Categories
Blog Body Image News & Updates [email protected]

The Tyranny of Villainy: How Animated Villains Reaffirm Our Ideas of Ugliness

By: Clare-Marie Koh

Growing up, I have always enjoyed watching animated films. Their catchy soundtracks, enchanting plots, and heartwarming characters were all appealing to the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed consumer. It is no wonder that both children and adults alike, are drawn to these films which frequently deliver the message that good always defeats evil.

However, where there is praise, there is criticism lurking in the corner. Every image portrays a message, and these messages are neither transparent nor neutral. These visual images and verbal texts are projected onto us, leading us to categorise them as good or bad, right or wrong. Most of these messages we internalise happen at the subconscious level, and call on our feelings, fears, desires, and loyalties – emotions that we do not really take the time to question.

This interaction between consumers and texts is not a one-way street; messages that the media convey do not exist in a vacuum and are not hermetic. Societal culture, too, influences the signs and symbols that appear in visual cues, where the personalities of animated characters reflect the norms and beliefs that reside in contemporary society. As a result, the representation of animated characters either reaffirms certain beliefs and norms that currently exist, and/or influence the way we perceive the world around us, including the way we see ourselves and beauty.

There is plenty of literature that explores the relationship between the visual personalities of animated protagonists and perceptions of body image. However, in my mind, visual personalities of the antagonists have a larger influence on our perceptions because it is easier to internalise what not to be rather than what to be.

via GIPHY

Antagonists from animated films often embody visual cues that are visibly different compared to the other characters. Their morphed bodily features mark them as isolated from the rest of the cast. These visual cues are subtle yet impactful in making the distinction between good and bad. Hence, viewers tend to associate bad personalities with the physical attributes that villains embody, and eventually internalise these physical traits as undesirable. This is most prominent in the visual representations of antagonists from animated films because creators have the freedom to come up with the worst possible aesthetic that matches the villain’s evil personality, thereby reaffirming our ideas of undesirable traits.

Of all the evil villains in animated films, there is none that embodies the typical idea of a villain more than Ursula from The Little Mermaid. The half-human, half octopus evil sea witch from the animated film embodies everything that is not socially acceptable in terms of one’s body image – purple and blobby.

via GIPHY

Ursula’s most noticeable feature is her skin colour. Unlike the rest of the characters who have the likeness of Caucasian skin tones, Ursala is abnormally purple. This immediately sets her apart from the other characters, helping viewers identify the villain very quickly. The difference in skin tone highlights the strangeness and exoticness of skin tones that differ from societal norms. This sets the stage for labelling Caucasian skin tones as good and attractive and others as bad and unattractive, thereby feeding into the idea that certain people with conventional skin tones are viewed as good and conventionally attractive while others are shunned from the communities they live in.

This use of skin colour as a distinction between good and evil is not solely limited to the tentacle-legged villain. Villains such as Cruella De Vil from The Hundred and One Dalmations and Yzma in The Emperor’s New Groove, among many others, are coloured in with non-humanistic hues that are distinctly different from their protagonist counterparts. It is for this reason that even though these protagonists have recognisably humanistic features, they are put in a position that delivers the message that some skin tones are kinder, more attractive and thus superior than others, reaffirming classical ideologies of race and human worth.

via GIPHY

Another mechanism that is often used in differentiating antagonists in animated films is the size of their bodies. While abnormal skin colour alludes to idea of racial inferiority, the grotesque and manipulated figure implies that there exist certain body shapes that are not ideal in contemporary society. In fact, villains are often either overweight like Ursula or rail thin like Cruella. These extreme body figures are often given personalities that are viewed as unacceptable, undesirable, unhealthy and troubled.

Cruella, the fur-hunting, dog-kidnapping nutjob, is the size of half a chopstick and is portrayed as evidently troubled. Other villains that share the likes of beanpoles include but are not limited to Yzma from The Emperor’s New Groove and Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty. Pudginess is the other extreme that makes villains easily identifiable, as seen in Ursula who is so fleshy to the point that her character is amorphous. The half-octopus evil sea witch has fat folds spilling out of her bustier and tentacles for legs, which seem to move around in a disorderly manner. This sets her apart from the other streamlined, sleek and slender characters, which isolates her from the society she exists in.

via GIPHY

According to a study that analysed animated films for 9 decades, characters that are given goth and bully roles are more likely to be portrayed as having body figures that do not belong to the lean and slender ideal. Overweight characters were also more likely to be characterised as less smart and less competent. These visual cues not only reaffirm certain ideas of what an ideal body shape should look like, but also bring across the image of a non-ideal body type. Both bony and overstuffed figures are deemed undesired, thereby fostering unhealthy body policing practices such as fat shaming.

Villains are also often illustrated as older women with white or greying hair, as seen in Cruella and Ursula. Wrinkles are also another physical trait that are given to villains such as the old evil witch in Snow White and Yzma. While there have been positive representations of the elderly, these representations seem to solely pertain to characters who are not villains. King Triton, for instance, is an elderly but is depicted as conventionally attractive despite his white hair. The image of King Triton’s fit body points at the favourability towards youthfulness and the maintenance of one’s body through leading an active lifestyle. Hence, this reinforces the notion that fit and young is good but wrinkly and old is bad. It is no wonder that women growing old seems like a “moral disease,” as if growing old is the same as catching the flu rather than a natural process, compared to men, as Susan Sontag pointed out in The Double Standard of Aging.

via GIPHY

Animated films may be seen as harmless entertainment, but it is important to reiterate that images are neither transparent nor neutral because of how culture is constantly shaped and reshaped by its characters and cultural context. In decoding the visual elements of antagonists in animated films, it is evident that the portrayal of cultural beauty norms is linked with characteristics of evil. Whether these visual elements are influenced by culture or vice versa, it is important that designers and producers start questioning their shared responsibility in how they influence the way society views itself and its people.

About the Author: Clare is a conflicted media enthusiast. She enjoys food, yoga and art (in that order). Her skills include biting off more than she can chew, making tea and falling asleep within 90 seconds (not in that order).

Categories
Blog Body Image [email protected]

Is ‘Casual’ Racism Really Casual?

By Natasha Sadiq & Tan Jing Min

“How long does it take for an Indian woman to pass motion?”

“How long?”

“9 months”

Cackles of laughter ensue. I look around the group of friends encircling me. I seem to be the only person who didn’t find the joke funny.

I’m going to go out on a limb here (I might be completely wrong) and guess that it’s because I’m the only person of Indian descent. I tried hard to conceal the indignation coalescing on my face.

I failed. I suppose they couldn’t miss my suddenly darkened face.

“But it’s just a joke, don’t be so sensitive la.”

And they were right: it was just a joke. But the jokes we tell speak volumes about our subliminal racial biases and standards of beauty. Colour is the subject of much banter among youths and even some circles of adults especially in multiracial Singapore, but the light-hearted irreverence belies more insidious undertones: body shaming and body image issues.

Body shaming is the practice of making mortifying and demeaning remarks about a person’s body size, weight, or appearance. The prevalence of body shaming in societies should not be trivialised – anxieties about one’s beauty and appearance are rising exponentially.

According to the Dove Global Beauty and Confidence Report, Dove’s largest-ever study on women’s perceptions of beauty, research shows that women’s level of body confidence is at an all-time low. The study, which involved interviews with 10,500 women across 13 different countries, showed that a large majority of women struggle with body image issues.

The study also showed that body image issues are not confined to a mere lack of confidence and physical insecurities. These issues do pose consequences on a much broader and larger scale. For example, the study showed that about 85 per cent of all women and 79 per cent of girls admitted that they choose to absent themselves from important life events when they do not feel confident about their appearance. Additionally, 9 out of 10 women skip meals and compromise their health when they feel insecure about their bodies.

The problem of body shaming can also manifest in tangible third-party harm: a study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) showed that bullying in Singapore is worryingly high compared to other countries – the third highest, to be exact. 18.3 per cent of students experience ridicule a few times a month. Spreading of rumours, being left out, and having things taken away from them were among the other forms of bullying cited by students.

This is telling of a mindset internalised from early childhood: we are entitled to judge others, and ostracise others if they fail to meet the mark.

In Singapore, casual racist remarks about one’s appearances may also constitute body shaming. One can even argue that these remarks are more damaging to a person’s self-esteem because changing one’s race or skin colour would be arguably more difficult than altering one’s weight. Here, body shaming is a reality not merely for girls and women, but for boys and men as well.

Indeed, body shaming and racial stereotypes share a symbiotic relationship. Racial stereotypes and colourism contribute to a culture of body shaming (and vice versa) when people associate a certain race with certain physical characteristics, and then conceive of a narrow standard of beauty based on certain “undesirable” traits found in one’s race or physical appearance.

One example of this is when we attribute certain physical traits like fatness, darker skin tones and even unkempt hair to certain races, consequently branding them “lazy” or  “unprofessional”.

What we need to be more aware of is the fact that individualised instances of casual racism have the potential to affect how we perceive broader social groups and communities. Here, something as personalised and singular as casual racism helps build the foundation for larger issues of social prejudice.

Because skin colour can be such a visceral reminder of how one individual differs from another, it is especially important that we take heed of our latent biases. The issue of race regularly arises in national discourse for good reason–from racial politics to majority privilege, it is clear that while Singapore embraces diversity, it also poses a constant potential source of tension.

Whether we are concerned with seemingly superficial issues like physical appearances or those that entail greater social implications like race, we need to understand that they are all connected by threads of influence. The seemingly light-hearted jokes about race we pass around as pleasantries carry more poison in its arsenal than we think.

 

About the authors: 

Natasha graduated from NUS with a degree in Political Science and dislikes empty niceties. She is currently looking for her job. Please inform her if you find it.

Jing Min is waiting to begin reading Law at Cambridge University, but looks like she could be starting primary school. She tries to use this to her advantage (with little success).

 

Featured image by Natalie Nourigat.

Categories
Blog

How we internalise misogyny from stereotypes

Written by Sriraksha Raghavan

misogynist-01“Women are other women’s worst enemy” is a phrase so commonly heard that it has been reduced to an overused cliché. This statement finds its roots in women comparing themselves to one another, which often results in hate. Yet, even if women do not hate other women, it is common for women to be ranked below that of the male counterparts. Why? Because men are thought to be more capable than women. Ideally, we could count on universal sisterhood and unanimously deny that perception but reality is far from it. Instead, what we can do is to question why such perception exists. Why do women undermine other women?

Let’s start by taking a look at advertisements.

Turn on the television and a Nivea soap advertisement greets you. There is a woman. She strips and wets herself from the water spurting out from the shower head. With a soap on her body, she gushes over its miraculous abilities. She smiles at the camera and the advertisement ends.

Another advertisement follows. Men are cast to sell Movado watches. These watches symbolise “performance”, “strength” and “impact”, the advertisement says. In other words, masculinity is tied to success and power.

These two advertisements are just two examples of many. If you haven’t noticed by now, advertisements are gendered. On the one hand, they often use women to sell soaps, shampoos, home appliances – signaling the feminisation of the domestic sphere. On the other hand, men are cast to sell watches, cars, and other items – items that are symbolises power, fame and class.

On an everyday basis we are bombarded with stereotypes of what men and women are supposed to be like and we begin to believe it. What is more, it is easier to learn and internalise stereotypes when we start seeing these at a young age and do not know any better. Ultimately, media becomes a  standard by which people assess how to behave in the world and learn what is appropriate.

What has this got to do with women fighting with each other, you ask? Perhaps the phrase “internalised misogyny” may help.

Misogyny refers to the dislike or ingrained prejudice against women. Internalised misogyny would then translate to how this concept is accepted and subsequently incorporated into our psyches. In other words, the phrase refers to the internalisation of these sexist comments and gender stereotypes, the often subconscious belief that they are true.

8443610_f520In drama series, women talk ill about other women and are seen fighting over men. We know that such never-ending strings of fights seem unrealistic. Yet, we internalise and accept these images as the norm. In sum, we internalise the hate for other women.

The belief of prejudice against women is involuntary. It is not a conscious decision to think this way but it is actually a response to all the preconceived notions about women that society perpetuates.

We often do not realize that we are being bombarded with such images because they are so subtle. American cartoonist Alison Bechdel used her cartoon to come up with a test which is now called the Bechdel test. It requires a work of fiction to fulfill three criteria:-

There must be two women in the said work of fiction

They must talk to each other

They must talk about something other than a man.

The number of works that will fail to satisfy this criteria is staggering. With subtleties that can be so easily overlooked, stereotypes have actively proliferated to the extent that people cannot see beyond it.

A worldwide experiment called the ‘Goldberg Paradigm’ was conducted to assess if gender bias is real. Participants were asked to read an article which was supposedly written by a man and then evaluate it. Then the same article was circulated under the name of a woman, and the same people (both men and women) were asked to evaluate it again. It was seen that people graded the article higher when they thought it was a man writing it than when they thought it was a woman.

As social creatures, we are conditioned to follow certain norms in order to fit in. Gender stereotypes portrayed in the media, albeit merely constructed by fellow humans, can easily be internalised and reinforced. We need to educate ourselves and become aware of the stereotypes we are upholding or subjecting others to. We need to question why is the norm a norm. We need to question the kinds of prejudices that exist today. Awareness and subsequently, a conscious effort to not perpetuate these stereotypes and prejudices are first steps to build a better and freer world for humans – men and women alike – to live in.

About the Author: Sriraksha is a student with a passion for learning and believes that if you learn anything in depth, a passion for it will follow. She thinks that the best way to enrich one’s life is to enrich that of others and hopes to do that for a living one day. 

 

Categories
Blog

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.

Categories
Blog

“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.

Categories
Blog

A platform of sexism

Anonymous blog post

A while ago, I found out the most horrifying thing about a close friend of mine. He was using the fact that I was a legal adult but still able to pull off a schoolgirl look to feed his fetishes. We agreed to have a shoot and at that time, I thought it was only for artistic and photographic purposes.

That was, until my friends showed me a forum where this close friend of mine is a member. What I read in the forum filled me with utter horror.

There is a thread in the forum where men discuss their fetish for various secondary school uniforms in Singapore. They were posting pictures of them ejaculating on the uniforms, asking for suggestions on which school uniform they should cum on next and cheering each other on. This close friend of mine also posted some pictures of him ejaculating on several secondary school uniforms. The worst thing was that some users shared the photos of the girls whose uniforms they had ejaculated on. Those girls are just secondary school girls!

This forum is none other than Sammyboy Forum.

A quick glance at the rest of the forum made me understand why the moderators did not do anything about the thread. Sammyboy Forum is a place where discussion about any type of fetish and any topic of sexual nature is acceptable, regardless of how non-consensual the activity or hateful the discussion. There is even a place for users to share uncensored photos of girls they had sex or nude photoshoots with, with or without their consent. Users also share tips about how to sexually groom a girl into agreeing to take nude photoshoots.

Why is such a forum allowed to exist? A forum where women are nothing but sexual objects to satisfy the fetishes of the users. A forum where women are trophies and prizes in the eyes of those users.

I understand that we need a venue to share and discuss sexual fantasies because sexual freedom is important in our conservative culture. But there should be limits to that. Every party involved should be consenting. Every party involved should be treated as a person with feelings and needs, instead of being objectified as a fetish object. What would the impact be on a young person who happened to stumble upon this forum? What would they believe to be the norm with regards to sex and women?

I hope that something can be done about this forum, and its contents to be moderated. Sexual freedom should be encouraged in Singapore, but learning to respect a person and understand consent is important as well.

Categories
Blog

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.

Categories
Blog

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

Categories
Blog

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.

References:

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.  

Categories
Blog

The Fight for All

 

by Lee Wan Yii, Change Maker 

If you’ve been following recent celebrity news, you would have noticed the huge uproar over a portion of Patricia Arquette’s backstage speech after the Oscars (watch 2:16 to 2:36). In feminist circles, the word “intersectionality” is thrown around a lot, and this recent controversy has the brought the word into light a lot more. Everyone’s asking for intersectional feminism to be brought to the table and for us to fight for “all women”.

But just what is intersectionality? I think this is a great teachable moment for everyone about the topic, and what we should do about it.

What It Is

image 3 (1)Let’s first break down Arquette’s exact words to understand exactly why they were so controversial:

So the truth is, even though we sort of feel like we have equal rights in America, right under the surface, there are huge issues that are applied that really do affect women. And it’s time for all the women in America and all the men that love women, and all the gay people, and all the people of color that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now.”

Arquette seems to have her heart in the right place – she’s calling out the pervasive problem of gender inequality, and is calling for people to help empower women and level the playing field (earlier on, she was addressing the specific issue of wage inequality between men and women). She’s saying loud and clear that there is a problem that needs to be fixed, because it’s not okay for men to have a systemically sexist advantage over women. Shouldn’t feminists applaud that rallying call rather than tear her down for it?

I think there are a some problems with her statement, which reveal that as she fights sexism in her own way, she still has clear misconceptions about racism and LGBTQA+ issues. Her statement suggests:

  1. That the groups “women”, “men that love women”, “gay people”, and “people of colour” are all separate categories of people, instead of possibly overlapping aspects of identities. (For one, there are many queer women of colour out there!)
  2. That the fight for “all the gay people” and “all the people of colour” is separate from and less important than the fight for women.
  3. That the former two are over or close to over, while the fight for women is not.
  4. That women have been involved in fighting for “all the gay people” and “all the people of colour”, and so the latter two groups somehow owe/are in debt to women for their progress.

Her seemingly harmless statement ignores some basic realities about people, identity, and the fight for social justice. When she says “we”, she doesn’t seem to be referring to all women – she seems to be referring to a specific group of women: namely white, heterosexual women. And so this begs the question: what about everyone else?

Here’s where intersectionality comes in!

The term refers to the connections between forms of oppression or discrimination. In every system of oppression, there is a group that is disadvantaged based on their identity (e.g. women being discriminated against because of their gender), while there is another group that is privileged based on their identity. And because people have many aspects to their identities (e.g. gender, race, sexual orientation, class, and other identity markers), each individual’s experience in society turns out to be unique.

For example, someone may identify as a female – but beyond that, she would also identify with a race, belong to a certain socioeconomic class, and fall into many other social categories and systems. She may be privileged due to how she identifies in some ways, and oppressed due to others.

Therefore, intersectionality recognises the following:

  1. Everyone has many different parts to their identities.
  2. Everyone is somehow privileged/disadvantaged by various systems of discrimination, e.g. racism, sexism, LGBTQA+ discrimination, ableism, etc., in different ways.
  3. We don’t want to make various social justice causes mutually exclusive, or reinforce some forms of oppressions while combatting others.
  4. We don’t want to force people to choose between different parts of their identity. (Would a woman of colour have to say, “Let’s pause the fight against racism to help women get equal pay!” in response to Arquette?)

And so an intersectional feminist would say, “All women of all backgrounds are victims of gender inequality, and so we’re going to fight for and with all of them, without disregarding, or worse, reinforcing, any other forms of oppression!”

image 2What to Do

Intersectionality applies to everyone, and all social justice causes should be taken up in light of it.

If we wish to strive for gender equality, then we have to acknowledge that the journey is intertwined with other goals of breaking down racism, homophobia, ableism, transphobia and more. Being a feminist means fighting for gender equality for all people. When we aim to eliminate gender-based violence, we are aiming to do so for everyone, including (if not especially) for those who suffer as a result of other forms of oppression as well.

One important step everyone can take is to understand and check privilege.

I identify as female. At the same time, I enjoy Chinese and cisgender privilege in Singapore. And so, I understand that while I can empathise with the oppression women experience due to sexism in society, my experience is limited when it comes to other forms of marginalisation. While knowing this, I hope to engage everyone in feminist dialogue and listen to them when they speak rather than speaking over them when it is beyond my experience to do so. Even with a nonabrasive personality, I try to call out insensitive remarks among my peers as much as possible. And I also hope for my peers to check me whenever I do or say anything that reinforces stigma or oppression, which helps steer my path towards understanding and changing my place in society.

This leads me to my second point on empathy.

It is difficult to fully understand certain kinds of marginalisation if we are not ourselves the victims of them. Our deepest empathy has limits. But is it the attempt to put ourselves in the shoes of others and remind ourselves of the struggles of fellow human beings which allows for a broad, intersectionalist fight for all. Contrary to some misconception, understanding intersectionality helps us be more inclusive, kind, understanding, and powerful as we tread the path towards equality.

And this empathetic effort extends to everyone, including people like Arquette. Sometimes we do need to ask whether it is productive to immediately hurl vitriol at them, or point out the effects of their words and actions in an honest, effective dialogue. The latter is possible if her heart truly comes from a well-meaning place.

As I personally find out how to best combat gender inequality and gender-based violence, I am searching for the path that is most progressive, effective, and inclusive. Showing an understanding of intersectionality and acting on it is one big step along that path.

About the Author: Lee Wan Yii is a student waiting to enter university, and is now spending her free time knitting, brushing up on her French, getting her license, learning Kapap, and writing, among other things. She enjoys good music as much as she enjoys good conversation.