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Is the internet a man’s world?

 

Written by Camille Neale, Change Maker

1onlinevawThe EU Human Rights seminar held last month (“Progress and Perspectives for Women’s rights in Singapore and ASEAN”) explored the progress of women’s rights since Singapore’s accession to CEDAW in 1995, with a particular view towards the future – what still needs to be done, what are the current challenges and what are the challenges that may emerge down the line? One serious challenge to gender equality and women’s rights that was cited is online violence against women.

The Internet is a significant means by which people are socialised; it is now one of the main ways that information is distributed and culture is reproduced. Children as young as three are being connected to the internet and learning about the world through it. 59% of young people say that the Internet is shaping who they are.

Being a woman on the internet

2ovawBeing a woman with an internet connection means being subjected to an almost constant stream of violent online commentary. Violence against women through the internet can mean anything from hate speech, hacking, identity theft, online stalking, threats and even convincing a target to end their lives.

The internet is one place where the insidious nature of gender roles and sexism are made very clear. While outright instances of misogyny and sexism are now less socially acceptable in the public realm, the Internet is one place where this notion has yet to catch on. It has become just one of many spaces where men tell women to get out. Read the comment section of any article, any YouTube video and you are bound to find some man deriding women, their bodies, and pretty much anything to do with them. The abuse comes no matter what, just for being a woman on the Internet. This kind of harassment is something that women experience almost daily and 73% of women on the Internet report having experienced cyber violence.  Why is the Internet a space where it is seemingly okay for misogynists to run wild?

Crying free speech

 

3ovawUnder the guise of “free speech” social media sites and other websites often feature videos and photos of women being sexually assaulted or revenge porn. Prominent women figures, bloggers and journalists are frequently abused online for daring to express their opinions, especially in fields that are traditionally deemed the domain of men, such as politics or I.T. A report called “Misogyny on Twitter,” found 6 million instances of the use of the word “slut” or “whore” in English between December 26, 2013 and February 9, 2014, and of these 20% were believed to be threatening. Women gamers often choose to use a male avatar so they won’t have to put up with lewd or threatening comments from male gamers. There are entire websites dedicated to women bashing, and to decrying that feminists are all man-haters and feminism is destroying society. It’s not uncommon to find violently sexist memes about women all over Facebook.

Taking violence offline

Another concern is the way that the internet is facilitating violence against women in the “real world.” The internet is increasingly being used to conduct human trafficking as it makes it easier for traffickers to recruit women, children and men. The way that women are portrayed and treated online serves to normalise and glorify violence against them. Studies have shown that after viewing porn and other sexually explicit content about women, men are more likely to: “report decreased empathy for rape victims; report believing that a woman who dresses provocatively deserves to be raped and report increased interest in coercing partners into unwanted sex acts”. Some of the first images and information about sex that boys are exposed to includes violence towards a woman–it’s terrifying to think of the kinds of ideas about women that are being encouraged.  

The anonymity of the internet, the fact that there is not a live human being in front of you reacting to what you’re doing, gives men an incentive to troll at their leisure.

It’s true that the internet has brought a host of social benefits. However, it has become a really scary place for women– filled with instances of slut-shaming, rape threats and general violence directed at women’s bodies. Women don’t feel safe expressing their views on the internet and this is a significant barrier to their ability to take advantage of the opportunities that the internet can provide.

Frequently, cyber-violence is not taken to be a serious issue. Part of the problem is that those who are expected to respond to the problem, police officers, people working in the tech industry, are all working in fields that continue to be dominated by men who don’t have to live with the reality of the kinds of harassment that women face everyday. As a consequence, women who experience these violations have little or no redress. Women who try to call out these sexist behaviours and standards online are either told to shut up or to calm down because it’s just a joke.

Online violence silences women by emphasising that women occupy a lower social position to men. What’s more, we don’t trust women’s voices to talk about serious issues; most authors of magazine articles, news and so on are men. Men are constantly telling women not to be so emotional, to stop complaining about things that happen to them, basically to stop talking about themselves in public.

Safe online and offline spaces

Online violence is no joke, we need to stop letting boys off the hook for treating women badly. We need to create an environment that is more welcoming to women. Focusing on the response of the victim rather than trying to address this kind of harmful behaviour isn’t going to solve the problem anyway.

What we need is greater accountability; websites need to get better at monitoring harmful content. One survey of 84 countries found that 74% of those surveyed are doing nothing to stop online violence. Experts agree that what’s needed is for companies to provide greater transparency, to attract female talent to their companies, and to dedicate more time to training staff to understand and perform moderation. Talks about online bullying in schools needs to address this gendered component. Until we treat violence against women as a serious issue, until we recognise the value of women’s voices and strive for gender equality, women will continue to be marginalised and subject to violence.

What will it take for violence against women, both online and offline, to not be the norm?

About the author: Camille is a recent university graduate who is still figuring out what she wants to do with her life. She hopes that whatever that is, she will be able to wear a power suit and be really intimidating.

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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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Trans folks in the media – Singapore-style

 

Written by Estelle Ng, Change Maker

4eb57acf36bdbf74d07a9a6ed94cd75aIn December 2015, an article published in The Straits Times caught my attention. Entitled “Transgender man with 2 ‘wives’ admits sex with teenage girl”, it was an extremely uncomfortable and confusing read.

Here’s why:

  1. In short, it was a case about a man who is charged with having sex with a minor.
  2. The word “married” is placed in inverted commas – making it unclear as to whether he really is married. If they are legally married, there should be no reason why “married” should be accompanied by inverted commas. Furthermore, it is unclear if his marital status(es) matter.
  3. He was constantly referred to as “her” even though his gender identity clearly shows otherwise.
  4. It is unclear if his gender identity actually matters in this case. Think about it, would his gender identity and/or orientation be worth a mention if he was cisgender? “Cisgender man with 2 ‘wives’ admits sex with teenage girls”. If not, is there really a need to identify him as a “transgender” while at the same time denying his gender identity?

The choice of words and language used in the recent newspaper report reflects a less-than-dignified representation of individuals from the trans community. And my opinion is even echoed in an unpublished letter written by Sayoni to the Straits Times.

Talking about how the trans community is represented in media is important because it reflects how they are treated in society. More importantly, it also deals with any social biases and prejudices they face in society.

Surely, in this day and age, there has to be more respectful representations of trans individuals in Singapore. Afterall, trans individuals are just like you and me – we go to school, get a job and pay due taxes. The only difference is in the bodies we identify ourselves in: yet, don’t we all have a unique way of identifying our preferred gender and performance as well?

Having said that, how can we best represent individuals from this community? Let’s take a look at three note-worthy media representations!

  1. The New Paper’s Mum, Am I a boy or a girl? Singaporean transgender individuals open up about struggles

Shortly after the above mentioned case was made public, TNP made the effort to engage in conversations with a few trans folks. In the report, trans individuals were given a chance to narrate their life stories. It featured three individuals: Cheong who shared about how she had to live under her mother’s expectations of her as a boy when she was growing up; Khor who spoke about his transition; and Salamat who expressed her joy after becoming who she really felt like. Though featuring three individuals cannot wholly represent experiences that all trans individuals face, the article humanises trans individuals and treats them with respect by giving them room to share their stories the way they want to.

  1. Grace Baey’s photo exhibition, 8 Women

If a picture speaks a thousand words, Baey would have spoken a great amount by bringing them in the limelight in the way the featured 8 individuals were comfortable with. Entitled 8 Women, this photo exhibition highlights how trans folks exist in diversity – each one is unique in their own right.

  1. Screen Shot 2016-01-08 at 11.55.02 amChristopher Khor’s upcoming film-documentary, Some Reassembly Required

In an upcoming documentary, Khor features trans folks in different stages of transition. But, really this documentary is about what it means to be human for some individuals in a “modern country with conservative Asian values”.

In sum, various media platforms have an important role to play in providing information and educating the public. It is essential that information is tactfully chosen and media works are thoughtfully crafted and presented. Being insensitive to a person regardless of gender identity or orientation is not only disrespectful but also serves to fuel discrimination that the LGBTQIA community is already facing in Singapore.

It is time to recognise that trans folks are individual human beings who deserve respect too. After all, identifying with a particular life experience or gender identity is only a part of one’s identity.

“I am who I am (which is the sum of my experiences) but being transgender specifically is not the centre of my being… I think it’s become so much a part of me that I would not be who I am without it, but does it define me? I don’t think so.,” he offers. “We really are just the sum of our life experiences, and being transgender is just one part of mine.”

– Christopher Khor in an interview with Contented.

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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‘Ally’ is a verb, not a noun.

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

unnamedAllyship does not stop at being “pro-gender equality”. To be active allies for gender equality, we need to embrace challenges and lessons along the way.

As allies, we want to amplify and celebrate the voices of individuals and groups we support. While our experiences of being allies are significant to our own learning (and unlearning) about the issue of gender inequality, we also should not dominate the very conversations that we want to start.

Allyship is not meant to be comfortable.

Being an ally sometimes means being confronted by perspectives that we have been taught to ignore or ideas that have been made invisible. This may mean that we can get confused, defensive or upset, especially when we believe strongly in our own good intentions.

However, allyship is not meant to make us feel comfortable with how we have been thinking. It is a learning journey towards listening to, understanding and respecting other people’s views, stories and lived experiences.

It means that most of the time, we have to listen more than speak out.

What’s one thing you are ready to do to be an ally for gender equality?

unnamed (1)5 Ways Allies Can Make Change

1. As our ally, Etiquette SG, puts it, “We believe (change) starts with conversation. And we believe that art starts great conversation.” The arts can be a cool way to bring innovative ideas that have strong social messages to your communities.

2. Learn more about the subject by talking to other advocates, and also victims of sexism, homophobia, or transphobia (but only if they feel comfortable sharing their experiences!).

3. Create a support system by amplifying other groups’ causes as well – just like how Jejaka, a support organisation for queer Muslim men in Singapore, brought the Change Maker workshop to its group last month!

4. UWC Tampines students are working on a Youth Forum to start a dialogue on gender with young people in Singapore. If you’re still in school, work with like-minded peers to support a cause you’re passionate about!

5. Cultivate friendships with other advocates. Having supportive friends can help us become more dedicated allies and make informed choices about the kind of change we want to create.

Get involved

Click here if you are interested in our focus group for male allies! Want to be a volunteer in other ways? Email [email protected]

Updates

You get to choose what kind of guy you are. This year, we are mobilising male Change Makers through various programmes and events. Find out more here! ​

Consent Revolution are collecting experiences of sex education in Singapore. Got a story fit for “SG Sex Ed Fails”? Submit it here!

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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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Boys will be boys: Five perspectives on manhood

Written by Change Makers, as part of our “What does being a man mean to you?” blog series. Submit your responses to [email protected]!

4ee5c8fa73c9ed50e09669eda7481766When I was younger, my parents used to tell me to stop crying whenever I cried, the sole reason being that I was a boy. At my kindergarten, children were treated differently based on gender. Even at that age, I felt a distinct sense of unease. Being a child who was not as raucous and outgoing as most other boys, I often felt like I did not belong. In one incident that I remember, I wore my sister’s old shoes to school as my usual pair was damaged. The shoes was mostly white, but had a pink lining. Almost immediately, a boy inquired about the reason for my wearing “pink-coloured shoes”.

I was also often told that I had to get a well-paying job because I would be a man in the future. I’m sure most people have had similar experiences being judged by others. Ironically, it is often family that enforces gender norms most harshly, causing conflict and anguish.

Why can’t people, regardless of gender, be looked upon as what they are – people?

In my view, things are improving. But there is still a lot to be done, and it starts with every single person.

– Chin Jia Yi

2086479_manliness_jpeg44eb71191e545dedf378e9a7121db56cHow many times have you ever been told to “be a man” or to “man up”? Being a man in today’s society entails being strong, independent and successful. Being a man to me has always simply been being of the male sex but to some it means so much more. People expect men to be leaders. Advertisements everywhere teach us from a very young age what the ‘ideal man’ should look like. Pictures of muscled men with six-pack abs are all too common on fashion magazines and billboards. An ideal man has defined muscles and rugged good looks.

However, the reality remains that some men are unable to conform to these expectations. There is more to being a man than being strong, dominant and emotionless. I have experienced first-hand many of my peers trying to fit in, constantly feeling insecure about themselves. Why do we have to behave and look just like everyone else?

– Aahan Gopinath Achar 

I do not try to change what other people think of me regarding my gender. I do not care unless it negatively affects my relationships with others, nor do I try to preach my views every time someone made an offhand remark. It is not worth the effort and usually fails anyway, so it is not worth the trouble. But if someone else feels upset because of an inappropriate comment, I will readily speak up against gender stereotyping and take a stand.

Nguyen Nhat Minh

On countless occasions, I am told to “man up”, to not show weakness. I think people who say that are hypocrites who twist the truth of manhood to fit their warped idea of who they think a man should be. There is no single definition of man no matter how hard we think, agonize and struggle over this abstract concept. So then why do we continue to impose these gender roles on others?

– Joshua Sum

There is societal pressure for men to put on a strong front in spite of hardship, reinforcing a pretty but false picture where men are more rational than women simply because they are men. I still remember when crying in school was looked down upon, since “boys don’t cry”. When men show vulnerability among their peers, they are subject to judgment. I just happen to be male. If expressing human emotion is only natural, why is there a double standard?

– Muhammad Syazwan Bin Ramli

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A Change Maker’s perspective on change

Written by Jolanda Nava, Change Maker

Daryl Yang is a 22-year-old enrolled in the Yale-NUS/NUS Law Double Degree Programme. He is also the President of Yale-NUS’ Gender & Sexuality Alliance. I decided to interview him to find out what he thinks about change and change-making.

10847393_673306239461821_5085795308324159513_oWhat do you think are some of the problems that you see with gender around you?

Generally there is a lack of conversation and understanding of this very complex idea of gender. As a result, most people have very fixed ideas about what a boy or a girl should be and this leads to people who don’t fit into these boxes to be considered deviants, “problems” that need to be fixed.

I also find that gender in our society is defined by ideas of family and parenthood, in part because of the national campaign to increase birthrates. If you’re a woman, your “goal” should be to find a husband and have children; if you’re a man, you should be a breadwinner and take care of your household. This creates unfair and unrealistic expectations. I have friends who cannot accept that their girlfriends earn more than them, because of this idea that the man should be the breadwinner. Others feel like they have to keep up with this “I’m strong, I don’t have feelings” persona because they think that is what it means to be a man.

How then, do you start change?

“Change” is a big word and sometimes it feels scary to think about changing society. But I believe it is important we recognize that change does not happen quickly or overnight. It is going to take a long time before we can see the change we are advocating for, but we have to start somewhere, and spreading ideas is a good place to start from.

I think change starts with small things, like challenging stereotypes in your casual conversations with friends or just changing the language you use. It is about asking questions that can start a deeper reflection. When your friend tells you he doesn’t think he can accept it if his future wife earns more than him, ask them why they think so. Get them to think about where those ideas come from. It is about not saying things like “man up” or “don’t be such a girl”, because they perpetuate and reinforce negative stereotypes about what it means to be a guy or a girl.

We cannot be trapped by the idea that things have to change now, or we are going to feel discouraged and start thinking it is a lost battle. But every one of us can do small things to push a little, and we should recognize that each of us can only play a small yet important part. You have to put things into perspective.

Do you think that change starts with people, or with laws?

I think legal and social change have an interactive relationship. It is hard to say whether one should come before the other because there are pros and cons to either of them coming first. But they are not mutually exclusive, they should go hand in hand.

Different members of the community should advocate change in different areas of the community and at different levels. Personally, I am not yet able to advocate for legal change [Daryl is currently enrolled in the double degree of Liberal Arts + Law] but what I can do is influence the community and people around me.

G Spot LogoWhat do you do, personally, to start change?

I try to make myself someone that people can approach and talk to about these things. I want to achieve change through dialogue and conversations, so I try to be someone people can reach out to; I try to create a place around me where people can feel safe.

Sometimes we get angry when we face people that are ignorant or negative or pessimistic, and we respond in a way that does more harm than good. I think it is extremely important to develop the ability to put the anger aside and respond in a more helpful way. Shouting at someone will not help, we have to think about the kind of support we offer each other when we advocate change. The important question is: how are we helping the person in front of us to change?

Often we feel trapped within these social structures. Your friend might agree with you that what they are experiencing comes from social expectations, but they are still stuck in that position and they might find it impossible to escape. So it is important to help creating an environment that allows people to feel comfortable about themselves and to find a way out.

Is there an example of small changes that you have witnessed?

Two semesters ago we hosted a panel on gender, it was only a conversation about it. Yet, it led some people in the audience decide that they wanted to do something for the transgender community, which lead to a small project aimed at fundraising and raising awareness. Even if the panel was just people sharing their experiences, the ripple effects were many.

Most importantly, I think when you do something, no matter how small, it will help encourage and inspire people to do something too.

About the author: Jolanda is a university students learning about international relations and having fun with programming classes. She not-so-secretly enjoys challenging gender stereotypes and when she grows up she wants to be a superhero.

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RALLY: for art, music and conversations for change


WE CAN POSTER - 4 SEPT SMALLRALLY,
v. coming together for a common purpose.

Celebrate solidarity, support, collaboration and allyship at We Can! Arts Fest on December 6 – back for the third year in a row!

What does it mean to be an ally for gender equality? How can we support the causes we feel strongly about without overpowering the voices we want heard? How can we do this through art, music and conversation?

If you:

– love art and performances that provoke critical thought and empower your audience
– wish to showcase your talents to inspire action for change
– want to meet like-minded artists and activists
– have a voice or a story that you want to share with others

….then we invite you to be part of RALLY, and be featured alongside other artists and activists in Singapore! Band together for a day of art, music, films, performance and dialogue. Be part of the Change Maker movement towards a safer, inclusive, more diverse reality.

Submit a proposal for your performance, programme or exhibition to us!

More details on what to include in the proposal in the link above. Send your proposal to [email protected]


About the We Can! Arts Fest

10869589_884245438277055_5022304249781370802_oWe Can! Arts Fest is an arts festival by We Can! Singapore and its partners in conjunction with ‘16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence’, an international campaign marked by the UN and other groups around the world. 16 Days of Activism starts on 25 November, International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and ends on 10 December, Human Rights Day. It aims to raise awareness about gender-based violence as a human rights issue at the local, national, regional, and international level.

We Can! Arts Fest offers a platform to bring together arts, performance, and community-based events in solidarity with the international movement, and to make an impact locally. We Can! Singapore will also run a parallel social media campaign to build up towards the festival.

Read more about The Silence of Violence: We Can! Arts Fest 2013 here and take a look at our photo gallery here!

Read more about Breakthrough: We Can! Arts Fest 2014 here and take a look at our photo gallery here!

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What’s the dress code?

Written by Jolanda Nava, Change Maker

The past semester I found myself being the only girl in a class of 9. It was a coding class. I never asked my classmates what they thought of it but I was very aware of what it meant for me.

1codingYou do not often see girls in the computer science track and the unspoken thought is that we are just less good at it: there are very few of us and we perform worse than our male counterparts. Hence, whenever we were in class, or during examinations, I felt like I had to prove that I did not fit the stereotype. I wanted to demonstrate that girls do not suck at coding. If I did badly, people would have one more reason to accept the stereotype as truth. In a way, I felt like I was representing my whole gender, not only myself.

You can imagine the sort of pressure that comes from this line of thought. If you are so afraid of making mistakes or failing, how can you focus on learning and scoring well? This is what is called, in jargon, stereotype threat. The pressure you feel to break the stereotype makes you so stressed that your performance is actually hindered and you are more likely to conform to that stereotype. A cycle that is hard to break.

What is important to understand, is that no one told me that I was representing all girls. My classmates rarely brought up the gender issue, and I was grateful for that. No one in the class made me feel like I did not belong or that I was not good enough. My professor even asked me if he had in any way scared away girls that would have otherwise joined the class, and he is still very determined in encouraging more girls to join next semester.

3codingAnd yet, I felt the pressure on my shoulders. In days I had coding class I couldn’t help but ask myself if it was ok for me to wear a dress. Would my classmates take me less seriously if I looked “girly”? Because “girly girls” don’t code, and we all know that, right?

My luck was having a supportive professor and classmates that never seemed to particularly care about what gender I was or what I wore during class. Eventually, the encouraging environment made me feel more at my ease. I also started reading about women facing discrimination in the field, and how they reacted to it. By the end of the semester, gender was no longer a source of anxiety when it came to coding (although coding still was – but then again, which class isn’t?). I got a good grade and, most importantly, I enjoyed the course because I was able to learn from it.

Why do I write about it, then? Because not all women are so ‘lucky’. Because gender stereotypes have a stronger impact than we usually acknowledge and it keeps young girls and women out of the field and out of the industry.

If I, who was in an encouraging environment, felt that pressure, imagine what women go through when people around them nudge or make references to the fact that they are female, implying a weird, extraordinary occurrence. When people make you understand that that is not your place, that you are not as good as others. Imagine living, studying, and working in such conditions: where every false move, any error, gives someone the chance to tell you that you – and your whole gender – should be doing something else.

2codingYoung women should feel free to take the classes they want to, based on what interests they have, and not be stopped by an abstract notion that “this is not for girls” or “this is a boy’s subject”. It is harder than you think: kids and young adults, just like everyone else, are receptive to hostile environments, and if they do not feel welcomed in a class or field, chances are they will drop out of it or avoid it in the first place. This, of course, applies for young men and boys too. Where are all the male nurses? Why is dance a “girl thing”?

It is about time we let people do what they are good at, regardless of their gender.

How do we do it? Well, if you are in a class like mine, avoid nudges and references to gender as a means to justify or imply something about someone’s abilities. If a girl expresses her interest in math, coding or any other “non-girly” activity, do not act surprised. If a boy tells you they dance, do not stare at them like they were an alien. It might seem strange to you, but it is the most natural thing to them: that’s what they like doing. Instead, show your interest and be supportive. Ask them to tell you more about it, and do not forget to smile.

It should not be about what is girly or what is manly, it should be about what you want to do and the effort you are willing to put into it.

About the author: Jolanda is a university students learning about international relations and having fun with programming classes. She not-so-secretly enjoys challenging gender stereotypes and when she grows up she wants to be a superhero.

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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.