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 And my opinion is even echoed in an unpublished letter written by Sayoni to the Straits Times.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.


“Are women funny?”

Written by Camille Neale, Change Maker

Avaca movie poster number 1 few Sundays ago, I watched the recently released Vacation. The movie is about a family in the U.S. who, in an attempt to revitalise their annual family summer vacation, decide to go on a road trip to the father’s childhood vacation spot, the fictional amusement park ‘Wally World’.

In a predictable turn of events, the trip goes from bad to worse, much like the movie. One of the opening scenes of the movie involves the younger brother teasing his older brother for “having a vagina.” I’m not really sure what the writers’ (all of whom were men) intentions were with that joke, but I think it says something about the what they think their audience will find funny. When a man is made fun of for being “like a woman,” all women are the targets of the joke, because they are saying that it is shameful to be a woman. There’s nothing wrong with raunchy humour, but there is something wrong when all the jokes the movie relies on are sexist representations of women, transphobia and off-colour racial jokes.

Diversity in mainstream media

diversity-mainThe last six or so years have seen an increasing visibility in discussions of feminism, LGBTQ rights, transgender rights, race relations etc in the mainstream media. Unfortunately, movies such as Vacation, do not reflect this and instead, represent a larger anxiety that characterises a media that is narrow at best; at worst, discouraging growth and progress by continuing the overrepresentation of white-centric and patriarchal tropes.

Vacation reminded me of the typical rom-com/comedy from the early 2000s, a formula that relies on reinforcing gender roles. The sad reality is that most TV shows and movies today continue to privilege a male perspective – not surprising considering that 83% of directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working on the top 250 grossing films in the US in 2014 were men.

It’s really time to retire these jokes that rely on archaic sexism, and it’s time we stop supporting movies that popularise awful tropes about women – tropes that are just vehicles for women-bashing.

Feminist comedy

Mindy-Project-600TV is actually faring better in terms of diversity of roles for women than movies. While there is still a ways to go in terms of racial diversity for women comics on TV, I think the rise of feminist comedians – comedians who use their comedy to push a feminist agenda – are meeting the demand of women who want comedy that speaks to their lived realities. Where they can see women characters that are more than simply the love interest or the unfunny extra. As women comprise half of the world’s population, this is a considerable target audience, to say the least.

Feminist comedy can indeed draw a wide audience, because if you write good comedy, then people will watch it. The recent success of comedy produced by, and for women such as Inside Amy Schumer, Broad City and The Mindy Project have helped to answer the age-old, sexist question: “Are women funny?” Inside Amy Schumer, a show featuring sketches, stand-up and interviews all written by Amy Schumer, draws a 50/50 men to women demographic. Almost every sketch on her show deals with gender politics. Broad City, a show with two women as the lead characters similarly deals with feminist issues. Essentially, these women are being portrayed as human beings, not as some Hollywood, male fantasy image of a woman, and they are allowed to be funny on their own terms, and this is why it is so great. These are shows about all types of women, not just one. These characters are just who they are, they deal with the comedic struggles of daily life as a woman. And they are pushing the boundaries on how women can be funny – through stoner jokes, sex jokes, and even toilet humour.

An article on Policy Mic posits that comedians are helping to push gender equality issues into the mainstream media. This is because they are able to make feminism more accessible to the general public, which somehow makes them more acceptable than gender equality advocates themselves. Nevertheless, they’re making important moves to draw attention to the very real challenges and problems of living as a woman. We are now seeing more young women willing to engage with feminism, and a better understanding of the way sexism hampers women’s experiences.

Gender advocacy

emma-watson-he-for-she-speech-1Sadly, the response to women who address feminist issues but are not comedians is much less positive. Women who seek to create a public dialogue about gendered issues are often told to be less angry, or even threatened with violence. When Emma Watson presented her ‘He for She’ campaign at the UN she received many threats of violence from men. Random men on the internet asserted that if sexually explicit photos of Emma Watson emerged online, her feminist views would be somehow less valid.

It seems that men are willing to engage with the problems of sexism if the women who talk about them are funny. This has not done much to advance the agendas of gender equality advocates however, so it’s important not to forget about these real systemic inequalities that must be tackled. What these comedians do offer is an alternative to the messages that a patriarchal mass media bombards us with. It’s time men stop being shocked when a woman tells a joke that is actually funny. Women should be allowed to be the class clowns too.


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.


GE2015: Gender Equality ‘Fails’

Written by Sumithri Venketasubramanian, Change Maker

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

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

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

Representation of women in politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


When rape is used as a plot device

Written by Yong Hui, Change Maker

[Warning: This blog post contains discussions of sexual assault.]

Just a few weeks ago, the TV show Game of Thrones sparked a massive controversy over a certain scene in one of their episodes – that is, the scene where (spoiler alert) Sansa is raped by Ramsay as Theon is forced to watch.

As The Mary-Sue puts it aptly:

“The show has creators. They make the choices. They chose to use rape as a plot device. Again.”

gotFor anyone who’s so much as heard of Game of Thrones, it’s probably of no surprise to find out that one of the most distinctive elements of the show is its gratuitous use of violence. Unfortunately, this also incl udes sexual violence against women, and even more unfortunately, Game of Thrones definitely isn’t the first or only use of sexual violence as a storytelling trope in mainstream media. Just check out this TvTropes page for a small taster.

And guess what? This phenomenon isn’t solely confined to Western media. Yes, the innocent Channel 8 dramas we all know and love are guilty of this as well.

Does anyone remember The Little Nyonya? That show back from 2008 that everyone used to be obsessed with? I was eleven when I watched that show. Apart from the ridiculousness that was casting Jeanette Aw as two consecutive generations of women who just happened to look exactly alike, one particular plot line remains clear in my mind:

littlenonyaHuang Yuzhu, played by Joanne Peh, is a young girl born into an affluent family. She is kind, helpful, bubbly, and generally a pretty nice person.

Her most prominent plot line is getting raped, being married off to said rapist, being physically and emotionally abused by him, being forced into prostitution to aid his business deals, and as a result of this, ultimately going insane and being committed to a mental institution for the rest of her life.

This was a good seven years ago, but this practice of using rape as a plot device is still continuing.

The New Paper ran an article last year where Chris Tong, a Mediacorp actress, describes her role as a “long-suffering, docile housewife character” who is “repeated abused by her businessman husband”, and the arduous process of having to film six separate rape scenes for the period drama The Journey: A Voyage (aka 唐山到南洋).

channel8Clearly, local media has developed the very, very problematic habit of using rape as an easy and convenient plot device. And even more clearly, this has to stop.

The problem isn’t so much in the inherent fact that rape is being depicted on television – the problem is how it’s depicted, the motives behind choosing this particular plot line, and the very worrying frequency with which it’s used over and over again in different TV series.

Let’s start with the how. The problem lies in the depiction of rape survivors. Most, if not all of the time, they’re depicted as ‘damaged goods’, with irreparable damage being inflicted on them by their attackers. It’s terrifyingly common for rape victims to later go insane from the trauma. There’s never really any hope of recovery. And therein lies the problem – that women are depicted as powerless agents, that we have quite clearly done a terrible job of telling the narrative of a rape survivors. Where are the narratives of women overcoming the trauma? Of recovery and rehabilitation? Well apparently they don’t exist. Once the deed is done the woman is forever broken.

As to the motives, it’s quite obvious that rape is being used purely to titillate viewers, and for the pure shock factor of it instead of reflecting the severity of the crime and the (real, actual) consequences on the victim. Rape is often nothing more than a plot device used to generate sympathy/ire at the victim/attacker.

The fact that this problem is so pervasive, the fact that a rape scene can even be shown on a primetime television slot at all – and has been shown, over and over again – reflects very poorly on Singaporean society as a whole.

It’s clear that we still have a long way to go – so where do we go from here?

The best way I can think of is to make some noise. Make yourself heard. Tell people about this problem – it’s so insidious and so normalized and some people may not even realize that it’s a problem in the first place. Educate people.

Be loud. Take a stand. And maybe one day we’ll get there.

For now, though, I like to just turn off my TV and go watch some good old Orphan Black instead.

About the Author: Yong Hui is currently a J2 student in an institution which shall not be named. She’s a huge fan of Broadway musicals, and spends far too much time on Tumblr reblogging gifs of said musicals. When she’s not busy being a Changemaker, she’s probably trying frantically to make change to her dismal Econs grades.

This article was edited on 23 June 2017


Gaming As Women

by Ming Gui, Change Maker

From the massive underrepresentation of females in video games to the sexualisation of female characters, video games have been responsible for promoting gender norms and stereotypes. Since we were young, we have seen female characters like Princess Peach and Zelda portrayed as damsels in distress, waiting around for a male character to rescue them.

So why these stereotypes are an issue, and what are their impact?

Firstly, it encourages negative attitude and beliefs

Warrior_FemaleIn games like Grand Theft Auto, Tomb Raider and Dead or Alive, female characters are shown as scantily-clad women with large breasts, an impossibly slim figure and a face that society would describe as beautiful or sexy. In fact, a study by Dill and Thill in 2005 found that 80% of video games include such portrayal of women. Female characters are also, more often than not, portrayed as weak, dependent or as damsels in distress.

What kind of message would this send to the players? That girls should aim to achieve the body of, and dress just like, the female characters in order to be liked? Or that women are supposed to always wait around for a guy to rescue her?

How are you even supposed to fight enemies while dressed like that? I would be too busy pulling and adjusting that thin piece of cloth covering my important parts whenever I walked.

Secondly, it encourages tolerance and support for sexual harassment and rape

Research by Dill, Brown, and Collins found that long-term exposure to violent video games can lead to more tolerance towards sexual violence. One possible reason could be that because video games portray sexual harassment and rape as the norm, it is also seen as the norm by the player, even in real life. Sometimes, the game might even praise the player for using such violent means to progress through a mission.

17pofc3mjy2xsjpgThis is further supported by a study done by Yao, Mahood, and Linz. Of the 74 males who were assigned to play either a sexually-explicit or non-sexually-explicit game, those who played a sexually-explicit game were more likely to view women as sex objects and display inappropriate behaviours towards them.

Some may argue that men are equally objectified in video games because they are portrayed to be muscular, strong and impossibly well-built. However…

If we examine the traits given to female and male characters, we will notice that female characters are usually portrayed to have no other personality other than their big bust and beautiful figure. Whereas for male characters, they are usually portrayed as not just muscular, but strong, courageous and brave. There is a difference in the messages the game sends across to each gender. Being portrayed as nothing but a beautiful figure is not the same as being portrayed as a muscular and strong person. One is passive while the other is active.

As video game critique Jimquisition points out, there is a difference: Female characters are objectified while male characters are idealised.

As the video game industry is worth billions of dollars with millions of players, changes need to be made in the video game industry in order to further promote the cause of gender equality. If game producers were to be a little more mindful of the gender stereotypes they portray in their games, we will be one step closer to gender equality.

As a child, I remember that my favourite game is Super Mario. In the game, Princess Peach is always being kidnapped by the big bad guy Browser, and it is up to Mario and Luigi to save her. Because the characters are cartoons and I play as Mario, it does not have that much of an impact on my views of men and women. However, I recall finding myself wishing that I can play as Princess Peach instead, and have my own adventures to escape from Browser’s castle.

15gaming-callout-master1050As I got older, the gaming world grew as well. I started playing a few MMORPGs. In these games, I noticed that female characters always have great clothes, really big busts and just look really pretty. I remember spending a lot of time customising my character. Before I knew it, I started wishing that I could look like them. I even started altering my appearance, and buying accessories that looks like the character’s. Looking back, it was the first time I actually took notice of my own appearance and started being self-conscious. It affected me slightly, as I fought to attain the unachievable beauty of my character, spending hours in front of my computer screen and visualising myself looking like my character.

Now, as a young adult, I feel confident with my own looks. I now play games for the plot and storyline, not for the beauty of the characters. However, my story illustrates the impact that gaming has on young teenagers who are still learning to accept and love their own bodies.

As a hardcore female gamer, I would love to play a game where female characters are shown as brave warriors, but without being scantily-clad or sexualised. I would love to play a game where male characters are not always the aggressive one, and are capable of showing emotions.

I would love to play a game meant for everybody.


Dill, K. E., Brown, B. P., & Collins, M. A. (2008). Effects of exposure to sex-stereotyped video game characters on tolerance of sexual harassment. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 44(5), 1402–1408. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2008.06.002

Dill, K. E, & Thill, K. P. (2007). Video game characters and the socialization of gender roles: Young people’s perceptions mirror sexist media depictions. Sex Roles, 57, 851–864. doi:10.1007/s11199-007-9278-1

Yao, M. Z., Mahood, C., & Linz, D. (2009). Sexual priming, gender stereotyping, and likelihood to sexually harass: Examining the cognitive effects of playing a sexually-explicit video game. Sex Roles, 62(1-2), 77–88. doi: 10.1007/s11199-009-9695-4

About the Author: Min is a hardcore gamer with a Steam library loaded with games. She loves Skyrim, Two Worlds, GTA, Vampire: The Masquerade, Pokemon, Ace Attorney, Final Fantasy, and the list could stretch on for miles. She hopes to play more games that allows her to play as a strong female character.  


Nursery Rhymes

by Change Maker, Foo Jun Kit

pumpkinPeter, Peter, pumpkin eater,

Had a wife but couldn’t keep her;

He put her in a pumpkin shell

And there he kept her very well

A couple of questions must have crossed your mind after reading that poem. Firstly, what on Earth is the poet trying to say; that women are meant to be domesticated and cannot roam around freely? Secondly, doesn’t this poem sound familiar?

In fact, this is a nursery rhyme, “Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater”, which was played on my radio at home countless times when I was younger. It is short and very easy to remember, yet paints such a clearly horrifying picture of a woman being controlled by another man. Young, impressionable children should not be exposed to such nursery rhymes, for they may internalise these problematic ideas as they grow.

I do admire the ability of the poet to depict scenes and I had no trouble with imagination. Yet, I feel that the poet’s ability is so disappointingly misused; of the thousand and one things he could write about, he chose to portray women as weak creatures and puppets of men. What makes it worse is that this poem is meant to be for children.

After digesting this nursery rhyme, I had no difficulty identifying the problem with it, but obviously, young children would. In fact, I recited this nursery rhyme happily when I was young and only realised the implications when revisiting it recently. This clearly demonstrates the impressionability of a child’s mind. To us, the problematic stereotypes portrayed in the nursery rhyme seem obvious, but to the kids, they may be too subtle for them to detect.

Shockingly, it is relatively easy to identify another nursery rhyme with problematic gender stereotypes. The following stanzas are excerpts from a nursery rhyme entitled “Old Mother Hubbard”.

Old Mother Hubbard

Went to the cupboard

To get her poor dog a bone;

But when she came there

The cupboard was bare ,

And so the poor dog had none.

She went to the baker’s

To buy him some bread;

But when she came back

The poor dog was dead

She went to the joiner’s

To buy him a coffin;

But when she came back

The poor dog was laughing.

She went to the cobbler’s

To buy him some shoes;

But when she came back

He was reading the news.

The dame made a curtsey,

The dog made a bow;

The dame said, “Your servant,”

The dog said, “Bow-wow.”


The above nursery rhyme portrays men as masters of women with the power to order them around or demean them. The last stanza I cited portrays women as servants of men, and it doesn’t even make the slightest attempt to hide it. In fact, it uses the exact word “servant” to describe the dame. It is outrageous that kids are exposed to these nursery rhymes tainted with such problematic gender stereotypes and discrimination.

What’s worse is that I can still clearly remember the tune of this nursery rhyme. This shows how deep an impression this nursery rhyme has made on me since I was young. I wasn’t aware of the gender stereotypes portrayed in the song until I chanced upon a short critique of it. Even then, I could not believe it until I looked up the lyrics and saw how discriminatory they were.

I must reiterate that while these kinds of nursery rhymes introducing gender stereotypes to children may seem trivial, young children are often unable to decipher the hidden messages littered in nursery rhymes and unfortunately, these hidden messages all play a huge role in shaping their understanding and perceptions.  We must be mindful of what material we are sharing with our children and watch out for dangerous content like these. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a nice nursery rhyme, but there’s a whole lot wrong if a child is exposed to problematic material at such a young age.

Row, row, row your boat,

Gently down the stream.

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,

Life is but a dream.

That’s more like it.

jun kitAbout the Author: Jun Kit is a Year 4 student at Raffles Institution, although often mistaken to be primary school student due to his massive height.  He is an avid fan of football but enjoys playing badminton too. Maybe one day, he’ll represent Singapore at the World Cup and lead the country to glory.  Besides playing sports, he is also a fan of writing and has his own blog page, albeit filled with football content. But at the moment, he’s focused on his studies and is all pumped up for the upcoming O Level Higher Chinese Examinations. Right.


Cinderella: Fable or Foe?

by Change Maker, Foo Jun Kit

Recently, in history lessons, I came across “Poisonous Mushroom”, a propaganda book written by the Nazis to propagate anti-Semitism in German minds. It is targeted at children and taught them “the dangers of Jews” as well as encouraged discrimination against them. For the Nazis, this was a very powerful tool as the indoctrinated children would grow up to help the Nazis with their cause. This got me thinking about the role of books in our lives, especially books for children. Used right, it could educate children and spur the world forward; used wrongly, it could introduce problematic thoughts in young minds. I reflected on books I came across so far and my thoughts rested on a story I read ages ago – Cinderella. Even if the subtly reinforced gender stereotypes in this story may exist unintentionally, I felt it right to point them out.

1. Only women are responsible for household chores.

Walt-Disney-Screencaps-Princess-Cinderella-walt-disney-characters-34016742-4374-3240Cinderella is forbidden from attending the ball because she must finish all the household chores. She is forced to mop the floor, wipe tables and dust furniture instead. Oh, you say that a female character forced to do household chores is merely a coincidence? I say it was due to gender stereotypes the author internalised. Furthermore, the name “Cinderella” came from the word “cinders” because she spent most of what little rest time she had near the cinders of the fire.

2. Women have to look good to be deemed worthy of a partner.

Cinderella is poor and dresses in shabby clothes, and it is made clear to the reader that she would be turned away if she went for the ball in this state. Only when a fairy godmother appears to grant her wish to be pretty, can she enter the ball. Why is there this need to sexually objectify females? Must they look a certain way to be accepted by others?  Who are we to dictate what women wear?

3. Women should be subservient to men.

The Prince falls in love with Cinderella, but she runs away at the stroke of midnight.  The only trace she leaves behind is her glass slipper on the steps of the entrance. Naturally, the Prince decrees that all women in the country must try on the glass slipper until a perfect match be found. Meanwhile, Cinderella waits helplessly at home for her Prince to come and get her. Portraying women to be submissive to men and their desires robs them of their sense of agency.

These three gender stereotypes from children stories are just the tip of the iceberg. Impressionable children would accept such stereotypes without much consideration, without realizing that they could be damaging. Without sensible reflection of these internalised ideas introduced to them when they were young, these stereotypes would remain with them as they grow older. To avoid this undesirable situation, I present to you the story of Ella, a woman living in a world of responsible people.

Once upon a time, there lived a girl named Ella. Her parents passed away when she was 10, and she lived with her grandparents.  Her grandparents were very kind towards her and made sure she lived comfortably. When Ella graduated, she started working at a car repair workshop to earn a living.  They all lived very happily.  

On the day the Prince turned 21, he held a ball and invited all the girls in the country. Ella was thrilled at the prospect of meeting the Prince and decided to go for the ball. Upon hearing this, her grandparents were very excited as well. Ella’s grandma sewed her a gown and her grandpa gave her a pair of earrings. Ella was absolutely delighted and could not thank her grandparents enough! Off she went with a skip in her step towards the castle.

The majestic castle was enormous! It looked big enough for elephants to hold five soccer matches in it! Ella entered the ballroom and caught her breath; it was beautiful.  Chandeliers hung from the ceiling, bouquets of fresh flowers stood everywhere, even the walls were painted with a fresh coat of gold paint. There were people dancing on the floor, musicians playing in a band and magicians pulling rabbits out of hats. Ella headed for the large buffet and took her fill, but not before saying hi to the Prince.

The Prince immediately fell in love with Ella and danced with her for the rest of the night.  Both Ella and the Prince had a great time. Before Ella left, the Prince asked for her address, but Ella refused to disclose that information and left the castle. Furious and desperate to find her, the Prince commanded his soldiers to bring Ella to him.

The next day, Ella peered out of her room window and saw soldiers marching down her street.  She realised what was happening and burst into tears. She did not want to belong to the Prince.

All of a sudden, there was a clap of thunder and a streak of bright light, and a plump lady appeared in her room.  Ella looked up and asked,

“Who are you?”

“Why,  I am your fairy godmother, and I am here to help!”

“Oh fairy godmother, I am scared to death. The Prince is here to bring me back to the castle!”

“But Ella, isn’t that the most fortunate thing?”

“Oh no, fairy godmother, he may be the Prince, but I do not like him!”

“Oh dear, then I must offer you my assistance. Would you like me to keep him and his soldiers away from you?”

“Yes please, fairy godmother, I will be so glad if you do so!”

With another clap of thunder and streak of bright light, her fairy godmother was gone. Ella looked out of the window and saw that the street was empty.  There were no soldiers in sight!  Just then, she noticed a note on her bed, which read:

A magical sphere has been established around you, and the Prince and his soldiers cannot enter this sphere without your permission.

Ella knew then that she was free from the Prince, and lay on her bed in relief.  She returned to work at the car workshop and continued living her happy and carefree life with her grandparents.  

The End.

And that was the story of Ella. If you ever find yourself in the position of the Prince, be careful not to abuse your privilege to take advantage of others. Instead, you can be a fairy godmother to others and take a stand against violence against women!  Empower women with options and respect their choices. Help build a better world for women to live in.


Beauty and Body

by Charmaine Teh, Change Maker

rbk-empowering-illustrations-carol-rossetti-whitney-deWe live in a society where our appearances are constantly under close scrutiny. Due to rigid societal standards, picking on someone for their weight, whether they are plus size or skinny, is common. The media portrays the perfect female body as a skinny physique with killer abs or a flat tummy with the infamous thigh gap, and for the guys, a chiseled, muscular body. This sends the message that these features would automatically make you happier, more popular and more desirable.

Beauty is constantly being redefined. Currently, the media equates skinny to beautiful; and if you aren’t skinny, you can’t possibly comply with society’s standards of beauty. Anything other than that, you are not fitting in. It has become so ingrained in us that we may find ourselves alienating or disliking a person simply because he or she is fat. And if you are not skinny, you may be called names like ‘fat’ and ‘ugly’, which are meant as insults.

I used to be a victim of ridicule because I was chubby and stood out from my group of friends like a sore thumb. I had thighs that rubbed together when I walked and a tummy that bulged out when I sat down. Someone thought I was “ugly”, and saw fit to ridicule me. I was constantly humiliated for my size and it was a huge blow to my self-esteem. Even though I weighed 51kg standing at 1.57m, I started feeling ugly and believed that I was severely overweight. I turned to starvation by surviving on only one meal per day. On days when I felt ugly and fat, I would binge on food and then exercise excessively to account for the calories I had consumed. I became increasingly self-conscious about my body. I would never leave home in clothes that could not conceal the extra bulges I was trying to hide.

Although I was never medically diagnosed with any eating disorders, it did not mean that I was not harming my body. Within a month, I became obsessed with losing weight. I ate nothing but a plain toast for breakfast and drank water to stave off my hunger for the rest of the day. I felt weak all over but I saw it as something I had to overcome in order to lose weight. To make things worse, I was participating in intensive trainings for my extracurricular activity thrice a week. I was constantly hungry after training sessions but reminded myself that the only way to be skinny was to stick to my strict regime of excessive dieting and exercising.

body image2Why did I allow my beauty to be defined by anyone else but myself? I thought that by being skinnier, I would become a happier and more beautiful person but I only felt depressed and disgusted at myself all the time. I had forgotten that I am an unique individual who deserves to feel beautiful because I am born beautiful, regardless of how I look.

What I am trying to say is that no one should feel ashamed of their body simply because they are not as skinny or muscular. Everyone should be able to feel comfortable in their own skin even if they do not conform to societal standards of beauty.

Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, not just the body type the media portrays. Therefore, my message to anyone out there who feels insecure about their body is that the next time you feel inferior because you do not have rock-solid muscles or a thigh gap, just remember that your body is unique and that you are beautiful. Don’t let the media or society tell you otherwise.

photo (2)About the Author: Charmaine is a final year student at Ngee Ann Polytechnic pursuing Psychology Studies. Her interest in gender equality first sparked when she mentioned that her ex-netball coach was a male and someone had exclaimed ‘Guys can play netball too?’ She holds strong to the belief that no matter how big or small a change is, it is still something significant and thus we should never stop trying to advocate change in the society.




Step In The Right Direction

By Akshita Vaidyanathan, Change Maker

“Yes, I kick like a girl, and I swim like a girl and I wake up in the morning because I am a girl and that is not something I should be ashamed of” – Always #LikeAGirl advertisement

Why is it that the phrase “Like a girl” is an insult?

The new viral advertisement by Always speaks to this negative stereotype in quite a heartfelt and touching manner. Always brought together a group of people, both male and female, and told them to do things like ‘run like a girl’, ‘fight like a girl’, or ‘throw like a girl.’ All the older participants’ portrayals, male and female alike, were comic caricatures of what they thought that phrase meant. They didn’t run nor fight like a normal girl would. Their portrayals showed something that is deeply ingrained into society – a notion that if you do anything like a girl, you are weak, and the phrase “like a girl”, as one of the participants states, is said as if “someone is trying to humiliate you.”

Gender stereotypes and insults are strongest when they are most subtle. And because “like a girl” has such a strong negative connotation, we’re inherently saying that one gender is better than the other and perpetuating gender inequality at an extremely young age.

disturbing-life-lessons-learned-from-disney-movies2135738640-jan-31-2014-1-600x400Disney movies are another good example of gender stereotypes that young children, notably young girls, are exposed to. Cinderella teaches girls that they aren’t worthy of a prince unless they look beautiful, but also have all the domestic skills a women must have. This stereotype is reinforced in Snow White, as Snow stays at home to cook and clean while the dwarves go off to do “the real work.” I wouldn’t be the first person to note how Beauty and the Beast normalizes the existence of domestic abuse and violence within relationships.

And it’s not just Disney Movies. These stereotypes are widespread throughout the media, as voiced in the 2011 documentary “Miss Representation.” This documentary, directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, illustrates the inaccurate representations of women in mainstream media. It discusses how media often fails to represent women in power in a favorable light, but very often represents women in a trivial, disparaging fashion. As we all know, we live in a world where media presence is so ubiquitous that this disparate portrayal of women has an extremely negative effect.

tumblr_mbcareFTtI1rfir01o1_500When a force, especially one that has as much social power as the media does, labels women with these stereotypes, they are perceived as real and can translate into real life environments. Women encounter the consequences of these stereotypes at the workplace, as they confront the glass ceiling while men glide up the glass escalator. They encounter these consequences in their own home, if they aren’t as domestic as they are “supposed to be”, or are unmarried, or don’t have children. In arguably one of the most violent ways, women encounter the consequences when they are blamed for their rape or assault because of the way they dress, or the way they act – because it wouldn’t have happened to them if they had done something differently, if they had somehow turned into the fictional women everyone sees on the media.

On the flipside, mass media has recently taken a step in the right direction. Television shows like  “Orange is the New Black,” “Orphan Black”, “American Horror Story: Coven”, “Girls,” and “Veep” reject such stereotypes of women, and have strong female leads. They aren’t beauty and romance-centric, something that is a definite change in the representation of women in the media. Although a few movies in Hollywood have strong female leads, we have yet to see this become widespread throughout the movie industry.

Website “,” recently posted an article titled “23 Women Show Us Their Favorite Position,” using a pun on the innuendo in a much more empowering way. It shows women holding up their favorite positions on placards: reading “CEO,” “President,” “Engineer.”


Of course, the Always advertisement does something very similar. In the second half of ad, we’re shown something that you don’t often see in advertising – something truthful. The younger female participants in the group are told the same things that the older participants were, but these girls don’t run comically. They run as fast as they can, they fight with grace and with strength and they throw their hardest. These young girls, run like themselves, fight like themselves, and show the strength than any girl has. As they should.

I urge you all to watch Always’ #LikeAGirl and help to rewrite what it means to be a girl.

imageAbout the Author: Akshita is currently an undergraduate student at Tufts University in Boston studying Psychology and English. She was born in India, but grew up in Singapore for most of her life and attended UWCSEA Dover. She has a keen interest for gender equality and women’s and hopes to play her part in bridging the gap in gender equality, both here in Singapore and worldwide. In her free time she loves reading, spending time with her friends, binge watching television, writing (both creatively and not), and her favourite pastime – reading curious articles and about interesting studies on the internet.