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What Suffragette meant to me

Written by Estelle Ng, Change Maker

(This post contains spoilers for the movie Suffragette)

MakeMoreNoise2Opened in cinemas early this year, the film Suffragette depicted the beginnings of the suffrage movement in the UK – a pursuit of women’s voting rights. Set in the early 1920s, the film illustrated how women were considered less important than men and as a result, their voices were invalidated and disregarded. Granted, the fight for women’s voting rights was an arduous one. Having conducted peaceful demonstrations and submitted parliamentary testimonies, voices of the working class women were ignored time and time again. This left these women with no choice but to resort to violence – a language that man at that time presumably only considered seriously. After a series of violent destruction of public and private property and consequently numerous jail terms for the women involved, the film ended with the death of Emily Davison which attracted so much international attention that the King had to address. Historical records reveal that British women were granted voting rights in 1928.

Scene-from-SuffragetteAdmittedly, I only knew about the word “suffrage” through this film, and that only goes to show how much I have taken the suffrage movement for granted. From a young Singaporean woman’s point of view, this movement seems at first glance to be a distant one. Unlike the UK, there was no suffrage movement in Singapore because we have been practising universal suffrage since the start of democratic elections in 1947. Women are not banned from running for the elections and standing in parliament, though only one of the full ministers in the current parliament is female.

Yet, one only needs to search on Google to realise that in this time and age, women in other parts of the world only recently received the right to vote and the right to run for elections.

54bf34caf792ec66a6435815ae4f48e8In actuality, the suffrage movement relates to something close and relevant to societies today. Suffrage reflects merely one aspect of gender equality. Women around the world, Singapore included, are still fighting in many ways to be treated as equals. The gender gaps still exists in Singapore. Another case in point: Have you been shut off from a discussion just because you don’t serve in the army or just because you menstruate? Gender discrimination in Singapore is real and it is very much alive in everyday discourse. This rhetoric is also reinforced and legitimated insofar as the constitutional right to non-discrimination assured by Article 12 does not extend to categories such as “gender” and “sex”.

So, what does the movie Suffragette mean to me?

Though not an entirely accurate portrayal of the actual events that happened, the movie symbolised the strength that women have. I believe that women today have the power and capability to champion for gender equality. Gender equality does seem like a utopian and idealistic concept that no one can singlehandedly achieve. However, let us remember that as with any movement, this fight for gender equality begins with the individual. Be it debunking stereotypes about what women and men ought to do in everyday conversations with friends, or through writing letters to the parliament to amend legislature, every individual has a part to play.

The movie also made me realise how championing for gender equality is also men’s responsibility because gender discrimination affects men too. The limiting binary oppositions that demarcates the boundaries between what men and women can do affects men too because not every man wants to conform to these boundaries. Think about it: Gender discrimination benefits no one but the elite and gender-conforming  men of society.

As we enter the post-SG50 era, let us remember that the war against gender inequality today may differ from the suffrage movement of the early 1920s, but it doesn’t mean that the war is over.

estelleAbout the AuthorLiving by the motto permanent impermanence, Estelle realises that with every moment never capable of repeating itself, life is simply too short to be spent waiting for things to happen. She is currently a Sociology undergraduate who believes that the power of words and the arts can inspire conversations.

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Some Reassembly Required: An Interview with Chris Khor

Interview conducted by Sing Rue, Change Maker

Christopher Khor is a transgender man who has been making headlines in Singapore with his upcoming documentary “Some Reassembly Required”. The film will document his reconstruction and is the first film on transgender men in Singapore. His team raised over $14,000 through crowdfunding earlier in the year for the documentary. We talk to Chris about his thoughts on transgender visibility in Singapore, and globally, gender diversity and what we can expect from the film.

Sing Rue: Can you tell me more about some of the misconceptions you intend to address in this documentary? What are some of the important things people need to understand?

Chris Khor: I think the biggest misconception about transgender people is that people can’t be transgender and gay/lesbian. I get that it’s confusing – I’ve had trouble explaining it to my family members myself. But it’s important to know that being transgender relates to your gender identity, and gay to your sexual orientation, so they’re very separate things. As for me, I identify as a straight transgender man.

SR: Recently, transgender women such as Laverne Cox are gaining visibility, but not so much for transgender men. Why do you think this is so? How do we bring about greater visibility for transgender men?

CK: I think the reality is that transgender men often can fade into the shadows. A lot of transmen that I know do not want to seen. Transmen are men, but there is still a lot of workplace discrimination, and there’s always that fear that someone will view you differently. I think the best way to bring about visibility is to create a safe environment in which they are willing to not be stealth, without having to fear jaundiced eyes and discrimination. Of course, then it’s up to them.

SR: As a gender non-conforming person myself, I am incredibly grateful to you for coming out in such a public way to share your story. What prompted your decision to do so? How is the response so far and how do you feel?

CK: We decided to make this documentary after a chance encounter with a transgender man in San Francisco. Geraldine tells this story better, but in essence, he was the first transgender man I’d met in person. And he’d just gotten married, and his wife is lovely. I think it gave me the first semblance of the life I could live, and that was encouraging to me on a personal level.

After that, Geraldine and I began talking a lot more about what being transgender meant to me, and we realised we had a great story. Still, it took me months after that to agree to being the subject of my own film!

It’s a privilege to be in this position, to educate and bring hope. The response has been overwhelming. I’m incredibly thankful for everyone’s support. But the best part has been getting messages from other transguys, looking for advice and sharing their experiences. It’s so important that we start to build a community that isn’t afraid to reach out to one another, especially since it’s so much easier to just “be stealth”.

SR: You seem to be very comfortable with your gender identity and who you are as a person. Is there anything you would recommend to people who are currently struggling with their gender identity and are not in such a good place as you are?

CK: Oh, it helps that I’ve always known I was a boy. There was never any doubt in that regard. I struggled a lot with not being able to accept the body that I have, even after surgery. The best advice I have, in this regard, is that you are bigger than your body. That your soul is more valuable that anything that people see. And you deserve to be loved. That’s going to sound cheesy, but it’s true. Sometimes, that self-love is the only thing we’ve got.

SR: There are some who have come to a place of self-acceptance with regards to their gender identity, but still face opposition from society. Do you have any advice for them? What were some support systems you had that helped you?

CK: I was very fortunate to have the support of my lecturers when I came out in university, and when I worked at a cafe when I was younger. I’ve found that support tends to spill down from the top. A lot of it, I think, is knowing your own worth, and realising that you can walk away from people that don’t treat you with respect. I’ve found that some of these relationships can be unhealthy, like tumours, and you should get rid of them, like…tumors.

SR: What steps do you think we need to take as a community to continue an open dialogue about gender identity, diversity and acceptance? What are some actions we can take as individuals for positive change?

CK: I think we need to talk to each other, instead of talking at each other. Dialogue can only be had if people are listening, and respectful. This applies for communities and individuals. Be kind. Give more love. Be slow to respond in anger. Be willing to talk, to understand different perspectives, and do not fear being wrong. This all sounds extremely airy fairy but it’s true. When we see each other as humans, rather than labels, then the world will be a happier place.

So, to put those things into practice: be respectful when talking to others. Make no assumptions because of people’s labels. Understand that everyone is different, and that’s okay. These are not battles to be won – these are people to be loved.

SR: I can’t wait for your film to be completed! In the meantime, do you have an exclusive teaser to share with those of us who just can’t bear the wait?

CK: We’re in the early stages of production, so we’ve just started lining up interviews. Look forward to our web content though! It’s mad season at work, but we’ll have a video going up pretty soon!

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Check out more information on Some Reassembly Required here: http://www.somereassemblyrequired.com/

‘Like’ their Facebook page to get more updates here: https://www.facebook.com/somereassemblyrequired

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Breakthrough: The Programme

Programme

WORKSHOPS

Oh The Places You’ll Go…
11AM – 12.30PM  |  Function Room
Creative Writing workshop

A creative writing, creative thinking workshop based on the Dr. Seuss short story “Oh the places you’ll go”: a story about falling down and getting back up again, following your dreams and in the process discovering things you never thought possible. This workshop is designed to stimulate stories of personal discovery, of healing and of positive change and progression. It will explore the different ways of writing to create verse, prose and short stories. We will use these and combining techniques from the writing of Dr. Seuss; Repetition, patterns and positivity, to make our own unique stories of the places we’ll go. Facilitated by Jeni-Louise.
PRE-REGISTER FOR A SPOT HERE.

“Rescuing” Princesses & Pontianaks
11AM – 1.30PM  |  University Lounge
Creative Writing Workshop

Myths, folk-tales and stories impact who we are and how we behave​ ​as a society. In this workshop we will discuss and analyze some popular​ ​tales from different cultures, and invite you to re-write a story of your choice in a gender​ ​balanced way. Come be part of the conversation on how to create​ ​stories that positively influence the next generation. Facilitated by Raksha Mahtani and Radhika Pandya.
PRE-REGISTER FOR A SPOT HERE. 

DISCUSSIONS

Human Library
12.45PM – 2.15PM  |  Function Room
Discussion

At the Human Library, attendees will have the opportunity to hear stories and have conversations with participants who will be sharing their personal experiences of gender-based violence and marginalisation as young people in Singapore. Many of these stories, like surviving dating violence as a teenager, battling misogyny in the army, being a domestic worker at fifteen and navigating Singapore society as a genderqueer person, often go unseen and unheard. Participants will also be sharing their ideas for ways forward and the role that you can play in making change. Through this event, we hope to encourage empathy for different struggles and lived experiences, and build community support around specific issues that youth care about. Register at the door.

Body Image: Privilege, Shame, Autonomy
2.30PM – 3.30PM  |  Function Room
Panel

This panel aims to create a safe space for youth to discuss and brainstorm solutions to address harmful societal discourses on body image and its associated violences (such as bullying, misogyny, racism) and harmful practices (such as disordered eating). The panel will feature four engaging speakers sharing a range of academic, theoretical and personal perspectives on these issues. Register at the door.

Featured Speakers: Teng Qian Xi, Sangeetha Thanapal, Chua Sing Rue, Sudev Suthendran

Reel Stories
3.45PM – 5PM  |  Function Room
Film Screening and Discussion

We will be screening two short films by local filmmakers, “Kristy” and “Unheard Voices of the Red Light District”. The following discussion will extract and examine the issues the films unravel, their real-life implications and  how we can respond to them so as to bring positive change. The discussion will be facilitated by Vanessa Ho, the coordinator of Project X, a social initiative advocating sex workers’ rights in Singapore, and Marcia Ong, director and cinematographer of Kristy. The session will be moderated by Alex Tan, a youth Change Maker.

Unheard Voices of the Red Light District is a film that brings us deeper into the lives of Singaporean sex workers. Volunteers from Project X gathered interviews from 11 sex workers and together with artists Dixie Chan and Felicia Low, have created a film that hopes to raise awareness on issues faced by Singaporean sex workers in Singapore.

Kristy is a film about an 8-year old tomboy who loves to wear her favourite t-shirt. Her mother, however, would prefer her in dresses. The two go head-to-head in this touching tale of individuality, identity, and independence.

Death Wears A Dress
6PM – 7PM  |  Function Room
Panel

How do traditional gender roles play a part in the how women are imagined in the realms of horror and myth? How are these imaginings premised upon everyday assumptions regarding a woman’s place in society? Death Wears a Dress is a panel discussion put together by We Can! Singapore and EtiquetteSG, comprising writers and academics interested in the intersections of gender, culture, myth and monstrosity.

Featured Speakers: Nurul H., Ad Maulod and Zarina Muhammad. // Moderated by Tania De Rozario
PRE-REGISTER HERE.

PERFORMANCES

Boys Will Be Boys
2PM – 3.15PM |  University Lounge
Interactive theatre

Boys Will Be Boys is a Theatre-in-Education programe, scripted in the overlooked male perspective. It portrays commonly seen gender stereotypes and their effects on individuals. It is designed to explore how the pressure on boys and men to be masculine in certain ways can impact violence against women and other men. The piece intends to empower men and boys to challenge and break this cycle. Shoes Theatre is an applied theatre collective formed in 2014. Focusing on the participatory nature of drama, its programmes focus on local issues, in hopes to impact a positive change.

Reflection Affection
3.30PM – 4PM |  University Lounge
Dance performance
This dance, curated by youth Change Makers from Because I’m A Girl, a campus group from UWC East, communicates the struggles girls face everyday regarding their body image. It explores complex themes such anorexia, peer pressure and the importance of self acceptance. 

Till Death Sets Us Apart
1.30PM and 5PM |  University Lounge
Dance performance 

Margueritte Vermersch is a 15-year-old dancer who has been dancing for 8 years. She will be performing a piece titled Till Death Sets Us Apart, about a young girl who is going through abuse at the hands of someone close to her, and how she decides to let go. She believes that sending a message of passion is the best way to make the audience feel what the artist is saying.

Who Am I?
4.30PM – 5PM |  University Lounge
Dance performance

This dance piece, titled Who Am I?, will be performed by 12 Contemporary dancers, all students at United World College (East Campus), using movements, speech and visuals exploring the idea of gender stereotypes and bullying. The dancers portray various ‘accepted’ gender roles as well as roles that are frowned upon thus evoking internal conflict and pressure within themselves. The dancers take you on their journey through solos, duets and group work and leaves the audience questioning the actions and words of society.

Missed Connections Performance
5.15PM – 5.45PM  |  Function Room
Mixed Media Performance

Interrobang’s performance aims to explore the relationship between the sights, sounds and words of gender-based violence. Through an experimental fusion of sonic art, film and spoken word, this performance intends to challenge the status quo, and microaggressions which are so deeply concealed in our everyday lives that we are oftentimes unaware of their existence and how they contribute to gender-based violence.

Shh…Diam!
5.45PM and 8PM |  University Lounge
Live Music

Shh…Diam! is a queer feminist band from Kuala Lumpur and consists of Yon on guitar, Farah/Faris on guitar and vocals, Yoyo on bass and Jellene on drums. They aren’t athletes. Established since 2009, they plan to expand into a line of bespoke clothing that speaks the language of the soul. Until then, you can buy their t-shirts. Check them out at facebook.com/shhdiam.music

Body/Language
7PM – 8.15PM |  University Lounge
Spoken word performance

Body/Language was a series of creative writing workshops co-developed by WE CAN Singapore and Etiquette SG for the Singapore Writers Festival. The workshops aimed to engage participants in an effort to unpick prevailing notions of gender and to uncover experiences and stories of their own bodies through poetry. This presentation will showcase some of the work developed by workshop participants, who come from diverse backgrounds, as well as spoken word pieces by talented youth Change Makers who have written especially for Breakthrough, Hannah Bedford, and Ananya Sood.

ACTIVITIES 

Pretty Ugly
3.30PM and 5PM  |  University Lounge, Studio Room 1
Interactive Performance Art

Society’s unending preoccupation with women’s physical beauty has serious consequences on women’s health, body image and morale. Impossible standards of beauty inflicted by the media, culture and society are a form of everyday violence that women and girls have to grapple with. Explore conventional ideas of beauty through this performance art piece where two artistes give you the unusual opportunity to “beautify” and “uglify” them with the items presented. Each performance will last 20 minutes. Audience members are invited to use the products available on the artistes, who present as a canvas for your expression.

Stepping Stones
Ongoing  |  University Lounge
Interactive Installation

Build a growing installation using pebbles and words to create a path towards a society free of gender inequality, oppression and violence. The stepping stones to change can be written or drawn on, signed or anonymous. Put down words or images that represent positive change, better alternatives, moments of growth, new perspectives and experiences of healing that may have happened in your life of someone else’s. The Path is made stronger with every stone added.

When Bellies Speak
2.15PM and 5PM  |  Patio
Activity facilitated by Dana Lam

The belly, the part of the body below the breastbone containing the stomach and the bowels, is the acknowledged storehouse of personal strength and creativity in many cultures. At When Bellies Speak, you will learn to make a plaster cast and turn your belly into an objet d’art representing your inspiration, your hope, your joy, your life’s stories. You will strengthen the connection with your personal powerhouse and have a work of art unique to you. With your permission, your stories may be recorded and edited for inclusion in installation of the casts. This activity will be facilitated by Dana Lam. Dana Lam is a published author and artist. Her work includes She Shapes a Nation (2009) , a short film of women’s voices. She is a former president of AWARE and teaches part-time at LASALLE College of the Arts.  When Bellies Speak is inspired by the joy, the courage, the labour and camaraderie of women. It is supported by The Arts Fund.

Breakthrough
Ongoing |  University Lounge
Installation

A seemingly harmless advertisement can adversely influence our personal idea of what an ideal body type should be. With present-day media being the highly influential medium that it is, we may feel the need to conform to body stereotypes portrayed by the media. But we don’t have to. Join us at our ‘Breakthrough’ booth. Together, we can break away from the boxes that the media put us in and be the unique individual that we all are.

Seeing The Unseen
Ongoing  |  University Lounge
Photography Installation

Often abuse and violence are associated with overt physical scars and visual signs of exploitation. However there are a other forms of abuse including using derogatory language, strict gender roles, pshycological abuse and narrow notions of beauty that are often not acknowledged by society. The aim of this exhibition is to help people to acknowledge that there are other forms of violence. We need to challenge our acceptance of violence instead of normalising it. This exhibition is presented by Maria Shah and Nisha, students from Because I’m A Girl, UWC Tampines.

Missed Connections Installation
Ongoing  |  University Lounge, Studio Room 2
Interactive Installation

At this interactive installation by Interrobang, visitors will write down their individual commitment to help end gender-based violence, pose with their commitment and have their pictures taken against photographs of settings where gender-based violence occurs. Part of the installation is a scrapbook of findings when the group went around to various places in Singapore to interview members of the public from all walks of life, asking them about forms of gender-based violence they had experienced and the ways in which their gender identities are policed by society. Through this installation, we hope to allow audiences to identify everyday forms of gender-based violence and to empower them to make a change in their community.

 

PLUS booths by UN WomenRed Pencil and Star Shelter.

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Breakthrough: We Can! Arts Fest 2014

 

breakthroughlandscape2-small (1)
On 6 December, join We Can! for live music performances, film, dance, theatre, panel discussions, a station where you can design T-shirts, a photobooth with cool props and more… and it’s all FREE!

Organised by youth, for youth, Breakthrough is an innovative arts fest celebrating diversity and the freedom to be you..

Programme highlights include:

– Electrifying performances by ‘Shh…Diam!’, a queer feminist band bringing their happy hardcore music from Kuala Lumpur.

– ‘Boys Will Be Boys’, an interactive theatre performance exploring how social pressures to be “masculine” contribute to violence against women.

– Body/Language, a spoken word performance examining body image with pieces that had rave reviews at the Singapore Writers Festival.

– ‘“Rescuing” Princesses & Pontianaks’, a workshop on re-writing popular tales in a gender balanced way.

– Contemporary dance performances by student groups innovative exploring body image, gender stereotypes and gender-based violence

Check out the full festival programme here!

Speak up, take a stand and break the box with us. This event is created by youth, for youth!

Date: 6 December 2014 (Saturday)
Venue: SMU Admin Building, Level 6 (University Lounge)
Time: 11am – 8pm

We need your help in making the Arts Fest run smoothly! We are looking for stage managers, AV help, emcees, runners and general volunteers to ensure the festival goes as planned. If you can volunteer for the Arts Fest, drop Nabilah an email at [email protected]e.com.See you there!

About We Can! Youth

We Can! Youth is the We Can! campaign’s special focus in 2014. This year, we hope to get more youth involved in taking a stand against gender-based violence in their everyday lives. We are reaching out to young Change Makers, learning from their personal experiences and starting conversations on gender stereotypes, sexual consent, rights and healthy dating relationships. Youth Change Makers are young people committed to making positive social change in their communities. Through their actions, they can help make schools, cyberspace and social events safe spaces for young people regardless of their gender or sexual expression.

About We Can! Arts Fest 2013
Missed last year’s We Can! Arts Fest? Last year, we brought together artists, activists and Change Makers to meet others who are using their voices to speak up against the less visible forms of violence. We had art installations, music performances, spoken word, film screenings, theatre and more! Read more about We Can! Arts Fest 2013: The Silence of Violence here and take a look through our photo gallery here!

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Oppressed Majority

by Marylyn Tan, Change Maker

What happens when the patriarchy is turned on its head? Watched the French film, Majorité Opprimée (Oppressed Majority), and you’ll get a glimpse of it. The ten-minute film went viral earlier this year, despite having come out a few years before—perhaps because feminist issues are becoming ever more relevant, especially in Europe, where abortion rights and laws regarding homosexuality have ‘taken a turn for the worse’, according to the film’s creator, Eleonore Pourriat. Majorité Opprimée may have inspired the recent slew—good or bad—of gender role reversals in the media, such as that horrendously sexist Veet advertising campaign which exhorts women not to ‘risk dudeness’.

More encouragingly, however, the role-reversal trend has also been used to illustrate the problems with the way women are portrayed in audio-visual media—such as in the photoset, ‘seDUCATIve vs. MANigale’, in which one motorcycle company parodies another’s traditional ‘model in sexually-provocative poses with equally attractive vehicle’ ad campaign by replacing the women with men. Even Jennifer Lopez’s latest single, I Luh Ya Papi, explicitly lashes out against exploitative differences in marketing male and female artistes in the music industry. What I find so powerful about Majorité Opprimée, however, is the incisive, stark fashion in which little everyday instances of gender violence are depicted.

The film isn’t meant to be wholly realistic—most films aren’t—but it does set its sights on portraying a wide slew of behaviours (all within ten minutes!) that both men and women engage in that foster a narrative of violence in everyday interactions. Unknowingly, unconsciously, we have all probably been party to reinforcing sexist attitudes at some point. The film is set in an unnamed French town where it is almost immediately—though subtly—established that the women are in charge. This is a vision of a matriarchal society, and our protagonist, Pierre, illustrates this most starkly in his interactions with the women of his everyday life.  Again, it’s the microaggressions in a sexist society that the film highlights, such as being stared at on the streets in unison by a trio of women, and unprovoked—unwanted—comments on one’s appearance such as ‘how lucky you are to have such a cute daddy!’

The assertion of matriarchy is even more subtle when the women aren’t actually interacting with the protagonist. An implied balance of power is shown by issues ingrained far more deeply into this society, such as women jogging bare-chested in public, a wife’s control and restriction over what her husband can wear or must cover up, and how most, if not all, positions in authority are depicted as being held by females. In Majorité Opprimée, the men make the coffee, have to be picked up by their wives, and are told that their ‘outfits are cute’ on them. In this hypothetical matriarchy, the men have their social status constantly, and casually, belittled, such as when the protagonist’s landlady smiles dismissively and says, ‘I should really be talking to your wife.’

Majorité Opprimée, illustrates the vast range of aggressions directed at women on a daily basis (most of which aren’t even recognised as violence, but as an accepted gender dynamic). Pierre, then, might represent women as a whole, who are every day catcalled, dismissed, and assaulted all over the world. One of the film’s strongest points is its illustration of street harassment, an issue which repeatedly surfaces in today’s discussions of gender violence. To anyone who’s ever experienced any form of harassment in public—and, hopefully, to some who have not—the scenarios painted are all too real. Often, women are told that it’s not such a big deal, and even that it’s to be expected. After all, how debilitating can a single whistle by the roadside be? One catcalling comment on your appearance? A honk as a driver speeds by? These are, unfortunately, seen as unpleasant, but normal, by some people. As one of the women in the film threatens to give chase as Pierre hastens away from a junction where she’s been catcalling him, the fear for one’s own safety caused by ‘expected’ interactions is apparent. It is, to say the least, quite intolerable when one faces aggression and fear as a regular feature of daily life.

What makes Majorité Opprimée so important is the fact that violence is everywhere in popular culture, and everyday social interactions, and in various insidious ways that people who don’t usually experience it have a hard time understanding. The film takes these instances of violence and forces us to re-evaluate our understanding of what we consider ‘normal’ behaviour. Watch it. Make the people around you watch it. Perhaps some the manifold violences written into the scripts of our everyday lives will stop going unnoticed.