by Bhawna Sharma
Misogyny has reared its ugly head yet again, and this time, President Halimah Yacob would be vocal about it. Local Spotify podcast OKLETSGO (OLG) has come under fire for its lewd and objectifying banter about women in what is supposedly an attempt to cover taboo topics. In one podcast, for instance, the DJs describe virgins as ‘fresh meat’ and non-virgins as ‘stale meat’ when discussing a private Telegram group sharing pornographic material and sexual services.
These callous remarks reflect the tragic extent to which objectifying women’s bodies is considered harmless (in this case, even entertaining). Women’s bodies are constantly reduced to sexual objects—it is monitored and conditioned by society in the most subtle ways since childhood. A woman’s body is also never truly hers, and upon digging deeper, one feels as if this is covertly reinforced in the way public policies are designed.
Peeping Toms: Why do they get away with it?
A recurring theme in OLG’s podcast is the sexualisation of women both as objects and as passive fulfillers of men’s sexual needs. In a particularly disturbing episode, for example, the DJs ask a woman details about her clothing when she was nearly sexually assaulted at a party, adding that it would enable them to better visualise the scene. This subtly reinforces the very common belief that women were “asking for it” based on their choice of clothing.
The tendency to reduce women as objects to be acted upon is silently reinforced through the state’s legal system in recent cases of molestation and peeping Toms. Last year, an undergraduate from NUS who had been charged of molestation on multiple occasions was given probation for ‘minor intrusion’ offences (it seems that “a brief touch on the thigh” is minor; never mind that the trauma from sexual assault can manifest itself years later). Another mitigating factor was his “potential to excel in life”, notwithstanding that the offences were carried out several times.
By detaching a perpetrator’s actions from the lived experiences of victims, the law indirectly perpetuates the abstract idea that a woman’s body is a legitimate sexual centre to violate. Ironically, the “outrage of modesty” principle only applies to female victims, thus implicitly implying that men cannot be sexually assaulted. Irrespective of whether the perpetrator has propensity to reform or an otherwise clean record, victims are sent the saddening message that the onus of keeping safe squarely falls on them.
The intrusive realm of family-planning
Singapore is well-known for its emphasis on the nuclear family: at one point, Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew openly espoused the superior eugenics of tertiary-educated Chinese mothers. In maintaining the traditional family structure, however, the state inevitably finds its way into a woman’s reproductive capability.
A curious manifestation of this dogma appeared in 2013, when a website sponsored by the National Family Council showed a series of cartoons encouraging women to have children. In a rather humiliating allusion, the “egg-making device” of a goose was described as becoming “rusty and old” over time. Besides reducing women to baby-making machines, such illustrations completely strip and sanitise the otherwise complex emotions involved in family-planning.
Even today, people start questioning independent women after they hit a certain age, as if it is fundamentally wrong to be single. While it is true that men are also pressured into finding a suitable partner, the burden is far more palpable for women whose “biological clocks are ticking”. By denying single unwed parents eligibility for flats and housing grants under the Families Grant scheme, Singapore’s HDB policy further penalises those who fall outside the “family nucleus”.
Two steps forward, two steps back
Although Singapore is one of the leading countries in Southeast Asia when it comes to gender parity, OLG’s comments remind us that the equality project still requires significant work. Just as we take two steps forward, we easily fall two steps back. Debasing stereotypes and messages about women’s bodies continue to cloud not just our minds, but also the media we consume. It is no wonder, then, that Singapore’s first woman speaker of the Parliament and now President, urges us to respect and value women’s contributions to society instead of treating them like “dirtbags and punching bags”.