Monday, January 31, 2011

On standpoint questions.

The most popular critique I've heard back home to feminism is that it's Western-based, or Eurocentric. That's understandable, since mainstream feminism is based on the lives of women in 18th and 19th century European and US educated classes. Marxist feminism is based on the lives of wage-working women in the 19th and early 20th century 'industrialising' or 'modernising' societies, and Third World feminism is based on the lives of late 20th century women of Third World descent, and these different Third World lives produce different feminisms. There is no single, ideal woman's life from which though should start.

In my own social situation, there exists our own kind of feminism. My intersection of identities and perspectives are: (politically-classified) Malay, Muslim, upper middle class, university-educated, unmarried, childless. There are not many like me in Singapore - rumour has it that it's only 3% of my age group.

We're marginalised if we speak purely of numbers. From our standpoint (standpoint theory by Sarah Harding), we are in a better place to ask critical questions about the dominant socio-politico-religious order in Singapore. And here are my critical questions:

Why is it rare to find a woman working in the higher ranks of MUIS or community mosques? In mosque committees one often finds the Board of Directors to be almost all men, while the teachers are all women. Exception is the current CEO of Mendaki.

Why does MUIS give male students overseas scholarships to high-ranking institutions, while most female students can only get a local scholarship? Even when she has a Master's degree or a Phd, she is paid less, has a lower rank, or is put into an irrelevant department than an equivalent male student in MUIS.

Why are women who do not cover their hair assumed to be disinterested in Islam and/or contemporary issues related to Muslims?

When do some men prevent women from entering some mosques via the front entrace? Case in point: the mosque behind IRAS in Novena.

Why is a good Muslim woman one who stays at home (whether by force or choice), and not one who speaks out against and fights for social justice, like MP Halimah Yaacob?

Why do young Muslim men care so much about how young Muslim women dress?

Why are we regarded as such an anomaly?

Why are young Muslim men scared of young Muslim women who travel a lot and meet new people?

--

"Are we biologically programmed to succeed at nothing and fail at equal participation in governing community and society?" (Harding, 2005).

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The 'woman' and 'man' in feminism.

I'm back in Singapore for two weeks, and some conversations I had with my friends is making me think a lot about how feminism is perceived. One of the friends I met introduced me to his friend as someone specialising in gender because I 'hate men' and I'm 'feminist' - and he uses these phrases as being equivalent.

This is a common perception, but it's not true. Feminism basically means that you support women having the same rights as men (so men can be 'feminist' too). The reason why there is 'feminine' in the word is because the type of feminism most widely-known, criticised, and taught is the feminism emerging from '60s United States. In this certain context, women had lower status and less rights than men, so the aim of the suffragists were to give women the same as men. This feminism coincided with the civil rights movement aimed at abolishing slavery in the US. There are other feminisms from other parts of the world - 'feminism' does not automatically mean 'Western' (another post for another day!).

While some of my ISS male comrades feel they would find 'feminism' more palatable if it did not contain an obvious reference to the 'feminine', simply calling it 'gender equality' would depoliticise feminism, and may result in a loss of focus - that while men suffer too, there are indeed more women than men that are in need of their rights. Apparently ISS had the same discussion a few years ago, in deciding to retain the word 'women' in the gender specialisation (it used to be Women and Development, and now it's Women, Gender, Development') - that one must not forget that in studying men we do not forget women.

That being said, we've actually been studying a lot about men (and masculinities) so far. Like how for example, how men 'suffer' when being with other 'hegemonically masculine' men. Hegemonic masculinity, according to RW Connell (1995), is a type of masculinity that is oppressive to both men and women. When we talk about patriarchy, Connell refers to this type of masculinity - machismo, women-hating/-beating, and intolerant of all other men who don't act like them. This is not true of all societies but what is important is that hegemonic masculinity is more than an ‘ideal’, it is shared by a lot of people and seems 'natural', even. It is the standard to which other masculinities are compared to.

Complicit masculinity is when men indirectly support and benefit from patriarchy, but know that they have to compromise with women. For example, there's a difference between watching men rough it out in a game of rugby and watching a rugby match on TV while cheering, drinking beer and asking their wives to get them more beers.

There's also subordinated (to the bottom of the hierarchy) masculinity, of which Connell gives effeminate gays as an example. Since hegemonically masculine men hate women, it's no surprise that subordinated masculinity often contains elements classically considered feminine. Subordinated masculinity also suffers from psychological/physical/institutional violence from hegemonic masculinity. Another masculinity he talks about is marginalised masculinity - alternative masculinities that may be considered more savage or completely out-of-this-world by virtue of being immigrant men, for example.

A great film that shows different kinds of masculinities is 'Billy Elliot', so try to watch it if you can to think about how men suffer too (:

Patriarchal masculinity cripples men. Manhood as we know it in our society requires such a self-destructive identity, a deeply masochistic self-denial, a shrinkage of the self, a turning away from whole areas of life, the man who obeys the demands of masculinity has become only half-human. . . To become the man I was supposed to be, I had to destroy my most vulnerable side, my sensitivity, my femininity, my creativity, and I had to pretend to be both more powerful and less powerful than I feel.
(Horrocks 1994, p. 25).

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Christmas

I celebrated Christmas for the first time, in a modest middle-class-but-has-a-farm style in Ieper, Belgium, with T and my cousin, A. The household's farmland is rented out to some family members, and as far as I could see in winter, there are sheep - which apparently live so well with lots of space to run around that some Muslims have come before Eid ul-Adha to buy some to sacrifice (For an explanation of Eid ul-Adha, click here).

Not so far away is a beautiful big lake that is frozen over now, but where people go to windsurf in better weather. I walked her dog, Charlie, for the first time, and it was clear by the way he tugs incessantly that he's the pack leader.


On Christmas eve, some of her extended family - maternal grandparents, aunts/uncles and cousins came for a big dinner. On Christmas day, her paternal grandparents came and everyone opened presents. Her two nephews - the most adorable little boys ever, cute as buttons - were in charge of bringing everyone's presents to them (:

Language-wise, at first I didn't know what to speak in because Flanders, the northern part of Belgium speaks Dutch but in a special accent, which makes them call it Flemish. Wallonia/Walloon, the southern part - which I heard has been wanting to secede - speaks French. But when we went around greeting each of her family one by one, her grandmother started to say,

- Desolée, je ne parle pas...
- Ah, mais je parle français, moi!


To which we immediately clicked of course. I also had quite a long conversation with her grandfather, who thinks all religions are good. (I think so too!) He told me his age and that of his wife's three times, but I enjoy listening to old people talk.

We also met up again with the girls who came to visit me in The Hague a month ago, and we made apple-cinnamon pancakes and hot chocolate, and somehow got giddy enough with all that sugar to start learning how to 'sexy-dance' in S's kitchen, according to this hilarious video.


I didn't know this before, but Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on another day - around or on 7 January. I only found this out when some of my ISS friends were sorry they couldn't come to my (surprise) birthday gathering (: I think they believe that 25 Dec coincides with a pagan, pre-Christianity festival for the sun, that was meshed together with Christianity to make it more 'palatable' for the pagans - do correct me if I'm wrong.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Exams - again.

Sorry for the lack of updates - my cousin came to visit over the Christmas holidays and we went to Belgium for a week, and now I'm studying furiously for my exams (2 over, 1 more to go!).
Will update soon (:

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