The Scheduling Club and Some Thoughts on Graduating

***Disclaimer: Look away if you’re not from Yale-NUS. If you aren’t from here this post will just be a sappy mess of boring nothing. ***

So I just came back from the Scheduling Club’s last performance. I’m trying to get used to doing all the last things around campus. I finally got my ass to go to the gym (thanks Josh for making me promise you, and thanks Annette for teaching me the wrong way to use the rowing machine thing). Someone recently asked me if I could sing for the upcoming formal dinner and I said okay because it’s probably going to be the last time for me to get over my crippling stage fright issues. Very soon I’m going to be having my last meal in the dining hall, and I’m going to put my last cardboard box on a taxi with too much citrus Air Wick spray.

I don’t feel ready for all this.

And I can’t believe I just heard the Scheduling Club sing for the last time. I won’t hear that combination of voices again. That’s it. Things begin and things end and the present won’t stop becoming the past. It’s so baffling how you can be totally immersed in something when it’s happening, and then in the next instant, that something is completely inaccessible.

I can remember very clearly their first performance in the RC4 multi-purpose hall. It was raining and the water somehow leaked into a circuit and triggered the fire alarm. They were in the middle of singing Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek” and I remember thinking “hey isn’t that the chorus from that Jason Derulo song”. (Incidentally that’s quite reflective of the type of basic ass person I was back then.) Thank goodness we are no longer in a building that triggers the fire alarm when it rains. But then again I kinda wish we were.

 

 

Is Xiaxue Transphobic? What Does All This Even Mean?

I’ve been meaning to write about this since two weeks ago but thankfully I waited because a textbook case of the issue I’m about to describe just unfolded in the local Twittersphere (which is more like a Twitter knitting circle). This issue’s kinda complicated so it’ll be good if you can read this in a quiet spot with a notebook, a vaporising analgesic ointment of your choice and an open mind.

Ok enough teasing, here we go.

PART I: What just happened? What is this about?

Xiaxue just landed herself in the eye of a #progressive-teen-identity-politics-hate storm and allegations of transphobia have been pouring on the blogger since she tweeted about K Pop group Monsta X.

This is the tweet in question:

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She made this comment after encountering Monsta X fanatics at the airport. No prizes if you can guess what the specific offending term was (it’s “trannies”).

There are a few other tweets which have been identified as problematic.

For example:

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Given Xiaxue’s trademark devil-may-care tactlessness and her penchant for tossing social media molotov cocktails, it was only a matter of time before she would become embroiled in identity politics. The ground is fertile after the tension left behind by the ugly 2016 USA presidential elections. People within the US are participating in large organised protests to voice their discontent with the Trump administration, and people on the periphery are invested in their own battles in other corners of the globe. Just two weeks ago fashion model Karlie Kloss was berated for participating in a Vogue editorial which perpetuated cultural appropriation. The photoshoot was set in an exoticised vision of Japan and Kloss was costumed in derivatives of traditional Japanese dress. The Oscar-nominated musical La La Land is also under the radar for featuring an all-straight cast in a movie about show business. I think Xiaxue herself anticipated that she would be going through her own episode soon; she recently spoke out about hypocrisy on the internet and the indiscriminate use of accusatory terms like “racist” in a YouTube video. It seems like the progressive left has indeed gone rabid, and even public figures with a track record for supporting leftist causes are not spared (Xiaxue has spoken out against homophobia and has been an avid supporter of the local Pink Dot movement, and Karlie Kloss set up a coding scholarship for young girls to pursue a career in the male-dominated field of computer engineering).

Right now Xiaxue is facing the wrath of both K Pop fans and #woke teenagers, and that really is quite the combination. In the last day or so, she has received accusations of transphobia and virulent attacks on her 4-year-old son Dash. (It was really quite disgusting to see so many people deride her for perpetuating harmful ideas and in the same breath they drag her toddler son into the storm but that’s another story for another day.)

Transphobia, cultural appropriation, racism, sexism, homophobia. These are now internet age buzzwords. I don’t deny that these words carry a lot of weight and are useful descriptors for larger systems of entrenched discrimination in academic discourse, but most people are not formally educated on the nuances and complexities of these terms. These words transform into convenient, one-dimensional cusses on the tongues of the uninitiated. What do these terms really mean? What does it mean to be transphobic, and what do we do with the knowledge of someone’s alleged transphobia?

PART II: System VS the Individual

None of the issues that these buzzwords reference are simple. They’re all confusing, tangly messes, and they’re made worse because there are personal ramifications on the most vulnerable strata in society.

Take for example sexism. Sexism isn’t a one-way assault from the oppressive male onto the subjugated female. In many households, mothers transfer gendered expectations onto their own daughters. They ask their daughters to cover up before heading out, they expect fellow women to be more ladylike, they let their sons play outside while the girls stay home to prepare dinner. Men are also victims of sexism; male rape victims self-censor because of the emasculating stigma attached to victimhood, their role as parents is undervalued, people are less empathetic towards divorced fathers in custody battles, etc. Feminists argue among themselves if the hijab (Muslim headdress) is the embodied symbol of patriarchy, and there is no clear answer.

In the case of transphobia, there are 2 points to note. First, the term “tranny” has been unapologetically adopted by individuals within the trans community and it has positive connotations in older generations of activists. Take for example our local comedian Kumar. He has carved a career from performing stand-up comedy in drag, and he regularly makes self-deprecating jokes about being a “tranny” or a “bapok”. The term has been reclaimed in adversity to reinforce solidarity within the trans community (we also see this phenomenon with the N word in African-American circles). This complicates the term’s usage. It’s been normalised for some people, but remains offensive to others.


This is a great short video about his road to fame and about the personal sacrifices he made to be the trash-talking Kumar on stage.

Second, the mathematical divide between terms like “homosexual”, “queer”, “drag” and “trans” is a relatively new phenomenon and not everyone is familiar with the semantics. Take for example the 1969 Stonewall riots. The New York City riots are considered by many to be the galvanising movement for gay activism in the USA, and the Stonewall Inn housed a gathering of all sorts of “abnormal” folk. Transvestites, trans people, cis homosexual men, lesbians and other individuals were fed up with the way they’ve been violently treated by the authorities and there was backlash. Distinct categories were not a thing back then. Back when the movement was in its infancy, it was a hodgepodge of social misfits fighting for fair treatment. I think present-day definitions of “gender” and “biological sex” stem from Judith Butler’s seminal text on gender performativity, and in that text she analyses drag performances as an embodied reaction towards male-female sexual difference, but that’s really esoteric knowledge and we can’t expect most people to know that. This sort of knowledge is available at approximately $22,000 a year at an exclusive university. In any case, it’s really confusing to bring up these complicated terms in a heated debate because most people won’t understand the distinctions.

What’s my point? My point is that these problems are complicated, systemic, and larger than any individual. Transgressive acts are not isolated choices in the lives of a few blame-worthy public figures. They are already embedded in culture and racism, sexism etc manifest in many different ways in our day-to-day lives. People can be placidly and passively complicit in perpetuating harmful stereotypes without even knowing it. I’m not saying that we should toss all our progressive ideals out the window and start singing the kumbaya when we think someone is being unfair to a minority group, but I’m saying that lone individuals are not responsible for the crushing weight of systemic discrimination. We need to give everyone a chance to understand the nuances of these issues. What are we doing when we jump the gun and call someone racist/transphobic/etc? We’re missing a valuable opportunity for progressive dialogue, and no one will leave the conversation wiser.

 

PART III: Nobody is a villain in their own story.

Everyone operates on reason given the information and resources available to them, and no one is a one-dimensional evil villain. This is why even the blatantly racist don’t consider themselves racists—it’s never as simple as someone hating someone on pure account of their race.

If you’re a white person and you’ve spent your entire life in a desolate midwest town away from people of other races, and everyone around you relies on Facebook clickbait and Fox news for information about the coastal cities, then of course you’re going to think black people are thugs. You don’t know any black person but thank god you don’t because they seem really dangerous, and you’re afraid. The TV keeps showing violent images of Black Lives Matter protests and businesses are going up in flames. When a white police officer, someone you’ve been taught to admire, shoots a suspicious-looking black man, what are you going to believe?

You’re not going to believe that you’re racist. You’re going to believe that you’re a reasonable, rational person who wants your family protected from hoodlums. You don’t think black people are bad because they’re black, but you are wary of them because you associate them with crime.

Here’s another example that’s a hot topic for debate: victim-blaming in rape cases.

Two things are simultaneously true:

  1. Many parents are worried sick about finding their daughter bruised and battered after rape. They will do everything they can to prevent that, and it seems to them that dressing conservatively will help, so they enforce it on their daughters.
  2. Statistically, rape cases have little correlation with a woman’s outfit because most perpetrators of rape are not strangers with straying eyes. Rapists select and groom vulnerable women/girls they are entrusted with. Controlling a woman’s attire does not help to prevent rape, and it takes away a woman’s agency over her own body.

Does this make parents the enemy? Are they deplorable sexists for controlling their daughter’s attire? Or are they expressing their concern and using the information they have to protect their family?

 

PART IV: What now?

In case it isn’t immediately obvious, I take left-leaning political stances and I have had the privilege of studying these issues at length in a comfortable academic environment (my own final research paper is about the polemical female image in selfie representations and writing this blog post constitutes procrastination). I am not advocating for racism or sexism etc to be overlooked.

To be clear about my purposes, these are my main ideas:

  1. Social problems are big and complex and they operate like systems. They are not the fault of individuals. It is not fair to blame a single person for something so big and complex, especially if they cannot understand.
  2. It is frustrating to listen to someone with a conclusion different from yours, but there will be greater progress if we make room for conversation.
  3. At the end of the day, people fight for the things they care about. People are not fundamentally good or fundamentally evil. They act on the things they truly believe in.

How do we make room for conversation? I don’t usually default to crusty men from the 1600s for advice because they were wrong about a lot of things, but here we can take a leaf from Blaise Pascal’s book:

When we wish to correct with advantage, and to show another that he errs, we must notice from what side he views the matter, for on that side it is usually true, and admit that truth to him, but reveal to him the side on which it is false. He is satisfied with that, for he sees that he was not mistaken, and that he only failed to see all sides. Now, no one is offended at not seeing everything; but one does not like to be mistaken, and that perhaps arises from the fact that man naturally cannot see everything, and that naturally he cannot err in the side he looks at, since the perceptions of our senses are always true.

Ok, I hope this has been helpful for you.

Surrendering Your Cards in the Patriarchy Game

The Women’s March on January 21 followed defiantly after Trump’s inauguration. What began as a nationwide grassroots movement for women’s rights grew into an international protest for a hodgepodge of liberal/leftist values; people paraded signs to call an end to police brutality, to champion equal rights for racial minorities, and to recognise the urgency of using sustainable energy sources. It was called the Women’s March and the name suggests a pretty straightforward fight for gender equality, but as usual, things got kinda messy because they involved diverse collectives of people. A woman wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat was reportedly kicked out of the protest. The Women’s March clearly happened on Democrat terrain, and was hostile towards the participation of Conservative-leaning women. (I think the bipartisan system in America has the tendency to polarise people and create pools for extremism on either end, but that’s a story for another day.)

According to the exit polls from the presidential election, 53% of all white women who voted placed their vote for Donald Trump. This lays in stark contrast with the 94% of black women who voted for Hillary Clinton. That’s nearly all of them.

Here’s a photograph from the Women’s March that illustrates that perfectly.

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In the picture, Angela Peoples is holding the sign “Don’t forget: White Women Voted for Trump” and nonchalantly sucking on a lollipop. Behind her, almost as if composed and spray-painted by Banksy, stand three oblivious white women. Conveniently enough one of them looks like she’s taking a selfie, and we all know that’s the gestural cue for solipsism, don’t we. Also, it really doesn’t help that, taken out of context, the pink pussy hats make them look like ridiculous caricatures. Feminism is messy. Women disagree amongst themselves about what feminism should do, and some outrightly reject feminism.

Feminism is defined as the movement for the social, economic and political equality of the sexes, and the women at the Women’s march were protesting for different types of feminisms. After all, equality is not something you can qualify on certain terms. Does equality mean we are treated identically? Does it mean we earn the same amount of money? What about equal happiness, and how do we measure that?

And what is this blog post about exactly?

It’s about why feminism is contentious even amongst the supposed beneficiaries of the movement (women). If we’re all individuals with unique vantage points within a complex hierarchy and we’re all acting in self-interest to a significant extent, then life is like a card game where the stakes are high. We don’t want to play the most obvious hand, we don’t want to show anyone what we’ve been dealt, and some of us play beneath the table.

Let’s take another look at the definition for feminism:

Feminism is defined as the movement for the social, economic and political equality of the sexes.

Because feminism is a movement, it is inherently political. Maybe it shouldn’t be politicised because that rubs people the wrong way, but it already has been, because it’s an outward declaration of resistance, an active step in a defiant direction. When you support and subscribe to the values of feminism, it necessitates that you lay down your cards and surrender your weapons in the power play of social hierarchy. You have to bring everyone’s attention to the rules of the game, you have to admit that you’re losing and could be easily finished, or sometimes, you’re winning and you have to admit that you cheated.

Because I’m an erudite individual and I go to a fancy schmancy liberal arts college, this is the opportune moment for me to quote from a revered film classic. You know that film Django Unchained? Leonardo DiCaprio played the racist slave-owner who made his captives fight each other to their violent deaths. In reference to the slaves he controlled, DiCaprio was like “Why don’t they kill us?” He’s been owning slaves for decades and the slaves never acted against their cruel masters. If they really wanted to kill him one of them could just slit DiCaprio’s throat with a razor while shaving him. DiCaprio explained this all away with white supremacist ideas about the anatomy of the human brain, but the real answer is that sometimes, a movement that may benefit a collective of people may severely disadvantage an individual. If one brave slave slits the throat of his owner, it’s not enough to overturn the whole system of slavery. This one slave would probably be beaten to death as punishment, his story will be remembered as one of insolence from a lesser breed of human, and the American landscape remains largely unchanged.

Ok back to feminism. How exactly would outwardly supporting feminism disadvantage a woman? What does it look like when you surrender your cards?

Here are a few specific examples:

  1. You have to admit that you don’t look attractive naturally and you need a whole arsenal of beauty products to look beautiful. Nope, women aren’t beautiful creatures, we’re not mysterious seductresses. There’s no “something” about women. It’s all been a masquerade (read: “Film and the Masquerade” by Mary Ann Doane), and one to the tune of a 95-billion-dollar cosmetics industry. We’re not pristine princesses; sometimes we get explosive diarrhoea from cheap barbecues, sometimes we pick out our wedgies when no one’s looking, we get in-grown hairs on our armpits and we get yeast infections. When we shed our chicken cutlets, our spanx, our eyelash extensions and our Benefit Porefessional Primer, what’s left? If you’ve been depending on your looks to get you what you want, then what will happen to you once the secret’s out?
  2. You have to admit that you’ve been smart all along, but you’ve elected not to use your brain. You’ve been silently observing everyone and taking in information, and you’re a legitimate threat to the people around you. If you’ve settled with a wealthy husband, people will grow suspicious of you. You’ll look like a gold-digger, and in comparison to the other women who toughed it out in their careers, you’ll look lazy and unimportant. You’ve been intelligent all along, but you chose to do nothing with your smarts. This is a long-standing argument against the sort of values that emerged during Second Wave feminism. To many, it really doesn’t seem like feminism liberates women because women no longer feel like they can choose domestic work without judgment.
  3. If you’re middle-aged and married, it would be terrifying to look back on your life and realise that it’s been a series of unreciprocated sacrifices. Your brothers went to school but you didn’t, you settled down with the first man who could conjure a diamond ring, and you spent the rest of your life being someone’s wife and someone’s mother, never your own person. You put food out on the table and someone says it’s too salty, and after dinner, you clear the table alone. You’re already 50, what are you going to do now? Is it too late?
  4. Ladies get let into clubs for free because we’re not the customers, we’re the product. Men go to clubs for the holy trinity: booze, good music and sexy women. How are you going to rationalise your decisions to yourself now that you’ve found out? How many drinks will you let guys buy you, how many kisses are they going to steal, before you feel like you’ve betrayed yourself?
  5. And finally, my personal favourite: when you show your feminist streak, you’ll be a public loser. You’re admitting that you don’t like the way you’ve been treated, you’re a victim, and you’re broadcasting your insecurities. You don’t like your body, you are deathly afraid of ageing, you didn’t do anything when a man groped you on the bus. These things are deeply personal, and we don’t even want to speak about these things in regular conversations, let alone on blazing banners.

When you’re a feminist, you’re unattractive. You’re whiny and loud and your appearance is mere artifice. The patriarchal rules that bind women in an unspoken oath to their attractiveness, are the same rules that are broken when one identifies as a feminist.

Sexism is not absolute. It’s not a simple polarity, it’s not a lopsided black-and-white ying-yang. It’s a tangly mess of social conventions and restrictions that we learn to navigate from a  young age. Women have learnt to keep their mouths shut and to sit pretty. We check our partners’ phones when they’re not looking, we let the men get drunk first, we go to the toilet to adjust our bras and clean up our eyeliner. Some women are getting ahead in the game, and I understand why they don’t want to quit.

If you’re waiting for the paragraph where I steer the debate in a different direction and convince you all to be feminists anyway, it’s not going to happen. Don’t be mistaken, I still think that feminism is important and I’m going to fight very hard for it, but I also understand why so many women are intimidated. This a blog post for them, and a post for everyone else to understand why this issue is so complex. When it comes down to it, it really is a man’s world out there, and the sane and smart thing for women to do is to stay out of the fight but reap its benefits afterwards.

What do we do now? 

I don’t know, I don’t have all the answers. And to be very honest, it’s been very tempting to give up. Speaking so openly about social issues has earned me a reputation for being “so angry” or “agitated” all the time. It’s a paradox isn’t it? It’s smart to keep silent, but we can’t all be silent either, then no change will every happen. I guess I’ll just keep writing.

 

10 Things I Cannot for the Life of Me Understand

  1. How is it that the snooty café downstairs can sell a can of Coca-Cola at $3.40 when the vending machine in the same literal building sells it for $0.90? Whose decision is this? Which idiot is buying the $3.40 cans and sustaining their business?
  2. I’ve never had the urge to spit on the ground in my life. Why are so many men spitting on the ground? Just swallow it?
  3. Why are so many university websites so ugly? You’re a leading educational institution but you can’t hire a web designer?

    evs

  4. In Interstellar, why did they let a random dude who drove a truck through their facility go to outer space in their expensive rocket? Don’t you need a PhD and like astronaut gravity training for that?

    54d19382d7e85_-_esq-interstellar-carhartt-xxl
    Yeah say goodbye to your daughter for 70+ years you prick.

  5. Why must tissue boxes all have ugly designs on them? Just make plain ones? Your business isn’t at stake, everyone buys tissues anyway and there are only 3 companies.

    fairprice-tissue

  6. I don’t even know who’s fighting for what anymore in Syria and I do follow the news. I suspect nobody does and it’s worrying me that there’s so much devastation for something no one fully understands. If the Western media has a stake in it and it benefits them to portray Assad’s government as the primary antagonist, then I can’t believe so much that I’ve read. I know virtually ZERO and I’m useless anyway, I’m just some girl in a country far away with internet access.
  7. If you gave me the numbers and my A-Zone notecards from junior college I’ll be able to do some sick work with statistics but I will have no idea what any of the results mean. What is a z-test? I know how to do it but what is it?
  8. Why did Channel 5 market their red threads drama as a blockbuster BEFORE it even started airing? What block did it bust?

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  9. When I was 14 or 15 I went to the Singapore river on a field trip and there was this guy in a black and white striped polo shirt who came up to me on the bridge and made growling dog noises. Why did you do that, you scared the crap out of me.
  10. If prostitution is bad, girls should retain their virginity until marriage, homosexuality is a sin and young men are encouraged to go out and have sex, then who are they having sex with?

A Thought

What really scares me about the world is that, for some people, it’s not a matter of convincing them that something is true. They already know the facts and figures, they know that people are suffering and that the world is a terrible place. But they also like it that way. Some people want it to stay that way, and no amount of rational speech is going to sway them. They don’t give a shit about other people because it doesn’t mean anything to them, and that’s just the way things are supposed to roll. What do we do?

A Singaporean Feminist’s Opinion on NS

19337609Photo unapologetically take from TODAY.

Feminist writer Natalie Tan gives her 2 cents on national conscription and on its social implications, in the process reaping frustrations which were sown since the regiment’s implementation, and annoying everyone with the deliberate overuse of the word “feminist”.

So how’d you like the title? Was gunning for the most aggravating/abrasive title possible. Other candidates included:

  1. Chinese Singaporeans and NS
  2. Young Asian Female Looking for Trouble, click to find out more
  3. Should girls be enlisted in the Singaporean army?
  4. Amos Yee Opens Up About NS: The Interview

I also learnt to change my opening lines so that they show up in the link description on Facebook shares and provide a nice summary. Hopefully that does the trick to draw more eyeballs, because otherwise my opening lines have always been non-social media friendly.

Ok your time as an internet reader is valuable. Now that you’re here, are you ready for what I’m about to say? Are you really ready?

Ok here goes.

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I empathise.

No really I do. I decided to write this because I came across the non-news that some Singaporean girl posted a video berating men who complain about NS, and she even compared their physical exertion to that of illegal immigrants. I didn’t watch the video because I didn’t quite feel like spending my data charges on this crap, but it did remind me that I have a lot of thoughts on the topic, and I don’t think there’s a lot going around the internet on the topic from the point of view of anyone in a similar social position to me. In fact, my intuition tells me that people skirt the topic because it’s so difficult to write about it without stepping on anyone’s steel-toed combat boots.

Ok, so I’ve organised the rest of this article to address central, pressing questions. They’re not really classy academic questions, but these are the ones that consistently pop up on discussion forums and are usually met with some Jack_Boi87 comment like “idk lah sua :/”. Not very informative.

Ok first question. Why do you empathise?

I understand why Singapore needs a military defence force. It doesn’t just function on a practical level in the event of war, but it’s also symbolic and a semiotic requirement for any entity claiming to be a sovereign nation. It’s part of the impression. A country will only seem legitimate if it has a government, its own currency and an army. I, however, acknowledge the artificiality of nationhood. Nations are relatively new and their conception coincided with the invention of the novel. Yesteryear’s ideas of colonial empires seep into our present understanding of what it’s like to be a strong polity.

That being said, I think it’s unfortunate and symptomatic of larger social problems that we prioritise the preservation of a nation over the lives of individuals. People with their own lives and concerns and ambitions are reduced to a mere statistic in news reports and budget proposals. The bodies of young men have been objectified and are assessed based on their utility. The army functions like a well-oiled fighting machine and each soldier constitutes a tiny cog. Here I’m going to echo a bit of Foucault (bear with me): the state apparatus depends on the docility-utility of bodies.

A lot of movies and novels make the idea of fighting seem more palatable and even honourable because sacrifice is something that is compatible with the male ego. If you spend a lifetime hearing warmongering messages about how men should prove their worth by showing that they can fight, and then you live in a social environment where it’s difficult to show vulnerability to your male peers, then of course you’re going to need some sort of outlet to earn some dignity. A boy becomes a man when he blows up trying to evacuate his team. After that he is very much a Real Man when his body is encased in mahogany with a flag draped over it. The reality of war is very different though. I reckon most soldiers die very anti-climactic deaths (they forgot something, the weather conditions weren’t favourable, they starved in the cold, they fell sick from bacteria in rivers, they spend 1 month travelling and then die after 10 seconds of gunfire etc). And when you’re on the field, your humanity still exists in you. Of course it’s beneficial for the army as a whole for soldiers to march fearless into battle, but are they really fearless? Will you be if you were activated in war?

These things were more apparent when the British colonisers imposed conscription on Singaporean youths in 1954. Protests broke out because Chinese high school students did not want to serve a state that they did not identify with, and their petition was met with violent action from the colonial government. After the dissolution of colonial rule, military conscription could be rationalised along nationalistic lines, and that’s where all the Singapore is a small country, if not me then who, if not now then when rhetoric comes in.

I know another grievance is that men feel like they have lost 2 years of their lives and they’re not competing well career-wise. I have the suspicion that this is exacerbated by the fact that women are 2 years ahead. It doesn’t sit well with a lot of men to have women as their seniors, especially if they’re younger. That perception is itself a problem, and to be quite frank I don’t think this is a real issue that will stretch well into your adult life, because 1) statistically, women tend to be in different industries anyway, and 2) the camaraderie built from the shared experience of NS will help you in male-dominated industries. Real deals are struck on the golf course, not in the office. Admittedly, it’s different when you’re looking to work overseas. I think it becomes an issue then, because people won’t have the knowledge that you’re 2 years behind because of compulsory military service. I can’t really comment on this aspect because I’ve never spoken to anyone old enough to form an informed opinion on the long term effects of NS on an overseas career.

What do you think of guys who chao geng?

Full on empathy because if I were a guy and I did NS I would definitely chao geng too lol (but then again maybe if I were a guy I would be more encouraged to play sports, then I would be fitter and it won’t be so daunting, idk). Some men will flourish in the army, and some men won’t. I don’t want to discredit those who do well in the army because it does take backbreaking work to get far. It’s not something people are just born with. What I’m saying is that so many men are uninterested, and some are even scared away from “manly” activities because “manly” men have been mean to them in school. I personally know many boys like that because they tend to gravitate towards female friends (we’re less intimidating and know not to make fun of them). They are more interested in things like drawing, gardening, knitting, childcare, writing etc, and some of them are really excellent in those areas. I can see why they would be lazy in the army. If I didn’t care about something then I wouldn’t do it. Simple.

I guess the controversy arises because Singaporeans see NS as a responsibility, a duty. If you are lazy then you’re just shirking your due responsibility and jeopardising national security. And on top of all this, it’s a test to prove that you’re a good man, and no accolades in fashion design or nature photography will ever bring you the same adulation. I think it’s hideous that we think that way, and in an ironic roundabout way, it might even promote belligerent behaviour and make living less safe for everyone. When people see the term “gender role”, they think about women and house chores, but serving in NS is also a gender role, one imposed on men.

I want to clarify that I think it’s a great thing that some men are so dedicated to serving and that they’ve defied so many odds to rise up through the ranks, but I also think it’s fine if men don’t do that, and that they contribute to society by excelling in other areas.

Do you think girls should serve NS?

I don’t know how to answer this question because my real answer is that, ideally, I don’t want anybody in the world to be in the military. No soldiers at all. But obviously that’s not going to happen, so I will try to answer again with that grim fact in mind. Let’s work this out together.

Hmm. Yes, but a transition towards that will have to carefully address and manage social differences so that it benefits our country and doesn’t damage other sectors of living. For example, I know a lot of girls want to get a university degree and be married first before having their first child, and considering that the risks of pregnancy increase after 30, we would like to have all this done before then. Two years of NS will zap so much time from that little window. Maybe NS can be introduced later, once the woman has already given birth? But then she’ll be more sluggish then right? Then again not all women want to have children, but it’s very difficult to make a definite decision about all this when you’re only 18 and you haven’t even met your first boyfriend. It’s also not very conducive to assume that women would give birth because if they don’t then they’ll be treated like selfish spinsters. I really don’t know. Maybe there can be a half-serve half-study scheme for everyone? But that won’t be vigorous enough right, how can anyone be operationally ready like that?

I guess social expectations of what a woman should be like will also have to change before girls are enlisted. I’m sure boys would be happier knowing that girls are enlisted and that seems more fair, but after they ORD, are they going to accept the tanned and muscular women in their social circles? Are men going to respect that a woman will have as much knowledge and experience in the army (assuming that in this hypothetical universe, we do indeed do exactly the same things)?

Maybe women can serve as nurses. That is compatible with current sexist standards of what women should do and how they should behave – caring, nurturing, attending to the needs of other people before themselves, domestic, docile. It’s useful anyway to have a large proportion of the Singaporean population trained in first aid. But if we go along these lines then it sort of defeats the purpose of enlisting girls for fairness’ sake, because serving as a nurse is not as physically demanding and they don’t have to put their lives on the line in the event of a war. I really have no idea how all this can work out.

Before we move on to the next question, it’s really important to point out that I think many women are more capable/suited than men to serve in NS. I had this friend who was the head of the St. John’s Ambulance Brigade and she was 1) very fit, more so than a lot of boys, 2) was always in leadership positions in sports, 3) very smart, one of the top students, 4) in admiration of military positions. I always thought she would have made an excellent soldier. I had another friend who was super interested in military planes and she knew all about them. She also had a really hardy personality. She also would have made a good soldier. I think we’re missing out on a lot when we gloss over people like them by virtue of their gender.

Are Singaporean girls pampered?

No, not anymore than your average developed country citizen. Singapore is a very wealthy nation, and the middle class here are expected to be able to afford treats like matcha tiramisus and S.E.A. Aquarium tickets. I think Singapore is a pretty pampered country in general, and the government is exceptionally paternalistic.

The answer changes if you switch the yardstick for measuring someone’s level of “pamperedness”. If you’re assessing a girl based on sexist ideas of what a girl should be like, then the millennial Singaporean girl would fall short on a lot. Here are a list of things that we are supposed to do:

  1. Cook and/or bake.
  2. Do all the house chores.
  3. Like and take care of children.
  4. Be loyal and faithful at the side of a boyfriend/husband who is a “man in the making” i.e. he has no money.
  5. Stay slim.
  6. Somehow look very pretty but don’t ask anyone for money to buy makeup and look pretty.
  7. Don’t talk so much, even if you obviously know more about something.
  8. Give birth.
  9. Be attracted to men who are not physically attractive/don’t have good grades/don’t have a job/have the courage to ask us out, because otherwise we’ll be shallow.
  10. Be attracted to Singaporean men otherwise we’re race traitors.
  11. Not go out so much, especially at night.
  12. Study hard and do well in school but then don’t do anything with your degree beyond a regular office job.
  13. Not hold any leadership positions, especially above men.
  14. Be virginal, the best case scenario being that you’ve never dated before.

Tell me, would you be able to obey ALL these rules? It’s difficult, and for a lot of us, it’s not even in our interest, so why would we? I guess if you hold these standards, Singaporean girls will be mighty pampered to you, but the news I have for you is that so are all other women in developed countries, and it’s not going to change your dating prospects, which we all know is the main point of the question. If you choose to stick by these standards, I suggest you work on your own personality, not because it will guarantee you a date, but because in general I think your personality needs work. You’re not entitled to a cooking and cleaning machine because you served NS.

Ok that’s about all I have for today, hope this was useful and interesting in one way or another.

Further Censoring of Art for Obscene Nudity

The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) has decreed on Friday, Nov 25 that two shows under the upcoming M1 Singapore Fringe Festival, Naked Ladies and Undressing Room, exceed the R18 rating under the Arts Entertainment Classification Code (AECC). According to a spokesperson from IMDA and subsequent Straits Times reporting, the IMDA has the responsibility to protect young viewers from unsuitable content. I applaud the IMDA for stepping up to the plate and ensuring that the impressionable in society do not get exposed to obscene “celebrations” of naked bodies. And in fact, I say, why stop there? We have lost sight of our moral values and our sanity as civil members of society in our pursuit of pointless art. What is artistic integrity after all, if we are unable to prevent our children’s eyeballs from being scorched by the photons bouncing off naked skin? Surely we owe the children in society that much.

I have several suggestions for extending the ban on nudity to other platforms. The visual arts are so accessible nowadays, it’s important for us to be thorough in protecting the innocence of the doe-eyed young.

Let’s start with the Italian Renaissance.

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I am so ashamed of this piece that I feel like I’ve compromised on my values by putting this up on my blog. It’s a small price to pay for the good of Singapore, though. This is the Vitruvian Man, a diagram of sin drawn by “genius” Leonardo Da Vinci, who we all know is a renowned homosexualist. Just imagine if your child saw this, legs splayed out in all its glory. How are you going to explain to you child that a naked man in a starfish position can roughly touch the circumference of an imagined circle? You know what else has five points and occupies a circle? A PENTAGRAM. This is unacceptable, and any visual citation of this piece should at least produce a warning message so parents can avert their young ones’ eyes.

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The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli. First of all, Venus is not real, so how can they give us the impression that she exists? Second of all, I can see that Venus is still interested in maintaining her modesty because a floaty forest nymph is hurrying to cover her with a flowing scarf, but in the first place, what self-respecting woman would emerge NAKED out of a giant clam shell like that? And did you know that giant clams are endangered!? DISGUSTING. What kind of environment-hating nipple-freeing society are we trying to encourage here? I say we exercise our best judgment and censor pictures of this piece. Or, we can create a new version where she is already wearing the red silk scarf. It doesn’t have to be boring, we’re not trying to stifle creativity here. I’m guessing maybe we can drape it like in this Hermes demo here:

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This bustier asymétrique looks quite chic, no? Very fashion forward.

Anyway, this atrocity of nudity continues even in baroque works and in pieces following the French Revolution. You’d think we would know better, but it only goes to show that the arts is a hotbed for debauchery to fester. Boorish oil paintings have been flourishing under the guise of fine art for so long, like the underground rat population at Bukit Batok. Abhorrent.

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This is Lady Liberty Leading the People. Leading them where you ask?

INTO SIN.

Is there a need for her chest to be exposed? Who is that small boy next to her? Does his mother know he’s been frolicking around with firearms and Ms Bare-It-All? What kind of agenda is this promoting? Why does the man on the left look like Abraham Lincoln? The artist got one thing right. Notice all the dead bodies piling up in the foreground of the work? This work is prophetic. It’s announcing the arrival of society’s decay, which we will no doubt come to with the leadership of naked people.

It’s tempting to cast blanket statements about the aggressive and radical liberisation of Western powers, and to say that the hegemony and hypervisibility of their images have infiltrated even the most Confucian of our Asian hearts. We, however, owe this topic a little more nuance in thought. Our own art pieces have been obscene and masquerading as cultural treasures, even in trusted institutions like the National Gallery Singapore.

 

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Tell me, if you were sitting around forlornly looking at your rattan baskets of radishes, will you be topless? What sort of degenerate society was Cheong Soo Pieng seeking to depict? Our Southeast Asian civilisation is one that is dignified and we know where our morals stand. This is unacceptable, and it’s a shame that even now, with the benefit of postmodern rationality, we are unable to shed images of nakedness. Nakedness is a carnal sin. It’s a violation of nature. Don’t ask me how but I just know it’s unnatural and I bet even Adam and Eve at least had leaves or something.

These harmful images aren’t just confined within the walls of museums. They’ve invaded public spaces. They have the audacity to display genitals, loud and proud, in full view of passers-by who did nothing to consent to such violations.

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Absurd. There’s not one but FIVE naked boys, and all of them seem to be delighting in their obscenity. There’s no bronze pile of clothes lying near the river, so I doubt that the boys were even going to put on clothes after their debaucherous swim. They might have even walked naked to the river. Who lives near the river? They’re either rich (and should know better, they should guard their reputations) or they live in a neighbourhood estate and came all the way out just to display their dingdongs near the river, an icon of national identity. This has gone too far.

There are so many other pieces that should be pointed out, but alas, I am only one diligent citizen. Fellow Singaporeans, I urge you all to be on the look out for any flashes of skin, and to report them. We cannot be complacent in our fight against lawless genitalia regalia. Let’s all do our part to protect our young ones.

The Yearbook Entry on Being Special

“Nothing is so common-place as the wish to be remarkable.”
Oliver Wendell-Holmes Sr.

When I first stepped into this school we wore “best and brightest” proudly brandished on our sleeves. I remember sitting in the MPH, looking around and genuinely believing that I’ve found safety and security. I’ve worked so hard in junior college and I’ve slept over in the art studio for so many nights and now I’ve finally found my Eden. Years of the Singaporean education system have led me to believe that once I set foot into the pearly white gates of NUS, my life will be an air-conditioned cruise. I looked around at the bobbing blue and orange balloons and the bobbing heads of equally starry-eyed students and beamed. We are the 0.something accepted students. We are smart. We are special.

Now fast forward four years and I’m hurriedly typing my yearbook write-up from a beige cubicle at my internship. Don’t get me wrong – this isn’t an article about the grand failure of the liberal arts college education system. It’s about its success and, more importantly, about my expectations. I do have a little bit of a save-the-world thing going on, and if anything it’s been amplified through my studies here at Yale-NUS College, but I also learnt something crucial for every fledgling adult – I am not special. I may be passionate, I may be smart, but for the most part, so are other people, and it is mostly my socioeconomic position that determines where my cards fall in the game of life.

Above everything, my college experience has taught me that life isn’t about me. The fabric of the world is made up of 7 billion subjectivities, all woven together in a network where I am but a data point. The world doesn’t owe me anything. It doesn’t have to realise how supposedly wonderful I am. Instead, I have to be useful to the world. Much like Liam Neeson in his endless pursuit of stereotypical Eastern European mob bosses, I have a very particular set of skills, but I have to work hard to make them relevant to the people around me. Not a lot of people have been given the opportunity to learn things at an intersection (most people learn things narrowly, or they didn’t get to learn at all). I need to use this knowledge to lift communities and perform my little bit of the world’s act, and if I’m not doing my job well, then I better roll my sleeves up and put some elbow grease in it. There are things far bigger than myself that are worth fighting for, and I’m going to devote my time and my skills to them.

I know it doesn’t look it, but I’m optimistic about the future. Call it the foolishness of youth if you will, but I think we’re at a pivotal point in human history. More information is freely available on the internet today than in the last hundreds of years combined. Young people continue to innovate to close both physical and institutional gaps in our social environment. There are more literate people today than in any point in history, and rapid globalisation has made it possible for us to identify the common humanity in vastly different peoples. Who knows, maybe after the Big Robot Replacement, we’ll overcome the ravages of capitalism and then all of us will be freer to work jobs that require human interaction. In any case, I’m excited to be a part of all this, and I have been fortunate enough to be educated and to understand how the world is evolving. Former colonies are negotiating their relationship to the West, the rise of secularism has been met with a resurgence of religious fervour, the supply chain is expanding (further separating workers from their products of labour), populations are slowly congregating and homogenising, and the internet has formed new visual vocabularies (literal memes). Interesting times to live in.

In situating myself in functional society and in writing my final thoughts down for the school yearbook, it would be odd, and even suspicious, to leave school culture unmentioned. I still stand by the opinion that the school doesn’t produce special geniuses. What the school has a knack for producing though, are people who would walk with me to Cheers at midnight, and people who make a really good cup of genmaicha for a sobbing friend. This school is more than a school to me. It has been my home for the last four years. And it doesn’t matter what building we’re in, because we’re not held together by institutional rules – we’re friends. I know every single face from the Class of 2017, and I know at least one factoid about each person, because we’ve all crossed paths at some point in our college career. I don’t talk to everyone on a regular basis (regrettably), but everyone plays a crucial part of our community, and every absence is felt. The school didn’t quite feel complete when so many of us were abroad in our third year. The dining halls were noticeably quieter when David wasn’t around to tell me about some independent play in Malaysia. Drawing sessions were duller when Chen Xi left for a bit. I remember returning from my first summer internship and everyone was excited to see other Yale-NUS students again.

It’s easy to lose sight of all this when we’re in such a competitive environment. We live from deadline to deadline. Work is never done. In the first two years, we had problems with event attendance because we were all too busy planning our own events to be audiences for someone else’s. We are preoccupied with ideas which are either spatially or temporally distant, such that we don’t live in the proverbial here and now – upcoming interviews, case studies, model conferences, exhibitions, fellowships. These things are important, but so is the reality in front of us. We are, immediately, human.

I’m struggling to find the words to close this write-up. I’m typing this at the end-of-year break, a good semester away from our actual graduation, so I only have a vague understanding of how anyone would be feeling. It’s a quiet kind of sadness that wells up in my chest when I walk to the dining hall with my friends. I know drifting apart is inevitable for most of the people I’ve met here. But I hope that after our graduation, every Class of 2017 student reading this knows that they have a friend in me, even if we didn’t quite speak to each other. I hope Facebook does what it’s supposed to do and gives me updates about your new experiences, and you can always count on me to provide a scathing feminist comment on your political statuses.

 

Love,

Natalie

 

 

 

 

Awareness of Other People’s Humanity

Hello everyone. Since the last time we’ve spoken (yes, I think of this as a conversation and no it’s not weird at all, stop saying that), Donald Trump has become the USA president-elect, the South Korean president was revealed to be a witch doctor fanatic and Lady Gaga released an album where she’s not transfiguring into an Artistic Symbol on the cover. It’s been a strange few months but otherwise business as usual. The South Korean thing is particularly weird because I imagine that would be how an auntie with a hairy mole would run a government. Just ask the downstairs fortune teller how the housing market is going, and then type everything with one finger onto a food-stained Samsung Galaxy tablet with a denim flip case. Didn’t think chronic auntieness was a phenomenon up North, or that the presidency would be accessible to one with such an affliction.

Those things are just the recent happenings in the public sphere. I know my light-hearted tone doesn’t quite set the mood for this, but in terms of my personal life, it’s taken quite a toll this semester, and even that is an understatement. I’m not going into the details of everything primarily because I don’t want to concern you, my dear reader, with my issues. What’s important though is that things have really gotten me thinking about how our immediate environment has the power to blind us to everything else.

I live in a high-rise college dormitory now and I  have a pretty great view over a main road and the West of Singapore, all the way up to the coast. I look out sometimes and can’t believe that there’s so many people in Singapore, and that there’s so much more outside of this country. I can’t really see into apartments but I can see the lights go on and off and I know that there’s someone there flicking the switch who has a life which completely has nothing to do with me. She probably has friends and a Facebook profile, maybe a son, maybe she likes the Angry Birds movie. Who knows. Some apartments have a red light. I wonder if they have a Buddhist shrine. On the road I see motorbikes and taxis and I hope the taxi uncle gets home safe. When I’m in my room writing for hours all I experience in those hours are my thoughts about Laura Mulvey or whatever, but then I look up and I realise how small and insignificant I am. In light of all this, any social obligation seems arbitrary.

We’re getting into philosophical territory now and I hope you bear with me. I think we live in our heads too much, and all these learned social conventions and abstract principles are preventing us to see the basic functions that are happening right in front of us. What my life is. Too often I find myself thinking about an upcoming exam or about Game of Thrones 3-headed dragon theories and I lose what should be common sense awareness about my surroundings. What do I mean exactly?

Fellow young people walking around campus become social NOs to avoid so I don’t give them eye contact. People who are holding brooms and pushing trolleys become Cleaners who are somehow so fundamentally different from me that I cannot speak to them. The woman who wakes up and puts on her orange Foodclique uniform is just the woman who makes me ice milo. Humans stop seeming human to me, and start appearing like robots who have been programmed into my mundane day-to-day. I guess what I really want to say is that I don’t want to forget that the prata man is going through some shit too, and the world won’t explode if I can’t conjure a perfect thesis statement.