Open letter to those who have internalised misogyny

by Kimberly Jow, Change Maker

Hey you,

Here is a tweet I saw you retweeting, which inspired my letter to you.

girls are so annoying tweet

Internalised misogyny is upsettingly common. The words flash in my head like the visual representation of a siren whenever I hear the words, “I am not like other girls.” So no, you are not alone, and here is why that is a problem.

The composing of this tweet was deliberate. Social media lulls you into a false sense of anonymity, as if you can truly escape responsibility for the things you say on Twitter. In truth, tweeting something offensive is pretty much akin to inviting all your followers into a conference room and shouting your tweets at them through a megaphone. For the person running the above account, that comprises many, many people, most of whom she probably doesn’t know in real life. For us non-famous Twitter users, though, the conference room may be smaller, but remains valid. Composing a tweet like this lets all your Twitter followers know that you find girls annoying, and that you hate the fact that you are one. It tells them many things: that you are ashamed of your own gender, that girls are to be hated, and most importantly, that it is perfectly fine to shame girls – all girls – for one apparently unforgivable quality that you think should be called out. Tweeting the less than 140 characters invites your barest online acquaintances to collectively witness your spitting on your entire gender.

i hate girls and i am a girl tweetRetweeting this is close to writing the tweet. I barely know you, but I can tell from your tweets that you think this is funny, and it’s just a joke. To a tiny extent, it is. But that doesn’t make it harmless. The fact that you retweeted it allows your followers to see that you, an acquaintance of theirs, agree with its contents. This is no longer an “American thing”, nor is it that far off from their reality, because there you are, their classmate, their friend from church, or their neighbour, agreeing that girls are annoying and it’s terrible to be one. Suddenly, the tweet is no longer just hers. It is also yours. You have endorsed it and what it stands for.

A woman’s validation of misogynistic comments is oftentimes used by sexist people to fuel their sexism, allowing them to generalise your acceptance of sexism to everyone.

Common usages of such validation includes the infamous words, “I have a female friend who agrees that…”. (At this point, I’m not too sure if people do say this elsewhere, or the exceptions who say this are just constantly around me, but the prevalence of this phrase in my social circle shrouds me like a suffocating cloud of unprocessed raw wool from some kind of sexist sheep.) Sexists who see your retweets can and have used it as validation of their own problematic attitudes. For example, a man could tell a woman that girls are all annoying, and bring your retweet up as evidence in the face of rebuttals.

I know you didn’t mean to do all that. But intent is not impact. The fact that you have attempted to alienate yourself from the rest of your gender suggests that you think your gender is not worth standing up for, and have invited others to attack them. This stands true whether or not you really meant to do so.

Feminist Taylor Swift tweet
You go, Feminist T. Swift.

The above may sound accusatory and didactic, or unnecessarily harsh, but you have indeed accidentally done all of this. While my words are not coming from a place of anger nor blame, I do want to reach out to you and tell you the effects of your actions. I think it is time you put aside your desire to tell girls in short skirts that they are sluts, or your love for books as something other girls don’t have that makes them stupid. I also think it is time you stop seeing men’s approval as the ultimate goal for everyone, nor seeing misogyny as a tool to be more relatable to men. The road to eradicate sexism seems daunting, but small steps like changing your attitude towards fellow women is actually a great leap.

I am sorry that I never dared to actually tell you any of this, but I know it isn’t too late. I am happy that we can keep working to fight for your right to stand amongst men as equals, and I can only hope that one day you will join us.

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


The feminine ideal

Written by Teejay Vergara, Change Maker

Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 11.31.11 am There has always been a tremendous pressure for women to conform to a ‘feminine’ standard, especially once they hit puberty. Suddenly, hair starts growing on certain areas of your body you didn’t even know was possible.

Some girls start wearing padded bras, plucking their eyebrows, shaving their legs and armpits and waxing their upper lip hair.

Sometimes, we live our lives parallel to these unspoken rules to feel like we belong. The problem is, beauty standards have always been so inexplicably unrealistic that it’s always impossible to achieve.

We face a constant struggle to be the best version of ourselves, but ironically, we follow these unwritten rules society set for us hence, our plummeting self-esteem. Like Lena Dunham, I tried to hide my self-hatred with an aggressive “self-acceptance” by cutting my hair short, dyeing it a weird seaweed green and wearing all sorts of clothes that didn’t match. I’ve always admired girls with short hair, so I thought I’d stop looking at them from afar and just be one  myself.

Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 11.31.30 amThere is a silent expectation for women to be in competition with one another: to have the most proportioned eyebrows, the smoothest legs, or even the whitest armpits. It might seem absurd to think about these things out of context, but it’s happening – in the advertisements we see, and the products we’re sold – and it’s been happening for a long time.

However, thanks to the Internet, there have been an ongoing dialogue about double standards, beauty standards and inequality, and several campaigns to raise awareness on it. Times are changing and so are we.

It was a big deal when Jemima Kirke showed up on a red carpet event with unshaven armpits. Somehow, dyeing them with pastel colors even became a trend. But it doesn’t have to be just a trend because trends end. We should educate women, especially little girls, that they shouldn’t feel as though they have to conform to any societal stereotypes or expectations. They are in charge of their own bodies and being or looking a little different doesn’t degrade their value as people. We shouldn’t be disgusted with our natural form.

Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 11.31.52 amHair is not the only issue though. Through the recent Free The Nipple Campaign, we bring light to the objectification and sexualisation of women’s body parts. The campaign aims to put an end to the censorship of female breasts as a step towards gender equality – it is not a crusade that exclusively advocates for women to bare their chests at any and all given times; rather, it seeks to strip society of its tendencies toward the sexualization of the female upper body.”

The only difference between a man’s nipples and a woman’s breasts is that the latter is objectified. Some call it nudity, but nudity doesn’t have to be sexualized. Why are we so afraid of it? Why should we have these principles dictate what we should and should not wear?

There’s no such thing as a guideline on how femininity should be like and we’re all slowly trying to realise it. We all must be respected regardless of whatever choices we make.

About the author: Teejay is a communications major, a music enthusiast and a frustrated journalist. Her views on Feminism are largely influenced by pop culture and her deep admiration for Lena Dunham and her work. Her ultimate dream by the time she turns 40 is to live in a world where people treat each other as human beings without any basis on what’s in between their legs.


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

Written by Kimberly J, Change Maker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.


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.


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!


For The Young Men Who Love Women

By Robert Bivouac, Change Maker

Don’t be that guy. You know, the guy who hangs around women, doing things for them, because they’re pretty and he’d like to go out with them. The guy who holds doors open, offers to do homework, always ends his texts with a “☺” or “;)” or “hahahaha lol” because that’s not nice, that’s just creepy. Doesn’t mean you can’t be nice to people; don’t be daft. Just don’t be nice to them because you want to have sex with them.

Don’t be that guy. You might’ve seen him before, the guy who doesn’t put any effort into his presentation and wonders why women don’t like him. Also, don’t be that other guy. I’m talking about that guy who goes to the gym, who drinks several different kinds of shake every day, even though he’d rather be at home or doing something else, just to look attractive to women. Look, you have every right to dress the way you want to. You can do whatever you want with your body. You can keep a neckbeard if you want to. You can get ridiculously bulked up if you want to. If you’re doing it for yourself, that’s fine. If you want to look attractive to women, that’s also fine. Nobody gets to judge you. Don’t feel like you have to look attractive, or that you ought to be attractive regardless of what you look like, though. You don’t deserve a partner, and you don’t need one. Get comfortable with your body. Do what you want to.

Don’t be that guy. As in, that guy who looks for tricks to pick women up. Yes, it’s tempting to think some dude has things figured out, that he understands women better than you do and knows how to get them to have sex with you. It’s reassuring to have something to fall back on, to blame your failure on not being skilled enough at the “game” instead of not being attractive, but when the “game” involves harassing and assaulting women it’s not something you should be training to do. Besides, women aren’t simple. Nobody’s that simple. Understand people, as a whole and as individuals.

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

And lastly, don’t be that guy. Don’t be that guy who believes his main goal in life is to get into a relationship, or have sex with as many women as possible. The guy who wants a happy ending, who maybe watched too many movies as a kid and thinks his life is a fairytale, who feels like he needs to be in love or having sex. No, you don’t. Love is fun, sex is fun, but it’s not necessary. People don’t exist to be loved. They don’t exist to have sex. They just exist. That goes for you, and it goes for everyone else too. Get a hobby, find some friends.

For the young men who love women: don’t be those guys.

About the Author: Robert Bivouac is a 20-year-old writer and spoken word poet from Singapore. He enjoys Singaporean food, music and literature, and lives mostly on the internet where he pretends to be cool.

This article was edited on 23 June 2017.


The Art of Growing Up

by Lishani Ramanayake, Change Maker and Body/Language creative writing workshop participant

Here’s an urban myth-
If your second toe is longer than your first,
you’ll be a dominating wife.
When you are 12, your grandmother will tell you that when a nice doctor with a car and a house
comes looking for your hand,
Your sari should always cover your feet,
because who wants a wife that will tell you what to do?
This will be the first time they teach you womanhood.

When you are 13, your aunt will tell you to eat less,
That cute boys don’t date fat girls,
That there are a 100 calories in a banana,
That you are unpretty until told otherwise.

When you are 14, your English teacher will tell you that he’d like to see your hips in a sari,
You will want to take your thick anthology of poems by Rudyard Kipling
And shove it down his throat
As if doing so will erase the indelible mark he left on you
As if doing so means that you can drape silk on skin and not have it feel like an unwelcome touch
As if doing so means you will forget
But instead, you will smile and glance away, uncomfortable, apologetic, because good little
Ceylonese girls are always meant to be seen and not heard.

When you are 15, your mother will tell you not to cut your hair,
Do not listen.
When she says that girls should have two tight braids hanging down the length of their spine as
they sit straight, legs crossed at the ankles like the ladies they- YOU- are supposed to be,
Do not listen.
Cut your hair. Run with scissors in your hand. Do not listen.
When you are 16, you will meet a boy
with eyes the colour of a bleeding sky and a smile that tastes like Sunday mornings.
You will think you’re in love.

When you are 17, don’t do it.
When he tries to take your shirt off instead of teaching you how to drive,
Don’t do it.
When he says you’ll do it if you love him,
Don’t do it.
When he breaks up with you, you will feel like cutting out every part of you he’s ever touched
As if salvation can come from the sweet kiss of a razor blade,
As if bleeding your veins dry will take away whatever is left of him inside you,
Don’t do it.

When you are 18,
You will think you have the whole world figured out,
You’ll think you fit in their boxes,
You won’t fit in their boxes,
Fuck their boxes,
Make your own box,
Make your own circle if you have to.

About the Author: Lishani Ramanayake hails from Sri Lanka, but has made Singapore her adopted home. She has been many things- an imaginary pirate, a tree climber, a freelance journalist, and an undergraduate at Yale-NUS College.



Of boundaries, consent and respect

by Delia Toh, Change Maker

If it were up to me to design a sexuality education class for students, I’d put “respect” on my list of learning objectives. I believe that if Singaporeans aren’t having quality relationships, it’s because we’ve not been taught to respect each other.

I was from a girls’ school, and I vividly remember our teacher telling us during health education classes not to dress in revealing clothes or go out late at night, among other things. Bearing in mind that the majority of rapes are committed by someone the victim knows, this advice is ineffective. What people really need to learn about is consent and respecting another person’s boundaries.


Here, I’ll debunk 4 myths about relationships and dating. However, instead of assuming how people of different genders are “wired” to behave, I will focus on ensuring individual respect

MYTH #1: Men are visual, women are emotional. Men give love to get sex, women give sex to get love. Men are X, women are Y. Stereotypes, stereotypes, stereotypes!

FACT: We ought to unlearn everything we’ve been taught about the “opposite” gender (and of course recognise the existence of other genders). Individuals should be recognised as people with their own desires that have nothing to do with their gender. One dangerous manifestation of these beliefs (that so many of my peers believe) is the misconception that “women only like bad boys, they don’t want nice guys”. Men like Julien Blanc (whose promotion of sexual assault as a “pick-up technique” has gotten him banned from several countries, including Singapore) believe in such harmful rhetoric, and encourage other men to dominate and abuse women to “attract” them.

MYTH #2: If a man persists in the pursuit of a woman who is not interested, she will eventually give in.

FACT: This is a dangerous variation of the assumption that “when a woman says ‘no’, she really means ‘yes’ or ‘convince me’”. The media tends to portray unwanted romantic pursuit as “sweet”, but in real life the experience can be downright scary for women as it may sometimes escalate into stalking or other potentially violent situations. We should remember that women are people with their own agency and they have a right to say no. They do not exist solely as romantic prizes to be won.

If she continuously rebuffs you, it’s a cue for you to move on. Only continue if she responds positively (i.e. gives consent).

MYTH #3: If he’s nasty to a woman, it means he likes her.

FACT: A woman has the right to be treated civilly. If someone else’s behavior is hurting her, then that someone needs to learn to express themselves in a healthy way. Insulting someone else is never “cute” and women are not obliged to feel flattered or complimented if it makes them uncomfortable. This applies to cat-calling and street harassment, too.

MYTH #4: Men are just being friendly when they harass women online and on the street. Women should not be annoyed by it.

FACT: Sometimes, the reason women are bothered by these unwanted interactions has nothing to do with the other party’s intentions, but rather how it makes them feel. I once had a guy add me on Facebook when I’d only met him once, but then he started looking through all my Facebook photos and commenting on the way I smiled and my weight, while saying I was too opinionated and that I could not swear. I don’t know what his intentions were, but I felt like he thought I existed purely for his gratification. I later blocked him. We are not obliged to give anyone our attention if we don’t want to just because we exist.

When we interact with our friends, we’re all aware of the social boundaries that we shouldn’t cross. We should also recognise these boundaries when interacting with women. We can all have better and safer relationships if we all treated each other with respect.

deliaAbout the author: Delia is a second year Chemical Engineering undergraduate at University College London. She has enjoyed blogging since her secondary school days. She would now like to move on from raving about school work to raising awareness through her writing. She strongly believes people are more different than similar, and that individuals ought to be valued for who they are inside.