The trauma of dominant masculinity in school

By Alvin Wong, Change Maker

Secondary school life can be an extremely stressful phase of one’s life. It is a period of coming of age; it is a period of self-discovery, and one finds that it is not just enough to do well in the end-of-year examinations any more. “Fitting in”, whatever that term means, suddenly becomes of great importance. Everyone wants to be part of the in-group, because the out-group is where the losers and nerds end up. Also of extreme importance: having friends. If you have no friends, you are nobody. If you do not “fit in”, you will have no friends. If you have no friends, you may very well find yourself bullied and harassed without any recourse or way out of your situation.

Programs_Military_Large We often think of dominant masculinity as one of the driving forces behind gender-based violence in all its forms. Dominant masculinity is about strongly adhering to the traditional male gender role – restricting expressions of emotion, avoiding being feminine, displaying toughness and aggression, focusing on achievement, being self-reliant and non-relational, being misogynistic and being homophobic. There is a clear correlation between masculine attitudes and gender-based violence; what may be less obvious, however, are the ways in which dominant masculinity is oppressive towards men in addition to women.

accompanying image 2I spent four years in a single-sex secondary school and for all four of those years, dominant masculinity never ceased to beat down on me. It was not just individual teachers making entire classes of 14-year-old boys do 20 push-ups in the parade square for not cleaning their classrooms well enough; it was my classmates uttering homophobic remarks directly at me as well as behind my back, being told to to “man up” and “suck it up”, my CCA seniors believing that physical punishment was the best way to fix problematic behaviours, my peers policing and taunting other students for feminine gestures and behaviours, the NCC sergeants subjecting their helpless juniors to endless rounds of push-ups and verbal abuse (which still counts as the smallest amount of power I have ever seen go to someone’s head) and my friend who engaged in self-injury for a time, partly because of the constant bullying he’d been receiving for not being on the bandwagon of dominant masculinity.

SafsongBan01ePerhaps you have fond memories of being in secondary school, but those are memories I would rather leave behind. In my secondary school, dominant masculinity was institutional – it was not just about particular individuals being aggressive and misogynistic, the entire school culture was poisoned by the apparent need to prove one’s worth as a man by behaving in supposedly manly ways. In many ways, it was a traumatic period for me as a queer boy; I tried my best to live through it, but the impact that those four years of exposure to dominant masculinity had on me is not up for debate. Five years may have passed since I walked out of that place, but the anxiety that I feel when being around gender role-conforming men will probably never leave me, and neither will my depression, onset by being forcibly drafted into the military, an authoritarian structure where dominant masculinity is rewarded with power and where one surrenders all personal agency and the ability to do what one thinks is right.

Secondary school gave me my first taste of how cruel and violent men can be. 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. Secondary school made me read up on gender theory and feminism because 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. The enforcing of traditional male gender roles and stereotypes on a cultural and/or institutional level hurts everybody.

It certainly hurt me. I never wanted to be a man any more.

WP_20150505_20_32_18_Pro (2)About the author: A 21-year-old genderqueer person currently suffering from major depressive disorder, Alvin is in the process of piecing his life back together as he continues to face an uncertain future in Singapore. An independent writer and advocate for mental health awareness, gender equality and social justice, he hopes to make his mark on the world while he still can.


My Virginity is a Withering Flower

[Trigger warning for sensitive content]

Momma told me a girl’s virginity is like a flower
A precious possession worth more than any fame and power
You give it away to one, and only one
A grown woman once the deed is done

Papa told me a girl’s virginity is like a flower
Untouched but protected by the grower
Once you pluck it from its soil
That’s it, it is foil

If that’s the case, then what is mine?

Mine would be that of a flower that withers
Not that it really matters
Not the faces that look at me with judgment
Nor the faces that glance at me with disagreement

But the shame and guilt my heart feels

The innocence that is stolen cruelly
The naïve mind that believes in others truly
Darkness came in the day and engulf me
Before I knew it, I’m no longer who I used to be

“What have you done? What have I done?”

Blood stains the bed sheets
Tears stain my pale cheeks
No longer a child but not yet an adult
Not ready to bear this fault

She was but a child, you know

That day, my sky turned black
Everything I had, I now lack
I search for a single drop of light
No one understands my plight

“Whore… Cheap… Slut… Easy…”

Stabbing words ring in my mind
Distasteful eyes watching me from behind
The places I used to go, I now avoid
I wander alone, friends I am now devoid

But how am I different from who I used to be?

I still love the way words dance around my fingers
I still love the way songs make me tingle
I still love pink, the ocean, and the trees
I still love to run and pretend I’m free

How has my lack of virginity make me a worse person?

Would a worse person pick up art
And draw with all her heart
Would a worse person top her class
And ignore snide comments as they pass

You know, momma and papa, you’re wrong

My virginity is a withering flower
It drops its petals like a shower
Its pollen and seeds scatter
But that is not the end of it however

New flowers will always grow in this soil


Ask Before Touching

By Sahar Pirzada, Change Maker. This piece was originally posted on Beyond The Hijab

*Content Note: Post discusses rape and marital rape

It is common practice to ask before touching something that is not yours. The same rule applies to bodies. A husband does not own his wife or her body and must ask before touching it. She is the sole owner of her body and has the right to decide who can touch it, how, when and for how long.

hijabThis concept seems to have been lost on not only some Islamist groups such as Hizbut Tahrir in Malaysia, but some Muslim people in general who do not believe that marital rape exists in Islam. Rape is rape. Whether it is between strangers, friends, a dating couple or a married couple – the action of forcing a person have sex with them without their consent (or forced consent due to emotional coercion) is rape.

As a Muslim woman, I believe the rights granted to me by my religion are just and fair. I, therefore, have a vested interest in proving marital rape is forbidden in Islam because if it weren’t, then what does that mean about the worth of my sexual agency in a marriage? My passion to educate women about their sexual and reproductive rights became much more important to me several months back, when I conducted a workshop for Muslim women in Singapore.

One of the aunties approached me after my talk and asked “Can I really say no if he wants to have sex? Won’t the angels curse at me if I say no?” My heart broke as she went on to explain to me how she would ask her husband every night before going to bed if he wanted anything from her sexually, but she was rarely in the mood and was asking merely out of obligation as his wife. The conversation raised many questions about physical intimacy, sexual rights and consent in the context of Muslim marriages. The assumption in the room was that by signing the Islamic marriage contract, a woman has legally consented to engaging in sexual activity with her partner any time he demanded it. In the case of the aunty, she consented, even when she did not want to have sex, out of fear of a spiritual punishment. The question then remains- is this willful and informed consent? Making sense of this situation requires us to take a closer look at interpretations of religious texts and judgements about the expectation of women to have sex with their husbands.

First, there are certain hadiths one can refer to that are used to justify the requirement for women to say yes to her husband’s sexual requests. In Sahih Muslim, The Book of Marriage (Kitab al-Nikah), 3368, Abu Huraira (may Allah pleased with him) reported Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying:

When a man invites his wife to his bed and she does not come, and he (the husband) spends the sight being angry with her, the angels curse her until morning.];

Secondly, there are influential figures such as Ustaz Abdul Hakim Othman of HTM, who believe and openly decree that marriage legalises a Muslim to have sexual relations with a woman. “Your body is to be used by your husband, to put it crudely. When you marry a woman, there’s no need to get consent [for sex], no need at all,” he said.

It is easy to see how these messages can be read negatively by both men and women. For men, they may believe their wives should submit to their sexual requests. For women, they may believe that it is their religious obligation as wives to say yes.

rrrrrrrThere are, however, alternative understandings of Islam that support a woman’s right to consent to all forms of sexual activity within a marriage. Dr. Ahmad Farouk Musa of the Islamic Renaissance Front is one such individual who is speaking out against the patriarchal interpretations of Islam. He is quoted in MalayMail Online having said “Any imposition without her consent is basically an assault on her rights as an independent human being. If this imposition without consent is termed marital rape, then marital rape it is.”

Shaykh Muhammad Adeyinka Mendes during a lecture for Sacred Path of Love explicitly denounced marital rape and also noted that the hadith about angels cursing women was in reference to women who use sex as a tool to manipulate and control their husbands.

After finding less than satisfying interpretations of the angels cursing hadith online, I consulted with local Indonesian scholar Dr. Nur Rofiah who explained how the hadith can not be understood in a vaccuum. It should be understood as a part of a collection of verses from the Quran and other hadiths that discuss marital relations. In the Quran, you have a verse that notes husbands and wives being garments of each other – this indicates an equal relationship between them. She went on to explain that the hadith about the angels cursing women refers to instances where the husband is inviting the wife politely but the wife refuses arrogantly to have sex with him. Marriage allows men and women to have sex with each other but forbids cruel treatment and consent should be obtained actively and not assumed.

Another shaykha from the US provided me with a similar explanation of the hadith:

“It is her legal right to refuse and accept any physical relationship. If she uses her right abusively ( to manipulate him and use his sexual needs as a tool against him to get what she wants or out of a desire to punish him) the husband still has no right to force her. Rather, the hadith admonishes her and warns her of her punishment with Allah and His angels. If a woman is tired or sick or just doesn’t want to engage in relations and she is not using her refusal as a means to hurt her husband, there is no negative spiritual consequence to her refusal. Such a woman would refuse in a kind way (as opposed to abusive) and whether her husband understands or not, is not on her once she has communicated to him with ihsan. The hadith is meant for women who cheapen the marital bond and relations to a weapon they can use against their husbands. Even then, the hadith reminds them that they may have the worldly right to refuse in an abusive way, but they don’t have the ethical right.”

Her explanation presents a far more nuanced understanding of the hadith, as opposed to the literal reading that people are so keen to adopt, and therein lies the key difference.

In understanding any religious obligation, we are often confronted with numerous conflicting passages of the Quran and hadith, all of which are rooted in very specific contexts. We must constantly challenge ourselves to think the best of our religion and question interpretations of religious texts that promote injustice. If there is ever a situation where an individual is being physically, emotionally or spiritually harmed in the name of Islam, we need to not just brush it off as “those aren’t Muslims who say that” but work to understand their perspective and offer positive alternative perspectives. When in doubt – refer back to the character of the Prophet (S) and the core teachings of Islam that simply put, ask us all to do good in this world. In my Islam, emotional blackmail, coercion and rape are not part of those teachings.


Crossdressing: Blurring the lines between genders

by Ming Gui, Change Maker

Generally, in Singapore, the idea of crossdressing is not widely accepted. Some people view crossdressers as weird or “gay”, insulting them online or offline.

0Why is society not receptive to crossdressing? Why can’t a man wear skirts and have long hair without people glancing at him judgmentally? Why can’t a woman have super short hair without people calling her a tomboy?

Perhaps speaking to a couple of crossdressers can provide a new perspective on crossdressing and societal views towards it.

Rain* is a woman who presents as a man every day for more than a year now. Most people are surprised and confused on how ‘convincingly male’ she can look. She was assigned to the female gender at birth, but feels that her gender identity can range from agender to male, and often confuses people in the way she looks. She feels that her women’s clothes are more like a costume and feels like she is a man crossdressing as a woman whenever she wears women’s clothes. When interviewed and asked about her view of crossdressing, she answered:

“The idea of cross dressing is largely defined by society. It is society that has decided what is male clothing and is female clothing, and it is society that has decided to view your gender according to your biology. Obviously I don’t agree that guys /girls must look a certain way. There are female bodybuilders and there are plenty of guys with long hair. The only reason why they are not common here is because of NS and reservice regulations. The subject of cross dressing gets a little more complicated when it comes to personal gender identity. If you identify as a girl despite having male biology, you will think of dresses as normal wear – something you should be wearing anyway, and not “cross dressing””

Dotz* is another crossdresser, who can look really convincing when he puts on his wigs and make-up. Reactions from others about his crossdressing hobby ranges from positivity to curiousity. He says:

“Regardless of the reasons, I think society generally don’t take too well to crossdressers. This bad rep is probably gotten from cases we see in the news (like that recent report of the guy who crossdressed to peep at girls in the toilet) or from the negative assumption that transgender folk are usually streetwalkers, ergo, crossdressers are too. Nevertheless, I think our society is slowly becoming more open towards crossdressers. I think fashion today is also blurring the gender divide as the style of clothing is becoming more androgynous. Then there is also the deluge of the Korean wave with male artists donning eye liner, make up and all that to perform (Visual Kei too, but I guess that isn’t as mainstream). So these are some of the factors that I feel are slowly influencing society to see crossdressing as a form of self-expression or perhaps even as a fashion choice rather than seeing it for negative things.”

When asked whether he believes in the unspoken rule that only men can wear men’s clothes and only women can wear women’s clothes, he says:

 “Since I am a crossdresser, I definitely don’t think that. But I think it is rather difficult for the standard male body to be able to pull off most female fashion nicely. If you ask me why, I will have difficulties answering why I feel this way. Perhaps it’s an effect of being influenced by society since young? Or maybe it’s evolutionary? Anyway, as I mentioned, fashion is gradually blurring the gender divide. Also, what wrong has a boy committed if he simply wears a dress? And of course, I think most people would probably give you the example of the Scottish kilt worn by guys. I think most people have their own preconceived notion of what others should wear, which I think is really selfish. I for one, am offended by people who wear sandals with socks, but who am I to judge right?”

Mihiko*, a male crossdresser who loves Lolita fashion, crossdresses both in private and at gatherings and events. He views crossdressing as a form of art and appreciation of ‘your other side’. He comments:

“My mom knows about my crossdressing and she discourages me from it. However, others such as those who are into subculture scene see me dressed pretty at events, compliment my dress up and hoped I could dress up more frequently. The will be objections to crossdressing, given a majority of conservative people in a conservative society here in Singapore. There are such a wide range of crossdressers that it is almost impossible to stereotype them as homosexual people. Some of them did it for role-playing (getting into the another gender role as similar to the character), and they have their own ethics or principles to draw the line between free love with the same sex. Therefore people assuming all crossdressers as ‘homosexuals’ are pretty ignorant, biased and downright disrespectful, and I hope that more can be done to change that.”

All in all, it all boils down to societal norms. It is society that tells you what a man should wear and what a woman should wear. It is society that tells you that girls wear pink and dresses, and boys wear blue and pants. It is society that lay out such rules. Even in schools, girls wear skirts while boys wear pants.

When someone wears an article of clothing that does not immediately correspond to their gender, it raises eyebrows.

a6b66e5c034416f231e127329636d2bcdb4c30a5Fortunately, the world is getting more and more accepting: there has been a rise in the number of people, regardless of their gender, trying out new types of fashion. There are many other people like Rain and Dotz, who crossdress and feel happy about it, regardless of what others may think. Indeed, the line between gender-appropriate fashions is blurring.

I leave an apt quote from Rain:

“I think everyone should be allowed to wear whatever the heck they want without getting judged.”

*Names have been changed to protect identity

About the Author: Min is bisexual, and will openly admit it if anyone asks about her sexuality. However, she likes dressing like fairy princess. Her fashion style gains her judgmental stares whenever she walks down the street, but she does not care. She feels happier dressing that way.


A statistical approach to ‘She cried rape’

by Min, Change Maker

article-new-thumbnail-ehow-images-a07-of-7f-out-police-interrogation-800x800-2A scantily-clad woman with a black dress, high heels, red lipstick and smoky eye make-up approaches the officer. The officer stares at her, scrutinising her from head to toe. He shakes his head.

“So, you say you’ve been raped?” he asks.

The woman nods. Despite her strong and confident outer appearance, inside, she is scared. She is trying not to think about it, but she is deeply traumatised.

“Really? But you followed him back to his apartment willingly,” he questions her skeptically. Glancing at the documents, he adds, “Besides, you have a very active sex life. 100 men in a year, I hear.”

She sighs. They don’t believe her.

Her case is not uncommon in Singapore. In fact, until 2012, Section 157(d) of the Evidence Act made it possible to discredit a victim of sexual assault based on her sexual history. This means that if a victim is known to be a very sexually active person, the judges are less likely to believe that she has been sexually assaulted or raped.

There are several reasons why people would think a woman would cry rape. The reasons ranges from revenge to regretting a one night’s stand.

However, how many of rape accusations are really false allegations?

The percentage of false rape allegations cases are few, even insignificant

The numbers may be shocking to some. In the United States, 8% of rape allegations are false. In other countries, it ranges from between 1.5% to 10%. Research by National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women reports through research that 2 to 8% of rape allegations are false.

This means that when a woman claims to be raped, often times than not, she is telling the truth.

Besides, false rape allegations are also unlikely to happen because of stigma attached to having been raped


Society has a wide range of negative responses to someone who’s been raped. Victim-blaming is common, blaming them for dressing too inappropriately and/or simply ‘asking for it’. Society might look down upon them, and perceive them as ‘cheap’ and ‘used’, because they are no longer ‘innocent’. Other times, they will be told to keep silent, because being raped is disgraceful.

Hence, it is even more unlikely that a woman would risk all that just to pretend to be a rape victim.

In fact, many cases of rape or sexual assault go unreported

In Singapore, 90% of sexual crimes are not reported. A survey has also shown that 75% of physical and sexual violence cases are unreported.

As friends and family, we should do our best to be understanding and supportive whenever our loved ones confide in us about a sexual assault or rape. Being judgmental or brushing the topic aside only risks denying justice to those who experience rape or sexual assault.


imagesI strongly believe we, not just as a society but as family and friends of someone who’s been raped, should listen attentively whenever someone confides in us instead of jumping to conclusions straightaway. I have never had any friends who have been raped, but I do know that if I had one, I would listen to their story and support them all the way. After all, what is a friend if they won’t believe your side of the story?

I think society should also be more mindful when making assumptions about a person. It does not mean a woman is lying about rape just because she was sexually active, may have agreed to be alone with the man and/or had said initially yes to a sexual advance.

Rape can happen to anyone.

About the author: Min is someone who is not afraid to speak out if she believes that something needs to be said or done. Many a times, her strong passion and faith in her beliefs lead to little changes being done. She hopes that others will do the same.



by Nicole Seah, Change Maker

woman-low-self-esteemI think it’s safe to say that Instagram is the most addictive app I’ve ever downloaded. I’m addicted to staying in the loop. The nationwide obsession with Instagram is definitely on the steep incline, with most of my friends posting almost daily, obsessing over their Instagram feeds, and finding out which ‘vsco’ edits to use for their selfie. Despite Instagram making me feel bad about myself, I still continue to scroll through the endless pages of impeccable compositions and perfect bodies. I double tap often, begrudgingly admitting that I ‘liked’ their photo.

Instagram, that sneaky little app, now makes me obsess over the number of ‘likes’ I get on a picture. If it doesn’t go above a certain number of ‘likes’ in 20 minutes, I seriously (no joke) consider deleting the photo, or ponder incessantly about why so-and-so scrolled past the well edited, square-cropped photo of my lunch.

Embarrassingly, I have yet to mention the amount of ‘fitspiration’ and ‘fitness gurus’ that I follow on Instagram. Sporting long, lean legs and a flat, toned tummy, their bodies are tapered and sleek, fit for a Victoria’s Secret Model. I follow around 40-50 fitness icons and supermodels, just to sneak a peek into their glamorous lives, prodding my insistent insecurities and questions: What can I do to achieve that body? Those legs? If I starve myself for a couple of weeks maybe it’ll reduce the size of my thighs by a couple inches so it can look like theirs?

Sometimes, when models post food photos I get insanely jealous: if they can eat that and stay so thin why can’t I? Life is so unfair! I’m sure this resonates with a number of people. Instagram is like the alcohol of social media: we know the stigma attached to being obsessed with this sort of app, but we do it anyways.

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 9.51.26 pmInstagram can also promote jealousy and negativity. Many comments on popular pages nowadays range from snide to outright disrespectful. Girls anonymously say hurtful things to spite others, such as ‘she’s too fat’ or ‘she’s too thin’ on photos of strangers beaming in bikinis. Shouldn’t girls be respectful to other girls? Be supportive of other girls? Rather, the ideal girl has been portrayed so many times on Instagram that everyone develops a “critical eye”. Social media, coupled with the patriarchal society we live in, pits girls against each other, waging a war with the number of followers they have, what kind of edits they used, and their life in general.

Just my reminder to ANY girls – or boys for that matter – who are reading this: Instagram, or social media in general, is all done by choice. People are hidden behind a shiny iPhone 6 and glamorised by good lighting and layered effects. ‘Perfect’ people on Instagram only show you what they want you to see.

I am not saying delete Instagram, because many people (including yours truly) find it a nightly guilty ritual, scrolling through the colourful pages. But be aware. Be wary of what is real and what isn’t. There is always an angle, a backstory and a flaw. We are human beings and we are stitched with flaws, they’re what make us who we are. Teenagers are arguably at one of the most rocky and most raw parts of our journeys towards self-perception, and nothing hurts more than society telling us that other people are “better than you”. Believe me I know. Remember to be proud of what you are.

You are worth more than a hashtag, or 1000 likes. Do not let Instagram – or anyone else – determine your worth.

About the Author: Nicole is a professional sloth, yoga enthusiast and avid bookworm who has no sense of direction whatsoever. She likes to surprise people with her audacity and her supremely horrible puns, and is a little too obsessed with frozen yoghurt.


I was never one of those boys

 by Kelvin Ng Jiawin, Change Maker

Note: This was a spoken word poem I recently penned; it deals with my experience with the concept of masculinity growing up, and my sense of alienation from traditionally masculine activities and spaces led me to my conviction in feminism. My belief in feminism stems from the fact that a lot of men, like me, are hurt and restricted by the patriarchy and traditional gender stereotypes. It should be acknowledged, however, that cisgender males still hold an immense amount of privilege, and while men are oppressed by the patriarchy, it is hardly equal in scale to the oppression women and trans people face. 

girls night outGrow a pair. Don’t cry. Be strong. Use force. Be a man.

I was never one of the boys. I was always the sissy, the bapok, the chao ahgua, the niangniangqiang, the sei geilou, cornered as my male classmates discussed the EPL, the NBA, the NFL and a bunch of other three-letter acronyms I didn’t care for, as they threw slurs in two Chinese dialects, three regional variations of English, four of Singapore’s national languages.

I was always the work-in-progress, the interim, the blank canvas waiting for Men’s Health to superimpose Chris Hemsworth’s biceps and Zac Efron’s abs onto, for Maxim to quantify in numerical terms: muscle mass, bodily fat composition, penis size.

I was always the flaming homosexual, the gay propagandist, the one out to get your children, simply for being into theatre and fashion and cooking — because obviously Rodger and Hammerstein and Stephen Sondheim and Ralph Lauren and Gordon Ramsay don’t exist, and gosh, aren’t those for girls?

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.

Top-Toy-boy-playing-with-doll1Feminism offered me a parole.

But wait — feminism? But fem means female, so obviously they’re a bunch of man-hating misandrists who want to oppress men and taking away your rights and oh did I mention they hate men? Do you hate yourself?

It was ridiculous, really, how egregiously misunderstood feminism as an ideology is. But I found the language to articulate the hurt I felt, for deviating from established gender roles. I found the freedom to flip my finger to traditional gender systems. I found clarity, to realise how fucked-up it is that I should be expected to live up to arbitrary ideals, that I should be deemed inferior for even being different, that I should laugh in casual nonchalance and mask my ideology in the face of a sandwich joke just to fit in.

Feminism, really, isn’t about bringing down men; it’s about bringing down traditional masculinity. It’s about allowing us — men, women, or wherever we may fall on the gender spectrum, to live our lives beyond the narrow pigeonholes of our assigned gender. To choose.

I need feminism, because I love Sylvia Plath and sketching stilettos and knowing all the lyrics to Wicked and that shouldn’t be deemed as girly or frivolous or inane.

I need feminism, because I want my nephew to be able to play with his sister’s dollhouse and she, with his basketball without their mum going all up in arms about how boys should act like boys; I need feminism, because how biological are gender differences anyway, when society makes a big fuss over boys wearing skirts and playing with kitchen sets, and reinforces heteronormativity at every opportunity it gets?

I need feminism, because I long for the freedom to be able to relieve myself of the burden of failure — of failing to live up to a construct that arbitrarily categorises us into tidy, Mars-Venus boxes and denies us our common, earthly humanity; a construct so fragile that we have to shroud it with careful caveats: metrosexual, bromance, guyliner, manbag, no homo.

I need feminism, because I want to unlearn the hyper-masculine posturing, the internalised sexism, the entitlement, the mansplaining, and to be able to acknowledge half the world’s population as equals not just in name but in actuality.

I need feminism, because I want to laugh, to cry, to hug someone, to feel vulnerable, to care, and to feel the full spectrums of emotions I’m allowed to beyond paroxysms of rage and rancour.

I need feminism, because all the issues raised by meninism, or men’s rights activism — male violence, custody battles, alimony, national service — all stem from patriarchal mindsets.They all stem from our ingrained cultural connotations of violence, emotional indifference, toughness and hilariously inadept children that we’ve grown to associate with traditional masculinity.

I need feminism, because the very people angrily tweeting #NotAllMen are the ones who routinely sweep us under the carpet, who exclude us from traditionally masculine spaces, who ignore the existence of gay men, trans men and men of colour.

I need feminism, because with 3.5 billion men in the world, there isn’t possibly one way to be a man.

I need feminism, because I want us to stop celebrating masculinity, and start celebrating men, women, cisgender or transgender, for being who they are, and me for who I am.

pic1About the Author: Kelvin Ng is a debater by training and part-time poet. His biggest accomplishment is remembering all the lyrics to Beyonce’s ***Flawless — both the original one and the Nicki Minaj remix — so that must mean something.


Gaming As Women

by Ming Gui, Change Maker

From the massive underrepresentation of females in video games to the sexualisation of female characters, video games have been responsible for promoting gender norms and stereotypes. Since we were young, we have seen female characters like Princess Peach and Zelda portrayed as damsels in distress, waiting around for a male character to rescue them.

So why these stereotypes are an issue, and what are their impact?

Firstly, it encourages negative attitude and beliefs

Warrior_FemaleIn games like Grand Theft Auto, Tomb Raider and Dead or Alive, female characters are shown as scantily-clad women with large breasts, an impossibly slim figure and a face that society would describe as beautiful or sexy. In fact, a study by Dill and Thill in 2005 found that 80% of video games include such portrayal of women. Female characters are also, more often than not, portrayed as weak, dependent or as damsels in distress.

What kind of message would this send to the players? That girls should aim to achieve the body of, and dress just like, the female characters in order to be liked? Or that women are supposed to always wait around for a guy to rescue her?

How are you even supposed to fight enemies while dressed like that? I would be too busy pulling and adjusting that thin piece of cloth covering my important parts whenever I walked.

Secondly, it encourages tolerance and support for sexual harassment and rape

Research by Dill, Brown, and Collins found that long-term exposure to violent video games can lead to more tolerance towards sexual violence. One possible reason could be that because video games portray sexual harassment and rape as the norm, it is also seen as the norm by the player, even in real life. Sometimes, the game might even praise the player for using such violent means to progress through a mission.

17pofc3mjy2xsjpgThis is further supported by a study done by Yao, Mahood, and Linz. Of the 74 males who were assigned to play either a sexually-explicit or non-sexually-explicit game, those who played a sexually-explicit game were more likely to view women as sex objects and display inappropriate behaviours towards them.

Some may argue that men are equally objectified in video games because they are portrayed to be muscular, strong and impossibly well-built. However…

If we examine the traits given to female and male characters, we will notice that female characters are usually portrayed to have no other personality other than their big bust and beautiful figure. Whereas for male characters, they are usually portrayed as not just muscular, but strong, courageous and brave. There is a difference in the messages the game sends across to each gender. Being portrayed as nothing but a beautiful figure is not the same as being portrayed as a muscular and strong person. One is passive while the other is active.

As video game critique Jimquisition points out, there is a difference: Female characters are objectified while male characters are idealised.

As the video game industry is worth billions of dollars with millions of players, changes need to be made in the video game industry in order to further promote the cause of gender equality. If game producers were to be a little more mindful of the gender stereotypes they portray in their games, we will be one step closer to gender equality.

As a child, I remember that my favourite game is Super Mario. In the game, Princess Peach is always being kidnapped by the big bad guy Browser, and it is up to Mario and Luigi to save her. Because the characters are cartoons and I play as Mario, it does not have that much of an impact on my views of men and women. However, I recall finding myself wishing that I can play as Princess Peach instead, and have my own adventures to escape from Browser’s castle.

15gaming-callout-master1050As I got older, the gaming world grew as well. I started playing a few MMORPGs. In these games, I noticed that female characters always have great clothes, really big busts and just look really pretty. I remember spending a lot of time customising my character. Before I knew it, I started wishing that I could look like them. I even started altering my appearance, and buying accessories that looks like the character’s. Looking back, it was the first time I actually took notice of my own appearance and started being self-conscious. It affected me slightly, as I fought to attain the unachievable beauty of my character, spending hours in front of my computer screen and visualising myself looking like my character.

Now, as a young adult, I feel confident with my own looks. I now play games for the plot and storyline, not for the beauty of the characters. However, my story illustrates the impact that gaming has on young teenagers who are still learning to accept and love their own bodies.

As a hardcore female gamer, I would love to play a game where female characters are shown as brave warriors, but without being scantily-clad or sexualised. I would love to play a game where male characters are not always the aggressive one, and are capable of showing emotions.

I would love to play a game meant for everybody.


Dill, K. E., Brown, B. P., & Collins, M. A. (2008). Effects of exposure to sex-stereotyped video game characters on tolerance of sexual harassment. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 44(5), 1402–1408. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2008.06.002

Dill, K. E, & Thill, K. P. (2007). Video game characters and the socialization of gender roles: Young people’s perceptions mirror sexist media depictions. Sex Roles, 57, 851–864. doi:10.1007/s11199-007-9278-1

Yao, M. Z., Mahood, C., & Linz, D. (2009). Sexual priming, gender stereotyping, and likelihood to sexually harass: Examining the cognitive effects of playing a sexually-explicit video game. Sex Roles, 62(1-2), 77–88. doi: 10.1007/s11199-009-9695-4

About the Author: Min is a hardcore gamer with a Steam library loaded with games. She loves Skyrim, Two Worlds, GTA, Vampire: The Masquerade, Pokemon, Ace Attorney, Final Fantasy, and the list could stretch on for miles. She hopes to play more games that allows her to play as a strong female character.  


When I talk about feminism, I talk about my brownness

by Drima Chakraborty, Change Maker 

Racial Harmony Day is a dreaded day of the year forappropriating sari Indian girls in local schools. It seems like everyone who is not Indian decides to “wear” (or “sushi wrap”?) a sari. Don’t get me wrong, we love it when friends to borrow a sari or actually try to learn how to put it on. But it is disrespectful when they buy a 12-foot piece of cloth, wrap it haphazardly, and call that a sari; or when cliques of Singaporean Chinese girls take pictures with their hands joined and a leg in the air in some mockery of yoga. But they don’t recognise this is racist. 

To achieve gender equality, we need to think about how racial inequality persists.  People of the same gender are not equal among one another, because of race.  Yet, when I bring up racism and how it works together with sexism and other forms of discrimination, I get told to quit being a malcontent and keep it down. 

Singapore prides itself in being post-racial – I encounter the attitude that we were colonised too and therefore can do no wrong racially. Some schoolmates even claimed to be above all this pettiness and commented that feminism and activism was great, but how my too direct, too rough approach discredited everything I did – suggesting they were unwilling to hear uncomfortable truths. 

But for non-Chinese women in Singapore, the experiences of racial discrimination and gender discrimination cannot be separated.  Upon being crowned Miss Singapore Universe, Rathi Menon of Indian origin was bombarded with hate on social media and forums, by Singaporeans who felt that she was unrepresentative of Singaporean beauty. She was brown-skinned unlike everyone’s favourite Korean pop icons or the pale East Asian women in SKII commercials. 

holi-colorsI found myself on the receiving end of this when a well-liked girl in school made an online posting using an anti-black slur, and then continued reiterating that the slur in question was not racist at all.  When I challenged this, the responses were appalling: “You’re not black, just dark brown, so why be the defender of black minorities?” “Stop trying to be the model minority, there are no black people here.”  Who gave them the permission to use these words in the absence of black people?

Many of the women and girls who defended me, who were not East Asian, were subjected to insults on our appearances – a case where sexism and racism came together. 

We need more awareness of the reality of racial discrimination in Singapore.  Too many people hear “regardless of race, language or religion” and believe that all of us are treated fairly.  Questioning this belief is taken to be racist.  “Colour-blindness” means that the racial majority does not realise that we need equity, not equality.  Equality is seeing that the scales are unbalanced and then adding equal amounts of weight to both sides, while equity is adding more weight to the lighter side to balance the two sides. To balance the scales, policies and social studies needs to be more inclusive of race, and not “blind” to it. 

We have to look beyond this façade and critically examine our micro-aggressions towards other races, firstly within activist spheres, and then within our larger community. If not, it will continue to be the case that I get racial slurs hurled at me when I discuss gender equality or sexist slurs when I discuss racial equality.  We need spaces where we can be free of both sexism and racism – also known as an intersectional approach.  Race has to be recognised as a feminist issue.

About the author: Drima is a trash-talker and brown intersectional feminist. They suggest you not wear a sari by holding it in place and spinning in a circle about twenty times.

Want to write a blog for We Can! Singapore? Email Nabilah at [email protected] with your pitch!


What I learnt from my cyber-bullying experience

by Hazel Que Miaoye, Change Maker

I had always examined cyber-bullying from an outsider’s perspective, with a considerable degree of detachment. Even after engaging in extensive class discussions and readings, subconsciously, I safely assumed that I would never become a victim of online harassment.

cyber-bullyingI wasn’t until one year ago that I realized how wrong I was. Back then, I was involved in a project that aims to promote internship opportunities across high schools in Singapore. To understand the extent of student participation in internships and analyze the types of internships undertaken, my team crafted a detailed set of survey questions for high schoolers to answer. I posted the survey on my Facebook timeline, and among all the responses – responses that should be academic, professional and unrelated to sex at all – one made the exception and overwhelmed me with horrifying disbelief – under please describe the internship you’ve participated in, ‘F*ck Miaoye’ was the title, while sexually explicit scenes filled the space below details of your internship. As if that’s not insulting enough, the respondent bombarded me with slut-shaming slurs at the end, with all the steps done anonymously. Only my friends in real life had access to my Facebook account. So who did it? Why did he/she direct such threatening messages to me, when I did not even do anything that deserved it? I was clueless. It was betrayal, disrespect and hurt all rolled into one – a distasteful combination I could barely digest.

Fortunately, the initial phase of anxiety and bitter disappointment did not last long. As my emotions took a backseat to reason, I turned to my peers for support and advice. However, after listening to my encounter, they conveniently brushed me off with casual remarks such as “Maybe it’s just a prank”. One member even suggested deleting that particular survey response, so that those words would not reappear while I was collecting other results and I could “forget about it and move on”.

I was genuinely disturbed by their words, which reflected the (unfortunately still) widespread belief that sexual oppression towards girls is common and should not be taken seriously; that victims are supposed to deal with everything, while the wrongdoers are free from responsibility, condemnation and guilt. It is precisely this dangerous tendency to trivialize physical and/or psychological harm that’s silencing women and perpetuating sexism and gender-related violence. I never felt as compelled to make a meaningful difference through my actions, however insignificant they might seem to be.

My first instinct was to confront the perpetrator, telling him/her outright that how much a loser he/she is (I’m not going to make assumptions about the person’s gender, but whether the person is a male or not, my experience is a sobering reminder that sexual harassment is disproportionately aimed at women), which was completely impractical due to the anonymity. I even considered posting a Facebook message addressed to him/her as a warning, but the plan was soon dismissed because I thought it would not be effective. Is there any other way I could connect to them at all? No.

think beforeThe most I could do was to prepare for what I felt was the worst-case scenario. For that, I looked for my Economics teacher (who’s more like a friend) the next day. She was outraged by the insensitive act and promised to protect me if the person attempts to hurt me in real life. The ugly episode brought the feminist out of both of us. We talked about how some boys are perpetuating chauvinism (and other ‘-ism’s as they translate masculinity into superiority) in class, and how the others – especially the girls, who are more affected by gender inequality – should never hesitate to challenge sexism manifested in every facet of our daily lives.

The conversation became the inspiration for me to continue to promote awareness of feminist issues, even after the incident faded away. The person’s identity and intentions, though still a mystery, no longer concern me anymore; I only think about how to reduce, if not eradicate the injustice, prejudices and harm that are inflicted on women and men alike, as a result of gender inequality and gender stereotypes. So, in the spirit of feminism, I have a few tips regarding cyber-bullying to offer (which may seem like common sense, but are often forgotten in the cases of real harassment):

  •  If you are a victim, it is natural to be afraid. However, if you feel like you are able to do so safely and are comfortable in doing so, you should speak up about your experiences.
  • If you are a friend of a victim, show some care and empathy; it’s never too much to offer your friends love and protection during their tough times.
  • If you intend to cause harm, or have bullied, harassed or abused someone online for whatever reason, acknowledge and own your actions. It’s not too late to change yet. Think about how your casual actions are ruining someone’s life, and how you would hate to be in that someone’s position; apologize if you can. It’s really not that hard to make a meaningful difference.

IMG_6094 2About the author: Hazel is proudly bisexual, unwaveringly feminist and almost turned completely anarchist after reading Noam Chomsky’s book. She seems to defy all your stereotypes about China girls, but well, stereotypes are stupid anyway.