Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A journo's juvenile jeers

Journalist Joyce Hooi has weighed in on the whole degradation-of-divorce-proceedings-into-a-flesh-parade barfery that my dear comrade Porky talked about. Hooi's argument, as far as she has one, is that there's no problem with courts treating all divorcing women as hawkers peddling themselves as commodities in a jolly old meat market, because that's precisely what divorcing women are. Products which can be helpfully ranked to assist browsing consumers, since all straight men are exactly the same and can classify all women on the same one linear scale of what they want in a mate.

I excerpt Ms Hooi's offering with humble observations of my own.
THIS weekend, when men in bars all over Singapore size up the pickings available, they will use a new lexicon for attractiveness: a woman will be either 'lump sum' or 'monthly' instead of 'hot' or 'have a few more drinks before you look again'.
Women are "pickings", to be rated by a cost to quality ratio. Charming.
This was triggered by the divorce settlement of a 37-year-old Vietnamese Singaporean woman in which another judge had asked if the woman in question was attractive.
Why is her background even mentioned? As a commenter on Piggy's entry pointed out, you have to wonder if this question has arisen in part because of the nasty stereotypes Singaporeans have about Vietnamese women.
From the subsequent appeal of the lady in question - the maintenance sum for her son had been cut from $12,000 to $600, among several things - I have no choice but to imagine that she's the spitting image of Gisele Bundchen.
Pay attention here, this is a real live example of sexist culture at work. The original report was quite careful to state that "attractiveness" isn't assessed purely on physical terms - which doesn't make the assessment any less problematic, since it still assumes that all divorcing women will and should get remarried, and that women are essentially interchangeable commodities of varying quality. But Ms Hooi has neatly elided this to ensure the discussion is all about women's appearances again, thus using a bad judgment to further an even worse cultural trope! Skilful work.
The cut in child maintenance might not have been solely influenced by the woman's attractiveness, of course, and might have something to do with the fact that $12,000 is a lot of Xbox 3 games, but that's fodder for another column.
Please don't write it. We don't like you.
In any case, enraged feminists (a redundancy, if there ever was one) have objected to the idea that looks have any bearing on alimony.
Yeah, we're pissed off. Gee, you noticed? Quite obviously, being frequently pissed off can only mean we don't really have anything to be pissed off about. It's a mathematical law:

{ IFF* Cause = 0, THEN feminist = enraged }

*IFF: If and only if
Her name is Joyce Hooi, and logic is her weapon.
The two main links in the argument that they object to are: attractiveness is objective, and attractiveness is an indicator of how quickly you can get someone to say 'I do'.

The short rebuttal to both arguments is: surely you kid.
You need to make the long ones, because the short one is lousy.

Actually, on second thought, please don't.
The longer one to the first concern about the subjectivity of attractiveness is this: while there might be room for quibbling about how someone is more of a 7 than an 8, the gulf between a 2 and an 8 is wide enough for most people to see (unless, of course, you're Arnold Schwarzenegger).

Railing against the objective definition of beauty is like saying that America's Next Top Model is bunk; it is futile and makes everyone suspect that the person doing the complaining is ugly.
She's doing the logic thing again! Everybody take cover! Here I refer you to the frolics of some friends of the barn on Twitter (or Clucker, as I would like to see it renamed):
illyrica: Joyce Hooi playground reasoning: "If you object you are ugly haha!" OK I'm ugly. Big fucking deal. This makes me wrong how?

MizHalle: she considers ugly people to be worth less than non-ugly ones so she doesn't have to listen to them
and if you disagree with her article you must be ugly.
So therefore, if you disagree with her article she automatically doesn't have to listen to you!
And therefore, she's automatically always right!
Circular logic FTW! *shoots things*
As a matter of fact, Hooi is simply wrong. It may well be the case that in the artificial playground of Hollywoodified media, there is an "objective" scale of "attractiveness" against which people can be ranked, according to their ability to meet some arbitrary checklist of requirements.

But back on planet Earth, when it comes to the daily grind (heh, heh) of people meeting others, and getting to know one another, and deciding who they like or don't like, and fitting their values and tastes and senses of humour and different sexualities together, and dare I say it falling in love, there simply isn't a scale. We aren't all in the hopeless thrall of the latest Mr & Miss Universe. Many of us yearn for actual people who touch us (giggle) in highly individual ways. There are certainly people who never cultivate brains of their own, and only ever strive for partnerships and marriages as status symbols to be valued in the way that the television producers and the glossy magazine editors tell them to. But they are fewer than they believe, and public policy shouldn't be made around them.
Diversion aside, the other concern - that attractiveness does not have a correlation with chances of remarriage - is naive. Some have brandished the Women's Charter, saying that physical attributes are not mentioned.

The Women's Charter (which begins titillatingly with the definition of 'brothel' but sobers up pretty quickly thereafter) mentions 'income, earning capacity, property and other financial resources' of both parties as some of the determinants of maintenance quantum.

Since marriage is correlated with financial security especially where a woman is concerned, why can't her marriageability be considered part of her earning capacity? The day Donald Trump breaks with tradition and marries a Plain Jane, I will stand corrected.
Open your eyes. Every day people enter relationships and/or marriages that confound the shallow expectations of your sexist media narrative, a narrative which calls them "exceptions" or "oddities" and then pretends they don't exist. "Plain Janes" - that is, the vast majority of normal human beings, who have better things to do than get hung up on boring media stereotypes - get married all the time. Your glib correlations are not borne out by reality.

But also importantly, not everyone wants to get married. Not everyone who gets divorced wants to get remarried. Being married is often, for women, actually quite a bad idea. Not everyone who wants to get remarried can do so to the person of their choice, because same sex marriage is still not possible. The courts of law have no business financially penalising people for not wanting to treat their personal relationships as bargaining currency.

But it gets better. Ms Hooi then tries to pretend she is against reducing people to their appearances and for women's rights:
One of the many studies done found that plain people earn 5-10 per cent less than average-looking people, who in turn earn 3-8 per cent less than those who are good-looking.


If a relative lack of attractiveness qualifies as an impediment to your capacity to make a living, it confounds me that people would object that the courts try to redress that imbalance. Some have railed against the idea that women rely this much on marriage. But they do; studies in America have shown that single parents consider their economic situation far more precarious than married parents.

And if you argue on the basis that marriage is simply a technicality that can be postponed even by good-looking women, then the court's approach can be seen to be incidentally progressive. Even if a beautiful women never marries, she is likely to be better taken care of by the workplace and quicker to find a companion who will split the COE with her, compared to a plainer woman.
How exactly are the courts redressing any imbalance here whatsoever? Is the daily objectification and prejudice faced by women over our appearances going to be reduced by this judgment, or is it strengthened by this institutional support? (Hint: the answer is in the first paragraph of your column.)

It might also be good to ask what, in reality, is the "advantage" that Ms Hooi believes "more attractive" women enjoy over "less attractive" ones? Consider the experience of job seekers in China:
In China, sexual harassment and being asked to sleep with interviewers in a tough job market was a very real concern to my friends in their final year of university, and they themselves attributed it to men being valued so highly that women are asked to ‘give a little something extra’ to be considered.
The imbalance that needs redress can't be seen for what it really is without understanding the role gender plays in this. The problem isn't "hot" and "ugly" women battling it out in a vacuum-sealed room of our own. The problem is misogyny, which women are encouraged to ignore while we battle one another for the scraps tossed to the "pretty". The problem is misogyny, and the solution won't be found by defining women as commodities whose value depends on heterosexual male use.

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