Balancing the Scales


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By Vincent Tan

In April last year, future US presidential candidate Donald Trump tweeted that Hillary Clinton’s failure to keep her husband’s loyalty meant she would not be able to keep the American public’s as its leader. Apart from being a foretaste of the statesman’s increasingly bombastic rhetoric, and inherently poor logic, it’s talk like that from a man who just may become president of the most powerful country on earth, which shows sexism is very much alive and well, not just behind closed doors, but in our mainstream global culture.

Today as we celebrate International Women’s Day, it is time to take stock of that fact and move forward.

Singapore is currently ranked 59th out of 142 countries in the Global Gender Gap report 2014. While that’s obviously better than many countries, there’s still much work to be done. For instance, according to the 2014 Labour Force Statistics, in most job categories apart from clerical and support, women in Singapore earn about 10% less than their male colleagues. Maintaining a balance of men and women in the workforce is also a challenge, since some women leave the workforce in their 30s to care for their children. This takes place right when many of their male co-workers focus on career development, leading to relatively fewer women in senior management. Government initiatives, such as empowering the father’s role in childcare and female-friendly company policies, can target these realities, but aren’t necessarily a solution.

That’s because the presence of gender stereotypes in Singapore is not hard to notice. And it’s often not even anyone’s fault. Take the innocuous example of emojis, those cute symbols of our feelings and thoughts. Do you think the women in those icons look strong, independent, and able to excel anywhere? Or do you sense a pinkish dress code and options limited to dancing, nail-painting and dating/marrying/mothering? Six billion emojis fly around the world every day, reinforcing that notion repeatedly. As Always video on female emojis tells us, these adorable symbols may be saying more to women than we think, especially to teenage girls whose self-image is at a vulnerable stage.

From the small screen to the silver screen and television, gender representation in Hollywood is also a concern as American productions, and their messages, are a powerful staple for viewers across the globe. Their influence can be seen in the surge of interest in archery among young girls in the US following the The Hunger Games starring archer Katniss Everdeen, and more women entering STEM fields in the wake of CSI. Despite all that, none of the female-centered films nominated for Best Picture at this year’s Oscars won. For instance all the Best Director nominees were men and although stories centering around women like Brooklyn and Room were nominated for Best Picture this year, none took home that Oscar; the last female-driven film that won Best Picture was Million Dollar Baby, in 2004.

While comparisons to Hollywood or emojis may seem like it’s all in good fun, on International Women’s Day, it is important to remember that the ongoing struggle for women’s rights is real – be it obvious things like educational equality or less-obvious ones like subtle discrimination in everyday life. And it’s still far from over. Today much mistreatment is still felt by a portion of the population, from workplace discrimination, to domestic abuse. As Martin Luther King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. Knowledge is the first step, but there’s still a long way to go.