Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The celebration of heterosexuality

The following is a letter published in Straits Times online forum.

Minimum age for Grid Girls contest should be 18

I am writing in to object to the minimum age requirement to join the SingTel Grid Girls competition.

I think it is inappropriate that a company such as SingTel be seen organising a competition that encourages the sexual objectification of young girls. I question the rationale of having 16 years as the minimum entry age. Where do we draw the lines as adults in protecting our children?

Sex sells. That is a fact but there is such a thing as corporate and social responsibility. Let's not kid ourselves as to what these girls are being used to do. Holding flags before the race? Right. Why girls? Why not some handicapped person? Can't a disabled person do the job just as well? Shouldn't we take the opportunity to generate awareness for the less fortunate perhaps? It would be really interesting to see how the organisers explain that this is not an exercise in sexual objectification of young women.

If there are adult women out there who wish to sell themselves in such a manner, they are old enough to decide for themselves. However, the line should be drawn when the minimum age is 16 years old. I would have thought that the age should have been 18 years old at the minimum.

Winnie Ang (Ms)

Here's one view. Open market, open competition, all in the spirit of neo-liberal capitalism. When corporations are competing for consumer dollar, what better tactic to use than to hire teenage girls to do the "marketing" and get the publicity. After all, they will be renumerated for their services. Sexual objectification becomes necessary in such an economic climate.

Going along this line, there are institutions that stand to gain and lose in such an economic environment. Religious institutions that pride themselves in upholding consistent values and morality will obviously see this as a threat.

Social institutions (like the family) that have been well-socialised into internalising the gender norms, roles and expectations also become threatened by sexual objectification. It is part of the package that is gender norms/roles/expectations that we come to create a science or a set of knowledge that defines for us the notion of "too young" or "old enough".

The concept of puberty for example has become almost solidified with the many layers of medical and social ascriptions and prescriptions heaped upon it. It also requires the power and stamp of approval of the ruling classes and political elite to immortalise this knowledge. Our understanding of morality will just gradually change, and follow accordingly.

Is 16 "too young" or "old enough"? If society wants to diagnose it as "too young", it will prescribe a set of protocols and procedures, sanctions, rules and regulations, just to make sure it fits into what it thinks of as "too young". Same goes for "old enough". Now, apply that to "natural" and "unnatural", you get the picture.

If children are impressionable or vulnerable, why are religious institutions allowed to engage them? Of course, we can take for granted that religion is a "good" thing, as approved by the state and most members of society. But why then are some religious doctrine and organisations encouraging some degrees of social exclusion, while some deal with violence and martyrdom, some religious groups fight and kill each other? Are these realities okay for the people who are classified as "young"? So what is "good" here?

What is the "better good" any way? Does 2 positives "better" and "good" equate to a positive? What kind of positivity are we talking about? Positive for who? Beneficial to whom?

The letter writer Winnie Ang also mentioned about corporate and social responsibility. Unfortunately, corporate and social responsibility is built on foundation consisting a strong economic and commercial responsibility and legal obligation. There will be no corporation if there wasn't any commercial responsibility (to stakeholders) and legal obligation (don't break the law). Hiring young girls and sexually objectifying them fulfills the fundamental goal, that is the economic responsibility. Girls bring the crowds, crowds bring the money, and money brings oppression (okay, bad joke!).

Grid girls are a good marketing strategy. Look at the strategy of Ladies' Night. Free entry and incentives bring the girls, girls bring the crowds, crowds bring the money. Women are just used as bait to attract money. Clubs and pubs have to be competitive to survive and Ladies' Night is one good way to do so.

Let me take another turn here. Rooted deep in all these sexual objectification is the strong leveraging on the taken-for-granted phenomenon we call heterosexuality. Capitalism and sexuality intertwine here, but I'll focus on the latter now.

Such marketing strategies, hiring girls as man-bait, is the glorification, promotion, endorsement, justification and celebration of heterosexuality (and the heterosexual lifestyle!!!). We are not talking about heteronormality here, but heterosexuality. Allow me to politicise heteronormality and heterosexuality. Well, the people who usually complain about this, I assume, will most likely complain about the glorification, promotion, endorsement, justification and celebration of homosexuality. They are morally conservative, yes they are. Nothing wrong with morally conservative people choosing their lifestyles and behaviours (snap!).

Maybe we are really sex-negative. Don't celebrate this, don't celebrate that, just be celibate. Legislate to fornicate to procreate.

So who are the perverts here? Are the perverts the ones who celebrate, or those who don't allow any celebration?

The celebration of heterosexuality is everywhere to be seen. MRT ads for example, you have happy dad, happy mum, and their 2 happy children and all that (although they are Chinese, middle-class, wear Western clothes and most likely to be English-speaking, and most likely to be Christian). In the newspapers, we see lots of counseling and advice that ultimately endorse heterosexuality. Aren't all these apparatuses that celebrate heterosexuality? Heterosexuality was once pathologised! Why are we celebrating an ex-disease?

In Singapore, we can celebrate heterosexuality, but we can't celebrate other sexualities. Maybe if the government and the "moral majority" could just stand up and say, "YES we celebrate heterosexuality and nothing else, and we are proud to create and uphold double standards! We only care about the feelings of the numerical majority, as how we rightfully define. Our concept of pluralism is flexible so it can accommodate our economic agenda and sustain our position of dominance!"

We have to be honest with ourselves. I doubt sexual minorities have much to hide. They're always wanting to be heard, but censorship and the moral police have too often obstructed and blocked them out. Attention is always diverted away from the inconsistencies, insecurities and the desires of the self-professed moral majority, and thrust upon the perceived and stereotypical ills of sexual minority-related issues. What is there to hide or to protect when we are all just kettles and pots?

When Mediacorp Channel 5 vice-president announced that the channel was going to revamp its programmes to be up to date and in touch with viewers, so as to arrest declining viewership, and it is about time, I would look forward to more proper portrayals and fair representations of minority segments of our community. You just have to keep it real, dog. Not only sexual minorities, you could have single parents, destitute people, ISD detainees, and so on. Everyone has to be represented and not be invisibilised. Happy mid-week.


Wei Haur said...

ms ang wishes to protect our children, but why are 17 year old females considered children, and not 18 year olds?

i can only imagine (without straying to the issue of societal norms) it is based on the assumption that the majority of 18 year old ladies can make better decisions for themselves than the majority of 17 year olds.

so why not extend the limit to 19? why not 21?

perhaps we need to question what we should protect our children from.

should we try to restrict their chances to explore and even yes, embrace, their sexuality? it's easy to answer "yes, if they're too young", but as i've mentioned above, how young is too young? surely there are 18 year old ladies who still cannot seem to make the "correct" decisions for themselves?

if the "maturity" of the individual is independent of the arbitrary figure of age, then perhaps age is not an effective measure of whether the young ladies in question are "old enough to decide for themselves".

so what should we protect our children from?

i say we protect our children from losing out on a proper education. first, decide up to which academic level we wish to offer an education uninterrupted by the demands and allure of working life. then, we can enforce the minimum age at which singaporeans start working.

although employment requirements (regardless if the job is sexually objectifying) will still be categorised by age, the reasoning behind it will not be based on something as subjective (or debatable, haha) as the cognitive development of young adults.

Sam Ho said...

if there are short-term concerns like paying bills and putting food on the table, the financial pressures may trickle down to the children and they may reprioritise and enter the workforce earlier.

good thing: filial and helpful kids.
bad thing: they forsake the long term investment that is education, but you can never reach the long term if you can't clear the short term.

Winnie said...

As the author of the said letter, here is my response:

Firstly why 18 years old? I actually did a search of the Singapore law online on what is considered a minor vs an adult. The results varied, depending on what was the issue, from sexual consent to serving NS, being served alcohol etc.

I also did a quick search on the minimum age of beauty contests. They were usually 18 years old. So in a way, it was a general figure that was suggested.

I've noticed that the people who have responded to my letter appear to be mostly, if not all males. Nothing wrong with that except that they have failed to see my point, apart from Wei Haur. I do not know if it's a plain inability, immaturity or refusal to see the impact of such issues.

I think it is an extremely sad day for us as a society when I have to say that the only way such people can feel what I'm trying to bring across is if they put themselves in the shoes of a parent who has had a sexually abused young daughter. For those people who want to know, I recommend reading the book "Damaged" by Cathy Glass. This is a non-fiction work. The little girl in the book was abused by her own parents and their friends. And the damage was permanent. It is extremely sorrowful when you realise that there are children out there who are not so fortunate.

Having to give parental consent is a load of nonsense. As a parent, if I give my parental consent for my kid to be a prostitute, does it make it right?

In addition, I don't know if men realise that they demean and disrespect themselves when they act as if they are guided by nothing but their hormones. This is so evident in some of the replies in the ST Forum.

Sam, your blog in response to my letter veered off-topic to sexual minorities. My concern is not about that.

Sam Ho said...

thanks winnie.

my article was not at all in response to your letter, but to the overarching ideas your letter has addressed, i.e. the social, political and economic phenomena that cause society to be like that.

therefore, i was never "on"-topic in the first place. both our written concerns are different, but i would like to say that i strongly agree with your views as expressed in your letter; it is just that i did not express them here because it is not on the agenda.

for me, society is the villain and we all are victims, and most of what i write and think, are based on that assumption. it is just one of many millions of views and predispositions in our society. everything a person says informs of a certain socialisation and internalised ideological predisposition, and as a student of society, i try to make sense of it for myself and my perspective.

for example, the notions of "inability", "immaturity" and "refusal" are also rooted in how power relations and structures are designed, sustained and evolved in our society. and this is of personal interest to me. "immaturity" in the eyes of whom? "immaturity" to whose benefit/disadvantage? "immaturity" based on whose universal definition? yup, these are the questions i am more concerned with.