Women now

International Women's Day was yesterday (according to Singapore time, anyway), which over here drew a lot of chatter about Kathryn Bigelow's Best Director win at the Oscars and local film director Jack Neo's just-revealed affair with a model less than half his age. Make of that what you will.

My own thoughts on the matter are more sobering. Blame it on the Economist's report, "The worldwide war on baby girls" (via Heather Chi), which left me feeling rather goosebumpy about artificially skewed sex ratios in the birth rates of countries like India and China (123 boys per 100 girls, for goodness' sake).

And the always thoughtful Jessica Lim reminded me about the view from the other side and that it's good to stop and listen to Joss Whedon's speech at an Equality Now benefit in 2006.



Welcome to the Year of the Tiger

Welcome to the Year of the Tiger

I was born in the Year of the Tiger. Tigers are cool, yo. None of that namby-pamby Rabbit or dour-faced Ox stuff. But of course, in the grand scheme of Chinese patriarchy, Tiger daughters are disdained. Tiger women are supposed to be fierce, aggressive. One of my aunts was nearly given away because she was born in the Year of the Tiger. In his Chinese New Year message this year, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong saw fit to remind Chinese Singaporean couples that "children born in the Year of the Tiger [...] are really no different from children born under other animal signs." I can't believe some people still need that reminder. I also can't believe (okay, yes I can, but I still wish he didn't say it) that the Prime Minister --- whose wife is the CEO of the government's leading investment company and whose deceased first wife was a doctor --- ditched a teachable moment (TM Barack Obama) about sexism for yet another expropriation of women's fertility for the PAP government's idea of national good. I wish tigers were not rapidly approaching extinction. I wish people would be nicer to animals.

This is only the third time in my life that I can remember the Year of the Tiger coming by, so pardon me if I get a little proprietary over it. I like being a Tiger. I look at my cats and I think, ah, they would be great tigers. Ink would preside majestically over some jungle, while Sisu would dart around more cautiously, occasionally sinking her teeth into your hand when you thought she was tame enough for you to pet her. The last time the Year of the Tiger swung around, I did not have any cats (nor any blog). I was also ... well, let's just say I was in a different place, then.

What's strange to think about is that I'm probably about halfway through my life now. I'm not about to get morbid (or maudlin, for that matter), but these 12-year cycles are certainly a different way of reckoning things. Since I've gone freelance, I've often felt like every year has to have something, to mean something. The museum project, the book, Vietnam, Korea --- what's this year's thing then? All the more (and I realise this isn't exactly a rational urge) because this year is my year.

My friend Cheryl is writing a book called A Tiger in the Kitchen. She's a Tiger too, so it's a clever title. I'm not quite a Tiger who cooks, but it's not like I've spent my life deliberately throwing myself against stereotypes either. I'm just not very good with the cooking, no matter how hard I try. I much prefer to just eat. Is that Tiger-like?

So it's the Year of the Tiger, and here I am.

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New book project

The two questions I've been fielding the most lately are:

1. "How are the sales of your book?"
2. "What are you doing next?"

The answer to the first question is that it's doing all right and there seems to be a pretty positive response so far --- though no author rests easy till the book's sold out, so if you were contemplating some kind of Singapore-themed Christmas gift for your friends, may I be so bold as to suggest that our book would be an excellent choice.

As for the second question, I've now got a partial answer: putting together a book of essays on women, gender and sexuality in Singapore and Malaysia. Our call for papers (reproduced below or available on H-Net) was sent out last week. Yes, it'll be a very different kind of book from Singapore: A Biography and with good reason. We're long overdue for a volume like this in our part of the world.

If you or anyone you know might be interested in this book project, read on. Abstracts are due by 31 January!

CFP: Troublesome Women in Asia: The Politics of Gender in Singapore and Malaysia

Since they became independent nations during the period of post-war decolonization, Singapore and Malaysia have made impressive leaps in economic development, becoming the envy of both developed and less developed countries. With economic success has come rapid modernization and urbanization, and today Malaysia and Singapore are two of the wealthiest and most technologically advanced countries in Southeast Asia. At the same time, these two countries are characterized by stable political regimes which often have been criticised as authoritarian, even draconian. Both countries perennially draw concern from international organizations such as Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders, and some of their economic and cultural policies have been singled out as being discriminatory against particular ethnic or social groups.

While interest in Singapore and Malaysia is strong in the fields of international politics, economics and comparative development, less attention has been paid to the ways in which women, and the concepts of gender and sexuality, have been affected and transformed by this accelerated degree of development. This volume intends to bring ‘the woman question’ to the construction of Southeast Asian modernity, creating a text that will be a useful interdisciplinary reader in understanding the role of gender and sexuality in this region. How have women from Malaysia and Singapore adjusted to the fast pace of economic development within both countries? How do women in these two Asian countries walk a balance between tradition and modernity? How have different groups of women – influenced by class, ethnicity, religion or the urban environment – contributed to the changing role of marriage, the family and sexuality, as well as to male-dominated domains such as politics and business? And how have matters of sexuality been affected by how gender is constructed in these countries?

The volume aims to provide a broad representation of how women and gender have been described and problematized by scholars so far, as well as to present contemporary new insights on the subject by both emerging and established voices. We invite contributors from all areas in the humanities and social sciences addressing research on women and gender in Singapore and Malaysia. We are interested in, among other issues, the following topics:

1) Gender theory
2) Political change
3) Representation and culture
4) Modernization
5) Globalization
6) Sexuality

Previously published papers will be considered, provided the author(s) are granted license from the publisher.

Abstracts of no more than 500 words should be sent to the editors, Adeline Koh and Yu-Mei Balasingamchow ([email protected]), by January 31, 2010 for advice on whether a full paper is required for the reviewing process. Full contributions of 4000-6000 words will then be required. Longer papers will be considered on an individual basis. Please send all completed submissions by June 30, 2010.

About the authors

Adeline Koh is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the National University of Singapore, and will be Assistant Professor of Postcolonial Studies at Richard Stockton College in 2010. She has published an edited volume on third cinema, and is currently working on a book on postcolonial women’s literature and political theory. Her research interests are in comparative feminisms in Africa and Asia and in new media and globalization.

Yu-Mei Balasingamchow is a writer and independent scholar based in Singapore. She has co-authored with Mark Ravinder Frost Singapore: A Biography (2009) an accessible yet rigorous history of Singapore spanning seven centuries, as well as worked extensively on research projects with the National Museum of Singapore. Her current interests are in post-war women’s history in Singapore and the relationship between the internet and civic participation.

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Incidental inspiration

When I wasn't thinking about Korea these couple of weeks, I was thinking about:

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Let the Slayer show you how it's done

Because moody, self-absorbed stalker-boys should not be allowed to get away with harassing and misleading teenage girls. "Buffy vs Edward (Twilight Remixed)" shows how everyone's favourite Slayer would put the dreadful Edward in his place.

(Via Dave and Dio on Facebook.)

Edited to add (July 9): Creator of the video mash-up Jonathan McIntosh discusses how and why he made the mash-up in "What Would Buffy Do? Notes on Dusting Edward Cullen".

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My mind is full

In the run-up to my departure date, things are much more under control than they were the last time, but I still find myself with not enough spare braincells with which to write an energetic, witty post.

Maybe it's because a significant amount of my energies today went towards thinking about how to wrangle budget accommodation in Seoul, since I 'd procrastinated on making a reservation and my top two choices were fully booked. (Lucky for me, in this case it worked out for the better, because I've landed cheaper accommodation at a more central location.)

Maybe it's because the AWARE situation shows no signs of imploding or being amiably resolved. (More detailed thoughts to come later. I'm still working on it.)

Maybe it's because the weather it's so hot, it makes it difficult to think. On the bus back from Beach Road market today (I bought cheap army raincoats again), Ming and I were equally listless in conversation, thinking more about when we could reach the cool comfort of our respective homes. In fact, it was so hot last night that the cats came into my air-conditioned bedroom and slept on (not under) the covers.

I hope my brain gets to chillax soon.

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Things I'll miss

If I were not away from Singapore from next week till mid-June, I would be at:
Even with Facebook and blogs to keep me updated while I'm on the road, I would rather be there.

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The problem(s) with Palin

So I got up this morning, thinking I was going to get some work done (much to do before I go off to Vietnam) --- but then I made the mistake of reading the local news. I still hardly ever read The Straits Times, but I occasionally dip into Today to see if I'm missing any kind of critical Singapore news.

As it turns out, had I not read today's Today, I would've missed the very critical Singapore news that, in contextualising Sarah Palin's Republican candidacy for US Vice President:
Well. Nothing like news first thing in the morning to make me angry.

Okay, first of all, I'll give the writers some benefit of the doubt, in that perhaps their essays have gone through the usual newspaper editorial process and may not represent their complete views on Palin and "women's roles". In particular, I've read some of Singam's other more writing, which is typically more progressive, so this one seems uncharacteristic. But unless either writer offers a clarification of her position and/or posts an unexpurgated piece for the world to read, I'm going to have to take these published versions at face value.

And that face value is a very disappointing one indeed. Here you have opinion pieces by two representatives of modern Singapore women (Rajaram is the deputy editorial director for news, radio and print at MediaCorp, which publishes Today, even though it wasn't footnoted in her essay), and neither one takes Palin to task for all the very substantive reasons her policy positions are a problem for women, regardless of Palin's gender, and why her being a woman per se is no reason to support her.

Sure, Singam mentions in passing at the beginning (right before the gushing about how charismatic Palin takes over), "I am not sure if I want a superwoman and a conservative like Mrs Palin to make public policy decisions that affect my life." But then there's no elaboration. At the end of her essay she concludes, "women are still not powerful enough to change the value system that currently expects women to be superwomen and excludes men and women from achieving work-life balance." Amen, sister! But why wasn't this the primary argument of the essay, as opposed to the aforementioned gushing?

And if Singam's going to quote Gloria Steinem saying that the Republican Party is "trying to appease the gender gap with a first-ever female vice-president", why not go the whole hog and point to Steinem's critique of Palin's policy positions in that same opinion piece ("Palin: wrong woman, wrong message", published in the LA Times)? Specifically, Steinem writes:
Palin's value to those [right-wing Republican] patriarchs is clear: She opposes just about every issue that women support by a majority or plurality. She believes that creationism should be taught in public schools but disbelieves global warming; she opposes gun control but supports government control of women's wombs; she opposes stem cell research but approves "abstinence-only" programs, which increase unwanted births, sexually transmitted diseases and abortions; she tried to use taxpayers' millions for a state program to shoot wolves from the air but didn't spend enough money to fix a state school system with the lowest high-school graduation rate in the nation ... [emphasis mine]
Rajaram, while you're busy saying you "respect the fact that [Palin's] decision [to support her pregnant daughter in keeping the baby] is based on her own values", you might want to note that Palin is keen on imposing those same values on the rest of America (and possibly the world, if Dubya's record with abstinence-only Aids aid to Africa is anything to go by). Which means that women and families wouldn't actually get to make their own decisions based on their own values anymore.

I think what annoyed me the most about the two Today essays was how much the underlying message was: "Palin's a woman, ergo we identify with and support her." Behold the gushing:
  • Rajaram: "Mrs Palin, 44, is one of us — a wife, a mother (to a brood of five, at that!) and a career woman all in one. All of us 40-something baby-boomer women can identify and bond with her."
  • Rajaram: "Three days after the baby was born, she was back at work. All mothers know how difficult that must have been ..."
  • Singam: "The combination of these qualities makes her attractive to both men and women."
  • Singam: "Women, can relate to her — a woman who has succeeded as a wife, mother and a public figure and who had to face the challenges of bringing up a child with Down’s Syndrome and face the problem of teenage pregnancy. Which family hasn’t had its problems?"
Okay, look: One does not support a person, political candidate or otherwise, only because of their gender (or age group, for that matter). Because then boys would only vote for boys, and girls for girls, and ... I mean, do I really need to explain this?

And if you are going to, in Rajaram's words, "identify and bond with her", how about examining the whole Palin package first? For a start, see the Steinem excerpt above (or the full article, while you're at it), or Slate's Sarah Palin FAQ. Instead, Rajaram's love-fest highlights the fact "before she was Alaska’s governor, she was the mayor of her hometown, Wassila [sic]". That would be the Wasila with a population of 5,400-9,000 people (depending on who you ask), i.e. the town had about as many people as 3-6 Singapore secondary schools? Singapore doesn't even have a constituency that small.

This, you know, is the evil genius of the Republican Party in the US: that in putting up Palin as their vice-presidential candidate, they have unleashed --- even in faraway Singapore --- a discussion of "women's roles" that demeans the very subject. Singam notes:
[Palin] symbolises family values dear to the aspirations of conservatives everywhere. Singapore policymakers would love her. Can they get Singapore women to have as many children and be active in the workforce?
Unfortunately, she only briefly critiques that Singapore position, pointing out that "[h]owever successful [Palin] is, she still goes home to her responsibility as daughter, mother and wife" while men are not subject to similar expectations of being son-father-husband. Meanwhile, the concluding paragraphs of Rajaram's essay happily flogs that conservative Singapore position:
... She is a small-town girl, who has worked hard to get where she is today.

Whether she gets voted in or not, Mrs Palin's small town values of family, fidelity, honour and responsibility will certainly hold her in good stead.

At the end of the day that's the backbone of what makes a good man ... or a good woman ... a great leader. [emphasis mine and what is up with those misplaced ellipses?]
Ah, conservatives and their "small-town values" (read: Asian values?). Because everyone in the big city doesn't give a damn about "family, fidelity, honour and responsibility" (just like anyone with those damn "Western values"). Thank you for buying into the culture wars, both the American and Singaporean versions. Thank you for so elegantly reframing the discussion of women's issues. NOT.

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These are not the birth rates you're looking for

The next time someone tries to convince me that the Baby Bonus and financial incentives are the way to get the population numbers back up to replacement level, I'm going to point them to what happened in Ulyanossk, Russia.

Giving parents US$11,000 for having a second child on Russia Day (June 12) worked real well, didn't it?

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In which Singapore ranks #77

The World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report 2007 is out, and Singapore ranks 77 out of 128 countries, with a score of 0.6609 (on a scale where 0.00 indicates a measurement of absolute gender inequality and 1.00, gender equality). The top Asian country is the Philippines (ranking: 6; score: 0.7629) and good ol' Switzerland is at no. 40 with a score of 0.6924.

Now I wish I'd paid more attention in statistics classes so that I could actually figure out what the report and those numbers mean ...

(Via Broadsheet.)


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Notes from the National Day Rally 2007

Which I watched while making dinner in front of the TV (a salad and open-face sandwiches are easy that way) and chatting with sarah online.

First of all, WTF was up with the turquoise shirt? (Yes, it merits a "WTF".) Combined with the purple lighting, it was all very getai, all very 881, all very distracting.

When I finally got over that shock to my system (mostly by listening to the speech, rather than watching it), the man was maundering about education. I said to sarah, "It's very sad when a prime minister sounds like he just learned that secondary school students know how to use video cams --- WHEN THIS IS THE AGE OF YOUTUBE." Maybe he needs to watch Teacher Tube more often (via apophenia).

sarah thought it would help if he didn't talk about good teachers in neighbourhood schools as if he'd never met any before. Not to mention the implication that good teachers are those that come up with all the gee-whiz projects --- where's the love for teachers who are plugging away to get the basics right?

Oh wait, he foiled me with the obligatory "let's have the teachers stand up and take a bow" moment. But hey, in that contingent of about 40 teachers, where were all the women? The contingent was heavily male, which is hardly representative of the local teaching population. Or maybe the women were just better at making excuses not to attend the Rally ...

Reason #7924 why Singapore will never get its act together like a real society: the prime minister is happy to operate at the level of "Singaporeans like incentives", and toss more incentives at them. So the government thinks non-Malay students will study Malay as a third language if they get two bonus points towards JC admission --- which some of them will, but that's no guarantee that any of them will actually continue using the language after they snag their two bonus points, or that they will be able to effectively use the language as adults. Given all the former Chinese-as-a-first-language students I know who are barely bilingual today despite the "A"s they scored in school, let's just say I'm skeptical about how this new programme will fare.

I'm also wondering if trumpeting a programme like this will make some of the latent racism in Singapore all the more evident if the Chinese majority fails to respond even to prime minister-endorsed incentives and shows no interest in the programme. Sure, there'll be some who say there are more "useful" (e.g. widely-spoken) languages one could study instead of Malay, but there'll also be those for whom the bias against people of another race spills over into a bias against their language. We'll see, I suppose ...

Moving along, I said to sarah, "I find it weird that the PM says 'twenty-one-five' instead of 'twenty-fifteen' [when he's referring to the year 2015]". What is up with that? Everyone says "nineteen-fifteen" and not "nineteen-one-five", right?

And then there was the whole "Just do it" Nike reference --- the prime minister, ladies and gentlemen, telling people to get on with sex to make babies.

You know what? Even less than I want to hear my parents talk about sex, I want to hear any government representative talk about sex. Even as a "joke". Which was not funny. At all.

On the other hand, everyone could just take such "wisecracks" at face value and run out and start having wild bunny sex a) outside of marriage, b) without protection. Let's see how much they'd like that.

(Obligatory PSA time: If you're going to have sex, make sure you are protected. For heaven's sake, don't believe the prime minister and "just do it".)

So the prime minister was talking about his former constituent, an old woman who was worried because she was receiving medical treatment and her CPF money would run out this year. And all he said to her was a smiley "Man man lei" (Cantonese for, "Let's do it slowly"). Let me just say that if my grandmother were still alive and the old Cantonese woman in question --- not to mention any number of other fierce elderly Cantonese women I know --- she would tell him exactly what to do with his "man man lei". I think even my mother would, in Cantonese and in English, because she's effectively bilingual that way (no need for two bonus points for JC admission, either).

An old woman's only source of money is running out and he says "man man lei"?!?!?!

In the same vein, I'm sure the 91-year-old woman he spoke with really loves her menial job working at a hawker centre. Did no one stop to wonder if 91-year-old men and women should be working in the first place?

Lee Hsien Loong: I think we must improve the returns on the CPF.
ME: No shit, Sherlock.
sarah: Eh, he went to Cambridge, okay?

Lee Hsien Loong: It's going to cost the government a lot of money [to improve the returns on the CPF].
ME: Excuse me, the government get money from where? From our TAXES correct?????

I'm not saying they shouldn't spend the money, I'm saying they shouldn't talk about it like it's the government's hard-earned profits and savings, when in fact, last time I checked, it's the people's. This is what happens when the prime minister's allowed to refer without a trace of irony to "Singapore, Inc." in his speech, and no one calls him on it.

MEGO sections: CPF changes and HDB upgrading. Oddly enough, the HDB section more so than the CPF bit. The only thing I had to say about the HDB plans: "Y'know, if you didn't clear Punggol Point, you wouldn't have to plan to "bring back" al fresco dining to it."

Finally, just before 10 pm, it was over. But only after the prime minister waved his arms like an animatronic puppet.


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Sexism Watch #4: The Singapore government thinks mothers just need to "adjust to lower jobs with lower pay"

Tomorrow is Labour Day, for which we get a public holiday in Singapore. Laughably incongruous, I know, that Singapore, bastion of mature capitalism, retains after all these years a socialist holiday meant for celebrating workers' rights --- particularly given Singapore's "uniquely Singapore" history with its trade unions and protection of employee rights. But I digress.

The government typically takes the opportunity at Labour Day to make all sorts of pronouncements about "the workers". One of this year's speeches was reported by Channel NewsAsia (CNA) under the headline, "Govt to help raise employment rate of women". Which doesn't in itself sound that unprogressive until, as usual, you get to the fine print.

Buried in CNA's report on the speech by the Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Lim Boon Heng:
... But, Mr Lim said, the employment rate of women would soon hit a ceiling if the problems they face are not resolved.

"Many find the demands of work and nurturing a child, too difficult to cope with," he said.

"Many females today are better educated. Without children, they are high-performing individuals. Their employers expect the same level of performance, after the children come along. They themselves are unprepared to lower performance and adjust to lower jobs with lower pay. If fathers take their share of the duty, it will help," added Mr Lim. [emphasis mine]
Ah, those pesky women-with-children (aka mothers, by the way). Having kids and then being unable to "perform" at the same high levels that they used to. And how silly of them to expect that they would be able to do as well as they did before they had children. Why can't they just get over themselves and take on poorer-paying jobs with lower expectations that would be more suitable for their motherhood-addled brains?

Bear in mind: this is the same government that has for the last 5-10 years been desperately exhorting all married women with Singaporean citizenship (especially those with university degrees) to have children, lest the birth rate dip even more egregiously below its 2006 level of 1.24. This is the same country where the birth rate has been lower than the replacement rate (i.e. the number of babies needed to maintain its population) for 28 consecutive years.

Admittedly, within the context of the quote above, the minister didn't forget to spread the blame around: employers, stop having unrealistic expectations of working mothers; fathers, start doing your share of the care-giving for your children and household. But that doesn't detract from the extremely simplistic statement about the priorities and abilities of a working mother. A working mother is not innately unable (as the above statement would suggest) to do her job at the same level as she used to. Having gone through one or more pregnancies has not damaged her brain or intellect or skills in any way. Does she have new priorities? Hell, yeah. Fathers do, too --- and they would feel it more if society was as quick to judge them for being "bad fathers who spend too much time at work" as it is to judge mothers in a similar situation.

The solution to keeping mothers in the workforce is not to condescendingly and conveniently have them accept "lower jobs with lower pay". The solution, at least in terms of what the government can do, is to facilitate a re-ordering of social priorities that provides more support for family life overall, in terms of what both mothers and fathers can get. It is to create a situation in which a working mother can be "high-performing" at her job because, like the working father who is her colleague, she enjoys the assurance that the kids are doing alright at home without her.

Stop blaming women for having children and then having different priorities as a result. The last time I checked, it takes a man and a woman to make procreation successful, and it's having children born within "lawful marriages" that the government is interested in, after all.


Related posts: Sexism Watch #3: I'm sure it's the guy that's paying, Sexism Watch #2: What the news forgot to say, Sexism Watch #1: The bank says women still need men to buy them stuff

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A sense of proportion (or lack thereof)

Ah, Channel NewsAsia. Even on the days when the headline news is about the Prime Minister donating his pay increase to charity (can we say last-ditch attempt to salvage the very definition of a PR fiasco?), you find time to include this delightful snippet at the bottom of your index of daily Singapore news:
Elephant Chawang's sperm count good

Singapore Zoo's elephant Chawang has had his semen quality tested and results showed his sperm count is good.

Chawang, the largest and heaviest animal at the zoo, is almost 3 metres tall and weighs 3,480kg.

He has already sired three elephants.

Zoos in Australia, like the one in Perth, have shown interest in taking samples of Chawang's semen to impregnate their female Asian elephants.

But no plans have been confirmed yet.
Because, you know, the entire nation of Singapore was following Chawang's sex life closely and quivering in anticipation as to the outcome of his sperm count.

Poor Chawang gets no privacy. Then again, neither do women in India when certain imbeciles in charge of human resources decide that details of a woman's menstrual and pregnancy history are pertinent to her ability to do her job.


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The gender gap circa 2006: the pop culture version

I've spent the last couple of weeks thoroughly immersed in the world of Veronica Mars, watching seasons 1 and 2 practically nonstop. While this has had all sorts of interesting side effects on my social life, manner of speaking and dreams, the most unexpected corollary has been unearthing another indicator of the gender gap.

In short: The women love Logan Echolls (link contains season 3 spoilers). The men don't, at all, and, furthermore, they don't understand why we find him attractive.

Ah, the impossibility of explaining the appeal of the Bad Boy ...

Maybe the Bad Boy works because he's safely dreamy in whatever TV universe he lives in and has little, if any, opportunity to screw around with our lives (although our heroine, of course, remains deliciously in peril of it). Maybe we want to live on the edge a little, while still (fairly) certain that the Bad Boy will not only lead us to that edge but pull us back in time. Maybe we just all want to piss off our parents, so that for at least fifteen panicked seconds, they're entertaining the notion we might actually want to marry one of these Bad Boys.

Maybe we just want to land a Bad Boy just to prove that we can --- without necessarily wanting to be landed forever with the responsibility of bailing him out of jail or whatever other expensive or inconvenient circumstances he winds up in.

Do nice boys finish last? Discuss.


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Sexism Watch #3: I'm sure it's the guy that's paying

Is it just me that gets annoyed when there's a man and a woman at the table, and the waitstaff not only automatically present the bill to the man, but even after receiving a credit card from the woman (albeit a card with a name of indeterminate gender origin), proceed to blithely present the charge slip to the man anyway, all the while pretty much ignoring the existence of the woman?

This happens far more often than I would expect or appreciate, in this day and age. It doesn't matter what the gender of the waitstaff is, so maybe this is something all waitstaff are taught in Singapore or that they pick up over time. And why should that be the case?

If there's a man and a woman at a table, are they going to be mortally offended if the bill is presented in such a manner that doesn't assume the man is picking up the tab? Am I simply ignorant of situations in which women react with absolute horror, embarrassment or indignation if it's suggested that they could, as much as the men, pay for the meal (and if indeed I am, then there is something very wrong with our society)?

I'm not saying that I pay, or want to pay, for every meal. But I pay about 50% of the time, so why don't waitstaff acknowledge that I might have the ability, desire or responsibility to pay? Because that's what it comes down to: In a capitalist society like ours, money is power. To have the money to pay is to exercise a certain power over consumption, and behaviour. For people to repeatedly assume that the woman isn't paying is to assume that she lacks the means or mandate to do so. It's like assuming that she can't become a doctor or run a Fortune 500 company or buy a car on her own or fix a computer because that's not what women usually do.

As I've said before, I work hard for the money, okay, and I like being financially independent. Stop assuming it's only the guys that do the paying around here.


Related posts: Sexism Watch #2: What the news forgot to say, Sexism Watch #1: The bank says women still need men to buy them stuff

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Sexism Watch #2: What the news forgot to say

AFP's headline, as blurbed in Today:
Japan's Princess Kiko gave birth Wednesday to the royal family's first boy in more than 40 years, the palace said, easing a long-running succession crisis.
Failing to add:
... which only arose because Japanese society is bloody sexist and gave itself a laughable aneurysm over the possibility that a woman might inherit the throne someday.
Welcome to the twenty-first century, where centuries-old sexism passes unremarked but heaven forbid that the media or the politicians go for half a day without fingerpointing at "Islamic fundamentalists" or their political opponents in outraged tones.

I'm not saying there aren't other sexist societies or practices in the world. I'm just pointing out that amidst all the hoopla surrounding this little boy's birthday, let's not forget what some people are really celebrating, huh?

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On completing a government survey

Cross-posted to Metroblogging Singapore.

We got a letter from the Ministry of Manpower last week, informing us that our household had been shortlisted to participate in their annual labour force survey. I actually have a penchant for doing surveys (filling out forms is fun!) and government surveys get my full attention because I don't think I'm a very "typical" Singaporean, so I like to think that my survey tells the government a little something they didn't expect.

Of course, there's also the possibility that my survey results merely generate such pronounced statistical outliers than my perspective is effectively rendered moot. But anyways.

The first thing that stumped me about this survey was having to indicate the Head of Household. The survey defines the Head as "normally the eldest member, the main income-earner or the person who manages the affairs of the household."

To wit, my "household" situation:
  • My household consists of exactly two people: my husband and myself.
  • Between the two of us, my husband wins, hands-down, the prize for being the "eldest member" of the household.
  • But the question of who is the "main" income-earner isn't as straightforward as that. He used to make more than me, then he switched careers and I made more than him, but this year I switched careers too, so the jury's still out on who's going to emerge as the "main" moneymaker.
  • As for managing the affairs of the household, what does that mean anyway? Is it the person in whose name the utilities are registered (me) and paid for (shared)? Is it the person who pays for our home mortgage (shared)? Is it the person who bought the last household appliance (a rice cooker, me)? Is it the person who answers the door (usually the cat)?
  • Finally, why can't a couple be jointly Head of their Household? Why must there be only one Head?
(Of course, if you believe the Internal Inland Revenue Authority, the Head/"main" income-earner must be my husband because every year they give him a Personal Identification Number (PIN) that enables him to file our online income tax returns returns jointly --- whereas the PIN I get is for I, me and myself.)

Anyway, I decided that in the interests of skewing the Labour Force Survey results, I would put myself down as the Head of Household. After all, I was the one logging in to fill out the survey, right?

Then we got to that little category that is so fanatically important in Singapore officialdom: race. My identity card identifies me with an Indian sub-category that I've always felt isn't entirely accurate in terms of my ethnically mixed ancestry. I tried to get it changed once, but was firmly told by a government official that the category I wanted (Ceylonese-Chinese) didn't exist in their system and so I would have to pick one and couldn't elide the two. Rather than contend with the impossible impenetrability that is a government bureaucracy, I decided then to leave my identity card information as status quo.

This survey provided even more limited options: Chinese, Malay, Indian or Others. The survey's definitions of race state that the Chinese/Malay/Indian categories are for people of Chinese/Malay/Indian descent respectively, and "Others" is for everyone else. It doesn't tell you what to do if you're of both Chinese and Indian descent, so I decided to go with "Others".

Now that those two pesky questions were out of the way, the rest of the survey was actually a breeze. You can see the survey questions for yourself.

Our only other somewhat atypical response was for "employment status", where we both clock in as what the survey terms an "Own Account Worker": "a person who operates his own business without employing any paid workers in the conduct of his business or trade." I'm glad to give the numbers for this category a boost because I think there are more of us solo/independent operators around than people realise, and that has all sorts of implications on a country's economic and social systems.

So now I've done my citizenly duty for the year. Can't wait till the next form comes along.


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All growed up

You know you're really an adult when you go out with your father and:
  • You remind him to "watch out" just before you cross the road together.
  • You take care of his parking fines because you feel like you're old enough that you ought to, even though the parking tickets weren't really your fault in the first place.
  • You get to put lunch with him on the company expense account.
In other news, the encounter with "uncle" went well. I avoided the entire "uncle" conundrum by simply breezing past it with a cheery, "Hi, thank you for meeting us!" Then we had a good interview and sat there chatting for much longer than I expected.

Then, we got to the part of the conversation where it's a bit of personal chitchat and he asks how I'm doing. And because he's the kind of guy he is, he asks why I don't have kids. Then he tells me that if I'm not going to have kids, I shouldn't have gotten married seven years ago. "If you're not going to have kids, no need to get married lah! Stay single! Enjoy your independence!" Then he tells me why I should have kids before I get much older.

I bit my tongue.

Apparently, he doesn't say such things to his son, Corporate Overlord. Perhaps because Corporate Overlord isn't married and is, after all, a son and not a daughter.

Anyway, the boss mocked me for being so deferential about it. I said, hey, I know when to pick my battles.

In yet other news, my father today began a sentence with, "So are you and Terz planning to ... " and I swear to God I thought he was going to finish it with, "have children" --- but he was just asking if we had started applying to emigrate to Canada yet.



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Sexism Watch #1: The bank says women still need men to buy them stuff

I'm tired of spotting blatantly sexist ideas and advertising perpetuated all around me, and having to put up with people (men and women) telling me that it's nothing to be concerned about and/or that I should be glad that I have it so good as a woman in Singapore. So I bring to you Sexism Watch --- to highlight all those pesky little gender-based assumptions that insidiously plague our modern existence because it's easier to ignore or even indulge in them, than to challenge them.

Because women still need men to buy them stuff

Our first edition of Sexism Watch is brought to you courtesy of United Overseas Bank (UOB). I received a promotional pamphlet today that carried the above image on the cover (image taken from the bank's website). It advertises the UOB Personalised Supplementary Card, with the slogan, "With Love. From You." In the image above, the black credit card in the woman's hand carries, beside the bank logo, the words in cursive pseudo-handwriting script, "With Love. Jonathan".

So in attempting to encourage people to sign up for these personalised supplementary credit cards, the bank is appealing to men to give women the card --- because in this day and age, when 94.93% of women in Singapore work and women make up 44.54% of the active workforce (source: Statistics Singapore data as at June 2005 (PDF)), women still need men to extend to them the credit line that, it's implied, they couldn't otherwise have, in order to buy stuff.

Oh, and given the art direction for the photograph above, clearly we are also meant to think that love = giving your lover the ability to consume more. Disturbing on so many levels.

Granted, inside the pamphlet, the copy clarifies that the card can be for anyone who matter: "be it your parents, siblings or spouse". But a picture's worth a thousand words, right? Not to mention the fact that in terms of parcelling out its advertising budget, the bank chose to invest its money in the image above rather than to highlight any other relationship with a loved one.

As someone who's always made a decent income comparable to my husband's (and it would have been on par with his if not for certain sexist practices in government payroll principles), I'm mortally insulted by the advertising's inherent assumption that I can't afford to have my own credit card and/or be trusted with a credit line to buy my own stuff. (All this, of course, assuming I want to buy more stuff and consume more in the first place.) I work hard for the money, okay, and I like being financially independent. Stop telling women that they ought to desire a man who'd give them a credit card "with love". Thank you.


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Do you see?

"I do not understand you."
"By the way they looked at me, by their perception of me, they would make me into the creature they perceived. I would feel myself becoming a lesser thing. It is the power of men."
"But I am a man."
"No," she said, too impatient to let him develop his argument. "Of men, men in a group, men in their certainty, men on a street corner, or in a hall."
--- Oscar and Lucinda, Peter Carey

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How on earth did I miss the news that Betty Friedan died last Saturday?


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Yes, sex sells

From today's Today report, "Girls on scooters to quiz heartlanders on sex life":
Don't be surprised if you see a sexily-clad sweet young thing riding a bright red scooter zipping by your local coffee shop or wet market.

She's just one of several sexual health investigators who, starting this coming Valentine's Day, will be going deep into the heartlands on Vespa scooters to conduct a year-long sex survey.
Because when conducting a survey that aspires to get honest views from the masses, the best way to do that is to objectify and demean women. It's good to know that pornification has reached us here in Singapore, even as pornography's still officially banned.

What a crock. If you're approached, boycott the survey, please.

Edited to add: While we're on the subject of objectifying women, Moroccan feminist Fatima Mernissi has a tale about "Size 6: The Western Women's Harem" (link via Capitalism Bad; Tree Pretty).


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My very first readers' poll

A discussion I've been having over at Little Miss Drinkalot has got me wondering about the attitudes and mores of my readers. So here's a random poll:

1) Can men fuck around?

2) Can women fuck around?

3) Can women fuck around as much as men do?

By "fuck around", I'm referring to sex in general. This is not a poll on whether people should be cheating on their significant others.

Additional thoughts and insights are welcome.




A newspaper of their own?

In the special pullout section of today's edition of Today to celebrate its fifth anniversary, they interview their first editor-in-chief P.N. Balji. Among other things, he's reported as saying:
Yes, [I would return to journalism] if I can find an entrepreneur who is prepared to put in money to start a newspaper for women. ... Why a newspaper for women? Slightly more than 50 per cent of the population is women, slightly more than 50 per cent of the working population is women, most of the spending decisions are made by women, and I think women are going to rule. And if you look at the newsroom, most of the journalists are women, but they write for men. So it is a newspaper to say how you would behave on your first date or what kind of perfume to use.
Italics mine. Of course.

A newspaper for women. Because the real hard news that women want to think and read about revolves around how to make themselves attractive to the opposite sex. Never mind trivial issues like what the government wants me to do with my uterus, the welfare of foreign maids, the sexual exploitation of women and children in Asia, or the constant barrage of public advertising that objectifies and trivialises women. What I really need to complete my hollow existence is advice on how to make a man happy and which consumer item to buy in order to achieve that.

To be fair to Balji, the interview does go on to quote him as saying:
For example, the Prime Minister's press conference with the Foreign Correspondents Association (in October), how did a woman view that press conference? I somehow feel, because I've lived with three of them [women], that it will be different. They will each have a different perspective. And we are not reflecting those different perspectives. You will get the women to read, and I think the man will want to know how the woman thinks.
Yes, women have different perspectives from men, but is there a reason the current agenda of any mainstream media can't be broadened to accommodate those perspectives? Why must women's views and needs be perceived as special, needing a separate outlet, instead of mainstream, part and parcel of the prevailing news of the day? If men truly wanted to know how women think, they (meaning the male-dominated senior editorial staff at any number of local or foreign news publications) could start asking those questions within the pages of the existing press. Now that would be a sincere indication that the woman's perspective is as valid and valued as the man's.

I'm surprised at how the interview turned out --- not that Balji made those comments, because I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and allow that he may have made other unreported and more interesting comments that would have provided better context for the feeble lines that did make it into print. No, I'm surprised that the newspaper ran the interview the way it did, given that he's their ostensibly esteemed first editor-in-chief and all, because it doesn't make him sound very progressive or astute.

Although ---
So it is a newspaper to say how you would behave on your first date or what kind of perfume to use.
--- I just can't get over that line, or see how any context would rescue it. Why would anyone say that??


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An entry in the style of Agagooga

This post is dedicated to "old style" Agagooga, i.e. before mr brown convinced him to go one-post-per-topic.

On the VS-may-go-coed ruckus:

"For those who are not Victorian, i trust and hope you have seen this spirit within us, when we cheer, when we fight, when we sing! Will girls in Victoria be able to continue this spirit? because to be crudely honest, and i hope no one takes this the wrong way, but girls will NEVER be able to do what we did, to show what we displayed. Please do not get us wrong. We are not sexist, we are not opposed to change. However, when something like this comes along, and our 129 years of tradition and heritage are threatened, WE WILL NOT SIT BACK AND LET THIS HAPPEN."

--- Xi-Wei, "We are here"

This is akin to saying: "Please don't get us wrong. We are not racist, we are not opposed to change. However, when our hundreds-of-years-of-pre-civil-rights tradition and heritage are threatened, WE WILL NOT SIT BACK AND LET THIS HAPPEN. We should not consider integrating our all-white club because blacks will NEVER be able to do what we did, to show what we displayed."

Meanwhile, in the comments section of the above page, lauises writes: "Its true that girls cannot do some things that we do. Not in terms of the excellence, but in others like the way we speak or the way we can relate to each other. To me at least, Victorians communicate in a very mysterious way. As in, really communicate, not just through speech."

I realise that some people have a major hang-up about the fact that girls cannot pee standing up, break their voices or do away with the menstrual cycle without a hysterectomy. But in "the way [VS boys] speak or the way [they] can relate to each other" --- wth?! Are male Victorians psychic now? It's funny, I've never seen my father or uncle display the slightest bit of extra-sensory perception. Oh wait, maybe it's because I'm a girl and wouldn't be able to "really communicate" with them, "not just through speech".

Meanwhile, Agagooga's penned a critique of the furore.


has updated its menu! Yay to more chicken options that aren't slathered in mayonnaise.


The web is taunting me. I wasn't able to connect to Gmail all morning. Blogspot addresses keep returning initial "Document contains no data" error messages too, although they load fine when I reload the page. *growl*


It's amazing the things one can learn over coffee with Casey. How do you pronounce the words in bold?
  1. Everyone has something to contribute to this project.
  2. I'd like a slice of almond cake, please.
  3. He's a very skilled political operative.
  4. We must educate them better.
  5. What are the economic effects of this change?
  6. It's their problem, not ours.
  7. What's your opinion on this issue?
  8. We're unsure about the cause.
  9. Where's the nearest MRT station?
  10. Do you have any comment on the changes?
  1. kun-TRI-bute, not CON-tribute
  2. AH-mon, not AL-mond
  3. puh-LI-tical, not POR-litical
  4. AIR-dju-cate, not AIR-du-cate
  5. eco-NO-mic, not e-CON-nomic
  6. there, not they're
  7. IS-sue or I-SHUE are both acceptable
  8. UN-shore if you're British, UN-shure if you're American
  9. em-AHR-tee, not em-ARUH-tee
  10. COM-ment, not com-MENT (regardless of whether the word is used as a noun or a verb)

Speaking of language use, here's a recent IM exchange with Agagooga:
Agagooga: "Dudes. /Nice/"
Agagooga: trying to get back into the groove ah
Me: I sometimes feel that slang best expresses the sentiment, when I have no time to sculpt amini-essay.
Agagooga: you're having a mid life crisis
Me: [MSN :P emoticon] See, you made me resort to emoticons
And more recently:
Me: Dude, NICE post on the VS stuff.
Agagooga: Yeah, Dudette!
Agagooga: your mid-life crisis is getting acute ;)
Me: Eh.
Me: I actually used "Dude" a few times in conversation last night. No one batted an eyelid.
Agagooga: I am observant lah
Agagooga: it's a seeming deviation from erstwhile conversational patterns

If you didn't know already, popagandhi is back in business, with a rubber ducky to cheer her on her way. Faster go and read!


So the media is trying to milk all they can out of the NKF saga. What about the fact that 4.5 million Singaporeans didn't get to vote in a presidential election because an election commission --- appointed by the ruling government, not elected by the people --- decided that there were no other suitable candidates than the incumbent?


To the "faceless, mediocre", "angsty, reticent", "recalcitrant" and "slow" former student: Thank you. And you were never faceless, mediocre, angsty, recalcitrant or slow. Reticent, perhaps, but I still have that Buffy calendar.


A conductor boarded the bus I rode home tonight. As it became apparent that she was going to check every passenger's bus ticket or ez-link card to make sure that everyone had paid or scanned the appropriate fares, a woman seated three rows from the front hastily pressed the bell to indicate that she wanted to alight at the next stop. Unfortunately, she didn't exit her seat quickly enough and had to submit her bus ticket to the conductor first. The conductor waved it at her, a gesture suggesting that the ticket wasn't sufficient for the woman's ride, to which the woman responded something along the lines of, "I know, I know," before clopping down the steps as soon as the bus had halted. I guess people do still try to cheat on their bus fares.

Bloody hell. They've got the red-and-white canopy set up outside our coffeeshop downstairs for the 7th Month dong-dong-chang. And I thought that with the coffeeshop under new management --- in fact, Terz thought the boss might be a Christian --- we could avoid the annual round of late-night rowdiness and shouting-into-the-mike.

I thought I'd halted the curse of the pilsener glasses, but the negative energy's merely been diverted: As I set down one glass tonight (without looking where exactly I was aiming it, as usual), it tapped the top of Terz's Coke glass and promptly chipped a whole piece off, while the offending pilsener glass remained intact. Oops.

I was going to finish my pile of marking after completing this post, but I had to spend almost half an hour excising random font tags that Blogger had wilfully inserted to confound my posting attempt. Now I go to bed, blind but all blogged out.


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