This letter is really interesting.
(July 14, 2009) Horrified by many profanities in matinee show on NS life
I attended the matinee show Own Time Own Target at the Drama Centre in the National Library building over the weekend. One magazine lauded it as a 'laugh out loud, rediscovery of zany side of national service'. I presumed this meant it was a family-type show and took my two teenage sons, aged 16 and 14, to the show on the premise of a MediaCorp-owned magazine review.
To my horror, I was cringing uncomfortably in my seat the whole show, highly disturbed by the language used. I do not have a problem that the language was coarse and in dialects. But it was offensive when every sentence and curse uttered by the officers (rightly or wrongly, provoked or otherwise) at the NS boys in the drama was a profanity of the female genitals.
The show was a full house, with young and old, males and females equally represented. I am sure I was not the only one who was disturbed by the excessive cursing and swearing by the officers at the recruits. My observation was that people laughed out loud not at the clumsiness of the recruits but mostly because they felt uncomfortable with the profanities.
As a mother, I find it hard to imagine that after years of sheltered school life where students are taught values, to be gentlemanly and polite and respect their elders, these boys have to do NS run by officers who do not blink an eye when they curse their mother, sister, girlfriend and the whole female population by way of conversation.
My boys were shocked to realise that NS is a rite of passage where they will be officially subjected to bullying, shouting and cursing - nothing gentlemanly at all.
If this is a light-hearted look at life of NS boys during basic military training, I fear to know what my boys will face in their real-life situation when they enlist. Please, someone, assure me this is not so.
Wee Hua Boey (Mdm)
What the fuck? Cursing is part of life, and definitely army life.
In the army, different classes mix. The English-educated middle-class folks who come from 'good' homes, will mingle with the working class folks, who probably have their own expressions of masculinity and working class pride.
Some people like to drink their milk, say their prayers and be 'good', and there are some who like to puff their cigarettes, say their "chee bye"s (vaginae, the plural of vagina by the way) and be respected.
The army is also one place where class not only conflates into one (unless you a treasured white-horse to be bubble-wrapped), but also the common performance of masculinity. It makes us more "man" when we celebrate misogyny, sexual prowess (not with other men, as that is very much shunned upon) and smelly vaginae. It's the one place where we share this working class connection.
It's really interesting that when men in the army try to be more 'masculine' by picking up traits characteristic of working class males - smoking, tattoos, maybe drinking, cursing in Chinese dialect (a sign that you are street smart), speaking broken English, walking like you had a swollen penis and testicles.
In some working class settings, you are "sissy" if you spoke good English any way. You must be yonic-centric in your communication, for example say something that's loosely translated, like "Penetrate Broken Smelly Vaginae! That vagina bus took such a fornicating long time! Your horse vagina!"
Seriously, if you want an organisation to champion cervix cancer awareness, look to the Singapore Armed Forces. They are obsessed with female genitalia as if their masculinity depended on it.
Well, that is how the army runs. But in Singapore, we cannot resist conscription based on principle. Even if you detest this mentality, you cannot choose to not enlist based on what you believe in.
Madam Wee's boys will understand that this is society's rites of passage for boys to become men - to get acquainted with working class values. It can be very jarring for most middle class folks any way. Cursing in Hokkien is one good way to perform this brand of masculinity. You need your healthy dose of "chee bye"s to become recognised as a man in the army. Very heterosexist, and very sexist.
But there is the occasional exercise of restraint, as the working class character takes upon itself the role of the middle-class gentleman. They cut down on the misogyny and cursing in the presence of female staff.
There is nothing gentlemanly in NS. There is bullying, psychological and physical. And there are the cover-ups. For every "vagina" that is uttered in the army, there is someone covering up something. When you pride yourself in reputation and image, you will pride yourself in covering up and perhaps lying.
Any way, I feel all the performances of gender in the army is ridiculous. The institution of the army leverages on gender stereotypes and heterosexist norms to create the conformity they need. Of course these features are just extra toppings on the reality that national service is compulsory.
We are here to defend interests beyond ours. We are alienated from our physical and emotional labour as we sacrifice our youths for the nation's goals, some of which some of us do not believe in. Like I said before, when they talk about "defending what's ours", I would see it as "defending what's (y)ours!"