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Hwa Chong Institution saga – The Real Issue

Many people have misunderstood the main issue in the heart of the Hwa Chong Institution saga. They believed that because the program had been ineffective, Agatha has been justified in saying what she had said publicly in her letter to her principal. It must however be noted that Agatha’s complain (reproduced at the bottom) was never about the vendor’s ineffectiveness.

If it was just an issue of ineffectiveness, the authorities already have in place, a thorough system to cater for feedback and assessment. Evaluation forms are compiled from every student after every workshop. This evaluation would be made available for the school, MSF and MOE. If the vendors fail to perform or do not take heed of feedback from the authorities, they will not be engaged or approved by the schools or authorities the following year. It is as simple as this.

So if effectiveness had been the issue, and Agatha was just unhappy with a lousy lecture, she could have just rated the facilitator and the workshop very poorly, perhaps, a 1 out of 5.

But that apparently, was not enough for Agatha. It was more than the effectiveness of the program or facilitator that she was targeting.

From her letter, it was obvious that she was targeting straight at the program’s core content. Even before the lecture began, Agatha, looking at the cover page as well as pages 20 and 21, picked and lifted out words out of context, and jumped to the conclusion that this is a program that promotes rape!

How can this even be possible? Did she really believe that Focus on the Family, a reputable, trusted, MOE approved Charity, would dare to promote rape in schools?

To understand this whole saga, one has to understand the worldview lens from which Agatha sees things from – one that is very different from everyone else.

Worldviews are identified by the pattern of ideologies that follow after it. From the pattern of Agatha’s ideologies, her worldview lens resembles that of radical feminism…

 

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Radical Feminism?

In layman terms, just as how chauvinism pushes for male dominance, radical feminism pushes for female dominance.

In this worldview that prioritizes dominance, it is believed that females can only dominate if they are equal to or better than males in power and status – economically and politically. In order to achieve this, females must prioritize economical (or political) pursuits i.e. career seeking, over familial roles i.e. motherhood or caring for her family.

Consider Agatha’s strong but telling statement:

“…that “emotional security” and “closeness” are “far more important to [girls] than financial security” is a questionable and even insulting claim…”

It is no wonder that radical feminism despises traditional roles of women e.g. motherhood. These traditional roles or ways of identifying women are known by feminists as gender stereotypes. Such stereotypes are to be strongly rejected in the feminist worldview.

One of the ways to oppose gender stereotypes is to link them as the cause of women abuse and rape – but is there truth to these words? Feminists can rationalise that women, when stereotyped as the weaker gender, internalizes that they lack the strength to fight back in the face of abuse and rape. This does make some sense and is not incorrect. So there is some truth and some good in the feminist worldview. However, the feminist should not misunderstand that as a modern ethical society, chauvinism is projected each time one talks about the fundamental differences between men and women.

In fact, as a country that respects both males and females equally under the law, chauvinism rarely gets promoted in Singapore at all. However, the problem with the feminist worldview is, there is little ground to be moderate or fair. In order to truly protect womenfolk, women must radically subvert all social structures that encourage women to be weak. Hence, no mentioning that women are the more fragile gender; emotional; weaker in terms of physical strength; the caregiver to her child; cooks for her family etc. If you mention any of those, you will get a reaction from feminists!

“According to FotF, “gals” – as it is written throughout the booklet – are fragile and need guys’ support.. “Gals”, it writes, “need to be loved”, “can be emotional”, “want security”, “[want] you to listen to her problems”, and “[want] to look attractive”, and validation of each of these can only come from the support of a male.. It paints girls as hopelessly dependent beings who are incapable of surviving without guys. This is an extremely sexist view.” – Agatha

Radical feminism believes the outworking of woman’s climb to success, would make a woman like a man in every aspect (except for appearance). They believe that when this day comes, there will be true gender equality. Hence, to reach their goal, they have to disregard many fundamental, biological differences between the man and the woman.

Therefore, the feminism worldview cares little about scientific sociological data, MRI brain scans, commonsense and observations of men-women differences (an example here). In fact, the most radical of them embrace even man’s sexual promiscuity, calling upon women to take active initiatives to lead, express and dominate in sexual pursuits, just like how a man would do. They often disregard psychological realities, and propagate the idea that sex is purely a pleasurable physical act that the female is as capable of enjoying and pursuing. There are no ethical, spiritual dimensions to sex. Emotional dimensions are but social constructs which they hence, oppose as well.

In doing so, feminists lose their very own unique female identity. In trying so hard to be THE female, they lose what being A female is about. Don’t reject your own feminineness! You are unique, and you are beautiful, the way you are born, both physically and psychologically. Be yourself, be strong! Yes, be very strong girl! But you don’t have to reject who you are, and pretend to be who you are not. E.g. It’s ok if you want to serve the military, but it’s not ok to prescribe that for all females – something would be wrong with your inherent motivation if so. (Words in bold edited to more accurately express what I really meant to say)

In relation to this, the following incidents are interestingly observed.

In AWARE’s self-perceived gender equality drive, they suggested that our government should “rethink the whole notion of National Service” and to “make it voluntary or mandatory for all, regardless of gender.” They proposed that that mandatory National Service should either be scrapped for men, or made mandatory for women, and anything less will mean a structural discrimination of women. I think AWARE just doesn’t get it.

Here, it sharply mentions about AWARE’s sexual ideologies as how I have described it above. Women are to be free with their bodies; to be in denial about physical and emotional consequences. Yes, do not subscribe to fundamental differences between the male and female – you can be as carefree as the man in desiring sex.

 

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Ok now, let us return to Hwa Chong.

Now imagine this possible, but not only scenario. You have bright, intelligent girls, passionate but young, and impressionable. They are told stories (by whom? Make your own guess) of women’s dreadful subservience to a male dominated society, including how women are abused and raped. They were told how all these are the out-workings of a male dominated society, which created social constructs like the traditional roles of women, the weaker gender identity etc, so as to oppress them. These traditional roles will become demonized in their eyes and be known as gender stereotypes. To remove these dreadful stereotypes, they push the ideology that women are as capable, equal and SAME as men in every way – if and only if society can eliminate these gender stereotypes. These young women will then become radicalized.

Therefore, when you hear of the term “gender stereotype”, be sure to know the true meaning behind it. It is not simply meant to say, I think you are stereotyping when you present the idea, say, women are emotional. If that is the case, the facilitator would simply clarify that there are exceptions, and that he certainly doesn’t mean that ALL women are emotional and ALL men are not. Everything should be fine when the student sought his clarification and things should move on. But nope. When you are asked the question, “are you stereotyping?” The student is probably not intending to clarify, but wanting to show you that you have a dreadful biasness. Yes, one that needs to be vehemently opposed, as it promotes all kinds of abuse towards women, including rape.

“While I do have many concerns with regards to this workshop and its content which I consider to be pressing, the most pressing is perhaps that the workshop and booklet actively serve to promote rape culture in school.” – Agatha, on the heart of her complaint.

When this happens, most facilitators would be caught unaware. Many will, with the most sincere intentions, try their best to explain to the student/s how he doesn’t really mean so or how she might have misunderstood him. Only that as it goes on, he realises the student is still not satisfied with the clarification. If the facilitator is accommodating, or truly interested in addressing the confusion, the questioning continues with no resolution in sight. By now, the class grows restless. Some have already switched off. Some get triggered and voice out as well. Others begin to talk or complain among themselves. All in all, chaos is introduced and the class has become disrupted. By the time the facilitator quells the chaos and returns to the lesson proper, the atmosphere, the mood of the students, the confidence of the facilitator, have all been compromised. A few students who are unhappy with the program content have successfully hijacked the lesson.

Perhaps the only way for the facilitator to save the class, is to as quickly as possible, move on from the distracting question of the student. He might identify that the topic is out of range, and therefore, is to be addressed privately, so that the class may go on for the sake of the rest. Even then, it is a lose-lose situation. The student who asked the question can be unimpressed, and can still write a sensational complain letter like that of Agatha’s, to the authorities, citing discrimination of any kind, be it gender discrimination or genderless (same-sex) discrimination. Without a supportive partnership or understanding authorities, the facilitator and vendor will lose big time. Only then, the school’s disciplined, orderly culture will be lost as well. If everyone can do an Agatha and get away with it, the undiscerning authorities would actually be promoting disorderly, ill-disciplined and slanderous behaviour in schools, and in the culture of Singapore.

Consider Ian’s account. Ian is a fellow classmate of Agatha’s, who sat in the same FOTF workshop as Agatha that day. Together with other eyewitnesses, they compiled a collective account to counter Agatha’s claims. He wrote:

“I would like to assert that anti-LGBTQ and anti-polyamorous ideas were not put forth. In my opinion, there was a significant twist of facts when Agatha claimed that:

“…he effectively shut her down by saying that her views were not what the audience wanted to listen to and that perhaps she could remain quiet for now and bring it up with him afterwards so they could end the first half of the course for break, which was coming up “very soon”. (He failed to actually ask the audience if we wanted to listen to her opinion and assumed we wholeheartedly accepted his, and break was in fact almost another half hour later.)”

The member of the audience mentioned acted in a flippant manner and did not raise her question tactfully. The individual herself asked everyone present at the lecture theatre: “Does anyone not want to hear this right now? Raise your hand if you do not want to”, in which over half of the people present raised their hands in disinterest. The facilitator did not, at any point, disregard her opinion. He acted in the interests of the majority and continued with the workshop. It was understandable that the facilitator did not go into the issue in specificity. Turning the workshop into a debate ground for the LGBTQ question can be unnecessarily frustrating, insensitive and disruptive to the rest of the students in the workshop. The facilitator did his best to consider the needs of the rest, to the best of his judgment, and that deserves commendation. I highly doubt that the LGBTQ question was included as a part of the workshop, and I cannot fault the facilitator for carrying out the lesson as planned.”

In Ian’s account, a certain member of the audience “acted in a flippant manner” and “asked everyone present at the lecture theatre” a question to seemingly demand a response from the facilitator. This student had certainly seemed like he or she had usurped the role of authority to be addressing everyone against the facilitator. This disorderly disruption should certainly have been a main highlight of the lesson that day. Why then has it not been reported by the Straits Times when they published about Hwa Chong’s internal investigation? If this disruption had not been discovered, the investigations cannot be said to be thorough at all. If this disruption had been conveniently hidden, it would disappointingly tell of a lack of honourable leadership in the school’s authority, in a time when their partners and the public needed it the most.

Indeed, Agatha’s sensational but self-serving account served to attack the organization, the program’s content and the facilitator. Her accusations have since been proven to be fabricated, thanks to Ian’s account, Tessa’s sharing, as well as SUFF’s post which studied and debunked Agatha’s letter. Many have also written to newspaper forums and on blogs to explain how guys are fundamentally different from girls. I find it amusing that a letter was also written to the ST Forum titled, “’Guys are visual’ not a gender stereotype”. Indeed, it will be amusing if I as a guy, having explained to a girl how as guys, we really are more easily visually stimulated (with no intention of saying that this justify any crime against women), get rebuffed by her. It will be as if she knows men more than men know themselves. This is the frustration dealing with people who see things from an unrealistic worldview lens – they are blinded to their own insensitivity.

Therefore, the effectiveness of the facilitator is not the heart of the issue. Agatha was attacking the core of the program’s content, one of which was about discovering the differences between the two sexes so as to develop understanding and build communication. She lifted the sharing of gender differences out of context, supported rude, disorderly and rebellious forms of behaviour that disrupted the lesson. If she could support such disorderly, rebellious behaviour in class, it is no wonder that she would publicly post her accusatory, slanderous letter as well. Hence, the heart of the issue is really with the school’s discipline culture, what it was, and what it wishes to continue to encourage.

For example, does the school authority provide avenues for an external facilitator to act should a student in class tries to override his authority to hijack the lesson? Does the school objectively study the facts on the ground, understand the background of the student/s in question and see the true context of the situation, before acting fairly towards all parties?

There is no one external facilitator who would know it all, and can solve it all, and the school should not be expecting such from their vendors, especially when the source of the problem seems to be inherently, a disciplinary one. Even if the facilitators were indeed ineffective, they at least deserve a full disclosure of such details of what really happened? Why the cover-up of the rudeness of the ill-disciplined student? Why did Agatha twist that fact? Whatever happened to respect, truthfulness and love? Will future partners be really able to count on the school’s disciplinary committee when such things happen, if this is the school’s attitude towards their partners? What is MOE’s stand on this? Why the haste from MOE in reporting that the program will cease without explaining why it will cease? Why such flippancy from Straits Times to not report this more accurately causing many to have the impression that FOTF’s program has been banned because of Agatha’s complain? Should we expect our authorities, our media, in their role and position, to scramble and retreat, to spread falsehood and lies, when there is a crisis? Isn’t this exactly the Singapore we are building?

Do schools operate in a manner where students are allowed to rant online? Would authorities encourage the public to rant online about rude and misbehaviours of students of particular schools then? Is this the culture our government, MOE, Hwa Chong Institution or Singaporeans want to encourage? If not, what is being done about the rude, even slanderous remarks made unnecessarily public? Will an apology towards FOTF be in line looking at this incident objectively? Can schools tolerate if the rant was against their own teachers, principles, or even MOE’s own sexuality program?

What kind of a person will Agatha be 5 years from now if she is not restored lovingly by firm discipline and sharp counsel? What kind of impact would she contribute and add on to the culture of Singapore?

Make no mistake about this. Agatha’s intentions were not pure. FOTF has been maligned. This is the real truth.

At a time when the public needs the authorities to act with strong, honourable leadership, it was ironic yet refreshing, that such would come unexpectedly from a 17 year old, who saw the need to speak out to right the wrong of what his classmate did.

Nevertheless, as of now, Ian’s account gets shared 300 over times, whereas Agatha’s fabricated account has more than 3000 shares. What an irony. Whither Singapore? If a few students can disrupt and hijack a whole class, a small radical community can destroy our nation through sensationalism and lies – if those who knows the truth stays passive, apathetic and silent.

In something as clear as truth and lies, where is that idealistic generation who would arise to do what is right, right what is wrong? Or is it just an empty shell? Are the young people of Agatha and Ian Wong’s generation only intelligent, but unjust and untruthful? Will the likes of Ian Wongs and Tessa Hos redeem this generation, or will the radicalism and sensationalized fabrications of Agathas corrupt them? Only they can choose, and only time can tell.

 

 

Agatha’s public letter:

Dear Dr. Hon,

I am Agatha, a C1 student, and my purpose in writing this open letter to you today is to express my sincere concerns about the MSF “It’s Uncomplicated” workshop all C1 students had to attend on Friday, the 3rd of October.

I attended the workshop with my class in the AVT. Before it started, I flipped through the booklet provided by Focus on the Family (FotF). While sexuality education rarely manages to teach me something that I have not already learnt through past sessions or mainstream media, this booklet was different. From merely glancing through this booklet, I learned a simple yet important lesson: that bigotry is very much alive and it was naïve of me to think I could be safe from it even in school.

While I do have many concerns with regards to this workshop and its content which I consider to be pressing, the most pressing is perhaps that the workshop and booklet actively serve to promote rape culture in school. On the cover page of the booklet itself, it is written, “no means yes?” and “yes means no?” (See attached photo for reference.) The facilitators from FotF neglected to mention that thinking a girl means “yes” when she says “no” is actually completely wrong. Rather, they spent their four hours with us discussing things such as what a girl “really means” when she says something else, as opposed to guys who are “direct” and “always mean what they say” (see photos of pages 20-21). By telling the student population this, FotF sends a dangerous message: that you should always assume that a girl means something else (like “yes”) when really she just means “no”.

Granted, the facilitators did make clear that these gender stereotypes they were promoting were subject to “some exceptions” and that they should be taken lightly, as a sort of joke. While it is reassuring to note that they have apparently realized not everyone fits into their binary model of a nuclear family that in their opinion youth should be actively working towards, not only did they ignore the presence of these people whenever it was inconvenient to them, but they also adopted an extremely damaging attitude.

When someone else tried to raise that the facilitator’s views were too narrow and that they failed to consider, for instance, LGBTQ or polyamorous individuals, he effectively shut her down by saying that her views were not what the audience wanted to listen to and that perhaps she could remain quiet for now and bring it up with him afterwards so they could end the first half of the course for break, which was coming up “very soon”. (He failed to actually ask the audience if we wanted to listen to her opinion and assumed we wholeheartedly accepted his, and break was in fact almost another half hour later.) I personally thought that listening to her opinion was more important than tea break, but what do I know? After all, I am just a “gal”.

The facilitators’ attitude of “jokingly” (I write this with inverted commas because I personally did not believe they were joking) promoting gender stereotypes, in particular, that girls always mean the opposite of what they say as compared to guys who are all very direct, is also extremely damaging in other ways. By endorsing these stereotypes as a tolerable joke, they effectively tell students that these are acceptable views and that it’s perfectly okay to adopt them. This creates a dangerous situation in which questions like “does she mean yes when she says no?” become valid in the male student population’s eyes. Their joking attitude here only serves to reinforce rape culture, since the guys now come to mistakenly understand that girls always mean the opposite when they say anything, including “no”.

Besides this, something else I found distressing was that the workshop seemed to emphasize and enforce traditional gender roles in a relationship. According to FotF, “gals” –as it is written throughout the booklet –are fragile and need guys’ support, and everything a guy does in the relationship is excusable simply because he is a guy and is wired that way. “Gals”, it writes, “need to be loved”, “can be emotional”, “want security”, “[want] you to listen to her problems”, and “[want] to look attractive”, and validation of each of these can only come from the support of a male (see attached photos of pages 25-26). It paints girls as hopelessly dependent beings who are incapable of surviving without guys. This is an extremely sexist view. It simplifies girls to nothing more than what FotF believes they should be like in their relationship with guys.

Yes, I agree that many girls probably feel a need to be loved, and can be emotional, but is this not human, and are these really things that only a guy can solve? Love and emotional support can come from many different people –from families and friends, for instance. Furthermore, that “emotional security” and “closeness” are “far more important to [girls] than financial security” is a questionable and even insulting claim, as is the claim that having a guy listen to a girl’s feelings “automatically solves the problem”. This sexist attitude not only trivializes girls’ problems, but also serves as a foundation for the further boosting of the male ego FotF seems so invested in doing.

This is driven home by the use of the word “gals” throughout the booklet. As a seventeen year-old –someone who should be considered a young adult –I resent the use of this word to describe me. Using the language of twelve year-olds to describe girls makes us seem immature and frivolous and ultimately, easily dismissible. We are not, and should not be portrayed as such.

Guys, on the other hand, are portrayed as guardians who can ultimately do no wrong even when they are evidently doing wrong. “Guys need respect” and “guys are insecure” are just some of the things written in the booklet. “While guys don’t want a girl to pretend to be clueless,” it writes, “they also don’t want a girlfriend that questions their opinions and argues with their decisions all the time”. What this really means is that guys apparently do not want a girl who thinks for herself. I am sure you agree that as a student, being told that I should refrain from having opinions of my own and daring to express them for the sake of keeping a guy’s ego intact is contrary to everything my education has taught me. Similarly, that I should take it upon myself, as a girl, to boost a guy’s ego by showering him with compliments in public because it is my responsibility to do so is equally demeaning.

However, I am also sure you agree that this view about guys does not hold true for everyone. Much as girls have been generalized and simplified in this booklet, so too have guys, and this is fair for neither gender. Yet while the simplification of girls serves to belittle their importance as individuals, the gross simplification of guys serves to boost their egos by perpetuating the message that anything and everything guys do is excusable simply because it is wired into them.

The most alarming thing I read in the booklet provided was that “A guy can’t not want to look” and that what a girl is wearing matters only “lest she become an “eye magnet” that cannot be avoided” (see attached photos of pages 27-28). There are two main problems with this –firstly, that guys are apparently incapable of controlling themselves or their hormones at all, and this is excusable because it’s in their natures, and second, that as a girl, when I dress, I should be thinking of what guys think rather than what I think.

FotF would have you believe that guys are slaves to their hormones and therefore girls should take their unwanted attention in their stride. When a “scantily-clad” girl walks past, for instance, a guy is sure to take notice because “no man with a pulse could have done otherwise” (page 26). It is precisely this kind of attitude that makes mothers warn their daughters not to wear short skirts and walk along the street alone at night, instead of warning their sons to be decent human beings and keep their eyes to themselves instead of appraising the female form like they own it. Certainly, we live in a male dominated world, and for this reason, guys do tend to get away with more. Yet that they do get away with more does not mean that they should. FotF, however, seems to believe that anything a guy does is excusable just because he is a guy. It is worrying that this is the message being imparted to students who are frequently told that they are they the future of the nation.

In my opinion, FotF’s portrayal of guys with regards to their raging hormones not only makes them seem pathetic, but again reduces girls to their role as supporters of their male counterparts. The booklet states that “Many guys feel neither the ability nor the responsibility to stop the sexual progression with [girls]”, and thus they “need your help to protect both of you” (page 28). I felt it disgusting that, for one, FotF has reduced guys to nothing but their hormones, and for two, instead, then, of suggesting that we should cultivate a sense of responsibility in guys with regards to respecting boundaries, FotF suggested that girls therefore need to support guys so that they are able to play heroes and guardians. Why should girls have to learn to help guys play guardian rather than learn how to protect themselves?

It should be noted that in the earlier half of the workshop, the facilitators had shared that in moving the relationship to the next stage, “the guy has to take the lead”. When I asked them why, they were unable to provide an answer beyond “It was just a general statement”. I find it strange that a guy can apparently be expected to take charge when moving the relationship forward, yet should not be expected to take charge in stopping it. Also, FotF does not seem to comprehend the damage one can do by reducing everything to general statements, as I have mentioned above.

After the workshop, I took it upon myself to look up FotF to better understand the views they actively promote. While I cannot say that I was shocked to find out that they are, according to their website, a “global Christian ministry” known for their socially conservative views and agenda, I was disappointed that our sexuality education was tasked to them. I feel that FotF has used sexuality education as an opportunity to further spread their own conservative, “God-ordained” beliefs rather than to educate students on arguably more important things such as safe sex, sexual identity and shared and equal responsibility.

At the JC level, students would have spent at least four years hearing about abstinence and why it is the safest way to go. Using the four hour long workshop to once again preach the value of abstinence seems excessive and unnecessary. If schools are to prepare us for situations we will face in the future, then should we not also be taught about safe sex and contraception and about healthy relationship dynamics?

It is especially unfortunate that FotF was in charge of sexuality education in JC. As young adults trying to figure ourselves out, having a known conservative group preach the non-existence or non-importance of individuals it does not approve of is extremely damaging to the self-discovery process because it invalidates our values and choices and ignores diversity in us as human beings. FotF had no problem using a clip with a gay character when it suited their purposes (a scene from My Best Friend’s Wedding), yet was also quick to denounce any relationship outside of the binary heterosexual norm as “unstable” and “unfavourable”.

Indeed, when the facilitator asked someone why he did not believe in the institution of marriage and he replied that it was in his opinion a flawed social construct due to the limits the government imposes on it, the facilitator was quick to declare that marriage had nothing to do with the government (considering what I now know about FotF, one might then assume that marriage is all about God) and that any unmarried or non-heterosexual couple was effectively participating in an unstable relationship. The quickness and ease with which the facilitator dismissed anyone outside of his limited moral framework was a clear display of bigotry and tells students that acceptance is beyond him. For someone questioning their identity, having someone in a position of authority tell them that they simply did not matter if they were not straight is emotionally destructive.

I do not mean to imply that the school management has to take a supportive position in the struggle for LGBTQ rights, though in my opinion this would be ideal. Yet even so the school has a responsibility to the diverse school population; even if the school is unable and unwilling to provide inclusive sexuality education for students, it has a basic responsibility to ensure that it is a place free of bigotry where students can at least feel safe to study in without fear of being persecuted for who they are or are figuring themselves out to be.

By engaging the services of groups such as FotF to teach sexuality education in school, the management hence indirectly participates in promoting rape culture, tells students that we should conform to traditional gender roles instead of being our own persons, demonstrates that the acceptance of diversity in people is unimportant, and erases minority groups in the student population.

I hope that these concerns will be taken into consideration for future events and workshops.

Sincerely,
Agatha Tan
(14A10)

 

 

 

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