Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Singapore has miles to go in embracing feminism

(Published - June 9, 2009)

Singapore has miles to go in embracing feminism

I read with interest last Friday's report, 'Who's a true feminist'.

The well-written piece provides a brief description of the development of feminism, and provokes some thought.

I strongly believe that Singaporeans - men and women alike - can benefit from the diverse ideas of feminist philosophy.

Gender equality in Singapore has more than often been conceived as a condition where equal treatment and equal opportunities are provided. Now that most of us have recognised the importance of sustaining these values, we should move on to acknowledge that different men and women have different life chances, potentials and abilities.

I believe Singaporeans have a long way to go in understanding and embracing various feminist ideas. This is because it involves questioning one's position in society - whether it is based on ethnicity, class, religion, sexuality and so on.

Not many Singaporeans are willing to question their position or be critical about it, because if layman observations are anything to go by, most of us act like we know better, deserve better and are morally superior to others. In some cases, there are some who have openly rejected subjectivity and relativism, when championing what they believe to be 'universal values'.

We are also not ready to engage feminist ideas and philosophies because they challenge our predisposed ideas and concepts of what is 'natural' or 'universal'.

For example, some of us are uncomfortable with the idea that homosexuality is a form of sexuality like heterosexuality. Some of us are unwilling to compromise what we believe to be the 'correct' values and judgments. Feminism challenges these values and judgments of various subjective positions, and the influence they have on sexual politics.

Feminism also points out the oppression of people caused by patriarchy and the rigid gender binary. For example, it addresses the conformity of men to rigid masculine gender and sex roles in society. These views can be jarring for those who hold dear to their hearts essentialist ideas of men being naturally and exclusively 'masculine'.

Feminism deals with oppression and discrimination, and it teases out the subjective positions involved in such processes. In Singapore, there is blatant rejection and non-recognition of certain subjective positions, for example that of single mums, foreign workers and people who are identified as 'queer'.

Ho Chi Sam

(Submitted version)

Singapore can benefit from Feminism, but is not mature enough to embrace it

I read with interest the article ‘Who’s a true feminist’ by reporter Tan Hui Yee (June 5).

The well-written piece provides a brief description of the developments of feminism, and provokes some thought.

I strongly believe that Singaporeans – men and women alike – can benefit from the diverse ideas of feminist philosophy.

Gender equality in Singapore has more than often been conceived as a condition where equal treatment and equal opportunities are provided. Now that most of us have recognised the importance of sustaining these values, we should move on to acknowledge that different men and women have different life chances, potentials and abilities.

I believe we Singaporeans have a long way to go to understanding and embracing various feminist ideas. This is because it involves questioning one’s position in society – whether it is based on ethnicity, class, religion, sexuality and so on.

Not many Singaporeans are willing to question their position or be critical about it, because if layman observations are anything to go by, most of us act like we know better, deserve better and are morally superior to others. In some cases, there are some who have openly rejected subjectivity and relativism, when championing what they believe to be “universal values”.

We are also not ready to engage feminist ideas and philosophies because they challenge our predisposed ideas and concepts of what is ‘natural’ or ‘universal’. This threatens the moral authority of various communities that seek to maintain or expand their presence, position and influence in society.

For example, some of us are uncomfortable at the idea that homosexuality is a form of sexuality like heterosexuality. Some of us are unwilling to compromise what we believe to be the “correct” values and judgements. Feminism challenges these values and judgements of various subjective positions, and the influence they have on sexual politics.

Feminism also points out the oppression of people caused by patriarchy and the rigid gender binary. For example, it addresses the conformity of men to rigid masculine gender and sex roles in our society. These views can be jarring for those who hold dear to their hearts essentialist ideas of men being naturally and exclusively ‘masculine’.

Feminism deals with oppression and discrimination, and it teases out the subjective positions involved in such processes. In Singapore, there is blatant rejection and non-recognition of certain subjective positions, for example, that of single mums, foreign workers and people who identify as queer. That said, it is unfortunate we as a society are not emotionally and intellectually ready to embrace feminist philosophy.

Ho Chi Sam

(Not much difference or editing this time, but it's still important to put both out.)

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Today, feminism is more than just about women, as we look at various subjectivities and how each of them intersect with various axes of oppression. Even some branches of feminism are oppressive, for instance, some branches of radical feminism have contended that transsexualism is a tool of patriarchy, which translates to the devaluation of personal experiences and trans discourses of those who identify as transgender.

The 'older' forms of feminism have also used men as a benchmark for equality, quite ironically. In particular, it was liberal feminism, which believes women are as capable as men.

Feminism today goes beyond women, men (which explains why I used the example of men conforming to rigid gender roles), and other identity markers like culture, physiology, gender, sexuality, class, etc., which is why subjectivity figures rather prominently in feminist discourses.

We learn from the development, evolution and diversification of feminism that moral discourses exist and battle with other discourses, to gain legitimacy and authority. Even within the feminist discourses, whether involving member, non-member, or layperson groups, there are those who want to claim they are correct and other voices and subjectivities are morally, emotionally and intellectually inferior. For example, the dominant(ing) discourse that homosexuality is a "lifestyle" or an "alternative lifestyle". The use of an otherwise neutral adjective of "alternative", for example, reeks of a moralisation that strives to divide, segment and stratify communities and peoples.

There are positions that talk about the existence of different discourses; and there are positions that deny them. Ultimately, each position has its own politics. Even positions that claim neutrality are playing their own politics.

So what's the bottomline here?

There bottomline is that there are many different bottomlines that shape our world today, some less salient than others. Our knowledge of these bottomlines will help us to firstly understand how this world works, before we can make the changes we (subjectively) deem fit.

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By the way, I feel it is also time to refer to 'queer' without the quotation marks. The word is not colloquial, and neither is it a metaphor.

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