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When Is It Inappropriate to Have Men in Women’s Spaces?

To celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD) which was on 8th March, The Straits Times decided to dedicate a special feature on the 7th March to commemorate powerful and inspiring women. Thus, under their Life section, their biggest article on the front page was “Male, feminist and proud of it.” 

(Insert record-scratch soundtrack) 

Sorry, what? There were smaller headlines like “Power women, power life hacks” and “More seeking help for menopause” but the major focus of this page was three male feminists. Alright… I was willing to give The Straits Times the benefit of doubt as perhaps on IWD, 8th March, there would be more women-centric content and more spotlight on women-focused stories. 

Therefore, I waited in anticipation for the next day’s issue and flipped to the Life section. The headline “COVID-19 childhood” greeted me. 

I sighed. 

International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. It has been observed since the 1900s, with women marching in the streets demanding equal pay and voting rights. IWD was honoured for the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on 19 March 1911 and internationally recognised as 8th March since 1914. On the IWD website, it states that their campaign theme for 2021 is ‘Choose To Challenge’. A challenged world is an alert world. And from challenge comes change. So let’s all #ChooseToChallenge. 

What’s more, anyone can celebrate IWD! 

As Gloria Steinem said, “The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist, nor to any one organisation, but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.”  

So returning to the issue at hand, The Straits Times knows about IWD, they’ve acknowledged it on 7th March as they created a Special Issue. The pagination and design on this page matter because it directs your eyes to the most important focus in the matter. Thus, when it explicitly calls your attention to “International Women’s Day” followed by the stories of three male feminists, it subtly shifts the focus on their stories and unfortunately implies that they matter more than the women. If it was “International Feminist’s Day”, this article on male feminists would be praiseworthy. But it wasn’t. It’s “International Women’s Day.” 

In contrast, for IWD on the 8th March, there was no special design to showcase their support. The “Big Story” headlines on the front page do not acknowledge it. The first women-centric story is on page 7, which is an advertorial about celebrating SG women. It even states that MSF dedicated 2021 as the “Year of Celebrating SG Women.” Even under the Life section, where they previously displayed their support of IWD, it focuses on childhood development during the pandemic. There was a smaller article about “Female Power: Awesome Women of Singapore celebrated.” I can’t help but wonder why that wasn’t the bigger and more prevalent headline. The next page was better as it featured eight profiles of Singaporean Women and discussed the other women in the Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame. 

I am willing to give them the benefit of doubt and say that they aren’t subtly telling women, on IWD no less, to focus on the children and developmental issues. It felt like a subtle jab telling me that I belong in the household or that women-focused stories were not as important as men. I think the other article on the same page regarding ”Role models for Singaporeans” should have been more prominent. For those who are wondering about the main headline on the front cover of 8th March, it was concerning the vaccination process and a story about “My brother was a terrorist.” 

After my initial grumblings, I returned to the previous day’s, 7th March issue to critically examine the stories and the article on male feminists in Singapore. There were a lot of intriguing articles in this newspaper issue that highlighted the breadth of stories and diverse women. Under the Singapore section, on page 18, it contains two top headers that are – setting up new groups under PAP that focuses on addressing issues faced by Singaporean and celebrating diversity by showcasing young Malay Muslim women. 

However, the main point of contention lies in the design and pagination under the Life section. Not everyone would have the patience to sift through the pages to find out if there were other women-centric content. Moreover, they would only realise the significance when they reach the Life section on page 41. 

I was a little frustrated. It’s disappointing. I would have loved and vehemently praised the spotlight on male feminist if only there had there been a prominent headline on feminism too. Had it been any other day, I would be so pleased. But for IWD, I felt overlooked. The subsequent pages helped blunt my disappointment as there were great features with a multitude of stories regarding our Singaporean women. 

That problematic design and pagination aside, the actual content of the newspaper article for the male feminist does contain several valid points. It discusses how men have space in feminism as it is important for them to feel comfortable to call themselves male feminists. For example, the three men spoke about their personal stories on valuing domestic work (a predominantly female-oriented space), toxic masculinity, and how they were influenced by female role models. 

In particular, I love that they brought up how loaded the term feminism was, as many still perceive it as “men-hating women” or “incensed Social Justice Warriors (SJW).” That is patently untrue. We want gender equality, and we don’t have to demean others in order to achieve it. Additionally, they expand that men should take on a supportive role, especially in AWARE, and that does not mean dominating the space or silencing women’s voices. In fact, one of them was wary and opposed giving men voting rights in AWARE as he felt it might be inappropriate for the organisation’s leadership style. That is how you can participate in feminism. Support not dominate. 

You can access the Straits Times online via their website however it requires you to have premium access. For NTU students, you can go through the Database to access ST premium account.

Alternatively, a Twitter user @sarahcoldheart has spoken up regarding this cover page and you can access her Twitter thread at this link.

 

Links for further research/statistics: 

https://www.internationalwomensday.com/About 

https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/politics/review-on-womens-issues-to-be-extended-so-more-can-participate 

https://www.ricemedia.co/current-affairs-commentary-singaporeans-feminism-internet-comments-international-womens-day/

https://www.msf.gov.sg/media-room/Pages/assistance-for-single-fathers-from-low-and-middle-income-families.aspx

https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/aware-gives-men-voting-rights

https://learn.asialawnetwork.com/2019/02/01/single-fathers-singapore-difficulties-face/

https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/cnainsider/grit-whole-lot-love-when-single-fathers-rise-challenge-singapore-11630748

https://singaporelegaladvice.com/divorce-singapore-fathers-child-custody-asset-division/

Aishah Wong

Nanyang Tech '21

Aishah is a Sociology undergraduate at Nanyang Technological University. Her passions range from listening to new music, watching films and trying out new coffee blends.
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