Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Admit impediments

(Confused about the title? See Sonnet 116.)

Faithful visitors to the Barn will know that there is much disquiet among the livestock about the ghastly fetish society has for marriage.

It's a fairly egalitarian fetish, as these things go, shared equally by cranks whose powers are mercifully limited to writing stupid Forum letters and cranks of considerably more influence. Sulthan "Spoilt Princess" Niaz has the benefit of honesty; he at least more or less out-and-out acknowledged that his vision of marriage was unattractive and unpleasant to women. Lee Kuan Yew's "sadness" on behalf of unmarried women (who by his own account are perfectly happy) lacks even that virtue. He just knows, knows, knows, in his infallible bones, that we females* need this thing that we haven't chosen.

And which, according to this excellent article from British newspaper The Guardian, in some developed countries at least, statistically correlates to poorer health and happiness outcomes for women:
In Committed: A Sceptic Makes Peace With Marriage, the follow-up to her international bestseller Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert tries to answer why we make such a hash of it. She uncovers sobering facts about what sociologists call the "marriage benefit imbalance", showing that marriage is an institution that greatly benefits men, not women. A partial list: married men live longer than single men; married men accumulate more wealth than single men; married men are far less likely to die a violent death than single men; married men report themselves to be much happier than single men, and married men suffer less alcoholism, drug addiction and depression than single men. [...] But married women versus single? There's more depression, less career success and less good health in married women and, until recently, a greater chance of dying a violent death – usually at the hands of the men they love.

Only last month another study came out of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Germany which showed that women who are seven to nine years older than their husbands have a 20% higher mortality rate than if they were the same age. Marrying an older man shortens a woman's life span, but having a young husband reduces it even more, the study found.
In Singapore, you can add the fact that most women who contract HIV do so from partners, including husbands, to whom they have been faithful.

I'm not writing this to knock marriage. It works for some people, and we should all be very happy for them. But this universal assumption that it is or should be every woman's goal in life, and the ordering of our cultural and political priorities around that assumption, and the relentless delegitimisation and hounding of women who might choose differently? Those are pure poison.

The Guardian article quotes Stephanie Coontz, author of Marriage, A History, as saying, "It is the relationship, not the institution, that is the key."

As all Magical Chickens (global population: 1) like to say, "No shit, Sherlock."

* After the revolution, everytime someone uses "female" as a noun when they mean women and/or girls, they will be given 50 hours of remedial English lessons through the medium of interpretive dance as performed by a troupe of sea slugs. Consider yourself warned.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Dear Oliver, I'm sorry.

Bacon Bits here just learnt that the Swiss graffiti artist Oliver Fricker, who had a month or two ago broken into our SMRT depot to tag an MRT train, is receiving 3 strokes of Singapore's cruel cane, accompanied by 5 months in jail:
But Swiss IT consultant Oliver Fricker ... failed to convince District Judge See Kee Oon that a deterrent sentence was not in order.

Finding that Fricker, 32, had displayed a "calculated criminal conduct", Judge See sentenced him to five months' jail and three strokes of the cane.

The sentence was handed down about six hours after Fricker pleaded guilty, around noon, to charges of vandalism and entering a protected place. A third charge stating that he had committed an act of vandalism by cutting the fence of the depot was taken into consideration.

Judge See agreed with Deputy Public Prosecutor Sharon Lim who said Fricker had committed "a very serious offence" - and that the whole incident had "alarmed the general public" and "shaken their confidence in the security of protected places".
Shake my confidence in the security of protected places!? What fucking rubbish!

The only thing that is being reinforced here is the stranglehold that the State has on the insecurities in its people of itself. The fear that Singapore insists in instilling in her people of the elusive terrorist, of the potential invasions by our regional neighbours, of all sorts of bloody calamities effected by external enemies who hate the State and apparently also her people. The constant insistence that I need to be wary of suspicious looking people at all my public spots, and that I need to mindful that there're terrorists out there waiting to kill me and my family.

Strangely enough, I already know that.

I also know that if the terrorists really want to get us, they're likely going to go about it in ways and at times least expected. Because terrorism is essentially an element of surprise. That's why it's scary: you never know when it's going to happen.

But I also don't know when I'm going to die. I also don't know when I'd finally meet the Hamsomest Porkchop of my life. I also don't know when my buses and trains arrive. I also don't know what my life will be like in the future: will I be happy, sad, single, sick, with kids, unemployed, married, with a cat (hello Cat in the Cream!), the first gay porcine Prime Minister of Singapore, a war hero, a dissenter, or even a terrorist?

This fear that our State security can be compromised should be like any other existential woe. It is difficult to dissipate but we roll with it as and when the shit hits the fan. Instead, what we have now is constant pressure to turn this precautionary stance into a debilitating phobia that arrests us in our own minds and country. There're basically two types of people who we're also encouraged to be wary of. If by media standards (read: stereotyping), it's always going to be some darker-skinned person, or who looks like he might be a Muslim (that's two assumptions there: male and Muslim), or who looks poor, or doesn't speak well, etc.

If like me you have actually been physically attacked by random pigs, you know that the kindest and friendliest people can indeed turn into major arseholes who'd beat you up. The only way to effectively get around this is to either develop an unhealthy paranoia of everyone, or become a conspiracy theorist who never leaves his/her house.

But I don't want to live in a state of constant arrest. I don't want to fear for all these potential arseholes who are out to get me and my barnmates. So I refuse to put on my tinfoil hat and x-ray glasses and with all those off, I inadvertently gain a clarity and the eventual realisation that there's someone else far more frightening than real and imagined criminals.

In the case of the People versus Oliver Fricker [2010], who is the one sending terror down my spine? Allow me to share with you what Jolene Tan dug up for her argument against caning, published at The Online Citizen--from a victim of State atrocity: (do read her whole article, it's really good!)
I heard the cane. It sounded like a plank hitting the wall. A split second later I felt it was tearing across my buttocks. I screamed and struggled like a mad animal. All I thought was that I want to run away. If I’m not tied up, one stroke could keep me running for a mile.

And I just could not control my screams. It went on and on, one stroke, one minute. Some lashes fall on the same spot, splitting open the skin even more.

Some prisoners urinate and even faint because of the pain. I felt giddy and went limp on the trestle at the last stroke. My bleeding buttocks throbbed with pain and felt like they were on fire.

A few prisoners pretend to faint to escape more strokes but the warder will go on flogging to see if you cry out. That’s because if you’re conscious, you will scream.

After we were flogged, a medical officer applied some antiseptic on the wounds. My buttocks then swelled to twice their normal size. My thighs went blue-black. I had to go without shorts for more than two weeks so that my wounds could heal. I couldn’t sit or sleep on my back or bathe all this time either.

The pain burns in your mind long after it is over. Until now I have nightmares about it.
You know who scares the shit out of me? It is none other than the bloody State! A State that can so easily turn to arcanely barbaric corporal punishment involving intentionally splitting people's skin with the crack of a cane because so-and-so premeditated some crime. A State that continually justifies the premeditated use of such punishment because--and I paraphrase--this is written in the books, you know our practices, so if you don't want to suffer these consequences, then you jolly well don't transgress.

Really? So if you decide that, hey, thieves should have their fingers chewed off by sewer rats, or that male rapists get their penises skewered by a satay stick, or that homosexuals get publicly stoned to death, or that spouse abusers will have mouths stitched together, then it's all okay. Because, come on, don't like the punishment? Just don't commit those illegal acts.

Make no mistake here, the message might be subtle but eerily clear: the confidence that the State has the will, power, and temperament of an enraged hulk must be protected. It is not an entity to be fucked with because it will unleash its cruelty against you even if you do something as completely harmless as give commuters a delightful experience. Peddling fear of others, fear of truths, and fear of the State. State torture. State murder. State terror. This State will tell you when, where and how to have fun; please, declare and surrender all imagination, initiative and peace of mind at immigration checkpoint.

Dear Oliver, on behalf of the many Singaporeans and farm animals who don't believe in the legitimacy of your sentencing, that tag was awesome, and I'm sorry for my country.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Filial piety: fine feelings and hard work

Parenting is hard work. If only the Singapore government were as good at recognising that when making policies that have material consequences for parents, as it is in making sappy videos full of fine feelings.

But that, of course, as Funny Little World explains, is the whole point. This video on filial piety is about displacing political responsibility from the government for collective problems that need (to some extent) collective solutions. It promotes a moralising discourse, about the fine feelings we should all supposedly have about our parents (failing to recognise that they might have been wholly abusive, indeed perhaps specifically notwithstanding any abuse), to avoid questions about society's and the government's welfare obligations, about the fair and appropriate distribution of the hard work of eldercare, as between individuals and the state.

We were all ruminating on this in the Barn, prompting the following wisdom from the Complaining Cow:
The ad plays on people's fears about growing old alone and unassisted, a huge source of insecurity in a country without a social welfare system. The idea that it's possible for elderly people to be abusive is generally unrecognised (even though many people have experienced this firsthand in their own family, from what I've been told -- in particular elderly people abusing each other). Such behaviour is seen as 'demanding' and 'unreasonable' at most, but something to be put up with because the way society functions is stacked up against older people, so family members have to be accommodating.

I was thinking about the ad, where the elderly mother says she wants to move out. Personally, I think I would want to have my own household when I'm old (whether or not I have children), and I wonder, in the context of the fictional ad family, why her moving out would be a bad thing for the family? The family in the ad seems to have no choice but have the grandmother live with them. I'm aware there are all sorts of possible reasons: eg if someone for some reason she can't afford their own home anymore, or needs assistance, or does want to live with their child's family but just suffers occasional fits of pique against them, etc.

But these in turn point to problems like homelessness, access to care for mental/physical disability, general accessibility of our built environment to anyone who's not 100% able-bodied; and MCYS's response to that seems to be: have children now so that they'll provide you with these social services FOC when you need them, 'cause we sure as hell ain't going to. Which fucks over everyone who can't or won't have children, or for whatever reason doesn't want to depend on them.
The Cow also raised questions about the other toxic messages packed away in the ad:
Also: what's up with all the other toxic narratives that are peripheral to the ad's intended message but tightly woven into its fabric?! Eg setting up the woman as the primary caregiver of the family in both generations (it wasn't the man's cooking the grandmother was criticising, was it?), framing relations between the woman and her mother-in-law as adversarial, etc.
My Magical eye alighted upon these items too. Not only does the filial piety conversation attempt to displace collective obligations onto individual households, it also (less overtly) displaces collective obligations onto women, in particular, who are assumed to be the ones who should provide free care work for the sake of family togetherness. The stamps of this assumption are all over the video, which is - funnily enough - entitled "Father and Son". There is no indication of what relationship the woman has with her own parents (presumably this is a nod to the notion that they ought to have bothered to have a useful child, i.e. a son and not a daughter, of their own); in fact, there are no daughter-parent relationships portrayed at all. Not only is the work of cooking done by the woman, but also, at the beginning, she goes off to sort out tasks on behalf of the family, while telling her husband and son to stay with her mother-in-law and with each other. The lesson the boy learns is evident in his question: he asks not about the work involved in caring for his grandmother, but about his father's feelings.

The message here is gendered. The fine feelings of filial piety are for men and boys: but the hard work of elder care, which makes the sustenance of those fine feelings possible, is for women and girls.

If we have to watch videos about fathers and son, I think I prefer this ad:

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Make Censorship History

We're not fans of censorship over here at the Barn (although we reserve the right to uninhibitedly critique the living fuck out of shitty speech).

So I'm very pleased to raise a Magical wing and point you to the Arts Engage proposal in favour of replacing censorship of the arts with regulation. Check out, in particular, their eminently sputter-worthy collected accounts of censorship.