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Blog Body Image Feminism News & Updates [email protected]

Comic Launch: Celebrate Every Body! (Online Version)

Women receive messages on how their bodies should and should not look like throughout their lives. Messages from the media and even our peers and family constantly pressure women to aspire to unrealistic standards of beauty or to “improve” their bodies through practices, like hair removal, wearing makeup and dieting. It is not uncommon to hear people say things like:

“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.”

“You’re so skinny, you look like a bamboo pole.” 

While seemingly harmless on the surface and sometimes in the garb of well-meaning statements, messages that women have to “improve” their bodies or meet a certain “ideal” standard can lead to body dissatisfaction and eating disorders in women and girls. It is important that we shift our societal attitudes to be inclusive of the diversity of bodies and reject the culture of body shaming.

As part of this effort, AWARE Youth and Rock The Naked Truth (RTNT) collaborated on a series of body positive comics with the affirmation that no one should ever have to prove that they are healthy enough, pretty enough or muscular enough to deserve respect. These comics acknowledge the painful reality that not all bodies are accepted or viewed equally in society. The comics explore three different aspects of body image issues. One comic discusses the issue of body shaming and how problematic it can be when individuals are judged or made fun of because they don’t meet certain “ideal” standards. Another comic touches on the topic of eating disorders and the importance of seeking help. It also emphasises supporting friends and family members who are going through them. Even though the pressure to fit a certain ideal of beauty impacts girls and women more, one of the comics also depicts the unique experiences of men and boys who are not immune to body image issues.

On 28 October, printed copies of the comic were distributed at AWARE’s Free Market. Here, we are proud to present to you the online version of the comics. Please take some time to view the hard work that has gone into the production of this comic, and do feel free to provide feedback on our Facebook pages (AWARE Youth and RTNT)! We hope you enjoy the comic as much as we did creating it!

AWARE Youth is a newly formed group comprising of youths who are passionate about gender equality. They aim to provide a space for youths to share their experience and provide a platform for them to bring their ideas to life. Their first chapter focuses on the issue of body image.

RTNT is a body image movement to inspire others to find confidence in their bodies, as well as to encourage them to take care of their body well.

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Blog News & Updates [email protected]

My Looks Don’t Need Your “Concern”

By Gwen Guo 

When I was in kindergarten, princess dresses were all the rage. I’d wear them not just for special occasions, but also on normal days. You could call me happy-go-lucky — everyday was a day to celebrate something and feel good about myself. Those were also the years when my parents enrolled me in swimming classes. The first time I felt conscious about my looks was when I was celebrating my 6th birthday, where I wore a fancy white princess dress.

Everything was great — there were presents, a cake and singing. Yet, some of the grownups felt compelled to comment about my skin, asking me why I was so tan and declaring that princesses look strange with dark skin. At that age, I didn’t think it was anything. But after looking at the developed photos of myself from that birthday party, I began to feel that something was amiss. Growing up, all images of princesses in movies, TVs and books were always fair-skinned. Maybe the grownups were onto something after all.

Eventually, I grew out of the phase of wanting to be a princess and picked up basketball in primary school. I’m fortunate that the all-girls’ school which I attended valued sports, so there wasn’t much pressure to be more “feminine”. After all, primary school is about play, fun and exploration. My friends and I even roleplayed as Amazonian queens during recess; we would climb onto rocks pretending to be scouting for enemies, or create imaginary ammunition out of pebbles. Being surrounded by children my age without interference from adults, we could aspire to be whatever we wanted to be without fear of judgement.

But things changed in secondary school, where one’s image and physical appearance holds more weight in society. Being an outdoors person, my tan skin had remained with me throughout my life, even till this stage. Even my mother was concerned about me developing freckles and blemishes, and would occasionally comment about my skin tone. At this point, I had become more conscious of other flaws like my jiggly bits, sparse eyebrows and thinning hair. I felt like I didn’t fit in for a plethora of reasons – I was socially awkward, liked sports but wasn’t particularly good at it, abysmal in my studies, shy, and hideous compared to everyone else. While everyone else was coming the streets of Orchard Road to shop for new clothes that were “in fashion”, I would wear my brother’s hand-me-downs.

Me during my secondary school days.

During this stage, I also picked up video games as a hobby. Going out to meet my all-male gaming friends in person was both exciting and terrifying. I could almost smell disappointment when these boys, who met me for the first time, realised that the “gamer girl” they’d been so eager to meet was just a tanned tomboy wearing her brother’s clothes. One even told me that my hips looked “too big” just because I was wearing bermudas.

Then, at 16, I met my first boyfriend through gaming. Having a boy like me despite the way that I looked was flattering, and I treated his opinions with great consideration. I thought he accepted me for the way I looked. Unfortunately, things didn’t turn out so rosy – my boyfriend started policing my clothes, “recommending” that I wear shorter skirts, heels and makeup. Somehow, even my thinning crown became something he had to talk about. “I’m concerned about your balding,” he’d express. I’d buy hair tonic and desperately try to thicken my hair while trying on new makeup, just to appease him. But whatever I did to my appearance was never good enough for him. The only saving grace was that I genuinely began to enjoy applying makeup, but he still managed to find an angle for criticism. “Who the hell wears blue eyeshadow during the day?” he sneered.

The final straw that broke the camel’s back was what he said to me after finding out that I had suffered second-degree burns after irresponsibly playing beach volleyball without sunblock for 3 hours. “You look like a black piece of crap,” he snipped. For the first time, I decided to stand up for myself, and told him that his words hurt me. Predictably, he brushed it off by proclaiming that it was just a joke.

Harnessing the dignity that I still had, I finally left him after enduring unreasonable expectations for months. I went on with my life, more confident with the realisation that I was in control of my own appearance and that I had the power to say no. After all, lions should never concern themselves with the opinions of sheep. In Polytechnic, I experienced so much more freedom – I wore my makeup the way I wanted to, chose the clothes that fit me instead of forcing myself to fit into modelesque clothes… That positive energy was eventually translated into the outgoing person that I am today.

Me during my Poly days.

To be honest, there are days when I still suffer from low self-esteem. I didn’t dare to walk out of the house without makeup until I was 22, and I still feel conscious about my fluctuating body fat percentage till this day. But, as I continue to grow and form a deeper and larger identity beyond the surface of my skin, I know that these low phases will become shorter.

For those of you reading this, please understand that your body choices are a personal right, and nobody can take this right away from you. Go forth and face the world, whether you are fat or skinny, made-up or bare-faced, tattooed or not, bald or hairy, firm or flabby! If people comment negatively on your appearance, a simple reply would be, “Thanks, but I don’t think my looks need your concern.”

Me today!

 

About the Author: Gwen is one of the three co-founders of IMBA Interactive, a startup which provides audio services to video game developers. Being an avid gamer and lover of internet memes, she hopes for a world where games and game communities don’t shy away from inclusivity.

 

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Blog News & Updates Rape Culture Sexual Assault

We must end victim-blaming now

by Rio Hoe
The views expressed in this article are Rio’s own. The original article can be found here.

Victim-blaming is unacceptable. It is illogical and rests on a failure to distinguish the importance of precautions and the idea that people deserve to suffer for failing to take them. Rape is a deliberate act; the wrong always lies with the perpetrator, and never the victim.

In the context of rape, victim-blaming is unacceptable. Yet, it happens more often than we think. Take a look at some of the comments on a recent news article by ChannelNews Asia titled, ‘Man on trial for abducting and raping unconscious woman 15 years younger’ (Mar 30).

This above comment was the comment with the most ‘likes’ at time this blog entry was written. The comments section can be found here. There are more:

Rape is avoidable, if men don’t rape.

These sort of views are regressive. People who are raped do not “ask for it”. Rapists are not jailed “because she (the victim) said so”. In the context of rape, it does not “take 2 hands to clap” – in fact, that contradicts the very definition of rape as non-consensual sex. And finally, yes, rape is avoidable, if men don’t rape.

The wrong in rape is the wrong committed by the offender through a deliberate act of penetration despite the victim’s refusal, or inability to give consent. The victim commits no wrong. Even if the victim placed herself in a vulnerable position, it does not at all reduce the wrong committed by the offender. Thinking otherwise is illogical. If we blame rape victims for doing things that increase the likelihood of rape, shouldn’t we also condemn murder victims for failing to carry a weapon, or failing to end an abusive relationship, since these could have avoided a murder? Shouldn’t we also condemn people who become victims of harassment and abuse because they share political views which people dislike, since “they could have kept their mouth shut?”. We don’t, because we understand that people have a right not to be murdered, and a right to express their political views without being abused, or worse, physically harmed. So why do some people not accept that people have a right not to be raped? The fact is, victim-blaming is a problematic and illogical practice, and we should be unafraid to call people out on it, and put an end to it.

I can anticipate several responses to my claims. I will address just three of them for now.

First, one might ask: ‘does this mean we shouldn’t take precautions?’ Of course not. I do not think it is wrong to tell our friends and family to watch their drinks to prevent ‘spiking’, or to moderate their alcohol intake. But we should only do so because we are aware that the world is filled with people with bad intentions, and because we realize society is imperfect, and people do commit wrongs against women. But we should not do so because we believe that failing to take precautions puts the victim in the wrong. These are two very different attitudes to have; the latter constitutes victim-blaming, and is unacceptable.

There is a difference between reminding people to take care of themselves, and to blame them when a bad thing happens to them because they failed to do so

There is a difference between reminding people to take care of themselves, and to tell people that they are to blame when a bad thing happens to them because they failed to take care of themselves. Too many people fail to make this distinction.

Second, one might ask: in cases, such as in car accidents, the liability of the wrongdoer is reduced if the victim’s actions increased the likelihood of the wrong occurring. For example, if I ride my motorbike dangerously, or dash across the road, someone who knocks me down with his car will pay less compensation than if I had used a zebra crossing. So why should this not apply to rape? This argument is not uncommon – I encountered it in the same comments section as the comments above:

Deliberate wrongs belong to a special class of wrongs which attract condemnation despite a victims’ actions.

There is, in fact, a huge difference. In the case of motor accidents, the harm is caused (you guessed it), by accident. This changes the nature of the wrong; it is what we can call an accidental wrong. Hence, the traffic accident case is a different type of case from rape, which is a deliberate wrong. Think about it this way: if someone sets out to murder me by running me over with his car, surely I am not to be blamed for failing to use the overhead bridge, or for leaving my house in the first place. The murderer, through his/her deliberate acts, committed a wrong, and this causes my actions to ‘drop out of the picture’. Deliberate wrongs belong to a special class of wrongs which attract condemnation despite a victims’ actions. This is because the responsibility of the wrongdoer, having direct his/her free will towards causing harm, becomes the focus of our moral and legal censure.

Rapes are caused by people. They are not things that happen to people

Remember that rapes are caused by people. They are not things that happen to people. It is not like getting struck by lightning, or being crushed by a falling tree. Rape is a deliberate act, committed with the intention to harm. Hence, the wrong in rape lies solely with the rapist, never the victim.

Third, one might ask: where it is ‘easy’ to avoid rape, shouldn’t victims attract some blame if they fail to do so? In response, I argue that it is not for anyone to say what is ‘easy’ for someone else. As seen from the comments above, some victim-blamers suggest that for women, it is as ‘easy’ as, for example, not drinking, or avoiding the company of men who have previously made advances towards them.

This is wrong, and let me explain why. Women are already disadvantaged in the workplace due to sexist attitudes, and the fact that corporate leadership remains male-dominated (I recently wrote an article on this). It is unlikely that they can avoid the advancements of their male colleagues, or avoid corporate events that include alcohol, if they wish to advance their careers, since these actions may be seen by the male-led corporate leadership as being ‘unsociable’, or failing to be a ‘team-player’.

Hence, the argument that vulnerable situations are ‘easy’ to avoid ignores the unequal power structures that women have to deal with on a daily basis. In the rape case reported above, for example, it was reported that ‘the victim tolerated Ong’s (the rapist) advances so as not to jeopardise her internship at an F&B company whose owners were friends with the accused’.

I am glad that in the comments section of the above-mentioned news article, some people have called out victim-blamers for their ill-founded views. However the fact that victim-blaming comments regularly end up as the ‘top’ comments (with the most ‘likes’) demonstrate the pervasiveness of this regressive mentality in our society. I hope that my contribution will help people call out those who victim-blame, and explain to them why they are wrong, and why their attitudes must change.

R

This post was contributed by Rio Hoe of ConsensusSG.

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Volunteers Open Call: White Ribbon Campaign 2016/7

We Can! Singapore has an exciting opportunity for volunteers and we hope you’ll come on board!

If you’re a boy or man (of any age), and would like to be part of an important and transformative journey to end gender-based violence, we hope you’ll come be part of our upcoming White Ribbon Campaign! The White Ribbon Campaign is a global movement of men and boys working to end male violence against women and girls.

Please read on for more details:

WHITE RIBBON CAMPAIGN 2016/17 ORGANISING TEAM

We Can! Singapore is gearing up to begin preparations for our White Ribbon Campaign 2016/7! The campaign will begin sometime between November 2016 to February 2017. The White Ribbon Campaign is a global movement of men and boys working to end male violence against women and girls. We Can! is looking for men and boys of all ages to join our organising team for our upcoming campaign!

Last year, the organising team put together thought-provoking videos about gender-based violence and a social media campaign, as well as organised a motorbike rally where male volunteers took to the streets to raise awareness about the campaign and distribute white ribbon pins to the public.

What will we do this year to raise awareness about gender-based violence? It’s up to you! If you’re a man and would like to be part of this important and transformative experience, we invite you to join our organising team! Your ideas and contributions will drive the upcoming White Ribbon Campaign and bring it to life.

No experience is necessary, just a heart for social change. (If you enjoy photography, videography, graphic design or are an avid social media user, that would be a bonus.) The organising team will start the planning process sometime in September 2016.

We can’t wait to hear your ideas—if you’re interested to join or need more details, please contact Gracia at [email protected] as soon as possible. We’d appreciate it if you spread the word to friends who might be interested as well. Thank you!

Looking forward to hearing from you!

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The Women of Hip-Hop

Written by Sriraksha Raghavan

Hip-hop music is considered a highly misogynistic and the lyrics do often portray women in poor light some going as far as making rape references. The genre comes under fire regularly for this reason. This has created a very poor reputation for the genre, which initially emerged as a way for people to voice their struggle, make it an art form. In light of all this bad press it is fitting to mention some pioneers in this area of music. We can thus clarify that which Hip-Hop has some problematic musicians, it is not a problematic genre. It has a fascinating body of work. Here are some women who have contributed to it.

1. MC Lyte

mclyteMC Lyte is the first female rapper to put out a full length solo album. Her songs are in-your-face cheeky and she is hailed as a feminist icon for her hard core rap with a no nonsense persona. She is the founder of the “Hip Hop Sisters Network Foundation” whose tagline reads ‘Redefining the essence of women through Unity and Empowerment’. The foundation works to promote a better image of women from different ethnicities, apart from providing all sorts of assistance, support and even a scholarship to women of colour. Her work clearly speaks for her more than any description can.

2. Lauryn Hill

laurynhillShe was extremely popular as a member of the hip-hop band the Fugees. The name of the band is from the root word Refugee and their music was largely about black empowerment making it highly relevant today. It was however with the release of her first and only solo album that Lauryn sky-rocketed to stratospheric acclaim. The album was called ‘Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’. Apart from being a body of work that brilliantly elucidated what it is to be a woman, the album is also a juggernaut of technicality, showcasing her unbelievable artistry. She went on to win five Grammy awards for this album including album of the year.

3. Queen Latifah

Jan. 8, 2014 - Los Angeles, California, U.S. - QUEEN LATIFAH attends the 2014 People's Choice Awards at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live. (Credit Image: � D. Long/Globe Photos/ZUMAPRESS.com)

Queen Latifah requires no introduction because she is jack of all trades and master of them all. Her musical beginnings were with beat boxing for a hip hop group that caught the attention of major label executives leading to her first album. She is famous for rapping about sensitive subjects like domestic violence, street harassment and harassment in relationships.

4. The Lady of Rage

The Lady of RageBorn Robin Yvette Allen, The Lady of Rage is known for her work with fellow rappers Dr.Dre and Snoop Dogg. Her style of rapping has earned her critical acclaim. She is known for having a deep understanding of poetry, its delivery and flow and wordplay. Her contribution to Paul Edward’s book ‘How to Rap’ shows how much of work and study she puts into her vocation.

5. Yo-Yo

Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 12.29.07 pmTo summarize what kind of trailblazer YoY o is, she called her team IBWC which stood for ‘Intelligent Black Women’s Coalition.’ She says that her heavy interest in poetry was channelized into rap after watching a performance by Roxanne Shante’. She made a successful transition into movies in 2000s while continuing to work on her music.  

 

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. 

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Purple-haired slut

Written by Tammy Lim, Change Maker

1I always aspired to be a purple-haired unicorn once I was done with Junior College. It was only after A-levels that I could reclaim my body as an individual, since the idea of ridiculously strict dress codes will not apply in my life (for the time being). After highlighting my hair a brilliant purple (I wanted to dye my whole head purple but my parents said it would be ‘weird’), I was then still called ‘weird’ by several of my male classmates. I casually brushed the comments off, until it escalated to the point that it became slut-shaming.

One day, when my brother’s friends were over, I joined them for dinner. My brother, one of the few people who thought my purple hair was cool, excitedly told his friends that I had dyed my hair. That friend of his commented, “Well, at least you’re not like the other girls who dye their hair.” That statement raised a red flag in my mind, so in response, I prompted, “What do you mean by ‘the other girls’?”. To which he replied in a strangely matter-of-fact way, “They’re sluts.” That answer caused an eruption of laughter among my brother and his friends, while it left my mouth hanging open, blood boiling and very appalled.

It seemed like an incredibly innocuous incident that girls with dyed hair would encounter, but I found it extremely disturbing instead.

It was disconcerting to me when my brother’s friends were laughing at how other girls with dyed hair were called ‘sluts’, because it reinforced the notion that it was perfectly acceptable and even  hilarious to call girls derogatory terms for their own pleasure, even though it made no sense. Also, them laughing stems from self-righteous behaviour: knowing that labelling others ‘sluts’ places themselves on a pedestal above girls who have many sexual partners (although it is truly alright to have many sexual partners). However, this present an ironic double standard as boys are celebrated for being sexual, since it is a sign of their supposed masculinity.

It was also strange that my brother’s friends made a mysterious correlation between having brightly coloured hair and being a slut – how does such brilliantly colourful hair even relate to a person having loads of sex? To me, they were being illogical and anyway, it is no one’s business to know if a person has loads of sex and much less condemn it. Though them spouting the common rhetoric that I’m “not like the other girls” was only said to make me feel like I’m the ‘special one’ who is exempted from the brutal ‘slut’ label, it does not make them any less offensive, because it is still sexist.

From this incident, I realized that slut-shaming has grown from bad to worse. It used to be an insult to girls who have sexual agency, but now, it has evolved to a derogatory umbrella term used to punish girls who deviate from the eye-pleasing and feminine ideal of a girl, even when it is completely unrelated to their sexuality. Imposing such an ideal on girls is not only harsh but also dehumanizing, as girls are expected to be sexy, but not sexual, which in itself is contradictory.

Since the incident, I have been trying to think of ways that I could have countered their misogynistic ways. It dawned upon me that it is much more difficult that simply telling them off: how was I supposed to educate a group of males who enjoyed degrading women in the most ridiculous ways? I still struggle to answer this question till today, but I believe the key is to show that feminism is not meant to police and oppress men (and women also), but rather that feminism liberates and benefits everyone, regardless of gender, through its inclusive nature.

To show others such problematic behaviour that is entrenched in their beliefs is akin to presenting themselves with a mirror and pointing out their flaws – something that is incredibly painful for them to recognise and change.

Slut-shaming is a pervasive form of sexist behaviour that should be eliminated. We all ought to think twice before we scream ‘slut’ at a girl who is simply choosing to take ownership of her body – we should simply respect that.

2About the Writer: Tammy is a recent A level graduate who occasionally writes about feminism and enjoys learning more about gender equality advocacy work, how to fight the patriarchy and being a better feminist. She is constantly with E.T pointing at a new horizon that is bright and full of gender equality.

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Pathbreaking Tamil movies you will love

Written by Sriraksha Raghavan

The Tamil cinema industry was a game changer in the early era of films, with movies dabbling in multiple perspective storylines (nootruku nooru), social stigmas (arangetram) and essentially trying to usher a new world by showing people a new way of life. They touched on themes that were controversial and thought-provoking. One of the most prolific directors during this time was K.Balachander and his movies had a nuanced way of tackling complex subjects. His portrayal of women was often in a progressive and honest light, showing them smart and tough and angry and scared and most of all, human, and it is something he is praised for even today. Here are just some of his movies and why they are worth watching.

Iru Kodugal

A movie about a lady who doesn’t get accepted by her husband’s family and so returns to her father while pregnant. She then goes on to become a high-profile bureaucrat under the encouragement of her father braving all odds. She raises her son as a single parent and braves the rumours spread by her co-workers who are jealous of her. The movie dealt with sensitive subjects like single parenting, divorce and workplace harassment while keeping in mind the social climate of the ‘60s making it a thought proving watch with a female lead that braved poverty and social stigma to finish victorious.

Arangetram

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 11.22.32 amA movie about a young woman who decides to work as a sex worker in order protect her family from the clutches of poverty. The movie was very controversial at the time of its release, owing to the way the director had approached the movie, making it a gritty, honest movie about the fate of a girl who will do anything for a family that cared little about her. The protagonist is a woman who showed viewers that nothing could define her but herself, and ultimately for her, that was enough. When her family found out about her profession, they disowned her. With that, the director showed the fixations of the society that couldn’t look past its own limitations.

Aval Oru Thodar Kathai

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 11.24.10 amOne of his most popular movies, Aval Oru Thodar Kathai talks about a working woman who shoulders the responsibility of her family while trying to maintain a life and identity on her own. It addressed the life of an everyday woman in a way that had never been done before, as a breadwinner, a game changer. This movie is a classic for its rounded portrayal of a woman, as one who cannot be put into boxes, and is full of contradictions. By doing so, the protagonist seems genuine, a friend, a co-worker or someone we see on a bus. This was the biggest achievement of the movie, making us see the brilliance of everyday life and the genuine way women live.

Apoorva Ragangal

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 11.25.38 amA movie based on the complexity of human relationships, handled with authenticity and backed by incredible performances is hard to come by. Apoorva Ragangal is one such movie, which deals with the relationship of an older woman and a younger man, without stereotyping it but by handling it with tenacity. The movie breaks stereotypes about how women are expected to behave in relationships (women were expected to be subdued and accept what a man says). But here, we see the women are in charge of their lives and not afraid to go against the grain.

 

Moondru Mudichu

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 11.26.13 amThis movie is a revenge tale about a girl whose boyfriend dies in a freak accident orchestrated by his best friend, who is actually in love with her. She then seeks to avenge his death. A dark tale about love and friendship, the movie highlights the relationships of all the characters as a whole and their individual relationships, showing that humans are all neither good nor bad, but fall in that spectrum of grey. She sets out to take revenge, but what the movie ultimately highlights is, how she defines how the horrors of her will life influence her. She ultimately does not let bitterness get the better of her and instead comes out unscathed, and the strength she embodies is inspiring.

K.Balachandar was one of those men who could make everyone think, with movies that had ambitious themes grounded in reality. The cinema of today have a lot to learn from this. What we see today is unrealistic portrayal of both men and women, with exaggerated qualities of masculinity and heavy reliance on gender stereotypes (men who can fight off ten gangsters, women whose sole occupation is thinking about these men etc). This sends the wrong message to people and if we can instead take a leaf out of K.Balachander’s book and make movies about real people, our society will benefit from it.

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. 

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Change making in real life

Written by Sumithri Venketasubramanian, Change Maker

A couple oScreen Shot 2015-11-30 at 3.38.30 pmf days ago, I was scrolling through Everyday Feminism – as you do – and I came across a blog post: “You Don’t Need to Be Leading Marches for Your Activism to Matter – Here Are 5 Reasons Why”. It got me thinking about how the concepts of space and place influence our involvement in creating positive change.

Many of us have circles in which we feel comfortable talking about feminism and social justice, and these conversations often enrich our views on the inequalities of the world, at times giving us a sense of empowerment. And then there are those spaces where we choose to stay silent when jokes are cracked about women belonging in the kitchen – we might even feel pressured to give a little smile, just so as to not draw attention to yourself (“Why aren’t you laughing? Are you some kind of feminist or something?”). There are certain places where feminist discourse is encouraged,and others where it is jeered at.

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 3.38.41 pmThere’s a phrase that goes “if you’re not fighting something, you’re enabling it”. That is, unless we’re making active efforts to go out into the world and advocate for big changes, breaking down injustices in the system and opening up the minds of society, we’re actually contributing to the discrimination and prejudices that certain people suffer as a result of due to how integrated these systems are with our everyday lives. So it would seem that if we really wanted to contribute to the battle against oppression, we would have to dedicate our lives to full-time advocacy and/or activism. But does this mean that we’ll have to stick to working with feminist organisations and groups which are influential in the women’s empowerment field? What about those feminists who have dreamed of being scientists for so much of their lives, or those who may want to open up their own bakery? Do we have to give up all of our personal (read: “selfish”) aspirations for the greater good?

The short answer is: no. The long answer is that it is not solely feminist bodies and lobby groups that can make a difference. In fact, it is in non-feminist spaces that have the greatest potential for change. As more overt forms of sexism are being increasingly frowned upon by society (though they still are very much in existence), prejudices begin to present themselves in the form of microaggressions – subtle comments and actions that are telling of the biases that one holds on the basis of gender, race, sexual orientation, disability, age, class, appearance and/or other traits. And microaggressions are something which all of us experience – be it comments about how weak women are, or the dismissal of a woman’s anger because “she’s just on her period, don’t mind her”. The best part is: we all have the potential to make a difference.

Men’s role in gender advocacy

wrc_profilepicture_sAnd why should the burden (or honour, depending on how you see it) of ridding the world of gender-based injustices lie merely on those who suffer from them? After all, it is the privileged who have the power and means to influence systems in place which attempt to keep certain groups of people down.

The White Ribbon Campaign is a call by men around the world to their fellows, encouraging them to take a stand against violence against women. Movements like these are important, because they don’t attempt to hijack organisations and campaigns by women fighting for rights and opportunities. Rather, they attempt to take the spaces men already yield so much power and influence in and make them more feminist. It is in this approach to advocacy that institutionalised and systemic discrimination are challenged.

Feminism doesn’t just have to be about running a full-time social justice blog, or educating the masses about gender and sexism. Feminism is also in asking “wait, why is [the sexist joke that was just told] funny?”, and in speaking up against workplace harassment. Feminism is about feminism, wherever and whenever it is.

About the author: Sumithri is in a place in life where she knows what she wants to do, but also has yet to figure it out. Whatever it is, she hopes the world she leaves will be more just than the one she was born into.

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How to be feminist

Anonymous contribution

What are your views on wearing makeup?

  1. It’s symptomatic of a culture where women are taught to be valued for their appearance and I refuse to give my money to an industry that profits off of women’s insecurities
  2. It’s a form of self-expression and art and I should be allowed to subvert beauty ideals with green eyebrows and black lipstick on
  3. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look conventionally beautiful so long as I’m self-aware; I will put makeup on if I want to

How about your views on Taylor Swift’s music?

  1. I think a lot of her lyrics are problematic and, thus, I don’t really want to listen to her music
  2. She’s human and she’s still learning – I won’t listen to her earlier work but I like the turn she’s taken since learning about what feminism means
  3. Her songs are catchy and fun and I genuinely enjoy listening to them. I don’t think it’s possible to listen to music that’s truly non-problematic anyway

Finally, would you ever be a stay-at-home parent?

  1. Not a chance. The glass ceiling isn’t going to break itself.
  2. It really depends on the sort of partner I’m with or whether I have a partner at all. I can’t really give you an answer without context.
  3. If I had kids, I would love to be able to stay at home to bring them up. You don’t have to be a career woman to be empowered.

What if I told you that you had to pass the above test to confidently call yourself a feminist?

taytayLuckily, and perhaps frustratingly for people looking for easy answers, every response in this test is valid. One of the dilemmas that new feminists run into early on is that of trying to reconcile their lifestyle choices with their philosophy. These range from the mundane (is it alright if I enjoy James Bond movies?) to the more definitive (can I take my husband’s last name after we get married?). What remains the same, though, is the idea that a basket of lifestyle choices can make or break one’s identity as a feminist.

The assumption undergirding this way of thinking is that feminism is a homogenous movement. It is not. Going by the basic understanding that feminism’s goal is to achieve gender equality for all, we need to appreciate that there are many means to that end. Feminists straddle many different identities – they differ in sexuality, class, race and many other lines. It makes sense then that such a diverse group of people would have dissimilar and, occasionally contradictory, approaches to fighting for gender equality.

unnamedThere are two implications of this realisation; the first is that the burden of being the “model feminist” is lifted off the individual. All too often, new feminists feel the pressure of setting an example of what it means to believe in gender equality through their actions and end up feeling conflicted because there is no straightforward answer to be found. The second is that, amidst our inevitable disagreements, there is little point in quarrelling about what is or is not “feminist enough”. News now travels at the speed of light and every action or word from a famous woman is sufficient fodder for a thousand think pieces. There is merit in having conversations like this however they shouldn’t be definitive.

Once we accept the plurality of the feminist experience, we open ourselves up to the opportunity to learn about feminists from all walks of life are resisting oppression and creating a better world to live in.

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Men’s leadership for gender equality

This post was originally published as a Change Maker newsletter in October 2015. If you would like to subscribe to the newsletter for regular updates and tips, take the Change Maker pledge here!

I’m a guy, and I care about sexism. What can I do?

We’ve heard it before, many times, in different ways: men are an important part of the movement for gender equality. But how exactly can boys and men make a real difference?
Here are some ideas from us!

1. INTERRUPT: Sexism and “guy talk”

bigstock-hand-making-a-stop-signal-sign-162901311Catch-ups with your National Service buddies, soccer hang-outs, or just drinks with guys you like to hang out with – these traditionally “boys-only” spaces provide a lot of potential for allies to interrupt sexism should it arise.
What can you do if your best friend makes a rape joke? Or if someone makes an offhand comment about a girl’s body or dressing? There are many ways you can interrupt these instances of sexism, show that you don’t approve and get people to reflect. Humour, questions, sarcasm, or a sincere show of discomfort – any of these could work! How would you interrupt sexism in the boys’ club?
2. ENGAGE: With men, women and good ideas
other_conversation_review_comment_bubble_talk-512People aren’t always going to pat us on the back for speaking up. In order to spark real change, men need to be okay with starting conversations that nobody wants to have, and dealing with discomfort. You need to listen keenly to women’s experiences and take them seriously. Read about and follow broader discussions on gender issues that are happening now. Learning requires humility and willingness to unlearn male privilege. Speaking up is taking a risk. Are you ready for it?
3. ADVOCATE: For change, equal spaces and diversity
AdvocateNetwork-Tab1dThink about the communities you are already a part of and how you can make a difference there. In specific, think of the spaces where you have leadership and a strong voice. This might be at home, on an online space, in an interest group or a work team. For example, if an organising team you are in wants to invite a group of experts for a panel discussion, what are the factors you would consider? Is there equal representation of men and women on the panel? Are there people dominating the conversations and decision-making processes? How much of a role do women play in organising and participating?  How major are these roles and how much are women acknowledged or credited for them?
There are many strategies we can adopt if we want to shake up a system that benefits one group of people over others – so observe how these systems work in your own context, and work to dismantle them!
Get involved!
– Join Yes, All Men and SGRainbow in talking about consent in social and sexual settings. Register for the dialogue session HERE!
– Volunteer for the We Can! Arts Fest – email us at [email protected] if you want to RALLY with us on 6 December!