Monday, April 28, 2008

The brutality of the police and gender norms

On April 25, 2008, the police raided a sauna to conduct a "spot-check", reportedly without a warrant. Below is a release from sauna, Club One Seven:


Dear members,

Our water supply was turned off at 10pm on the 25th April 2008, Saturday. When we opened the back door to investigate and turn it back on, a few plain-clothed officers from the CID rushed in. Sam immediately tried to stop them and demanded to know what was going on. They told him that they were conducting a 'spot-check'. When asked what they were checking for, they simply repeated 'spot-check'. the officers refused to specify what they were checking for despite repeated demands. Sam also asked if they had a warrant to check the premises. They refused to reply.

At this point in time, we turned on all the lights upstairs and downstairs to alert the members that a check was going on. None of the members were stopped from dressing or leaving, nor were they searched or any particulars taken.

When a female officer tried to enter, Sam repeatedly shouted that she was not allowed to enter as we are a private men's club and insisted that she leave. Thereupon, the supervising officer threw Sam to the ground and twisted his arms behind his back to handcuff him. Because of this, Sam sustained cuts to his wrist and bruises on his left rib, for which he was later brought to the Singapore General Hospital for treatment.

The officers only removed several DVDs and Sam was arrested and spent the night in jail. He has been charged with assaulting (pushing) the officer that handcuffed him despite never having laid hands upon him. Sam is 74 years old. The officer was about 40.

We apologise for any inconvenience caused and will give a free return visit to anyone who was here when the incident occurred - just tell the front desk.

We are open for business as usual for our 8TH YEAR from 11:30am to 11:30pm on weekdays and from 11:30am till 7am the following day on Fridays and Saturdays.

Club One Seven.


My thoughts: When I was in primary school, we were told that we must always ask the officer for his warrant or a search warrant if he wants to enter the house. I'm not really sure about the procedure for surprise raids though.

Well, if the sauna actually allowed the woman officer to enter and if she sights a man or two in the state of undress, will her modesty be outraged? Will that be another charge?

I wonder if the gender roles were reversed, what would have happened? The male officer wants to enter the sauna for women, but is stopped by a 74 year old woman. Well, just throw her to the ground, pin her and cuff her. The male officer can enter and perhaps get a chance to see women in various states of undress at the spa. They probably cannot take action against him, because he is just following orders and doing his job, or can they?

There is also something fishy about police operations. They may be raiding for suspected illegal activity X, but there is no sign of X when they arrive. However, they have serendipitously discovered activity Y, which may be seem suspicious enough to warrant a charge, confiscation, detainment, etc., perhaps anything to justify the raid. A fruitless raid will reflect badly on police intelligence.

On another note, imagine the retainment of Section 377A of the Penal Code, which is said not to be actively enforced. It could very well serve as a strategy for proxy prosecution. For example, if you're going to remove a political thorn in your side, charge him with corruption, defamation, contempt of court, and throw in a sodomy charge for good measure. You could also slap him/her in the face because that would be a non-seizable offence.

Back to the issue of the woman officer wanting to enter. Shouldn't she have backed off and have a male officer enter instead? Why of course, this is a society which has no concept whatsoever about male modesty, because men are seen to be the perpetuaters of perversion and crime, while women are viewed to be weaker and passive. Score for androcentric patriarchy (internalised by both men and women). It is probably the very same ideology which imprisons sexual minorities in our society, for it encompasses gender norms and expectations.

Considering that the female officer wanted to enter the exclusively male space, she must have been authorised to do so by her superiors. Does that mean male policeman can enter exclusively female spaces now?

What makes the episode a lot more suspicious is that the sauna is known to be patronised by gay men. People might come to suspect a targeting of a specific group of people by the police. It is like how an African-American will react when he's being picked on, "Is it because I'm black? Yes? It always must be the black guy, huh?"

I hope there is no "moral agenda" on the part of the police. A greater concern would be the force used against an aged person, and that one woman (in representing the police force) is able to transcend well-maintained boundaries, gives it a couple more reasons for debate.

In the army, and I am sure in the police force too, there is a lot of hyper-masculine rhetoric, accented in macho working-class ethic composite languages of broken English, various Chinese dialects and Malay. Homophobia is perpetuated and reproduced in such exchanges. Not only that, personnel who display this homophobia, also speak of beating up those "sissies/ah kwas/gays/bapoks".

The military and the police force are institutions where homophobia is learned and reproduced. These are also the places where manliness has its fixed standard operating procedures (SOP). Speak loudly, swear, use broken English, act working class (for real middle class personnel) - these traits do not contribute to a better national or home security. Well, the seemingly educated, English-speaking, seemingly middle-to-upper class personnel are often mocked to be sissy, weak, sheltered. I am sure outside the army and police force, there are full-time national servicemen who have that middle class aesthetic and behaviour, but in camp and in uniform, they suddenly become working class and a lot "manlier". There is more to the notion of "wayang" when you talk about national service.

Fundamental Christianity is not the only thorn in the side of sexual minorities, especially so in Singapore. We need to address the gender norms and stereotypes harboured by non-Christians too. We cannot allow homophobia to normalise, justify, glorify or celebrate the violence against sexual minorities, can we?

1 comment:

cognitivedissonance said...

Back to the issue of the woman officer wanting to enter. Shouldn't she have backed off and have a male officer enter instead? Why of course, this is a society which has no concept whatsoever about male modesty, because men are seen to be the perpetuaters of perversion and crime, while women are viewed to be weaker and passive. Score for androcentric patriarchy (internalised by both men and women). It is probably the very same ideology which imprisons sexual minorities in our society, for it encompasses gender norms and expectations.

Agreed. (I also agree with all of the rest of your post here, but the idea of male modesty is worth some additional tippy-typing on this nice Sunday evening.)

I have male friends, happily married for many years, whose feelings I find are more sensitive or responsive than many many girls I know. And I also have run-of-the-mill male friends, some of whom are also married, who bristle aggressively at the idea that they are in any way sensitive, feeling, or kind, or other such "girlish" traits. It has never been easy for me to continue to honour the latter group's male modesty with laughter ease and small jokes as is my usual practice for all my male friends, when these men of the latter group deliberately consign it to oblivion themselves. Just wondered what your thoughts might be on this.