Thursday, January 21, 2010

The revolution will not apologise

With apologies to Gil Scott-Heron.

So Dana Lam, President of AWARE, has written to the Straits Times to address the fetid boghole of misogyny that is the OverEasy drinks-for-breasts promotion.

Quoth Ms Lam:
There is nothing free about letting a room of people gawk at your breasts. Even if a woman is willing to pay the personal price of loss of dignity, there is still a cost suffered by other women.

The women who participated have contributed to the objectification of women, to reducing a woman's value to her breast size, and have helped reinforce the belief among men that this is not only acceptable, but welcome. Staging this event in itself is extremely distasteful.

Just because sexism is profitable does not make it right. For the organisers to say the event was merely for 'good fun and not sexist or sleazy' is insincere. The indignity is suffered only by one gender.

It is unfortunate there are women willing to make this choice so light-heartedly. The individual woman may view her participation as an act of empowerment. Perhaps she feels she should use whatever assets she has to secure favours for herself. In our sex- and youth-obsessed culture, it is not surprising some women would grow to be so cynical.

Yes, women have the right to choose, but individual choices are made in a social context. And in our current social context, women have a much harder time to be esteemed as individuals above and beyond their value as sex objects.

This event perpetuates the notion of women as sex objects and makes it that much more difficult for each woman who wants to be valued for her character and contribution, rather than how she stacks up to a distorted image of the ideal body.

The personal choice (of the participants) and the private choice (of the corporation) has had a detrimental social impact.

Choice works both ways. The organisers may have packed their venue that evening, but they may well have lost future business at OverEasy and their sister establishments.
I have no Magical bone to pick with Ms Lam's letter, but something that it reflects has got me rubbing my wattle with worry.

To wit: so much of the conversation going on here is about the women who may obtain a drink at OverEasy, and whether they are harming or "denigrating" themselves or other women. Ms Lam has clearly - correctly - intuited that defenders of misogyny will fall over themselves to sound the battlecry of Choice, and has made a strategic decision to pre-emptively focus attention on this argument.

Your resident feathered friend is in full agreement that women may participate in promoting misogyny, and that misogyny should be criticised regardless of from whom it issues. I recognise, you will recall, that anyone living in a misogynist society, which is to say all of us, will participate in promoting misogyny, with varying levels of frequency and wilfulness.

But. Quiz time! Which of these is a shittier thing to do, and by how much?

A. Staging an event to financially profit off promoting the idea that women, and our breasts, exist to be Sexxxay for the sexual titillation of others.

B. Responding to a lifetime of being told "Be Sexxxay or you're worth nothing - less than nothing, you're a waste of space" by... well, surprise, being Sexxxay, and getting a free drink to boot.

It is a sad indictment of Singapore's attitudes to women that so much of Ms Lam's letter has to focus on item B, and seems almost to frame them as equal.

By objectifying women for a buck (and let's face it, probably also because they rather enjoy treating women as playthings), OverEasy are assholes. The minor fact that some handful of women will overlook their assholedom to get a free drink is of so little relevance that I'm surprised it hasn't upped and moved to Antarctica already, to spend several lonely decades contemplating my penguin cousins. The sooner we can unapologetically critique assholes who hurt women, without taking seriously any excuse that women are "asking for it", the better.

1 comment:

  1. "The revolution will not happen between these thighs." - With apologies to Sarah Jones

    I tend to agree with you that staging the event is the worse transgression but I'm not sure it's the one that causes the most damage.

    People are so inured to the idea that corporations objectify women for profit that to fight it almost seems naive.

    However the fact that the average Jane is willing to participate is a new twist which is being held out as evidence that women "are asking for it" a la Siloso Beach. If you caught BlogTV last night you would have heard that exact argument from the lawyer who said the Overeasy event called into question whether "there was any modesty to offend" - read: women like it!

    It's BS to the enlightened but lets not kid ourselves as to how enlightened the vox populi is.

    So when you have 400 words to pack a punch it seems you have more hope of putting a dent in the idea that the booze for boobs chick are somehow representative of women than to have any influence over corporations making a profit from misogyny.

    It is going to take a much higher proportion of enlightened people on this island before Overeasy hesitates to throw their boobathons. Hopefully a few more people have been proviked to thought by this incident but that may be naive too.


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