What does “being a man” mean to me?

Anonymous post, as part of our “What does being a man mean to you?” blog series. Submit your responses to [email protected]!

binaryBeing a man has been a complicated experience for me. I am a genderqueer person in a body that very much looks like a man’s. But I am not, and will never be a man, and it’s not for a lack of people trying to teach me how to be one.

The last time I fought with my father, I was leaning against the kitchen countertop glaring angrily at him while tears rolled down my face. He was standing in the doorway, clearly frustrated and angry with what was going on. “Are you going to cry like this in front of your army commander?” he bellowed.

The last time I attended a school camp, my sweat-stained face was inches from the dusty ground as the unsympathetic National Cadet Corps sergeant, just a year older than I was, revelled in his ability to wield power and control over human bodies. He roared at our cowed forms to suck it up and take it like the men we were, because we were late coming out of the crowded showers.

The last time I spoke to a boy who was once a dear friend, he told me that he could not live with the fact that I liked boys even after trying all this time. He recommended that I seek treatment for my mental disorder, and that he never wanted to see me again. The last time I accidentally let slip about a boy I was crushing on, I received a text message calling me a faggot and threatening to beat me up.

tumblr_mh36f6KoMG1s1s8rgo1_500I have not yet figured out how to look less like a man. On certain days when I’m feeling particularly dysphoric, every assumption that I’m a man makes my insides squirm. On other days the same assumptions simply bounce off my belly, leaving nary a mark. Most of the time, I find myself drawing a box labelled “Other” under the Gender section on some form. When neither box fits, you can only make your own. In spite of everything, these few months after my coming out as a genderqueer person has been so much more liberating than the years I spent being a man.

The inconvenient truth for many of the men that have come and gone from my life is that really, nobody has to take anything “like a man”. Toxic masculinity – the kind that exemplifies violence, aggression, power and control over the other – makes me very afraid, and if you aren’t already scared about the lengths that men can go to in asserting their dominance and privilege, you really should be.


A game, a story, a change

Written by Min, Change Maker

coverThe beginning of 2010 marked the end of my life as I knew it. A 360 degree change in my personality was seen, blocks were put up in my memories and the brown lines on my wrists never seemed to fade.

For half a decade, I avoided the topic. I refused to work on it with my counsellor. I refused to acknowledge that it even happened. That is, until, by some fate or coincidence, my school decided to allocate me to AWARE for my internship. I knew, then, that I cannot run away from my problems forever.

I decided to make a game as part of my final-year project. A game about intimate partner violence, a game that tells the stories of its victims through words, pictures and music. I know that AWARE and We Can! have plenty of workshops and programmes. But I, as an introvert, know what a struggle it is to sign up for a workshop or programme, knowing that I will be in a room full of strangers. It may be too big of a first step for some. So, I thought, “Why not bring it to the comforts of one’s home?”

Celestial chainedThe game I made is titled The Healing Doll and it adopts an RPG and visual novel style. In the first part of the game, you play as Celestial. You have amnesia, and as you explore your surroundings, you uncover your lost memories and the horrors of your previous abusive relationship. You end up severely traumatised. This is to highlight the emotional turmoil experienced by a lot of victims. In the second part of the game, you play as Alex, Celestial’s friend. Seeing Celestial in such a state, you blame yourself for it. Until a mysterious Cat Man promises you the power to travel back in time and change the past. From then on, the choices you make will impact the plot and final outcome of the game. This is to show that when we choose to stand up and step in, we can make changes.

As my game drew close to a completion, insecurities and uncertainty overwhelmed me. I am no art student, nor am I a programming student – but I am psychology student with a Wacom Tablet and passion for programming. The game is by no means of perfect quality as everything is created within a month, but I can assure you that my emotions and feelings are in it. The journey of creating the game is not an easy one. At the beginning, flashbacks blinded my eyes. The memories I stored in a box exploded. But I kept going. I kept going, till a point where I felt okay. After that, my only struggles are the expectations I had of myself and my constant belief that my game is not good enough.

alex and cel in schoolOf course, I did not make it through alone. There are friends and people who love me who stuck by me through this journey. Just like the characters in my game, we all need some external help sometimes.

What do I hope to achieve with this game? Initially, I was ambitious. I wanted to change people’s mindset, I wanted to change people’s beliefs and attitudes. But then I realise that it is not realistic. I cannot change people’s mindset, but I can act as a stepping stone towards the change I want to see. With a little more understanding and a little more knowledge, it will be possible.

To victims of intimate partner violence out there, you are not alone. To friends of victims, there are many ways you can help. To everyone else, you are part of a society that can change.

About the Author: Min is the whackiest psychology student you’ll ever meet. If you see her, run far away.


RALLY: for art, music and conversations for change

v. coming together for a common purpose.

Celebrate solidarity, support, collaboration and allyship at We Can! Arts Fest on December 6 – back for the third year in a row!

What does it mean to be an ally for gender equality? How can we support the causes we feel strongly about without overpowering the voices we want heard? How can we do this through art, music and conversation?

If you:

– love art and performances that provoke critical thought and empower your audience
– wish to showcase your talents to inspire action for change
– want to meet like-minded artists and activists
– have a voice or a story that you want to share with others

….then we invite you to be part of RALLY, and be featured alongside other artists and activists in Singapore! Band together for a day of art, music, films, performance and dialogue. Be part of the Change Maker movement towards a safer, inclusive, more diverse reality.

Submit a proposal for your performance, programme or exhibition to us!

More details on what to include in the proposal in the link above. Send your proposal to [email protected]

About the We Can! Arts Fest

10869589_884245438277055_5022304249781370802_oWe Can! Arts Fest is an arts festival by We Can! Singapore and its partners in conjunction with ‘16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence’, an international campaign marked by the UN and other groups around the world. 16 Days of Activism starts on 25 November, International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and ends on 10 December, Human Rights Day. It aims to raise awareness about gender-based violence as a human rights issue at the local, national, regional, and international level.

We Can! Arts Fest offers a platform to bring together arts, performance, and community-based events in solidarity with the international movement, and to make an impact locally. We Can! Singapore will also run a parallel social media campaign to build up towards the festival.

Read more about The Silence of Violence: We Can! Arts Fest 2013 here and take a look at our photo gallery here!

Read more about Breakthrough: We Can! Arts Fest 2014 here and take a look at our photo gallery here!


What’s the dress code?

Written by Jolanda Nava, Change Maker

The past semester I found myself being the only girl in a class of 9. It was a coding class. I never asked my classmates what they thought of it but I was very aware of what it meant for me.

1codingYou do not often see girls in the computer science track and the unspoken thought is that we are just less good at it: there are very few of us and we perform worse than our male counterparts. Hence, whenever we were in class, or during examinations, I felt like I had to prove that I did not fit the stereotype. I wanted to demonstrate that girls do not suck at coding. If I did badly, people would have one more reason to accept the stereotype as truth. In a way, I felt like I was representing my whole gender, not only myself.

You can imagine the sort of pressure that comes from this line of thought. If you are so afraid of making mistakes or failing, how can you focus on learning and scoring well? This is what is called, in jargon, stereotype threat. The pressure you feel to break the stereotype makes you so stressed that your performance is actually hindered and you are more likely to conform to that stereotype. A cycle that is hard to break.

What is important to understand, is that no one told me that I was representing all girls. My classmates rarely brought up the gender issue, and I was grateful for that. No one in the class made me feel like I did not belong or that I was not good enough. My professor even asked me if he had in any way scared away girls that would have otherwise joined the class, and he is still very determined in encouraging more girls to join next semester.

3codingAnd yet, I felt the pressure on my shoulders. In days I had coding class I couldn’t help but ask myself if it was ok for me to wear a dress. Would my classmates take me less seriously if I looked “girly”? Because “girly girls” don’t code, and we all know that, right?

My luck was having a supportive professor and classmates that never seemed to particularly care about what gender I was or what I wore during class. Eventually, the encouraging environment made me feel more at my ease. I also started reading about women facing discrimination in the field, and how they reacted to it. By the end of the semester, gender was no longer a source of anxiety when it came to coding (although coding still was – but then again, which class isn’t?). I got a good grade and, most importantly, I enjoyed the course because I was able to learn from it.

Why do I write about it, then? Because not all women are so ‘lucky’. Because gender stereotypes have a stronger impact than we usually acknowledge and it keeps young girls and women out of the field and out of the industry.

If I, who was in an encouraging environment, felt that pressure, imagine what women go through when people around them nudge or make references to the fact that they are female, implying a weird, extraordinary occurrence. When people make you understand that that is not your place, that you are not as good as others. Imagine living, studying, and working in such conditions: where every false move, any error, gives someone the chance to tell you that you – and your whole gender – should be doing something else.

2codingYoung women should feel free to take the classes they want to, based on what interests they have, and not be stopped by an abstract notion that “this is not for girls” or “this is a boy’s subject”. It is harder than you think: kids and young adults, just like everyone else, are receptive to hostile environments, and if they do not feel welcomed in a class or field, chances are they will drop out of it or avoid it in the first place. This, of course, applies for young men and boys too. Where are all the male nurses? Why is dance a “girl thing”?

It is about time we let people do what they are good at, regardless of their gender.

How do we do it? Well, if you are in a class like mine, avoid nudges and references to gender as a means to justify or imply something about someone’s abilities. If a girl expresses her interest in math, coding or any other “non-girly” activity, do not act surprised. If a boy tells you they dance, do not stare at them like they were an alien. It might seem strange to you, but it is the most natural thing to them: that’s what they like doing. Instead, show your interest and be supportive. Ask them to tell you more about it, and do not forget to smile.

It should not be about what is girly or what is manly, it should be about what you want to do and the effort you are willing to put into it.

About the author: Jolanda is a university students learning about international relations and having fun with programming classes. She not-so-secretly enjoys challenging gender stereotypes and when she grows up she wants to be a superhero.


Taylor Swift, Meghan Trainor, and the Appearance of Gender Equality

Written by Kimberly J, Change Maker

I would like to start off this article with a disclaimer: I am not advocating the comparison of women. People should be allowed to live their lives in their own ways, different as they may be. However, I would like to use the differing treatments of the two women in question to explore a strange and somewhat distressing phenomenon in the pop music industry.

Taylor Swift is often mocked and disparaged by men and women alike for her lyrics about her romantic Screen Shot 2015-06-08 at 5.37.40 pmexploits. I will not expound on the insults I have heard about her (“ew, you like Taylor Swift?”), nor will I attempt to describe all the face scrunches I see when I say her name (A one-sided affair, with the cheekbone raised so high that a part of the left eye gets obscured from view in disgust). I will, however, point out that it seems socially acceptable to abuse her for her adventures in dating. This seems to stand in spite of the seemingly contradictory praise of male artistes who write songs about their exes or love interests.

It is true that Swift’s older lyrics focused on hate for her exes, and often promoted putting other women down. However, her recent open rallying for the cause has been raising much awareness amongst her fans. Her admission of her previous mistakes regarding feminism is admirable. Her relentless insistence on talking about it, her determination to call out the problematic qualities of the media that facilitated her fame in the first place – these little things she has done look worthy of some impressed raised eyebrows, yet are constantly swept under the rug in exchange for more talk of her exes.

On the flip side, Meghan Trainor has been hailed as a feminist, ever since her catchy song All About that Bass, attracting a lot of praise for the seeming body positivity, and one too many treble/trouble puns.

Meghan Trainor All About That Bass.jpegHowever, Trainor is also known for refusing to identify as a feminist. Her misguided ideas about feminism seem to tie in with the accusations of body-shaming (as in the lyrics “skinny bitches”), and the promotion of the idea that a larger body is only acceptable because men like it. Trainor doesn’t seem to be a feminist, yet much of the approval she receives tends to stem from body positivity and feminism. She is profiting from the very cause that she rejects.

Audiences seem to have mismatched attitudes about Swift and Trainor, and it appears to stem largely from Swift’s illustrious and public dating history.

Swift’s nods to feminism are often buried under a layer of subtle Grade A slut shaming. Her entire career is shaped almost entirely by the people she has dated. Sure, she has deviated from that lately, but it doesn’t change the fact that she started out as a young girl with a penchant for romance and crying on musical instruments. Yet the media thinks it appropriate to package her career – this adolescent naïve 16-year-old girl’s career – as a train wreck of failed relationships, casually ignoring the very point of dating. Trainor, on the other hand, is the same misguided young woman who has much to learn, yet is commended for her problematic journey of body positivity.

Screen Shot 2015-06-08 at 5.37.47 pmThis is by no means a competition (though the music industry might beg to differ), but a display of the gross double standard that many of the audience adopt. Feminism seems only applicable to certain people when it suits their needs; when its name rears its ugly head fighting for the rights they take for granted, they fall back into the protective bubble of social acceptability. It doesn’t matter to them if the feminism they like comes at the expense of others. As long as the word “feminist” and its underwear-tossing, fire-hazardous connotations are avoided, the party can continue.

At this point I feel obliged to announce that I am perfectly aware of the fact that I am talking of women who are incredibly privileged. The collection of the following traits: white, American, and earning a substantial amount of money from their careers seems like an invitation to the very same criticisms faced by first wave feminism. I acknowledge the limitations to this exploration, though the basis of my observations stand.

I implore the consumers of pop music to think twice before automatically dismissing Taylor Swift or embracing Meghan Trainor. You might dislike/like her songs, or you might dislike/like her, but I would examine why. Pop culture always seems like the background hum of our lives, but maybe paying attention to it and taking it a little more seriously can reveal a lot about internalised slut shaming, and finding that there is so much to unlearn.

About the author: Kimberly is a somewhat ambitious NUS undergraduate who has always dreamed of writing her own About the Author section. She retains much hope for eventual equality, and is willing to fight the currents to get there.


When rape is used as a plot device

Written by Yong Hui, Change Maker

[Warning: This blog post contains discussions of sexual assault.]

Just a few weeks ago, the TV show Game of Thrones sparked a massive controversy over a certain scene in one of their episodes – that is, the scene where (spoiler alert) Sansa is raped by Ramsay as Theon is forced to watch.

As The Mary-Sue puts it aptly:

“The show has creators. They make the choices. They chose to use rape as a plot device. Again.”

gotFor anyone who’s so much as heard of Game of Thrones, it’s probably of no surprise to find out that one of the most distinctive elements of the show is its gratuitous use of violence. Unfortunately, this also incl udes sexual violence against women, and even more unfortunately, Game of Thrones definitely isn’t the first or only use of sexual violence as a storytelling trope in mainstream media. Just check out this TvTropes page for a small taster.

And guess what? This phenomenon isn’t solely confined to Western media. Yes, the innocent Channel 8 dramas we all know and love are guilty of this as well.

Does anyone remember The Little Nyonya? That show back from 2008 that everyone used to be obsessed with? I was eleven when I watched that show. Apart from the ridiculousness that was casting Jeanette Aw as two consecutive generations of women who just happened to look exactly alike, one particular plot line remains clear in my mind:

littlenonyaHuang Yuzhu, played by Joanne Peh, is a young girl born into an affluent family. She is kind, helpful, bubbly, and generally a pretty nice person.

Her most prominent plot line is getting raped, being married off to said rapist, being physically and emotionally abused by him, being forced into prostitution to aid his business deals, and as a result of this, ultimately going insane and being committed to a mental institution for the rest of her life.

This was a good seven years ago, but this practice of using rape as a plot device is still continuing.

The New Paper ran an article last year where Chris Tong, a Mediacorp actress, describes her role as a “long-suffering, docile housewife character” who is “repeated abused by her businessman husband”, and the arduous process of having to film six separate rape scenes for the period drama The Journey: A Voyage (aka 唐山到南洋).

channel8Clearly, local media has developed the very, very problematic habit of using rape as an easy and convenient plot device. And even more clearly, this has to stop.

The problem isn’t so much in the inherent fact that rape is being depicted on television – the problem is how it’s depicted, the motives behind choosing this particular plot line, and the very worrying frequency with which it’s used over and over again in different TV series.

Let’s start with the how. The problem lies in the depiction of rape survivors. Most, if not all of the time, they’re depicted as ‘damaged goods’, with irreparable damage being inflicted on them by their attackers. It’s terrifyingly common for rape victims to later go insane from the trauma. There’s never really any hope of recovery. And therein lies the problem – that women are depicted as powerless agents, that we have quite clearly done a terrible job of telling the narrative of a rape survivors. Where are the narratives of women overcoming the trauma? Of recovery and rehabilitation? Well apparently they don’t exist. Once the deed is done the woman is forever broken.

As to the motives, it’s quite obvious that rape is being used purely to titillate viewers, and for the pure shock factor of it instead of reflecting the severity of the crime and the (real, actual) consequences on the victim. Rape is often nothing more than a plot device used to generate sympathy/ire at the victim/attacker.

The fact that this problem is so pervasive, the fact that a rape scene can even be shown on a primetime television slot at all – and has been shown, over and over again – reflects very poorly on Singaporean society as a whole.

It’s clear that we still have a long way to go – so where do we go from here?

The best way I can think of is to make some noise. Make yourself heard. Tell people about this problem – it’s so insidious and so normalized and some people may not even realize that it’s a problem in the first place. Educate people.

Be loud. Take a stand. And maybe one day we’ll get there.

For now, though, I like to just turn off my TV and go watch some good old Orphan Black instead.

About the Author: Yong Hui is currently a J2 student in an institution which shall not be named. She’s a huge fan of Broadway musicals, and spends far too much time on Tumblr reblogging gifs of said musicals. When she’s not busy being a Changemaker, she’s probably trying frantically to make change to her dismal Econs grades.

This article was edited on 23 June 2017


The Friend Zone

by Kimberly Jow, Change Maker

Just Friends posterYou hear stories of the Friend Zone all the time. Guy is friends with girl, guy falls for girl, he is rejected and they remain friends, though he is often resentful and upset at this turn of events. The story follows Guy and his adventures in dealing with heartbreak, and often a happy ending is when he finally manages to get the girl. This sounds like a great movie pitch, and I would send it into Hollywood, who is on my speed dial, but it’s already been done.

The pity attached to the phrase “the Friend Zone” is automatic; the man’s rejected advances are to be mourned, and the girl is immediately at fault. Her friendship is taken as a consolation prize, as a hurtful and unintelligent thing to offer in response to a Nice Guy who just wants to ask her out. Her friendship is not enough, and it is laughable that she thinks of him as “just” a good friend. She is seen to be blind, to be picky, and to have terrible taste in men.

I have heard many people say that the Friend Zone is without negative connotation. The “women who put them in the friend zone” is merely a category of women who have rejected their romances and now are friends. I don’t think that holds true. First off, the specificity of this category is problematic. Is a woman’s friendship after a rejection different from the friend zone memenormal friendships? If there were no negative connotations, why does it have to be in this special category of friendships? It almost seems as if the Friend Zone is an excuse to shame those women by putting them in a box and giving them a generalised name, attached to a series of traits they are expected to have.

Secondly, the fact that the phrase “the friend zone” mostly comes in a sentence like “Amy put me in the friend zone” suggests a fair amount of blame. Despite the fact that a person’s liking for Amy was unrequited, she is still the one playing the active role in “putting” him in this zone. You don’t hear people say, “I put myself in the friend zone with Amy”, because Hypothetical Amy is the one perceived to be at fault in this situation.

My main question would be, “Why?”. What is the purpose of this specificity, of this blame? I am not denying that having one’s affections rejected is painful, but the whole Friend Zone seems like one huge guilt trip. One feels entitled to a woman, and uses the all-mighty Friend Zone to shame her for exercising her right to choose. It’s sexist, and also heteronormative. One assumes that a man who has a female friend automatically wants to have a romantic relationship with her. Assuming otherwise is an insult to his masculinity, and it assumes his heterosexuality.

Daniel Radcliffe on the friend zoneMore worryingly, however, the strong need for men to shame women into having relationships with them seems to stem from some kind of patriarchal expectation. There is a strong pressure from Singaporean families to get married and have children, which explains a desire to have a romantic relationship in order to prove their relevance and membership in society. For many people, a relationship is seen as a mark of success, a flag of victory. What many don’t see is that this illusion of the perfect relationship is not essential in one’s emotional and psychological well-being. The Friend Zone can be seen as a harmful and sexist attack on women’s rights, but it can also be the product of incessant pressures to be “with someone” and harsh patriarchal rules.

I cannot pretend to be able to solve this deeply complex issue. I acknowledge its tangled and deeply seated place in the large mass of sexism, and realise that my solutions could only scratch the surface. This will not stop me from trying. It is time we see a relationship for what it is – two people liking each other and both getting what they want from it, instead of an item on a checklist to be a functioning member of society. It is time that we fully understand the term “Friend Zone” in all its harmfulness, and stop using it in day-to-day life. And maybe it is time to admit that our society has exaggerated the healing properties of a relationship, and reassure ourselves that it is fine to get into relationships only when we are ready, instead of using harmful tools to get our way.

About the Author: Kimberly is a somewhat ambitious NUS undergraduate who has always dreamed of writing her own About the Author section. She retains much hope for eventual equality, and is willing to fight the currents to get there.


Bald = Beautiful

Written by Michelle Shobana, Change Maker

My hair has always been a big part of my life. As a young child, around the age of 4 or 5, I was already spotting wavy hair that went all the way to my knees. My mother loved styling my hair, and as such, I had various styles: braids, scorpions, pony tails, huge locks. So when she had to cut my hair because I got lice when I was 7, I was devastated. I felt the short hair made my face seem so round and unsightly. The growing process did not make me feel any better, as my hair grew out thick and rough. I always had it tamed into a tight ponytail, despite the headaches.

1bb As soon as I started secondary school, I started to straighten my hair every 2 years and never allowed a pair of scissors near my head for almost 4 years. I took so much pride in my hair as I thought it showed everyone the type of person that I am. I felt that modifying it in any way would change me internally. Even till last year, the changes I have made to my hair were either very subtle, or were made to complement my body shape. I always felt that my hair was the most beautiful feature about me, and without it, I just wouldn’t be ‘me’.

About a month ago, I was scrolling through  social media when I saw a colleague of mine post about her registering for Hair for Hope 2015. It intrigued me, and I read about how she felt joining this movement and making a statement would be another way of supporting the movement, especially since she couldn’t afford to donate a substantial amount. It sparked something in me, and I immediately started to research more. The more I read, the more I wanted to register for the event. Something I wouldn’t have even imagined doing 24 hours ago, seemed more real to me than ever at that moment.

I didn’t feel the need to ask anyone permission, but I decided to ask my close friends and family what they would think if I did it anyway. And to my disappointment, those closest to me were very much not interested in the idea. My sister’s engagement was set to happen a month after the event, and some of my family members were concerned with the image I would portray. I was asked, “You want to be bald? And wear a sari?” as if doing so would make me a spectacle. Some made me feel I would regret my decision the second I had done it, while others made me feel like they would be embarrassed or unwilling to handle being around me.

3bbThe reaction that I received was not something I was anticipating, but it gave me great insight into the social stigma that came together with shaving your head, especially as someone whom identifies as a woman. Femininity is usually portrayed or identified with hairstyle, causing hair to be seen as an important element of someone’s personality, attractiveness as well as a great indicator of their femininity. Though they are present, it is rather hard to find active representation of bald women as a norm in media. It is even harder to find representation of bald Indian women in media, especially on local television. Perhaps this was a reason for my initial thoughts about my own hair as well.

As advocates for a better and more accepting future, we must show everyone around us that being bald is not different from any other hairstyle, and that you are never alone in your fight. Children should be brought up in a social environment that does not ostracize anyone, especially for appearance.

Bald is Beautiful.

2bbAbout the Author: Michelle is a third-year student in Republic Polytechnic, doing a course in Information Technology. She aims to be a teacher and hopes to help individuals in their education through self-awareness. She sees a future where she and her partner can live happily, without being called out for being different. In her spare time, she listens to rock music and takes things one day at a time.


Policing fat bodies and misogyny

By Louise Low, Change Maker

“You would look so much better if you lost all that weight!”

“Wah! You still want to eat so much!”

“She shouldn’t be wearing that – she’s too fat.”

louiseDoes this sound familiar? These statements are commonly directed towards fat people in attempts to control or police their bodies. Fat-shaming is the act of discriminating against a person because of their weight, and often involves publicly policing fat people’s appearance, behaviour, and attitude. We’ve all likely experienced fat-shaming as a victim, perpetrator or as both.

In societies like Singapore, many social factors combine to produce a general disapproval of larger bodies. Individuals feel entitled to police fat individuals – condemning their diet and attire, among other lifestyle choices, and sometimes openly disparaging them. It can be directed towards celebrities, strangers, friends, and children. People whom feel judged for their size often in turn internalise such attitudes and discriminate against other fat people. People of any gender may be subject to such treatment, though one’s age, race and environment among several varying factors affect their experience of fat shaming. This article focuses on the policing of women with fat bodies, its underlying misogynist roots, and its harms.

How do people police fat bodies?

The intolerance of fat women’s bodies and the denial of their autonomy manifests itself in various forms. People hold fat women to certain expectations; in terms of behaviour, they are judged for what they eat, their physical activity, and their attire. For instance, fashion magazines or well-meaning friends or family might tell a fat person how to dress to appear slimmer, and deem certain articles of clothing unflattering or only meant for thinner frames; fat people, women especially, thus have an imposed limitation on their choice of clothing. In this manner, the fat individual’s attire is policed.

In terms of attitude, they are expected to be apologetic, self-conscious, and uncomfortable with their bodies, and to want to “remedy” their “problem”. They are obliged to feel responsible for the perceived unhealthy and unlikeable state of their bodies. I recall a joke on ‘The Noose’ in which a character proclaimed, to combat inappropriate attire, that uniforms should be imposed on polytechnics, “but not the sleeveless kind, like SCGS, because some of the girls’ arms are very fat.” Incidentally, I was studying at said school and wore an uncomfortable jacket everywhere out of insecurity – which was funnily affirmed by this aforementioned joke. Even though it might be done in jest, the constant and cumulative rejection and ridicule of large bodies has real impact on the self-esteem of individuals, particularly young women. 

trqlq-st_-81Why is it harmful?

The policing of fat bodies compromises an individual’s physical and mental health. Studies have proven that fat-shaming is not only unhelpful in losing weight, but also exacerbates weight gain. It may also lead to body image issues, to which young girls are very susceptible, potentially causing mental illnesses like depression and anxiety, as well as eating disorders. A person pressured into losing weight via fat-shaming is not necessarily healthier, and may in fact hold misinformed ideas on health.

Decreased confidence and poor self-esteem could also affect a person’s choices and behaviour, forcing them to limit what they can or cannot do, and make decisions out of fear. They may also deem themselves unworthy of things such as love, from others or themselves. This belief may affect fat individuals too; it is a result of, and worsens how society deems fat people less deserving.

Besides compromising their health, the act of fat-shaming dehumanises fat people. I realised even accomplished women were subjected to discomfort and policed their own bodies when a highly skilled, experienced, and knowledgeable university professor would make self-depreciating jokes about her weight during lectures. Policing fat bodies dehumanises fat people, and may mislead some, including fat people themselves, to believe that it is a definitive and shameful aspect of their identity, regardless of their character and personal achievements.

louise2How is the policing of women’s body size misogynistic?

“Misogyny” refers to the exhibition of hatred towards, or the mistreatment of, women. The policing of plus-sized women’s bodies are inextricably linked to and rooted in misogyny. The main reasons for fat-intolerance are male-centric views on female attractiveness and mainstream beauty standards. Take a walk down Orchard Road, and you’ll easily spot fashion advertisements featuring women of similar, slender build. (Another disturbing pattern you can observe is that a disproportionately large majority of the female models we see in beauty advertisements here are Caucasian or East Asian. This of course reveals not only the mainstream discrimination of women’s beauty by body types, but by race as well. Beauty standards are very often racialized, and this also stems from patriarchal systems as well as the objectification of women who are ethnic minorities, and is an issue that warrants its own discussion.)

Conversely, fat bodies receive negative media portrayal, and are regarded as a problem that needs to be fixed – women are bombarded daily with advertisements for weight loss treatments. They send a clear message as to what society deems acceptable – a narrow range of body types that excludes fat bodies. A more disturbing connotation, that is not always acknowledged, is that women’s bodies are not their own, but subject to male approval, and women are thus obliged to change their bodies to fit male standards.

Although there exist supposed counter-movements that praise “curvy” women and claim to inspire body positivity, they are unhelpful when acceptance for fatness is centred on it being more appealing to men, while rejecting smaller bodies. For example, ‘All About That Bass’ relies on lyrics that supposedly celebrate fat women by putting down thin women – “You know I won’t be no stick-figure, silicone Barbie doll” – even though body positivity is about acceptance of all bodies, and claiming that the former is more attractive to men – “boys they like a little more booty to hold at night”. This merely shifts sexual objectification from one body type to another, and personally, does not empower me as a plus-size woman. Women are not in competition with each other for male approval; no one body type should be deemed inferior to the other, by men. People should acknowledge women’s autonomy over their own bodies, instead of viewing “beauty” as something bestowed upon them by men.

Internalizing negative portrayals leads to anxieties regarding one’s own body, and leads to the judgement of others as well. A person with body image issues as a result of the policing of their bodies may apply unrealistic expectations upon themselves, and project such negative and unhealthy expectations onto others. This results in a collective condemnation of fat women, the root of which is negative stereotyping and gender expectations.

It is time to let go of the misconception that fat people are obliged to feel apologetic about themselves, and to stop the normalizing of harmful, sexist condemnation of fat women. 

About the author: Louise is a feminist and an undergraduate at the National University of Singapore. Her most despised TV/movie trope is the one where a self-loathing plus-sized or otherwise supposedly unattractive female character learns to love herself through (or even worse: loses weight for) a romantic relationship with a male character.


You get to choose what kind of guy you are.

“Be a man.” “Man up.” “Grow a pair.” Young men are constantly reminded that there is a definition of “manliness” they are expected to live up to and grow into. This year, We Can! wants to talk about that.


We want to start honest conversations about the men we are, the men in our lives, and the different ways that they choose to be men. We want to talk about how young men are boxed in, silenced, and forced to conform. We want to talk about masculinity, and how in its prescribed, prepackaged form, it has had a toxic effect on lives.

“Secondary school made me question my identity and existence. Secondary school gave me a look into how a culture of masculinity breaks down special individuals with unique personalities little by little, day by day. …I could not believe that this was how the world was meant to be. We are more than just printed lists of personality traits that fit neatly into prescribed boxes.” – Alvin

We want to talk about about how people are taught that being a man means being “not feminine” and how that makes femininity bad and shameful. We want to talk about how men are taught to see women and how slowly, those lessons are passed onto others.

“I was never one of the boys. I was never allowed to express how I felt — emotion equals vulnerability, equals femininity. I was told to bury those emotions and hide them from plain sight, to confine myself to a psychological prison. Because if a man sheds a single tear, he is no longer that. He is feminised. He is less than.” – Kelvin

And, most importantly, we want to talk about the assets men have and the difference they can make. Because we know men who do this every day. Men who can and want to change the rules of the game and carve out spaces where we can talk to each other about how to create a freer, safer society for everyone. Men who are allies, men who empathise with women and non-binary folks’ struggles, men who are inclusive and accepting of men who are different from them.

“Don’t be that guy. Like, that guy who doesn’t take no for an answer. The guy who calls at women in public places, on public transport, and gets mad when they don’t respond the way he wants them to. The guy who doesn’t want to hear “no”, and so waits until his target is too drunk, or high, to say “no”. The guy who keeps pushing until “no” becomes “yes”. Respect the “no”, and move on.” – Robert

It starts with you – your stories, your experiences, your thoughts on how we can start talking, listening, and making change. What does “being a man” mean in a society that tells us it is the same thing as dominance, aggression and power? What kind of masculinity do you want for yourself, your friends, your brothers? How can men use their strengths and position in society to boost the status of men who are less privileged, of women and people of other genders?

Tell us, by:

1. Joining our focus group for young men

Through our focus group, we hope to identify some of the key experiences and issues that young men in Singapore face today and explore how we can make positive change to redefine masculinity. You will also get to meet other male Change Makers to have a dialogue on gender, identity and change-making.

2. Sharing your own story on our blog

3. Starting your own Change Maker project

Or just write to [email protected] to find out more!