TL;DR: Women, men, activists, allies. If in your life you’ve never felt afraid, uncomfortable, abuse, harassed. If you’ve never been raped, molested, coerced into something you didn’t want but couldn’t stop. If you’ve never identified with #MeToo or the reckoning that’s going down, know that the movement still needs and wants your voice. If you don’t want to speak up, that’s cool too. But for women everywhere, please reconsider speaking out against the movement, or to at least think about why and what you’re speaking against.
For the sake of all the women who say #MeToo and find the courage to tell their stories as uncomfortable as it is, please, do not silence them/us, or publicly dismiss a movement just because what women around the world continue to struggle with every single day has never happened to you, too.
And What If It Isn’t #YouToo?
I’d first like to acknowledge all the different types of feminists there are today. There are more sub-sections of feminism than ever before, ranging from women who just want equality and proper representation in their careers and in the government to those of us who cannot help but see inequality in almost every aspect of life. (Warning: spending too much time in the former leads straight to the latter.)
Whichever path you’re on, this week has been a busy one for outspoken women all over the world. Beyond the high-level Hollywood calling out of men with #MeToo we’re now talking about something that makes everyone a LOT more uncomfortable: the grey area of uncomfortable, avoidable, consensual sex. When you weren’t 100% in but you never said you didn’t want to, and now you feel awful but you don’t have anyone to blame because remember, you could’ve said stop, but you didn’t. You might’ve said oh…. Or you might’ve said meh. You might the next day say, I really wish that didn’t happen. But you didn’t say stop.
So now we’re at a huge crossroads in the movement, and in the world, about consent, and by the movement I mean the large, growing and scattered movement of people across the globe who say #MeToo or #TimesUp or who have said nothing at all, but appreciate that we’re finally, FINALLY, talking about this.
We’re doing it. We are finally doing what too many of us have waited so fucking long for.
What this conversation has also done is to open a billion doors for further thought, study and dismantling, brilliantly summed up by Jameela Jamil here.
But even as we as individuals, as organisers and as members of a larger cause figure out where we’re going with this, cracks are already starting to show. These cracks have always been there: women who are quick to dismiss feminism like Women Against Feminism and #whyidontneedfeminism both of which are unfortunately actual things.
And now perhaps the most important part of the conversation, the everyday things we accept as ‘normal’, is something fundamentally grey, and as a result way too easy to dismiss and speak out against. It’s disheartening, and it’s downright heartbreaking to see fellow women dismiss the assault so many others have struggled with over so long, a movement that has become so vital to so many.
There aren’t any easy answers, but here’s what I think we should do:
For women who are in this to fight, let’s continue to do all we can in our own communities to right the wrongs that have continued for so long and to change the present and the future for women. Let’s rally together and accept our differences of opinions that exist so strongly in the feminist community. Let’s support each other in the main goal of safety for women and equality for all.
For those who are not on board, let’s at least decide to not to actively dismantle the work of our sisters. To listen, instead of to correct. To try to understand instead of to judge. To make each other better, instead of arguing how we could have handled it better ourselves. Even in the wake of #MeToo it is never easy to speak out. Women have become so conditioned to be cautious about how we talk about this. The first thing a victim of abuse or harassment says, is very unlikely to be the main part of her story. If she doesn’t get to speak, maybe her story will never be told, and never be heard.
Even if we are not inclined to take to the streets and march, or to write blogs about feminism, or to identify as a feminist at all, let’s at least agree not to silence each other.
The most important thing right now is to make the world an equal, safer and more inclusive space for each other. We can make this happen. But none of us can do it on our own.
More writing on feminism:
Five years ago, I wrote a list for myself before my 25th birthday. It was an insanely chaotic and turbulent time in my life, and amid the (seemingly at least) calm and successful lives of others I needed a reminder to myself that I was doing okay, in my own time. So, I wrote this list, which you can read in full and with photos here.
Tomorrow, I turn 30 and I figured I’d keep the list going with five more things that I’m proud of today, for the next time I need a reminder.
26 – 30
A strong opinion on anything has the potential to push people away, and can cost you your pride and often your friendships. Near the top of this list is feminism (second only to veganism, see no. 10 below). The older I get, the more assured I am that if there’s one thing I want to commit to talking about and acting on, it’s this. I have always cared passionately for the cause. It is only in more recent years that I’ve been unafraid to shine a light on the less popular and darker side of why we need feminism. Workplace harassment. Rape culture. Everyday misogyny. It doesn’t come without consequence, but it is a necessary fight, and I have been and am 100 percent in.
27. Moved to China
Beijing quickly proved to become an addition that I dived headfirst into and barely managed to tear myself away from. The first time living away from home, going it alone, getting a job overseas and being a stranger in a big city. It’s here I met some of my best friends (one of whom I’d end up marrying).
28. Moved to Russia
Because while we’re at it, why not, right? Russia seems crazier than China to most people, but compared to the chaos of Beijing it’s an easy calm where everything works and people don’t shout. They stare, though, and getting started was the opposite of easy. I still can’t believe I live here.
29. Moved up in my career
Russia seems calm, until you get into its politics, and similar to China, it’s entirely possible to miss that scene completely if you’re not actively in it. After years of trying to get into the news scene instead of the lifestyle, advertising, PR scene I started out in, I finally made it to hard news. It’s been the plan for so long: I started my first full-time job at 19 with the intention of getting here one day. This has been 11 years in the making.
30. 30 countries before 30
I’m not saying I made the most financially savvy decisions, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. And as much as I loved the thrill for wandering the globe solo, I now have someone to wander with.
The Original List By a Much Younger Self
1. Hair for Hope
Shaved off all my past-shoulder length curls to raise funds for kids with cancer. More than $2000 was the final count. One of the things I’m most proud of.
2. Mum & Dad’s 25th
Threw the best surprise party for Mum & Dad’s 25th anniversary complete with childhood friends, freshly flown in Sister from Sydney, buffet spread and their favourite priest to renew their vows.
3. Quitting my job
Quitting your job because it makes you unhappy might be the wisest career choice you make.
4. Backpacking solo
And then I took off into the wild, met some of the most interesting people I’ve ever come across and backpacked solo in South-East Asia.
I spent the most time in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, teaching English to orphans and street kids. It was there I learnt that people in developed countries are not as rich as we seem. Those kids taught me what joy really is.
6. Barefoot for Poverty
Raising awareness for people who can’t afford shoes by walking a day in their life. Experienced both the ugliest and kindest behaviour from fellow Singaporeans.
Worked with the National Solidarity Party behind-the-scenes as part of the Social Media team during the General Election period. We fought a good fight.
8. Peace & Conflict
Represented our little island in a 3-week course in Southern Thailand about Peace & Conflict in the region. An amazing introduction to South-East, South and Central Asian politics, conflicts and people.
From taking photos and sneakily distributing flyers for Make Poverty History to selling tshirts for SlutWalk SG, joining the fight for Yong Vui Kong’s life and saying NO to the Death Penalty, there’s so much to be done. It’s amazing to be a part of something great.
10. Vegan with a Vengeance [edit: not vegan anymore]
Vegetarian is easy. Vegan is hard. That is all.
11. I Fought the Law
A remarkable fight for justice in university, when I was denied a fair grade because of scumbag lecturer. It went all the way to the top. I won.
12. Meeting Paul & Mick
I met Paul Simonon and Mick Jones (bassist and guitarist from the Clash) and Paul said I was pretty, and that I inspired him with my passion for their music.
Being 1 of 2 kids running a website and a team of 17 reporters was crazy, so much fun and a great introduction to path I later ventured into in my career.
14. Full-Time Job & Degree
Getting your degree with holding down a job in an advertising agency has been done by lots of people. That doesn’t make it easy.
15. New York, New York
Being selected to go on a journalism field trip to New York where we met lots of important people from NYT, Boston Globe, MTV and all that.
16. JD Pilgrimage
I visited Ian Curtis’ grave in Macclesfield. I c/wouldn’t leave until they made me.
17. Moving Up
I have at least once been given a raise and a promotion. The fact that I can successfully do grown-up stuff still fascinates me.
18. Band Travel
Whether it’s Hong Kong or London, I’m there if a band I love is there. I like this about myself.
19. Roller Derby
I bought some skates, put them on and have never looked back since.
20. Broken Bone
Painful, frustrating and tiring, but it is actually something I’m glad to have experienced. A badge of honour in my Roller Derby life. Once is enough.
21. Getting Help and Letting Go
Acknowledging that there were some things I couldn’t handle on my own and realising that even the best people out there need help. And I’m so much better for it.
Writing a blog post about painful parts of my past and sharing them with the world is possibly the scariest thing I have done. The amount of support shown, and the number of friends who confided in me, as a result, was overwhelming, humbling and beautiful.
I fell in love with children on a mountain while helping to rebuild their homes. I think about them every day.
I completed National Novel Writing Month. My 50, 027 words are still a work in progress, but I finished it.
25. Being 25
After a year that has seen so much change, disappointment, joy, confusion, love, heartbreak, trust and misplaced hopes, I’m back on track with a new job, old friends, amazing family, countless crazy Internet people, and a badass list to remind myself in dark and lonely times that I have done, am doing, and will continue to do some amazing things.
Note: I care a great deal about any form of harassment, discrimination, and abuse, including harassment against men and transgendered people. For the sake of this post and in light of the recent news and movements, I’m in particular addressing the plight of women, and the action we need by men.
Today, all over the Internet are women (and some men) who have bravely come out to say Me Too – a viral movement to shine a light on just how many women we know and love have experienced some form of sexual harassment.
As a loud and proud feminist, I have never been shy about discussing these issues. They’re not comfortable, but they’re necessary to publicly discuss and using the platforms I have, I have always been vocal about the rights and safety of women.
The #MeToo movement comes after a particularly busy week in my young female life, which makes it hit home, hard. Harder than usual.
Last Tuesday while waiting for my husband Martin on a busy street with plenty of lights and people, I was circled slowly by a man who then sidled up to me to start a conversation. I wasn’t threatened, but I was annoyed and uncomfortable, of course. As he stood talking, leaning in closer and waiting for me to shake his hand, all I could think of was how hard I had to force myself to not shake his hand in return. It’s been so firmly instilled in us: even when you’re being harassed, even when you’re uncomfortable and intimidated, you have to be polite. That’s what nice girls do.
Now in the last few months of my 20s, I’m done with being a nice girl. I don’t have time to play nice with assholes. I didn’t shake his hand and he eventually trudged away, and I privately congratulated myself on this little victory: that I managed to not shake the hand of a man who was making me uncomfortable. Baby steps and small victories.
The next day, I was with Martin at a supermarket. On the way out, I noticed a man staring at me, head to toe, the kind of stare that strips you in an incredibly disconcerting way. Feeling unafraid because while it was late, I wasn’t alone, I stared the fool down as he continued to mentally strip me.
As our paths crossed, he said, “….sex?”
“Yeah sure, your place or mine?” is not at all what I said, instead laughing, hard, though on hindsight I can’t say if it’s because I thought it was funny or as a reflex action in the face of unease. That’s another thing that we women do when afraid or uncomfortable: we (fearfully and uncomfortably) laugh.
Just a day later, more supermarket adventures presented themselves, this time in the form of two men giving me all the creepy stares a girl could
ask for violently object to, singing loudly with lyrics along the lines of “beautiful girl”.
Again, my husband was with me – but in both supermarket occasions, he was a couple of feet away. Fair game as long as you don’t have a man actually draped over your shoulders, right? Not right. Not right at all.
I thought the week’s harassment ended here. I posted about this on Facebook, and I eagerly looked forward to the support of family and friends, and another fresh week ahead, removed from all this bullshit and the fear, intimidation and unsettlement it brings.
Enter a surprise special guest: Saturday night, the fourth day in a week. A man on the subway platform tightly grabbed my wrist and yanked me towards him. I cried out in surprise, and Martin spun around, much to the horror of my assailant who had thought I was alone. He ran like the wind and by the time we marched over with the station guards in tow, he’d slipped away.
What We Can Do
Now, I’ve had it up to here (here being as high up as you can imagine) and I am exhausted after a week where four times, I was harassed and attacked for no reason other than the fact that I was a young woman, and one presumed to be alone. Walking down a busy street, shopping in a supermarket, taking the subway, anywhere at all. This is not something that happens once or twice to one or two females. This is something that happens constantly, consistently, around the world, to women everywhere.
Another harsh reality: My week, while it was a really awful week, is not the worst week a woman could have.
There are women who fight back hard, like this woman who took selfies with her street harassers, or this woman who engaged her cat-callers in conversation to understand what all this aggression was about.
There are also many situations where safety is the first and often the only thing to be considered. There isn’t always a nearby husband, boyfriend, friend or security guard to scare off the harasser and sometimes, all you can think of is how to get home safely. Safety always has to be the first priority, and this is something I’ve had to fiercely teach myself.
There’s a lot of feminist rage in me, and after years of going for martial arts classes and countless boot camps, I have to consistently tell myself that as a 5ft3 (160cm) female, I’m not going to win a fight against most (if not all) men if it gets physical. (Truth: my heart broke a little as I typed that. I wish with all my might that it wasn’t true, but it is, and it f*cking sucks, but this truth is more important than the fact that it sucks.)
But what we can do is keep talking about it. Don’t let #MeToo be a fad. Sure, it’s uncomfortable to keep talking about things like this – but if we continue to make it unavoidable, it is a problem that becomes increasingly difficult to ignore.
Which brings me to my next point.
Men, We Need You
Let me say that again.
Men? WE NEED YOU.
If you’ve read this far, I’m assuming you’re not a #notallmen ‘activist’ – (If you are, it is implied, always, that obviously not all men and also read this). You are key to the safety and well-being of women everywhere, both physically and socially. Another thing it pains me to think about is that your voice as a man is worth a whole lot – often a whole lot more than a woman’s.
But that’s how it is, at least for now.
Men, we need you to speak up. Don’t let the only voices today be women speaking up with our countless examples of harassment and abuse. Be the voice that says I will not stand by as this happens to women all over the world. Be the voice that says, not if I can do anything about it.
Think about the fact that while you’re picking up milk a the supermarket or running for the bus, it’s highly unlikely that you’re fearing for your safety just by existing. Women don’t always have that privilege.
Use your privilege for good, and be the voice that this movement needs.
We need you, today and always, on the streets and on the internet, so much more than you know.
I have been away from home for a while now but this week, home feels a little further away.
For those who have managed to miss it or who aren’t from Singapore, here’s the gist of it. Local actor Shrey Bhargava wrote in a Facebook post how he was asked to exaggerate an Indian accent when auditioning for a role in Jack Neo’s Ah Boys To Men 4, which is a local film about army life for male Singaporeans. He was offended, but he did it, and felt disgusted after.
Side note: I’ve been asked to ‘perform’ a Singlish accent among foreign friends before. I did it once, everyone laughed in delight, and I felt that same disgust immediately after. My ethnicity, my nationality, the way I speak in the company of friends and family, is not a party trick. An exaggeration of your identity is not for anyone else’s amusement. Even among foreign friends I sometimes spontaneously break out the Singlish but here’s the difference: doing it because you want to and doing it on request are worlds apart.
Shrey subsequently wrote this post. Many fellow minorities have come out to share similar experiences. Many Chinese Singaporeans have expressed regret, shame, anger. But so many people. SO many people. Have now come out of the woodwork waving a “LOL guess what everyone I’m kinda racist” flag, previously hidden under their beds, previously only taken out in the company of like-minded friends.
I write this as a minority. I write this as someone who has only ever known what it is to be a minority. I have written about racism in Singapore before, and like any minority, I have a lifetime of experiences and examples I could share.
But this week, my heart hangs heavier than it ever has before. For the first time, people I’ve known for years have come out to rant about the validity of Shrey’s experience. “It’s just comedy,” they say.
And you know what? It’s fine if you, as someone who has enjoyed the privilege of being the majority, don’t know what it’s like, or if you can’t imagine why it hurts. But no one who has decided to join the angry mob dedicated to the very public lowering of our flag has stopped to first ask – “Is that how it feels? I had no idea.” And I really wish they had asked; I still hope some will.
You don’t get to decide that just because you don’t know how it feels, the rejection, shame, fear and occasional self-loathing that often comes with being a minority is invalid or should be invisible. Make an effort to understand instead of denying the deep-rooted racism our allegedly racially harmonious country has.
Today, I am especially grateful for my Chinese friends who have stood up tall against other members of the majority race who demean and invalidate the experiences they will never have the misfortune of knowing. In the same way I believe men are a key part of feminism and equality, the ethnic majority has a voice they can use for good. Not like xiaxue. Please don’t be like xiaxue.
But we need to look at the fact that it took one Facebook post to tear a nation in two. It took one man saying, “This is what happened. This is how I feel and it sucks,” before thousands jumped on his words to loudly invalidate them. I get it. It’s uncomfortable to acknowledge the discomfort of others. But if for the sake of our continued comfort we disallow room for honesty, for discussion, for understanding, then our racial harmony is a sham, and a shallow one too.
It feels like this week we, as a country, have failed to live by what we recite in our pledge, what we claim to celebrate as a multi-ethnic nation.
Think of it this way: If it’s uncomfortable for someone in the majority to acknowledge that our country
is racist AF has a long way to go, imagine how it feels for the those who have lived it their whole lives. It isn’t just national pride or illusions of harmony at stake. It’s the dull thud that comes with realisation that in your home country, your identity has been deemed worth less than the entertainment of others, that your real experiences have been voted unfavourable, unworthy of further discussion and understanding. We’ll be ok just don’t talk about it shhhhhh.
I don’t write this in anger, or in hatred. I write this as a member of the minority whose heart hurts this week because the spotlight has at last been shone on the deep-rooted racism many of us tried to pretend wasn’t there, and now there’ s no denying it.
The part that hurts the most is this: Even after all this time and all my own experiences, part of me still desperately wanted to believe in Singapore’s racial harmony, too.
I’m getting married this July, and like any woman I’m getting increasingly excited and somewhat nervous about this. My fiancé is American, I’m from Singapore, we met in China and we live in Russia. It’s hard to plan two weddings from a country that neither wedding is taking place in (shoutout to our families who are doing so much!), and I’ve already started having dreams about everything going wrong.
But as someone who is all about equality, feminism, self-acceptance and patriarchy smashing, there are a couple of things that my impending wedding will not be about. Some things are easy decisions like not having a bouquet toss, not changing my name, or having gender neutral terms like ‘people of honour’ (instead of bridesmaids and groomsmen), and Most Honourable People (instead of a best man or maid of honour). Trust me, even I roll my eyes at myself every time I explain this one – but I wanted to make a point about equal opportunities and hey, it’s my wedding.
There are a couple of things that are more important still, and for the sake of any other bride or groom or person who needs a reminder that you’re gonna do just fine, here it is:
- It doesn’t need to be the best day of my life
I want this day to be really special, and I know that it will be. I’m marrying my partner and my best friend, and it’s a big deal. A huge deal. Families are coming together and it’s the official start of a new chapter. That’s the important bit. But the rest of it is just a day – a highly symbolic and important one, true – but it doesn’t need to be the best day of my life. It is something I will cherish forever I’m sure, and it is something that holds a great amount of importance and significance to me, my fiancé, our parents, our families and friends. But it isn’t an accomplishment, nor is it the most important thing I will ever do.
I want my wedding day to be special; I don’t need it to be perfect.
- I won’t diet for it
Some things just annoy me – like being asked if my fitness goals are all for my wedding. Hint: they aren’t. Some things just about break my heart – like being asked what my wedding diet goals are. I have friends who have dieted hard for their weddings, and more power to them; they have all looked amazing. But calorie counting for a single event is something I had already decided I wouldn’t do anymore – it just doesn’t work for me, and my wedding is no exception.
I love working out and getting fit, but clichéd as it sounds fitness to me is a journey rather than a destination. Asking someone how hard or how well they are dieting implies that you think they need to diet or change their bodies. Outside of the context of a wedding, a random “So, how’s the diet going?” would be harsh – I can’t see how weddings are any different.
I’ve spent a good portion of my life trying to fit into a body type that will never be mine, buying clothes a size too small to ‘work into it’ and trying to get skinny for Christmas, for someone else’s wedding, for some big event or other.
Not for my wedding. I want everyone, myself included, to be happy and comfortable. My fitness plan (less beer, more kettlebell swings because never mind skinny but dammit I will be strong) will stay in place, as it did before and as it will after the wedding. And if for just one day I get to make the rules, let it be this: Easy on the body shaming; we’re here to have fun and celebrate.
- I won’t wear makeup
This seems almost easy after I spent months considering continuing my anti-shaving agenda – my legs are currently hairier than my fair-haired fiancé’s. I don’t think I will, though. The world just isn’t ready.
But what I will do is rock up with a bare face because 1. I know I will cry and make a mess anyway 2. With the exception of eyeliner, I hate having makeup on and 3. Remember the whole patriarchy smashing thing.
Makeup can be a lot of fun, and it is to many people I know and love. It’s also a choice, and if it isn’t you, like it isn’t me, don’t do it.
Just like I won’t be in heels because I hate wearing them, and I don’t need my dress to be a surprise for my fiancé because I am not a gift to be presented, and no woman (or man) who’s getting married needs to fix themselves to qualify for the role.
It’s your wedding. You do you.
Having come back to school at 29, many of my classmates are in their late teens and early 20s. Can you believe it, I’m in a class with kids born in 1999? In 1999 I was busy choosing the coolest 2000 party glasses. Just sayin’.
photo from here
So, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’ll call the Middle Millennial, let’s say those in neither the oldest nor the youngest side of the scale. Born somewhere between 1986 and 1989 (though I imagine those +/- 2 or 3 years can relate to a lot of this).
Technically a child of the 80s, a decade you unfortunately have no personal experience in but can swear you were technically there, dammit. You were a kid in the 90s so you know VHS and cassettes and how to fix the latter with a pencil. You made mixtapes recorded from the radio; you’d wait all day to hear your song.
This should be a case for Mulder and Scully
You spent your time mucking about exploring drains, breaking into abandoned houses for no reason other than to explore and hunt ghosts. There you were, riding bikes with your neighbours, living a free, tie-dye, neon life. So many neon tights.
You were a teenager in the 00s so you’re a digital native who documented your angst on LiveJournal and hosted various IRC channels like a boss, you knew how to send alphanumeric texts to a pager and you had a mobile phone before they were smart. But the dialup song was the anthem of our time, and speaking of songs, what the hell was that whole Napster saga about?!
**SpaceGirl14 slaps you around with a large trout
But now you’re on all these same digital platforms as people not much younger than you and you feel like you’ve got this magical backstory to the Internet and life before. You know the secrets of a forgotten time. You caught the tail end of an era and were there for the bold new arrival of a new one, and you know both sides, but you were never really 100% in either.
That’s how you can feel a million years older than someone four of five years younger than you, and yet you still feel like a kid when your older friends mock your overuse of hashtags #amirite. You fit into both and you fit into neither.
You’re a bit of a nowhere person who just has to be cool with this generational limbo, and figure out how to respond (or not respond) when teenagers ask you what the 20th century was like the way you ask your parents about the 60s. You have to grudgingly share Harry Potter with today’s children and be content in your smugness because you can appreciate Stranger Things on a deeper level #fact.
Maybe this is relevant to me especially because I haven’t hung out with anyone over 30 for a long time now, and it
sort of really gets to you. So for now I’ll just chill here with my part-80s-kid-part-90s-kid-part-00s-kid self, reliving the salad days of our youth: a confusing coming-of-age tale that was splashed out across three decades, two centuries and endless days of in between.
Only at her insistence they shook her hand too, and with an overcompensating firmness.
Soft, smooth brown met weathered white leather
The sparkle in her eyes outshining their cataracts
Their waistlines rivalled only by the vastness of her imagination.
Isn’t she fascinating, they mused, with wandering eyes.
Isn’t she young, and isn’t she interesting, and my god, isn’t she feisty! But, what an awful lot she has to say, and I do wish she wouldn’t say it
To her, a young woman, a feminist, a fighter, with something important to say.
To them, a curly-haired gypsy girl dancing for her masters as they wined and dined on themselves and on each other, tapping her tambourine to the tune of their ego-stroking circle-jerk, twirling between the social orgy of their septuagenarian self-importance.
When will you have babies, their voices boomed like their generation once had, grinning and nudging each other like schoolboys who’d only just learned where babies come from.
It was just a joke, they sighed as deeply as their dwindling lungs would allow.
But as much as she tried, she couldn’t tear herself away from the battle for which all were present but only one fought.
And so she stayed, till every last one of these centenarians ran out of things to say, and they were wheeled off to the young wives who’d made them dinner, to the daughters who deserved so much more.