Slutwalk SG and why it’s relevant

This is going to be one of my rare political posts.  You’ve been warned.

Last year I was proud to take Ellie and Rhiannon to the first Slutwalk in Singapore.  I believe deeply in the Slutwalk mission-to call attention to and try to end rape culture.

What is rape culture?  A short list to illustrate rape culture–

  • We teach our daughters “don’t get raped” instead of teaching our sons “don’t rape.”
  • We teach our daughters and our sons that men are animals who can’t control themselves from sexually assaulting.
  • We don’t teach our kids about consent-what it does and doesn’t look like.
  • We teach victim blaming–the first response to a report of rape is “what was she wearing/how many men has she dated/etc”.  That this is also the first response of the police is part of why rape is an under-reported crime.
  • American male politicians constantly coming up with idiocy like Todd Akin’s assertion that if a woman is REALLY raped, her body can “shut that down” and that pregnancy never comes of REAL rape.

For a more detailed examination of rape culture, read this, this whole category of articles, this, or this among others.  If you go back and read last year’s post, I enumerate examples from my own life where I have experienced slut shaming and victim blaming.

SW1Slutwalk 2012

This year we again attended Slutwalk Singapore, braving the rain to lend our presence.  As with last year, I took both girls with me.  I explained Slutwalk to Elanor as “a party where we tell people we believe men and women should be treated equally,” which is close enough for a 4 year old.

While Ellie and Rhiannon are too young to understand the ethos of Slutwalk, I believe that taking them to the event is setting the stage for the kind of women I want to help them become–strong, confident women who reject sexist patriarchal definitions of what it means to be a woman.  I want them to embrace their sexuality, regardless of whether they are asexual, LGBTQ, monogamous or polyamorous, and to own that sexuality rather than be ashamed of it or feel fearful of being who they are.  I want them to know what consent is.  I want them (when they are older) to be critical consumers of pop culture, which treats rape as a convenient plot device among other sins that contribute to rape culture.  In taking them to this sort of event at a young age, I am making a statement–that a rejection of rape culture and all the accompanying sexist dogma is one of the most important lessons I can impart to them.

In talking about SlutwalkSG, the question I heard time and time again is “Why do we need that in Singapore?”

In Singapore it is NOT rape if

  • It is forced oral sex
  • It is forced anal sex
  • Anything other than a penis is used to penetrate the vagina
  • The rapist is your husband
  • You are a man

I think by now it is impossible to have not heard the story of the Delhi Rape Victim. Her story is one of the most extreme examples of a very common, rarely reported, even more rarely prosecuted, and almost never convicted crime–that of Rape/Sexual Assault (you can see a country by country breakdown from the UN here.).

The Delhi rape case happened approximately two weeks after we stood in the rain lending our support to SlutwalkSG.  The young woman died in a Singapore hospital up the street from my home.  The reaction in Singapore was a mixture of grief and anger….underlined by a wave of xenophobia and superiority-that rape is something that happens elsewhere, or is committed here by foreign workers.

Screen Shot 2013-01-17 at 9.44.35 PM

The comment above is from my twitter feed.  There was back and forth regarding race with this person and others.  I pointed out that my husband was Indian.  No, I was told, it’s Indians from India who rape (again, connotation foreign workers–the laborers who do the construction work here among other things).  I counted with the question of whether that meant that my Father in Law, who was born in India was then more likely to be a rapist than my husband, who was born in America.

There were a spate of letters to the editor of the Straits Times (including this letter, best summarized as “rape is awful but what about those evil sluts who falsely accuse men and ruin their lives–WHAT ABOUT THE MEN?”-something that happens incredibly rarely–rape is an extremely under-reported crime, not an over-reported one), comments to articles about the rape victims, and plenty of twitter chest beating that Singapore is safe and we don’t have that problem (except when foreign workers do the raping–and we should be worried about all the women of Singapore).

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I attended a candelight vigil for the Delhi rape victim.  While I was glad to see both men and women at the vigil, I couldn’t help but feel that some of the attendees-specifically the men who were laying down signs like the one above–were still missing the larger point.  Yes, rape is wrong.  Thank you for acknowledging that.  However, we still have an issue if you are contributing to the larger sexism and patriarchy that help form rape culture.  Women are NOT born to be pampered and cherished by men.  That statement is equally troubling as the idea that we exist to be sexual playthings.  It objectifies and diminishes.

There was a recent political scandal in Singapore involving MP Michael Palmer (think Congressman level official, American friends) who resigned after his affair with a staffer became public.  Once the name of the woman he’d had an affair with was revealed (by his political party officials), public attention largely shifted from him to her (and the potential by-election).  Those who look to blame her (or evaluate her looks to deem her worthy of a career ending affair) are no different from those involved in the Petraeus affair coverage in the US.

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Finally, I present to you part of a new anti-crime ad campaign that came out within the last few weeks.  This ad is either incredibly tone deaf or a massive failed attempt at irony.  It also (mis)places the blame and onus on women–that it is OUR responsibility to not be molested, rather than the fault of the person who molests us.  “Be escorted home”–because we’re children who need protection, or that if we do walk home alone and are raped, it is our fault?  “Stiff penalties”–really, STIFF?  FAIL FAIL FAIL. (Jezebel’s article on this ad can be read here)

The US is certainly not exempt from sexism and rape culture.  The coverage of an accusation of rape, and the town’s backlash against the victim from Steubenville Ohio is shameful.  Anita Sarkeesian, owner of the popular website Feminist Frequency began a kickstarter campaign to make a series of videos to critique tropes surrounding women in video games…and some (largely men) were so threatened/offended by this that they lashed out in horrific ways, including threatening to rape her and creating a video game where you could punch a picture of her that would look progressively bruised and bleeding.  In no way is my home country off the hook.

This post is not meant to bash Singapore, but rather to bring to light that Singapore has room for improvement when it comes to issues of rape, sexism and gender bias.  If you need to ask why we need slutwalk in Singapore, you’re not paying attention.

Side note–If you are a first time commenter, your comment will be held for moderation before publication.  I read and try to respond to all comments on my blog.  I’m fine with dissension, but be polite.  I reserve the right not to publish a comment or to delete a comment if you are rude.

EDITED TO ADD—
Within 24 hours of writing this essay, the Straits Times published a letter which can best be summarized as “Marriage equals lifetime consent so marital rape doesn’t exist.”  My pal Kirsten does a great job of dissecting this letter here.

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5 Responses to Slutwalk SG and why it’s relevant

  1. NFA says:

    Thank you for this.

  2. That poster immediately made me sick. What kind of idiots came up with that. And I had no clue about the definition of rape in Singapore – very disturbing to me.

    Thanks for this article Crystal.

    • The very narrow definition of rape then also defines how many rapes Singapore then reports to organizations like the UN, which is a false deflation of actual occurrences. You also have to ask yourself how many FDW’s are raped but don’t report it out of fear-that power dynamic is unfortunately ripe for that sort of abuse. And if she turns up pregnant, no one would believe her if the employer claimed it was a foreign worker boyfriend.

  3. marajaded says:

    A friend of mine asked if i wanted to go for slutwalk last year. I told her no cause I never saw the relevance to me here in sg. To me I’ve always felt safe wearing whatever / how little i wanted and I knew / felt that it would never be a problem here. I thought that’s what slutwalk meant. That a woman dressed /acting like a slut doesn’t ask to be raped and I felt that was not true here.

    I never realised how much victim blaming / slut shaming we do here, and heck, I’m probably guilty of it myself. it was only the recent events (various sg sex scandals and the whole she’s not even pretty comments) really opened my eyes to how real this problem is.

    I do have a question,and please don’t take it the wrong way. I stress, no means no and no woman ever asks to be raped, but, in that same breath, no person asks to be robbed and yet we are also taught to not flash out wealth / lock our doors etc. Do you consider them the same? I have slept on this issue for a while and i can’t seem to think my way out of this one.. To me it kinda is the same and yet not.

    • Thank you for commenting.

      I think that you raise a very common question and one that many people struggle with.

      I stress, no means no and no woman ever asks to be raped, but, in that same breath, no person asks to be robbed and yet we are also taught to not flash out wealth / lock our doors etc. Do you consider them the same?

      I don’t consider it a great metaphor, but let me try….

      I have a neighbor on Zion Road who drives a Maserati. I know they have a Maserati because they make a point of parking it just outside their home and I drive past it every day. A quick google search tells me a Maserati is easily a $400+k car (not counting COE). If that’s not flashing your wealth, it’s hard to imagine what is. If I steal it because I like pretty sportscars, and they’re silly enough to park it outside instead of in a garage, have I committed an offense? Does society believe that it’s possible, given enough temptation that I can be excused and empathized with for stealing that car? Cars are meant to be driven, and it’s just sitting there–it’s begging to be driven, isn’t it? Or should I be expected to have enough self control to look, to feel a bit wistful as I drive by in my momcar (that I don’t even own-Hyundai owns it, I lease it), and not help myself to something that is not mine to drive?

      I am a woman. I have great legs. Sometimes I like to wear my fire-engine red dress (with the short skirt) and stilettos and do my hair and makeup and go out looking sexy in part to show them off. Sometimes I even go to a bar, and separate from my partner to go get a drink at the bar. There are times I don’t wear my rings, so let’s suppose I’m not wearing them. Does someone who finds me attractive have the right to approach me/ to offer to buy me a drink/ ask me to dance/ ask for my number/ etc? Absolutely. Do they have the right to put a hand up my skirt and cop a feel of my ass? No. Hard stop.

      Just as I am expected to have enough self control to not help myself to a touch or drive of my neighbor’s Maserati, I expect men to have enough self control to not touch or fuck me without my consent.

      I think there is a huge disservice done to men in this equation. Are men truly so ruled by hormones that they are dangerous sexual predators as the mere sight of a female’s cleavage? They’re not, although there’s plenty of entrenched gendered thinking that teaches men they’re supposed to be that way. They’re supposed to be constantly sexual. I’ve even heard that a woman can’t rape a man because men always want to have sex, but an unaroused male can be forced to have a hard-on by prostate stimulation even against his will. Men aren’t that base. And if they are, why are we victimizing women rather than locking up all men? Why ask women to wear a burqa instead of asking men to wear blindfolds?

      Then there is the slippery slope of what constitutes flashing one’s physical wealth, so to speak. Is it a push-up bra? A tank top strap less than an inch wide? A visible bra strap? The lack of a bra? How short of a skirt? How tight of a skirt? Or is it too tight a pant? Skinny jeans? Only if they’re paired with heels (after all my short skirted little black dress is sexy with heels, but fairly casual with flip flops)? Only heels over a specific height? If she smiles at you? If she tosses her hair? If she stands too close? If she’s alone? If she’s with only one friend? If she’s only with other women? It’s an individual thing…what I consider too sexy you may not and vice versa…and that’s the sort of question that has led to very restrictive dress regulations.

      All of that said, do I prance about in what I consider nightclub appropriate attire all of the time? No, *I* do not choose to do so. But just as with oh so many other things…just because I don’t choose to do something doesn’t mean I think I have the right to impose that choice on others.

      So we circle back to the question…and I have to again ask…if we discuss sex or if we discuss a maserati

      1-Should I have enough self control not to steal that which I am not entitled to, that which I have not received consent to touch?

      or

      2-Should I have the right to give into my longing for something and help myself to it without permission because I want it?

      Consent is the key. Without consent it is theft, it is rape, and it is unwanted. Attire doesn’t constitute consent, no matter how inviting you might find it. If my neighbor left the keys in his Maserati’s ignition and the door unlocked, I am still not entitled to drive it.

      Permission. Consent. Those are the only things that matter. And without consent, without permission….it’s a crime. But I’m more likely to be convicted of stealing the car. Only 3% of rapists are convicted (likely a lower statistic as we don’t know the full extent of unreported sexual assault).

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