Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Singapore has miles to go in embracing feminism

(Published - ST Forum, Online Story. June 9, 2009)

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

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