Language and how it is used against women

Written by Sriraksha Raghavan

J.K. Rowling once said that language is our most inexhaustible source of magic. There is a profundity to this statement that escapes people who engage in cavalier reading. We use words to convey what we mean, but in today’s world, language has been systematically used to convey what we wish to imply but not explicitly say. I say “systematic” because establishments and corporations use the technique of tweaking words to imply meanings that suit their agenda.


For example, consider the upcoming presidential campaign in America. A woman, Hillary Clinton, is one of the prime contenders for the job. When she is torn down, it is for reasons such as “she is manly”, “she is bossy”, “she is domineering” etc. I’d like to ask you to consider the three words “manly”, “bossy” and “domineering”. Apart from the obvious negativity in those words, they have no correlation with her work! She is not being criticised for being bad at her job. She is being criticised for being a woman trying to do a “man’s” job.words

This does not just pertain to high profile jobs and the top strata of society. Women from all areas of society are subjected to the consequences of sexist vocabulary. This goes on to create the economic inequality we see in the world today. Men are paid more because people are of the opinion that men work better—an opinion they derive from what they read and know. This is by no means the sole reason for the economic divide, but it is a contributing factor.

This poses a bigger problem to women in the lower strata of society because being paid less than men in a job like manual labour—which already has a salary that might be too low to cover basic expenses—means that the women have nearly nothing. In third world and developing countries, where a large number of men below the poverty line suffer from alcoholism, the highest earning member of the family—his wife—is shelling out money to satiate his addiction and care for the family on her salary alone, despite both of them working. This has led to women taking on multiple jobs, which might be beyond their physical and mental capacity.

One might argue that the poor barely have exposure to corporations and urban establishments that use this method of phrasing their words in a way that misrepresents women. But much like the river branching into tributaries and distributaries, and ultimately into streams that flow everywhere, the influence of words from the most powerful people in society percolates until it reaches the most powerless parts, where the intersectional clout of sexism creates many negative consequences in people’s lives.

About the author: Sriraksha is a student with a passion for learning and believes that if you learn anything in depth, a passion for it will follow. She thinks that the best way to enrich one’s life is to enrich that of others and hopes to do that for a living one day.


Not Anyone’s Girl

Written by Corrine Lin, Change Maker

 Unpublished+She+Said+Article.“I won’t want my girl to work in Marketing as it involves a lot of client entertainment. It’s best for you to stay in your current department now.”This was perhaps one of the most offensive statement I’ve come across in my career life when I requested for a transfer. At that time, I was working in a ‘male dominated’ industry where Marketing and Sales meant the same scope of work; to meet clients, get sales orders, have dinner, keep them entertained with drinks and party all night. It felt like a norm back then, that there was no choice but to accept being the lesser valued gender, being in a man’s industry.

Even when I was doing my diploma, we had only about four girls in a class of 40 guys in our course. When I started my first job, I was the only female employee working on-site for my company. Looking back, it was either inspiring or intimidating, especially to those who avoided the very industry I was entering. Due to this very reason, I have always felt taken care of by my colleagues and especially my bosses. They feared for my safety, especially in a site filled with hundreds of males. When I entered meeting rooms, the usual harsh tones and vulgarities became mellowed. Men’s conversations turn into awkward whispers when I came in to office. Although I was treated with respect and politeness, I always felt scrutinised, weak and never really belonged no matter how much I tried to fit in. It was a lot harder for me to break past this comfort barrier and challenge myself in my career progression.

While the statement above seemed like a protective move from my then boss, I was very much offended by it. Despite many justifications and enthusiasm in taking up the role, I was still denied the transfer. I was not evaluated based on my capability but by who I was. Furthermore, I am not anyone’s girl. To date, neither have my father nor my husband has introduced me as their girl. I am a daughter, I am a wife, but never anyone’s girl because I belong to me. Would any professionals refer their male subordinates as their boy? Even when I had a female boss, she has never demean her male subordinates with such labels. I quit the job not long later, after a three hour talk with my manager trying to persuade me to stay.

In any field of study or work, and especially life, it pays a lot more to prove our worth by accomplishing results with our commitment, efforts and intellect. We are all individuals with capabilities, personalities and characters or our own. All we need, is mutual respect.

Today, the male domination labels are slowly diminishing. Women like us have access to supportive and empowered environment; we are climbing up corporate boards, we have female Presidents and we are making positive dents in the world. For those of us who are still behind shadows, it’s time to break past this limiting barrier we think others are setting for us. The world is our oyster now.


About the Author

Profilepic3Corrine writes for L3 Hub (, a ​​space created for girls to come together, support and encourage each other, learn and develop themselves to be more confident and better individuals.


When to speak out

Written by Aparna Menon, Change Maker

aparna2My first month of work, three years ago, was a traumatic one. After years of avoiding the shipping career, I inevitably ended up signing up for it due to financial pressures. While I can never relay in full detail the turbulent weeks of my first experience in the workforce, one incident stands out.

My supervisor was assigned to show me the ropes in the beginning. While I cannot deny his helpfulness, I also cannot condone his views. As weeks progressed, I started to learn more about him, mostly because he openly expressed his opinions. I appreciate candidness and honesty, and so this was refreshing. I listened with intrigue as he explained my job and responsibilities. Then one day he turned to me and told me that women should never be in power. I was taken aback.

That afternoon I heard more comments, such as ‘women cannot understand as much as men can’, ‘women should never be in politics’ and ‘men should protect women because they are weak and insecure’. Those comments were abhorrent and I felt I couldn’t respond as much as I wanted to. I listened in captivation and I interjected feebly with quiet comments about feminism and examples of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a female leader in politics.

aparna2My supervisor had three daughters. I was heartbroken to realise that these girls would be raised with the belief that they could not achieve their dreams because of the stigma attached to being a woman.

I used to believe that women’s rights (or women’s empowerment) was a redundant topic, something not worth mentioning. This is not because I disagreed with it, but because I assumed that equality of men and women had already been achieved, at least in the developed world. In the developed world where children are supposedly educated to understand that regardless of race, gender or religion, they are all human beings and should be treated as such. I now realise how much more work still needs to be done.

How can we achieve equality? Educate yourself and educate the people around you. We cannot progress, learn, impact and effect change unless we ourselves have the knowledge. If you find yourself in a situation in which you believe that a woman is unjustly viewed or denied privileges, your education is the tool that can make a difference. Three years ago, my fear of my career being taken away from me stopped me from speaking out. I will make sure that it does not happen again.

aparna3About the author: Aparna is a passionate advocate of international development and education.  She hopes to pursue it full-time. She believes writing is one outlet to express opinions on these topics and highlight the issues of today.


GE2015: Gender Equality ‘Fails’

Written by Sumithri Venketasubramanian, Change Maker

Screen Shot 2015-09-07 at 2.44.18 pmIf you have been following the coverage on Singapore’s General Elections this year, you’ll find that some things don’t sit well, if at all, on the spectrum of gender equality.

For one, the visibility of women as leaders is low in most fields, and politics is no exception. Some might wonder why it’s important to have gender representation – men can take into account women’s views, can’t they? Sure, but not with as much detail and understanding, because they haven’t had the same experiences.

The concerns with regard to issues that tend to affect women more (such as caregiving, single-parent families, and job security) can only be comprehensively addressed if women themselves are able to make those decisions, because they’ll be able to relate to and critically analyse the situation in accordance to their own experiences and views. Women’s voice in parliament should come from, well, women.

Representation of women in politics

Unfortunately, the way that we talk about women who do get into politics does no justice to their effort and service. You may be familiar with the recent incident where National Solidarity Party candidate for MacPherson Single-Member Constituency, Mr Cheo Chai Chen, claimed that People’s Action Party rival, Ms Tin Pei Ling’s motherhood was a “weakness”. Comments like this sends the message that politics is not for mothers, or women at all for that matter.

Female candidates and members of parliament are constantly under scrutiny by the media for matters that have nothing to do with their contributions to Singaporean politics. They’re asked why they’re not married, and if they have any plans to do so. Their family-work balance is questioned significantly more than their male counterparts. They’re seen as mothers, daughters, sisters who happen to be politicians, rather than politicians who happen to be women. 

Screen Shot 2015-09-07 at 2.45.12 pmThis treatment of women in the media isn’t exclusive to the field of politics. We see it everywhere, from an established businesswoman (who’s also in politics) being introduced as a “mother-of-two” to sportswomen’s “wardrobe malfunctions” being broadcast to the world in a matter of seconds after they happen. These subtly sexist questions directed at female politicians imply that politics is not for women, unless they want to be questioned about their previous “unprofessional” jobs and/or actions, appearance and personal choices. This unhealthy obsession which the media seems to have only builds on gender roles and stereotypes that we’re hoping to rid our society of.

Politicians are public figures. When international conferences are held, they represent our people. When problems arise, they’re the ones who come forward in an effort to help the situation. When Singaporeans think of national leaders, they see them. By having such few women in the government and within political parties, it sends the message that politics is a men’s game and only a few lucky women might have the opportunity to play too. It propagates the notion of women having to behave “like men” in order to succeed. It says that men are the ultimate decision makers on the national scale, and women only have a small role in such an important task. It tells young girls that their brothers and male friends probably have a higher chance of being leaders in the future. (And it doesn’t really help that women – already rare in the political realm – are pitted against one another, courtesy of the media.) 

Screen Shot 2015-09-07 at 2.47.55 pmWhat changes do we want to see?

So, politics definitely needs a feminist overhaul. There needs to be significantly more effort on the part of political parties to include women among their candidates – AWARE recommends at least 30% of candidates to be women, for a start. Currently, the closest any party has come to this is the Singapore Democratic Party, at 27%. Some parties (ahem, the Singapore Democratic Alliance and the Singaporeans First Party) don’t even have any women among them. Some complain that there’s something of a “gender quota” – bordering on tokenism – when candidates are picked, but as mentioned, it is an important measure to give women their voice in parliament – at least until greater gender equality is seen in politics. (Image source)

Screen Shot 2015-09-07 at 2.46.48 pmThe media, which greatly influences the way that people are perceived, should play their part and actively shift the conversation away from unrelated matters back to the equally-exciting game that these women are playing: politics. There is so much that women have to offer in politics; perspectives that may have never been considered will start getting recognised in parliament and by the public, potentially changing the political atmosphere of Singapore. And seeing as newspapers, television and online news websites provide coverage of politics and news, they’re instrumental in making a difference in the way that female politicians – and women’s issues – are perceived.

Women in Singapore politics have come a long way from being practically non-existent decades ago, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement.

About the Author: Sumithri is a passive-aggressive activist who enjoys writing lengthy blog posts on some of the many issues faced in the world. She’s still trying to figure out which of the many social injustices to dedicate her life fighting against, but whatever it is, will contribute the best she can.


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.


Breaking Out of the Gender Mould

by Meera Sachdeva, Change Maker

Gender roles are social norms individuals of each gender are expected to abide by. For example, in many societies, men are expected to be breadwinners while women are expected to stay at home and take care of the family.

The problem with gender roles is that they inherently punish people who deviate from the norm. They may only cease to exist if enough people break out of them but until the social stigma is removed, this will remain a challenge.

Another issue with fixed gender roles is the perpetuation of gender stereotypes that men dominate and women are subservient. These seemingly small issues escalate to serious problems like sexual violence. Tackling these problems requires attacking the root of the problem: gender roles.

bebin-woman_1678837i (1)Women in the Military

We spoke to 25-year-old Sumita who joined the military as a full-time officer at the age of 21. Sumita was inspired to follow this path by her uncle, who has served in the army for over three decades. In her experience, military training is equally challenging for men and women, and more women should contribute to the defence sector.

She shared, “Being in the army is really different from what women in Singapore think it’s like. It’s a completely different world. Yes, it’s mostly men, but they’re are just as afraid of what’s going on as you are.”

Sumita also debunked the misconception that men are automatically more suited to military life by sheer physical strength. “There are different ways to contribute in the army. Medics are equally important as those fighting on the field. The guys in my generation are a lot more willing to accept women as soldiers.”

Screen-Shot-2013-06-26-at-11.09.56-AM-1024x573Women in Construction

We also spoke to Sylvia, a mother of three who shared her experience in the construction industry. Getting her foot in the door was a challenge, but Sylvia was determined to get hands-on experience in the field.

“My boss who had a small construction company needed a project team and I came in handy because I’d studied building. You’re working with mostly men; no boss would take the risk to see whether a woman can “survive”. If it weren’t for my boss it would be tough to get into that kind of job.”

Sylvia’s husband is equally supportive of her choices. “He never once suggested that I stop working….and whenever I have to work longer hours, my husband would take care of the kids.”

Her advice to women trying to break into a male-dominated industry? “It’s about who you are, your ability, your passion, being good at what you do and having the attitude required to learn in order to excel. Don’t let your gender stop you from doing what you want.”

23GRAY-articleLargeStay At Home Fathers

Thien Yew, a father of two, chose to be a stay-at-home father from 2001-2008 while his wife became the primary breadwinner. They decided it would be beneficial to have a parent at home since their younger son was just entering secondary school.

“Those years that I spent with my sons were a wonderful takeaway. All of us benefitted from the arrangement. On one hand, I was able to understand their lives in school, what they go through, their friends, and the teachers they interact with. On the other, they were happy to have a chauffeur and some company after school!”

Thien Yew opined, in response to an AWARE survey that showed 57% of men aged 18-29 believe that men should be the head of the household, that, “Singapore has progressed to a stage where women are generally accepted as capable and competent in their careers. The problem lies in traditional mindsets, but that’s changing. Women of the younger generation are keen to have their own equally successful careers.” However, he acknowledged that gender inequality in the workplace is still vast.

Thien Yew also shared that stay-at-home fathers are increasingly common and there needs to be open communication between couples to determine the values both parties mutually want to uphold.

Evidently, Singaporeans are able to treat people not conforming to gender roles without judgement or discrimination. Why, then, aren’t more people breaking out?

It’s because gender moulds are deeply entrenched in societal mindsets that any alternative is rarely considered. If children are thrust into their roles since birth, it’s substantially harder to break free.

Moreover, breaking gender roles is not solely a women’s issue. Without them, men are able to spend more time with their kids, with less pressure as a breadwinner, while women are able to pursue fulfilling careers they want.

If breaking out of the gender mould benefits everyone and is clearly the way forward, why is it taking us so long to get there?

About the Author:
Meermeeraa is a Grade 12 student at United World College. She enjoys debating, playing the guitar and drums and playing tennis with her sisters. In her spare time, she also likes writing about issues she is passionate about and believes strongly in encouraging empathy to fix entrenched problems like gender inequality. She is interested in Politics and Economics and how these fields can be used to better the lives of disadvantaged people.