Saturday, December 3, 2011

SlutWalk Singapore: More Talk, Less Shame

A while ago, I was involved in a photoshoot for SlutWalk SG. It was for an art exhibition, so I agreed without hesitation. In the context of art, it was safe; it was acceptable to sit by the river in the middle of the day, legs open, cleavage showing, the word SLUT between my thighs. To make a point and in the name of art, sure I'd do it.

Yesterday I asked for the photo, planning to use it as a profile picture this SlutWalk weekend. But I couldn't. A picture of myself in a provocative position taken in an artistic context, now removed from the safety of a gallery and entering the mainstream. I wasn't a subject anymore, I was just me.

This is where the beauty of SlutWalk comes in. The reason why it's so powerful. The reason why we need it.

I felt ashamed, and it was a familiar feeling. This is what slut-shaming is about.

When I was 16, I was told by someone I was involved with who was literally twice my age that no one would love me for anything because I was more trouble than I was worth, that this was as good as it would get for me. This went on for a long time. At 16, I believed it, and continued to believe it for a long time after, and I was ashamed that I amounted to so little.

When I was 18, I was working at a bar and one day at a staff party, my manager, who was standing behind me, lets his hand wander down my top. I left. I cried. I told. He eventually denies it and says, "She must've been drunk, why would I want to touch her?" and he gets away with it. And I was ashamed that I let him get away with it. He was supposed to be looking out for me.

When I was 19, I was at a New Years Eve party at a relative's house, and a family friend who was a few years older than me also let his hand sneak into my sexy new top that I didn't think much about wearing because, hey, it's just going to be family, right? It happened right there in the middle of all the festivities while taking a group photo. I felt like an interesting ornament on a table you play with when you're bored. I was ashamed and felt like I was naked in the middle of a crowded room. I thought that if this could happen to me in front of my whole family and go unnoticed, I must hardly be a challenge; I must hardly be worth the chase. And till today I am ashamed that I manage to pretend like I don't remember on the rare occasion that I see him.

This feeling of shame began when I was 16 and it has gone on for 8 years, with all these and countless other experiences, most less traumatic, some a lot more. And I think it's time to stop the shame. For me, and for every girl who has ever felt anything like this.

I wish I'd believed at 16 that I was so much better than that. I wish I believed at 18 that it wasn't my fault because I'd had too much to drink, or that at 19, it wasn't my fault because I was wearing a sexy top.

I believe it now, and here's where the shame stops. With SlutWalk in mind, I'm going to stop being ashamed a little more every day. And if that means speaking up about issues I've never told anyone, then let's do it. Because if I believed when I was 16 what I believe now, I would have spent a lot less time out of the past 8 years being ashamed, and a lot more time being outraged and working towards a solution.

We have a right to be angry. And we have a right to be outraged. But there's no reason why we should be ashamed; we shouldn't be and we mustn't be.

It's hard to talk about this because we've been told not to talk about it. Go with the flow, keep the peace, don't rock the boat. But we should talk about it, because every time we talk about something that's hard to talk about, it gets a tiny bit easier.

For me, for us, for every girl who has had it far worse and lives with painful secrets, this is the plan and it begins with SlutWalk Singapore: More Talk, Less Shame.

Find out more about SlutWalk Singapore.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

On Racial Harmony & My Colourless Cave

Note: First featured on Facebook and The Singapore Daily.

There's been an article circulating the web called You Can't Arrest The Racist Out of Someone.

It's well-written and the writer makes several good points. But reading articles like this, and the sentiment has been expressed quite a bit, makes me sad. Because where I went to school, where I live and where I work, racial harmony was never an issue.

In secondary school, my tight group of friends in Katong Convent were a mixture of all sorts of different races. We had Chinese, Malay, Indian, Eurasian, Others (me) and hell, we even had Nepalese. No one made an effort to subscribe to the idea of Racial Harmony that has been continuously drilled into the minds of young ones. We were just friends who happened to be of different races, occasionally separated during Mother Tongue classes and sometimes curious about each others' cultures. But being teenage girls, we of course had better things to talk about than culture and race. Racial Harmony Day as I remember it was just a day we got to dress up. There was no need for further integration because we were already as integrated as you get.

There were groups of girls who stuck to their own ethnic clique, and there were incidents of racism here and there as there will be in any place. But these were few and far between.

Later on in Ngee Ann Polytechnic, my final year group of closest friends were made up of an equally diverse mix of races and religions. We declared ourselves Presidents of the World! because we believed, and I still believe this to be true, the world would be better off with us in charge, given that in our group we had Indian, Chinese, Malay and more, we had Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Buddhist, Bahai' and then some. And none of it was ever an issue; most of the time, we didn't even notice.

Even within my extended family, we've pretty much got everything covered.

Perhaps because of all this, the idea of racial "tolerance" is disheartening. To tolerate could mean to recognise and respect. It could also means to endure, or to put up with. Tolerance, to me, suggests that you're putting up with something you'd rather not have to deal with, but suck it up and smile for a greater good.

The idea of "striving for racial harmony" also confuses me. Sure, there are people whose groups of friends are made up of just one ethnic group. But when I look at my various groups of friends I've accumulated over the years, to my extended family, to the people I work with, to the people I encounter in my other activities like Muay Thai and Roller Derby, there's a great mix of every race, religion and nationality in every group.

The highest amount of racial segregation I might have to deal with for the most part would be a Singaporean Chinese acquaintance who might feel the need to explain a Singlish term to me because I'm "the ang moh kind" and therefore wouldn't understand. It's annoying, for sure, but nothing that will keep me up at night. And this doesn't happen often, either.

So now I'm left wondering, did I just luck out with my groups of friends, is it just because of the schools I went to, the industry I'm in, the activities I choose? Or have I been living in a multiracial/religious cave that's hidden from most of the island, a place where most have missed?

Because as far as I can see, every group of people I come into contact with or interact with in any way have no need to strive for racial harmony; it just happens without us noticing.

If it is a naive cave I'm living in, it's a great place to be, so bring your friends. Everyone's welcome. In this dark, hidden, magical cave, you can't see any colours.