Singapore: A hypocritical, sexist nation

8 Oct

In this week’s lesson, we learnt about Intercultural communication, where culture was defined as a “template for living”. It tells us who we are, what groups we belong to and how to live our lives. We also learnt about individualism vs. collectivism.

Edward T. Hall (1983) theorized that culture “is an invisible control mechanism operating in our thoughts which kicks in only when we are severely challenged”. I believe this to be extremely true. Take the recent hoo-ha about the Abercrombie & Fitch advertisement at Knightsbridge, Orchard Road.

The big hoo-ha is, of course, the fact that the man is half-naked, with his jeans tugged so low that you can see his navel line, and his underwear. Oh, and the advertisement is four-storeys high. After four months, the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS) decided to suspend the advertisement for “breaching local guidelines on decency”.

Singapore, for all intents and purposes, calls itself a liberal country, where there is a general sense of equality between the two genders. Singaporeans regard themselves as open-minded. But I feel that during this time of “severe challenge”, as introduced by Hall, this notion is a pack of lies.

Why wait four months before ASAS called for the advertisement’s suspension? Knightsbridge is at an extremely prominent location in Orchard Road. Thousands, if not hundred thousands, consumers would have passed the advertisement in those 4 months? If the advertisement did “breach local guidelines on decency”, surely they would have demanded its suspension the moment it went up.

This incident has proven that equality for both genders in Singapore is nothing more than a pipe dream. If the ASAS is so concerned with public decency, then why are there still lingerie advertisements featuring beyond scantily clad women in various seductive positions, posted all over public bus stops? Schoolchildren frequent these public bus stops, shouldn’t they be protected from indecency as well?

Bottom line is, Singapore’s culture allows the subjacency of women. It’s not okay for a man to be half-naked in public advertisements, but it’s okay for a woman. Why? Because that’s what women are meant for. That is the message Singapore is sending across. Women are objects, to be pretty, glorified and seen as sexual beings, valued for their “assets”. Why else would lingerie ads featuring women be allowed, and not advertisements featuring men in their underwear?

Of course, there will be those of you who argued that this is not your stand in the matter. You find it silly that we’re even debating about this. I can understand your feelings. But being an individualist in a collectivist society such as Singapore, we must work hard to make sure that such prejudices and sexist views are not passed to the next generation. Treholm (2004) theorized that culture is learned and shared. Culture is also passed down the generations. If we have scores of Singaporeans telling their children that the advertisement at Knightsbridge is an indecent and lewd one, and these same Singaporeans not telling their children that advertisements featuring scantily clad women can be viewed the same way, then these children will grow up having these views. They will think that it’s all right for women to be objectified but not men. This will do nothing in eradicating sexism and gender prejudice in our society.

What do you think? Should Singapore start practising what she preaches? Would we ever  be a sexist-free nation?


13 Responses to “Singapore: A hypocritical, sexist nation”

  1. Nonie October 9, 2011 at 11:30 am #

    Wow…this situation is not cool! Personally, I think the women lingerie ad is more indecent than the half-naked man and I’m not saying that because I’m female and I appreciate the fine view of that well-toned abs.

    The frame of thought should be simple: If it’s indecent for a man to go half-naked, then it is just as indecent, if not more, for a woman to go half-naked. Back in the days in Europe, women are not even allowed to show their damn ankles because to show an ankle is not a proper conduct.

    I think the public should have the sense of just to know what is acceptable and what is not. They should have spoken up about this matter. Write to the papers, facebook, twitter, whatever, and complain the same stand should be taken on the female lingerie ad. It may not make any difference now, but it will at least make the people think and ponder about this. If no one speak about it, then the governing bodies and authorities will continue to go on thinking that the people find it an acceptable behavior when it’s not.

    • philyra91 October 12, 2011 at 9:35 pm #

      Hi Nonie! Thanks for your comment. As a matter of fact, some members of the public have written to newspapers and asking ASAS why it’s okay for females to be half-naked but not males. Strangely enough, they have not made any response. =.=

      Double standards, no?

      Ah, yes, the good ol’ days of Europe. 🙂 I’m not saying we should go back to those days, seeing as how back then, women had no rights and were basically considered a man’s “property”, but it definitely would be nice to see men and women accorded the same rights when it comes to advertising. 🙂

  2. Kon Xin Hua October 9, 2011 at 1:11 pm #

    Well, doesn’t this sound familiar. Even in situations where a female victim is compromised by molestation, there will always be the opinion by some smart-aleck who will blame it on the woman. Their thought? Don’t dress up so whorishly if you don’t want to get touched. That whole culturally ingrained notion of women are the cause of men’s indecent behaviour is so infuriating, mainly because they are projecting their misdeeds and characteristic flaws unto us, painting a picture that puts us as women in a horribly bad light. With regards to the ad, I have seen it before, and at the time, I didn’t think it was any wrong, so I definitely do not see the point in everyone kicking up such a big fuss over it four months later. There is the prejudice against women to being objectified and being inferior to men – a sexist stereotype that has been created long since our time. What I think is that even in today’s society, there is still a hint of that stereotype being referred to in everyday activities, whether or not we choose to acknowledge it.

    • philyra91 October 12, 2011 at 9:47 pm #

      Hi Xin Hua! Yes, I definitely agree with the point you bring up. There are certain people who will almost definitely blame the woman if she were to be sexually assaulted. First question: what was she wearing? It’s disgusting really. I remember how the NYPD got into trouble because they apparently told women “not to wear short skirts or shorts to avoid being victimized by a serial sexual assaulter who has been attacking women in the neighborhood since March”. Never mind it’s the MAN who’s doing the attacking; never mind if the women protested, it MUST be the woman’s fault because she was wearing a skirt. =.=

      I think it’s sad that even in a first-world country like Singapore, such stereotypes about women still exist. Like an Internet saying goes, society teaches “DON’T GET RAPED” rather than “DON’T RAPE”. Sad, really.

  3. belovedcandice November 4, 2011 at 9:57 pm #

    There would never be equality among the sexes. Firstly because we are physically different; women’s bodies were never designed for hard labour. Secondly, if we were all equals, women in Singapore must then serve a mandatory 2 years in the army as well (which I believe, no woman in their right mind – as much of a feminist they might be – would call for).

    But this does not mean that we cannot make certain exceptions like that you have accurately brought up. I too, cannot comprehend why it would be “normal” to see a woman clad in only her lingerie, whose posters can be seen littered around bus stops and prominent advertising spots all around the city, while ONE 4 storey high advertisement of a man’s navel line has to be taken down. We’re only practicing double standards here.

    Remember the time when Fiona Xie and her fictional team mates were running down Orchard Road in their bikinis for the Channel 8 drama “The Champion”? What makes that any different from seeing a scantily clad model in underwear at the bus stop? It’s just a live version of the poster so why make a fuss?

    How about men who exercise topless? Shouldn’t they be banned from doing so too, since the A&F poster was taken down? We should make a law stating that men who want to exercise in public must be properly attired too then. If they can still continue running half naked in public, why then should the poster be taken down?

    We should all wake up to the fallacies we’re making here and stop being sexist.

    • retsarepus November 5, 2011 at 12:58 pm #

      Contrary to the popular sentiment held here I don’t believe the removal of the A&F ad to be any what sexist. Rather which I find the cause of the stripping of the ad (haha) stems from the MDA buckling to the unrelenting pressure of a Spartan auntie, in other words, a lack of backbone and clarity on their objectives . The fact that the ad stood four months meant that most Singaporeans didn’t mind a 20 meter well chiseled torso staring down Orchard Link. The fact that it even managed to go up meant that MDA found nothing wrong with pic and gave the company the green light to plaster the ad. What happened was a conservative aunty from Pasir Panjang decided pics of abs like that should only be on covers of magazines in her bedroom and not on 4 story sheets of cardboard advertisements. So she wrote into the ST and thus began this nationally contested issue. If the principles for approval were clear the MDA would have rebuked her and reaffirmed the public, but apparently even the black and white appear hazy.

      From what I can tell, most Singaporeans find the removal of the ad obscene and not the ad itself. We’re not sexists, not most of us at least, our society is just too subservient of complain queens.

      • purelyxc November 6, 2011 at 9:06 pm #

        Indeed, the advertisement I believe would not spark much controversy, for it does not really show anything obscene! And it would be a huge mockery of our country to accept scantily clad women in ads but not a picture of a man whose face isn’t even shown! Nonsense isn’t it?

        Singapore would never be sexist-free, or rather, not in our time at least. As candice has mentioned above, it would simply be an outrage if it becomes necessary for women to serve national service.

  4. beatricehua November 5, 2011 at 12:03 am #

    Hi melissa! I do agree with you that it’s really silly to be spending time debating about such things. I mean, it’s just an advertisement of a really nice body. It doesn’t show too much and doesn’t give off the obscene vibe! and it’s really true that there are more “obscene” advertisements of scantily clad women all around Singapore too which gives off more “dirty” vibes than this ad does.

    People should start being more consistent in what they criticize and not nitpick just because they are allowed to express their views.

  5. Deborah November 5, 2011 at 12:48 am #

    “Singapore, for all intents and purposes, calls itself a liberal country, where there is a general sense of equality between the two genders. Singaporeans regard themselves as open-minded. But I feel that during this time of “severe challenge”, as introduced by Hall, this notion is a pack of lies.”

    Personally, I totally agree with you on the above. I think that when Singaporeans say they’re open-minded and comfortable, it is because there’s nothing, at that moment, that challenges that notion. But, when something go against that, for example the ad at Knightsbridge, they comment on it, saying that it is indecent and it makes people uncomfortable. Then, do you think that behaviour is a true reflection of being open-minded and liberal, which they have stated in the first place? I honestly don’t think so. People are always saying that they are open to new ideas. But when the idea presents itself, and if for some reason they don’t like it, then they will come up with negative comments to “put the idea to shame”. It’s partly human nature.

  6. zaffy November 6, 2011 at 9:21 pm #

    This is something very interesting you brought up, Mel. Why is it not okay for men to be half naked but okay for women to be half naked? i mean, you see guys parading around in just their jeans and you would still think it’s okay right? So what’s wrong with the poster? i think the lingerie ads are much more indecent. The women are not even wearing their bras and covering their breasts with only their arms. Not just lingerie ads but fashion magazines also tend to glorify women as sexual objects, and that is actually very offensive. The fact that the poster took four mths to be taken down also says a lot doesn’t it?

    • retsarepus November 6, 2011 at 11:10 pm #

      EHEh Zaffy my late coming buddy! Nice point but I’ve got an alternate take, but you must scroll up (:

      This counts as a comment right?

  7. Kai Ling November 6, 2011 at 11:41 pm #

    I believe that whatever has contributed to this controversy is the bandwagon effect. Most people are just making a stance whenever this topic is brought up. Look at how much of a ‘sex appeal’ Calvin Klein advertisement that are splashed along orchard roads and cityhall, and yet none of them speaks about its controversy ( if there is any in the first place). we are too used to seeing CK’s advertisement that it does not seem sexually offensive to us. this might be because that ck has since establish a brand positioning within consumers and we do not feel offensive of this advertisement. Instead, the blown-up size of A&F advertisement at Knightsbridge has brought upon this redundant issue.

  8. Kelvin Lim January 9, 2012 at 11:55 pm #

    On a semi-unrelated note, the Singapore law dictates that it is illegal for males but legal for females to commit same-sexual activities. I’m moving to Canada where equality is taken seriously. (Zero discrimination even against all sexual orientation.)

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