs to be mad at. He needs to be mad at everyone who told him being a man meant getting his way, meant automatically getting more respect than women, meant not being told he’s wrong. That’s who he needs to be mad at.

If you see a man harassing someone else by being sexist, homophobic or sexually aggressive, tell him to back off. Tell him he needs to back off, and that he doesn’t have the right to demand they shut up or do things just because he’s a man. Tell him being a man doesn’t make him more correct than anyone else, and that he really needs to stop. Say it firmly and with conviction and maybe the threat to report him to his teachers, or his superiors at work, or, if there really is no choice, the police.

Your voice is a vote, guys, and these are only some of the issues. All men can, and all men should, work together to make being a man something less aggressive, less exclusive, less sexist, and more proactive. We need to save our brothers from this myth that only some men are real, and other men are less real, and women are perhaps even less than that. We can play our part to help end violence by and against men, but only if we try. And we really have to try.