Interviewer’s Introductions: Welcome to my first of several articles based around women’s rights worldwide! This series is meant to bring awareness to people who may not know what life is like in different countries as a woman. None of this is for debate, as it is the interviewee’s opinion and view of their own country and their experiences within it. Thank you!*
Interviewee’s Disclaimer: I am a TCK (Third Culture Kid), and was not actually born in Singapore, so a lot of these answers are from an outsider perspective—I feel that compared to where I’m originally from (Malaysia), Singapore is a lot more advanced in terms of women’s rights, so my views might be a little skewed.**
1. What is your full name?
2. How old are you? Do you feel like your age has affected your worldview? How so?
I believe that in a way it does—especially in this age of social media, it means that many members of the new generation are particularly aware and in touch with the various social injustices occurring not just in their own country, but also worldwide. Nothing can escape the power of social media, it’s scary—anything the press is not reporting, Instagram or Twitter are already exposing to the world. it just means that anyone with an account has the possibility of being exposed to these types of information.
I was first exposed to “reality”, I guess you can call it, at about 11 years old—I was very naive, and didn’t know enough to formulate my own opinions on anything (I clearly remember saying “All lives matter” at one point, it’s very embarrassing looking back). Even now, I feel as though I don’t know enough to have a valid opinion about things—I’m still in a process of continuously educating myself about new issues everyday. But I do feel that as I grew older and observed the world a little more, as well as matured myself and got to know my own moral principles, it essentially affected my worldviews as well. I do also believe that age is not the sole factor in your worldview, in fact I think your surroundings and character plays a bigger role—but it definitely plays a role.
3.What is your gender and preferred pronouns?
4. Do you think sexuality is perceived differently from where you live compared to the rest of the world?
Definitely. It is a big debate that the new generation has taken up where I am and even throughout Asia as a whole. But particularly here. Within the Penal Code in Singapore, there is a section (section 377A) that criminalises sex between consenting male adults—both in public and in private. Furthermore, same-sex relationships are technically not recognised by law, and adoption of children by same-sex couples is still illegal.
It is quite an ambiguous situation here I would say, because despite the existence of section 377A, the same doesn’t apply to lesbian relationships, and in fact there is a annual event called the “Pink Dot” where members of the lgbtq+ community can gather. Some arguments for this law were due to the requirement for national service in Singapore which involves only Singaporean men—but personally I don’t feel it’s a sufficient justification for the presence of the law. I think it is mainly owed towards the severely conservative and traditional thinking of many locals here. Especially since Singapore is largely made of individuals of the Chinese race, within Chinese-Asian culture, being a part of the lgbtq+ community is regarded as relatively unacceptable.
I believe that a potential reason for this stems from the fact the family name is passed down through the son—so if it is thought that if the son is gay, there is no means for the family name to continue to exist. But even so, I know of many older generations and relatives who are not tolerant towards any member of the lgbtq+ community regardless. In fact, I have a friend, who although is heterosexual, has explicitly been told that if she or her brother comes out as gay, they will be disowned. The same with my other friend who is homosexual—he developed an internal homophobia in fear of being caught by his parents as being gay.
Although it will be hard to implement any de facto and de jure changes due to the strict restrictions on freedom of speech here, I do believe that the country is slowly (very slowly) becoming more accepting though, with the younger generation being more vocal with their identity and sexuality. I have friends and even teachers who are very open about their sexuality, and I believe it does help with the perception of sexuality in this country.
5. Do you consider yourself a feminist? Why or why not?
I consider myself to be a feminist, simply because I believe that people should not be discriminated and punished solely for being who they are—especially if it is something that they simply cannot control. Everyone should have the right to express their own identity in a way that makes them comfortable. I find it to be a very low move and frankly amusing to see—it really says something about a person if they feel so entitled as to tell another person how they should act and change to fit by society’s norms. I don’t understand how the mere existence of someone living their life and expressing themselves can cause so much hatred in another person. It seems like insecurities to me. You do not need to understand nor agree with their form of expression, but I believe that basic human respect is the absolute bare minimum. I have witnessed and sometimes experienced myself, instances that made me question the system in which society has built, although I still consider myself to be in a position of privilege, and I feel that it is something that everyone should work to at least educate themselves about.
6. In your personal experience how do you think your life differs from a mans?
I remember explicitly just last year, I was going to my friend’s party at her house- I wore shorts and a tight fitting tank top with an outerwear, and was just about to head out to the cab when my mum stopped me at the door and looked me up and down, before asking me to be careful in the taxi. She asked me to call her when I was in the cab, and when I arrived at my friends place. This wasn’t the first time either—she would always get worried if I wasn’t home by a certain time, or if I was out at night. She would always look visibly worried.
That’s something in my life that I feel differs from a man. While my guy friends were all able to be out until late, only needing to update their parents with their location every once in a while, my mum, and my other female friends mums, would require us to be home by a certain time, and would need a full report of what we were doing. My friend’s mum even asked me to send a screenshot of my taxi’s licence plate number to my parents “just in case”. Although I may owe this towards the fact I have relatively strict parents- but they are strict mainly for the reason that they are afraid for me—despite Singapore being one of the safest countries, they are afraid when I wear anything even slightly revealing.
7. What are some things that you think of as a woman but wish you didn’t have to?
I wish I didn’t have to think about how revealing my clothes are—whether my skirt is too short, my shirt too low, my shorts too tight. Whether you can see my bra through my white shirt. I also wish I didn’t need to think about whether there is someone following me as I walk home at night—whether I’ll have the strength to fight off a potential perpetrator, how I would fight off said perpetrator.
8.Do you think customs for women are different where you are compared to the rest of the world? If yes, how so?
In a legislative perspective, Singapore does seem to be making an active effort in trying to implement gender equality—in fact they are planning to conduct a review of women’s issues as a means of bringing about a change in mindset regarding equality. In fact, I feel that in Singapore, since it is driven off a very “kiasu” culture (scared of losing), it’s not uncommon that mothers continue to work even after giving birth- the child is usually given to grandparents to take care of. I was raised like that for my first three years. Women working in higher positions is also relatively common here. I feel the biggest differences in customs for women mainly lies in the traditional Asian culture that is implemented here. Within Asian culture especially, it has quite a conservative approach—that the man is the head of the house, and in charge of everything, and that women are makers of homes.
When I was younger, I used to sleep in quite often, to about 10 am. At around that time my mum would come in and wake me up, with the same lecture happening almost weekly: “If you continue to sleep in like this, your future mother in law will not be happy with you, you should be awake earlier to help around the house”. My brother is now the same age as I was then, and he never gets these lectures. I think in Singapore and chinese culture, women are struck with this pressure of maintaining balance between traditional customs, and taking on a modern-day role of work. Being both a mother and wife, as well as a successful member of the labour force.
9. What are things that men can do in your country that would simply be unheard of a woman doing?
I can’t think of anything actually… From an outsider point of view I do feel that in terms of what men and women can do here, it’s quite equal.
10. What customs and stereotypes did you grow up with in regards to gender? Do you still follow/believe them?
In terms of stereotypes, as a child I was very reckless and clumsy, often getting bruises and scratches whilst playing and also disliking wearing skirts or dresses. Whilst my friends wore princess outfits for halloween, I had my standardised pumpkin costume that I wore for three years straight. For that reason I was often told by relatives that I should be more feminine as a girl, and shouldn’t participate in rough play so much. At the time it was confusing for me to comprehend how my actions had anything to do with being a girl. For some reasons, I developed a perspective that girls are weaker than boys, and tend to be ‘submissive’ to them—looking back I think it stemmed from the custom that men are the head of the house, and women the followers. It was around this time I started to develop an internalised misogyny. I refused to wear puffed sleeve shirts in fear of being perceived as weak and feminine, I wouldn’t openly embrace my love for princesses. It was all a little baloney. (I love puffed sleeves now, they are so cute).
Even as I grew older, and participated less in the rough games I use to play, I started to be told I was too emotional, and that I shouldn’t get riled up over the actions of boys, because “Boys will be boys”. (I only continue to live life by this because I refuse to waste my emotions on stupid boys who don’t deserve them). I was told to just be mature about it and tolerate it, wait until they become more mature. What absolute bull.
11. If you could change one part of society in regards to human rights, what would you change? Do you think this is specific to where you’re from or should it be changed throughout the entire world?
One thing I would change is the way sexual harassment is dealt with here. As a country that especially values hard work and reputation, there have been many instances here where a sexual harasser was not convicted nor punished for their actions solely because of the fact they came from the top university in the country, or because their occupation is prestigious (e.g. a doctor). It’s outrageous really, the fact that people nowadays can get away with things because authorities fear they will not be able to replace the ‘bright light’ that they may lose to these accusations. Although I’m raising instances in the country I live in, I feel that many places around the world are also very very guilty of this. In some cases race would also be incorporated to the mix. Because the more discrimination the better!
That is another issue I wish would change in society. The way race is perceived. I think in this time, simply generalising people based on their skin colour is so shallow, with no particular essence to understanding. In Singapore, there is a lot of racism that happens, particularly towards indians and muslims—I remember countless amount of times I’ve been sternly told by my mum to stay away from foreign domestic workers from Bangledash due to the fact she doesn’t trust their background and that there were cases of rape involving these workers. As a result, I found my younger self developing a subconscious generalisation to them as well. I’m very ashamed of myself for doing it, but that’s the danger of heavy generalisation, especially one sparked from xenophobia. The more you’re exposed to it, the more it becomes embedded into the system. The same applies to other Asian countries, the racism of some Asians towards the black population. The lack of thought towards the use of the ‘n-word,’ the heavy stereotyping of black people; it is something I wish would change, especially since we are all people of colour. We should stick together.