Monday, October 18, 2010

On Women's Charter: What About the Menz!?

This is the final week Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) is seeking public feedback for the draft Women's Charter (Amendment) Bill 2010. You can download the consultation paper (PDF) that lays out the proposed changes in simple language, or attempt the Amendment Bill (PDF).

Some of the more interesting parts of the proposed amendments are the creation of Children's Development Account where a portion of divorcing parents' shared assets is automatically channelled into for the children involved. Courts will also be empowered variously to crack down on maintenance defaulters. My personal favourite is that "divorcees who are remarrying will be required to declare in the presence of their new spouses, whether they have any maintenance arrears towards their ex-wife or children from their previous marriage(s)."

We on the farm strongly encourage everyone to give MCYS your opinion on changes to the Women's Charter. Now, however, the animals and I are departing from our usual farming duties to present a roundtable discussion we have on the Women's Charter. Gentle readers are free to steal our ideas and submit them officially, because it's very hard for us to explain why farm animals are so concerned about the Charter.

Roundtable Discussion.

Contrary to popular belief of who we are, it is the belief here on the farm that the biggest lacuna in the Amendment Bill is in its maintaining the alimony-only-to-women stance. Last year, Kanwaljit Soin reintroduced the idea of revising the Women's Charter Act to a Family Charter Act [ed: AWARE used to host "Women's Charter to Family Charter" speech transcript here, but not anymore; after the cut, we offer you instead an excerpt of a parliamentary debate by Dr Soin from 1996 when she first introduced the idea], in which maintenance is adjusted to allow husbands to claim maintenance should their wives be the higher earning spouse--I believe it's for shared custody cases.

I think this makes some sense as roles change, and men begin to step up in their caregiving roles. Not to mention, perhaps with such a system in place, we can begin to drop any machoistic shame of being primary care-givers. An adjustment to leave entitlement will also make especial sense for single fathers.

If we focus on the benefit of the children, rather than What About The Menz, there's probably much more that can be done in terms of this bill as well, perhaps latching onto expanding benefits to single parents.

Oh My Goat:
I think there are also men who have some pretty reasonable issues with the Women's Charter. It's not to say that it's unnecessary - it was revolutionary as far as its protection of women was concerned - but there are parts of it that need to evolve with the times.

Maintenance payments, for one, need to be fairer - it doesn't make sense for a father to pay maintenance to a wife (note: not for the child, but for the wife, which is a separate claim altogether) who out-earns him or is more than capable of caring for herself. It was probably unheard of when the Charter was introduced, but it's not so uncommon nowadays.

If you're a husband living a lower middle class sort of existence, your finances are more worse off after a divorce. You frequently find yourself homeless, likely not earning enough to rent another flat and on top of that, you have legal fees and maintenance payments. It's what it is, and yes, men ought to be responsible for their children, but if you're not earning much to start with, it can make you feel like you have the rough end of the deal.

Magical Chicken:
Wholly agree with Oh My Goat. There's no reason whatsoever why gender should become a blanket proxy for financial capacity and contributions, when these are matters which can be reasonably easily assessed by a judge in and of themselves. I was really glad to see Kanwaljit Soin raise this last year. It's actually rather surprising that men (since they are the demographic disadvantaged by the status quo) haven't organised to push for appropriate change themselves. I wonder if there might be some kind of conflict for some men between wanting to support traditional notions of masculinity to shore up their sense of social status, and what's in their actual financial interests. Another example of how patriarchy is an ideology which fucks us all up.

Badly Drawn Pig:
This is why I think the law can take a progressive lead on things. It shouldn't always be a case of the majority, sometimes unaware or unconscious, society setting the pace of things. The law and the government can, in fact, recognise that certain change would be beneficial - I think we've actually got this in practice in many other areas - and effect amendments that would pave the way to mindset changes. A society where legal mechanisms are in place for husbands' receiving maintenance, is a largely different one in which maintenance is afforded only to the wives. We cannot possibly deny the fact that such an arrangement puts ideas in the minds of people, as often is the case such as Rony Tan, who refuses to retract his foul statement on gay people simply because a legal clause is actually in place that in principle criminalises gay men sex.

Like Oh My Goat has said, my primary problem with the Women's Charter is the arbitrary provision requiring a man to maintain his wife, irrespective of the fact that she may have a greater earning capacity. I think the Court now deals with this issue by varying the quantum of maintenance, but I don't think this is enough in the circumstances since the wife will always have the right to apply to Court for maintenance. I think the issue of parity must cut both ways and the law needs to be amended to reflect this.
Second, re: maintenance for the child. Legally, both parents are obliged to maintain the child, but perhaps more can be done by the law in a situation where the man's earning capacity is lower than his wife. As Oh My Goat says, there are many fathers out there who feel they've drawn the short straw, especially keeping in mind that care and control of the child usually is awarded to the mother (with the father being granted the right of access) unless there are extenuating circumstances. I would imagine this is really painful in itself.
However, it needs to be kept it mind that there is only so much money to go around, especially if the father is earning significantly less, or not at all (as was the case in the article). In these situations, inevitably, maintenance payments are going to be a financial strain, along with legal fees, bills and rent etc. I don't think it's got anything to do with not wanting to help the child - it's not having adequate means to do so, and this is a salient factor which needs to be expressly considered.
(But of course with checks to prevent the other side of the coin - recalcitrant fathers who withhold maintenance payments for whatever reason.)

After the cut, read the brilliant parliamentary debate excerpt by the woman who started the ball rolling for all of us, former-NMP and a personal heroine for us on the farm, Dr Kanwaljit Soin; taken from Yawning Bread:

Saturday, October 16, 2010

How to tell the world you're an asshole

Oooh, who likes getting all het up and furious first thing in the morning? You had better if you, like me, get the Straits Times on subscription. In today's Life! section, a letter from Asshole Alpha:

Stay lean, SIA girl

I refer to the report, I Don't Mind A Fatter Singapore Girl by Jeremy Au Yong (Life!, Oct 9).

I do not mean to be disrespectful or discriminate but I honestly do not want to sit beside an overweight person during a long flight, especially when flying home.

Singapore Airlines did not become a leading airline just because the SIA Girl looks slim, clean and pretty.

She is just one of the building blocks that fit very well into the whole operations. When there is a lapse or drop in service quality, SIA has to correct and improve. In every successful business, there are certain identities and standards associated with it. These form its culture and infuse its soul.

It is easy to say you do not mind having a fatter Singapore Girl but it will be a problem for many.

Teo Yee Chee

Fatphobia: check. Equation of service staff's physical features with 'service quality': check. Commodification of service staff as mere 'building blocks': check. Cluelessly trumpeting the opinion that the other people should be in service to the pleasure of your unpleasant, privileged ass: check. (The one grain of truth in this letter: that many will share the same retrograde views that you hold.)

Hey, Teo, next time you might want to lighten up on the disingenuity, and just declare that you think fat people don't deserve to be treated like fellow humans. I have a lot of things to do and it would save everyone's time if I didn't have to point out the contemptible ridiculousness of your opinions before I told you to fuck off.


ETA: I haven't read the original Jeremy Au Yong article that this letter refers to, but I don't have high hopes for it.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Degrees of hate.

Char Siew Pau here was ambivalent to see news of American teen, Tyler Clementi's suicide appearing in the local Straits Times last week. It wasn't clear to this male unfeminist, badly drawn pig what exactly it meant for him that the papers prioritised the article on the third page of the main papers, because he was still reeling from a couple of events that broke with the news of Clementi's death.

Such as learning that one of the two guys recently caught having sex together in a local mall toilet is being charged under Section 377A [ed: please read People Like Us's statement in full!], i.e. the anti-male homosexual act law that our parliament said it won't repeal for symbolic appeal. Then there were debates amuck on the veracity of saying that homophobia was the key ingredient in driving Clementi off the bridge.

From the latter thread, one such detractor was the very rational and evidence-based--let's call him--Mr Mensch, asserting--and I paraphrase, "Until I see evidence of homophobia, I'm inclined to believe it has nothing to do with Clementi's death. Charlotte’s Interwebz encourages people to distribute exposés all over. It's free-market sexcapade galore for straight people, for gay people, for all!"

Why, what a wonderfully insightful libertarian mensch! I would have totally gotten my Pork Trotters twisted in the excitement of such sound revelation if not for fact that, hey, my stupid gay, asian Lup Cheong self looked around and saw that he remains in the shadow of a vigilant heteronormative state. A state in which the assumed default and premium is in being heterosexual (or at least discreetly straight-acting), failing which you are a frowned-upon deviant. It precedes that when straight people, who aren't presidents, hotelier heiresses or pop stars, are caught in the hanky panky on film, there's practically no uproar about their sexual orientation, only mixed reactions of privacy invaded.

Never fear, you could be a random breeder snogging in China, Alaska, South Africa or Greenland but still find that nowhere will you so pervasively come against some bigots calling for your demise, accusing you of bearing some hidden agenda that seeks to devalue the family, desecrating one's holy ground, insulting one's gods, or going against nature's ways. If you are caught on film making out with the opposite sex, no one in any part of the world has the image of you in mind when zie plans for the never-going-to-exist ex-straight conversion camp that will fix you of your widely-popular choice of lifestyle. If you were caught on film doing the heterosexual hoochie coochie, some people may be happy to reenact the scenario on a R-21 screen without the fear that censors will snip you out because we don't want to promote deviant lifestyles--and they don't mean being caught on camera.

No, the sensationalism here never rode on the fact that Clementi kissed someone--few 18 year-olds warrant any attention with their snogfests, but that he had "asked for the room till midnight" (oh, he must be hiding something!), and later caught "making out with a dude"! GAY! TRYING TO HIDE!? GAY BUSTED! - to the whole fucking world, both friends and foes. The thrill of it comes in irrevocably exposing Clementi of his furtive engagement in something still denounced in many circles, inviting the floodwalls to collapse for all to see, celebrate, wank to, but also jeer, hiss, laugh, mock, cuss and pitchfork.

And the gates will open to the nefarious, especially since a person already doesn't even need to be caught doing anything (homo-sex-ual) except exist to cause a stir in others, then finding hirself at the brute end of all forms of physical, mental and emotional attacks from others of all walks of life--family, friends and absolute strangers—and for no reason than that they *think* zie's quee, which somehow justifies abusive behaviour. Even if one's truly queer, making no excuse for living as a proud and openly queer person, coming out as such is to continually navigate through a minefield. Because despite hir feeling secured in hir own skin--a feat not to be belittled ever, there are always unsafe spaces to come out in, and forever the unsafe people to come out to.

In Clementi's unfortunate case, such a person was Dharun Ravi, the sneaky little asshole who not only recorded but also broadcasted Clementi's make-out session. Ravi may seem like such an equal-opportunistic mercenary to the likes of Mr Mensch, but really his tactics are but a leaf out of the books of anti-gay witch-hunters, exploiting nothing but the dangers, fears and anxieties associated with an out gay person, and the sickening, self-righteous thrill of those who seek to uncover and tabloid the secrets of bones and people in closets for effect beside the well-being of the outed. (Newsflash: if you care about a queer person, do not out hir in any manner, or demand to know if zie's queer.)

So guess what? Just because thick-skulled Ravi is, presumably, unable to recognise the cause and effect of a hate crime does not mean he operated by anything less than that--imagine what the world would be like if members of the Ku Klux Klan actually knew they were being assholes! And just because Mr Mensch proves himself equally obtuse to the undercurrents of context, it proves nothing but that there're people who continue not to grasp the extant of homophobia and the real-life cruel aftermath it has on a whole lot of people.

That said, what really chaps this Suckling Pig's hide is that despite how much we protest this grave injustice, and even come to the point of publishing news of deaths brought on by homophobic pressures, this sunny-but-not-so-happy island of Singapore remains guilty of similar exploits all the way up the ranks. It makes it nearly impossible to take home any lesson on tolerance and acceptance of queer people that can be taken from this reportage when anti-sodomy laws are kept for what seems to be the express purpose of making it central to any sex-related crime between two consenting men.

Seriously, just what the fuck was the egregious crime here that Tan Eng Hong and his partner are caught for? Having sex in a public location, or having homosexual sex in a public location? A similar case involving a straight couple might have been charged under Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act--like how the nude couple in Holland Village were--instead of S377A, noting that not only is there no equivalent in “gross indecency” in heterosexual terms following the repeal of anti-straight oral/anal sex in 2007, but also that, technically speaking, "gross indecency" between two men may occur in and out of the private sphere. This is imprecise a charge, and frankly a disappointingly unfair one, given what was envisaged by PM Lee Hsien Loong in 2007.

This only leads my Braised Pig-head to conclude that, just as how the problem wasn't about Clementi kissing someone but about him "kissing a dude", this is now not about displays of sexual acts but displays of male homosexual acts between two men.

Even with the decriminalisation of homosexual acts in so many parts of the world, including the United Kingdom, United States, China, Japan and Taiwan, it is still an uphill battle for queer people to get even an ounce of respect and acceptance. A not-so-symbolic anti-gay law in our legislature, so arbitrarily reapplied despite claims of non-pursuance, empowers people to continue doing and talking shit about gay people without the slightest hint of contrition (read: Rony Tan). Because always it's what the government believes in, and now even it's the greater crime prosecutable. Abusers will always be on the right side of the law, and by the government's suggestion, they’re bedfellows to a wider, bigger majority that is all right with the active discrimination and abuse of gay people.

If you think Clementi's case is free of homophobia, if you think it's okay to throw S377A at Tan et al, then you are part of this----in a clever play of language to make them sound so marginalised—(mythical)silent majority that the government seeks to valiantly protect.

Don't be mistaken though, I hear and feel every sub-decibel of contempt your silence holds to my piggish ears even if you think you know otherwise.

A voice of reason writes to the newspapers - finally

I wonder why the national English broadsheet doesn't produce an investigative report on the fraudulent advertisements that sell people false hope and snake oil at "best" (scare quotes in full effect), and cause physical harm and pain to them at worst - not to mention all the self-hatred and judgment that goes in between? I guess it's because 50% (figure arrived at via unscientific estimate) of the Straits Times' advertising space is given over to ads hawking slimming treatments or bust enhancement (or sometimes both, by the same company, because the Body Police have decreed that you can't have too much fat in some places or too little in others).

Which is why I'm glad that someone at the Forum Desk had their finger on the right button and chose to publish the following missive (despite potential irate phone calls from account managers):

Oct 4, 2010
More teeth needed to curb false ads

I READ with concern last Tuesday's report ('Rise in false ads in beauty industry'. Only the most misleading advertisements, mostly by small players, get acted on by the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS).

In contrast, Britain's far more professional Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) does a much better job.

Last year, a top multinational cosmetics company ran a national press advertisement in Britain claiming that one of its anti-wrinkle products could deliver practically instant wrinkle-filling capabilities based on clinical studies.

ASA asked for substantiation. The company submitted two 'clinical test' reports on 25 and 23 women. ASA rejected the studies because they were not randomised, not blinded and did not include a control group. The advertisement was banned in its original form.

The same advertisement ran its full course in Singapore. If a complaint had been made to ASAS, would it have had the clout to take on a huge multinational corporation?

Cheng Shoong Tat

Who's going to take responsibility for this? The beauty industry sure as hell isn't. The media has no legal obligation to turn down fees paid by a legitimate advertiser. The government does not regulate the beauty industry. So it's down to... a body that 'comprises representatives from advertisers, advertising agencies, government agencies, media owners and other supporting organisations'? I guess it's up to us, the consumers, then.