Tag Archives: feminism

Day 24: ALL Women Deserve Some Time Off, including Domestic Workers

9 Mar

I hope that everyone celebrated the International Women’s Day yesterday. And celebrating this, I spent all day with the most important woman in my life, my grandmother, hence the no writing again… But I have thought about today’s topic long and hard over the past 2 days, and hope this makes sense. Some information is obtained from my research for my master’s thesis, so hope you are OK with the “no source” fact for some numbers and such.

Imagine this. In the 21st century, you are living in one of the richest countries in the world (GDP-wise). Your pay is roughly about 80 cents in USD an hour. And your job is practically being on call 24/7 to take care of every bit of a family’s business, from cleaning to playing with young children to taking care of the elderly to cooking to carrying the teenage daughter’s backpack to school (while the girl would be looking into her iPhone).

These are the labor conditions of 200,000+ women from many countries (the Philippines, Indonesia, China, Bangladesh, India, etc.) working as domestic workers in Singapore. Many women leave their family members (including their children and elderly parents) in order to take care of other people’s families so that the dollars they earn can support their own families back home. Most of them earn somewhere between 400-600 SGD (319-478.50 USD), and most amount is sent back to their families for food, education and other basic necessities. Their remittances have not only been essential for their own families but also for their countries’ economic development. And this economic trend of labor migration is not likely to stop in this globalizing world.

Hence, the recent legislation of mandatory day-off in Singapore (starting in 2013) was a move to the right direction, although it is much delayed. It is probably not the “perfect legislation” which will solve all the problems that have existed regarding employment of domestic workers, but I am sure this will prompt better labor practices starting at every home in Singapore which gets help from domestic helpers.

After this announcement was made, obviously some citizens were very unhappy. There were several reasons why I was more than infuriated when I read the opinion of a particular Singaporean citizen on this issue. He is basically claiming that giving maids a day off a week will 1. bring negative impacts on families while there is barely enough hands to maintain the current difficulties with families, 2. cause every maid to want a day off, 3. cause the maids to waste their money because they have more opportunities to spend it and 4. cause them to clog the popular tourist destinations (while it will clearly give bad impression on foreign visitors).

Let me just say this. He (although I’m not sure about the person’s gender) is a privileged racist, sexist and classist. I’m gonna go one by one from the list.

1. The truth of the matter is that many house chores can be manageable even without extra help from maids, except in special cases. The reason why the domestic labor without domestic workers seems so impossible is because there is no fair labor division within the household to begin with. It is likely that the female partner is the only person who has to take care of all the domestic chores with the helper, while the male partner barely does anything, if the family cannot manage a single day a week without the helper’s magic touch.

2. Yes, they will want a day off, and what is the problem? Don’t you, as the employer, have 2 days off while working more or less a regular shift (OK, if you are a workaholic, you probably have almost no day off)? Why shouldn’t someone who has a job working for your family, although it may not be as prestigious as your own somewhere at the Raffles Place, have a single day off so that she can re-charge and be free from the physical and emotional burdens that she has to bear with? And even without the law, there have been many households who are giving their helpers a day off. Are they having serious family crises, because they are giving a day off? I have yet to hear of a single case like that.

3. Here, you are basically saying that since they are not as educated as you are, they are not capable of spending money wisely. Are you aware of the amount of money that they get in a month? Are you aware that most of it goes back to her family so that they can meet their basic needs? You are probably using the same amount of money to get something that is not as meaningful, perhaps a fancy cell phone or a bag.

4. This is just a simple excuse that you want to put on there so that you sound like you are concerned about your own national interest. But the truth is that you just hate the fact that there are a bunch of foreigners (who clearly seem inferior to yourself, you racist) on Orchard Road while you are trying to get to your next destination to spend your precious money. Or maybe you are just blaming your own country that there are not enough place to go for foreign visitors in your island, besides Orchard, a shopping hub.

I don’t mean to demonize all the domestic worker employers or make these workers seem like helpless victims. However, if legal system would continue to justify the violence –which broadly applies to emotional insensitivity such as not giving a single day off in a week— with indifference, as the writer of that opinion piece seems to want, Singapore will eventually have very difficult times having continuous stream of domestic workers. And as the writer seems to know already, they are a very important part of Singapore’s families and economy. I already heard that many women prefer other destinations such as Hong Kong, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, etc. because the conditions in Singapore are not as favorable.

And more importantly, I really wonder why some people may think that guaranteeing basic human dignity is so troublesome. Below is a note from a current domestic worker on Temasek Times, and hope this makes people think.

Put Yourself in Maid’s Shoes

–       Letter from Bhing Navato

WITH all due respect to employers who are complaining about the weekly day off for maids, as a helper, I ask them: Why not be a maid overseas for a month, away from your family, sometimes forbidden to talk to anyone?

Try living in another family’s home to serve them. Would you work without a rest day? You might think homemaking work is easy but it is not because we are just like you.

We are always thinking of how to please our employers, to ensure our job is done before they come home. We are not robots. We get tired, too. We need rest to relax, to work happily the next day.

If others can give regular days off to their helpers, why can’t you not?

(First posted as a comment at http://www.todayonline.com/voices)

Day 20: Quote Lingering in My Thoughts All Day

3 Mar

Nobody objects to a woman being a good writer or sculptor or geneticist if at the same time she manages to be a good wife, a good mother, good-looking, good-tempered, well-dressed, well-groomed, and unaggressive. ~Marya Mannes

This reminds me of the popular phrase at Duke when I was still a student there: Effortless Perfection. How many of us are STILL pursuing this so that we don’t have to feel guilty about being human?

Day 19: The Plastic Surgery Debate Shall Continue Forever

2 Mar

By accident, I ran into this article today written by Siobhan Courtney. This discusses the PIP breast implant scandal and the whole issue of plastic surgery and women’s choice. I don’t know if you remember, but this was the horrendous case where silicone that was not up to standard for medical use was used for breast implants everywhere in the world. She mainly argues that women who choose to obtain the surgery are exercising their agencies over their bodies, and they are not some cheap bimbos.

Her argument is something that seems to be opposite to the argument that I presented yesterday. But the general sentiment against the patriarchal voices regarding plastic surgery seems to be the same. Her argument is more on the fact that many patriarchal discourses ignore the fact that women have agency to make their own choices regarding their bodies (and satisfy their needs to feel good about themselves, not necessarily pleasing men), while calling the women bimbos and many terrible names. Although I agree that women should be able to freely exercise their agencies, I would argue against her argument, because I think that the driving force of overall plastic surgery industry and culture is the patriarchal culture. What seems to matter the most in this whole plastic surgery debate ultimately is that patriarchal discourse will always be present whether to cause plastic surgeries or to criticize them. Also it should be debated what has contributed to the formation of “women’s agency” which is highly subjective anyways. Well, I guess I saw the extreme negatives while she observed the “grey areas,” like the example of the woman in her writing who had to get plastic surgery after breastfeeding 2 children.

Just too much to think about… and the debate will go on, I suppose.

Day 18: The Plastic World to My Eyes

1 Mar

One day in April 2011, it was my first time going to Apgujeong area in Seoul. It takes about an hour and half to get there from where I live, which is just outside of the city, and I couldn’t bother to visit there while my breaks were often quite short and didn’t involve visiting the particular area at all. Well, it is supposed to be one of the richest area in the capital city. There are lots of highly-priced restaurants, fancy clothing shops, and cool places to hang out where one can be very happy if she has enough money to splurge. This area is perhaps the most famous for a very unique feature: The Apgujeong Beauty belt where literally thousands of plastic surgery clinics are filling in the entire stretch of the road. As soon as you get out of the subway, you are overwhelmed by large advertisements by a number of those clinics, and quite often they are very “creative” in selling their skills. Some clinics can take care of anywhere, from the head to toe, and they say they will change your life. And others have specializations, often eyes, facial shape, nose and breasts, and say the same thing: You’ll be happier with bigger breasts. The ads tell you something is wrong with you, if you are content (or even OK) with how you look and if you haven’t consulted those doctors at least once in your life. It is widely known that Korea has one of the biggest plastic surgery industry that is largely fed by the demands in the domestic market as well as international market. By the way, the government promotes medical tourism. Interesting facts are found here.

**

“Let Me In.” It is a name of a cable channel’s show in Korea. “Me in” in Korean (the sound of it) means a beautiful woman, so the show’s title cleverly uses the English phrase to mean two things. One, let me become a beautiful woman, and two, let me be in the show so that I can become beautiful. It is a show that chooses a woman every week with a dramatic story, and she gets to get a fully-paid plastic surgery makeover. Each woman comes with her own story, and each is quite heartbreaking because the women tend to have been hurt by others deeply throughout their lives by the way they look and have no confidence in themselves. And talking about the scars that they have lived with for very long in public is perhaps one of the most humiliating thing that one can do, especially as a scarred, unconfident individual. Some of them do have some clinical problems physically, but the show is, as you can guess, mostly concerned with making someone look more beautiful through cosmetic surgeries. After the storytelling is done, there is a panel of doctors behind the wall who discuss about the issue, and they are the one who decide if the woman on the other side of the wall will get the chance to change her look (and her life, so they say). There are plastic surgeons, dentists and psychiatrists who quite fiercely discuss the case. They sometimes laugh at how the woman looks like, maybe commenting, “Really, there’s not much that can be done in this case (meaning that she’s ‘too ugly’ that even with their magical hands, that can’t be fixed).” For all the episodes that I’ve watched, all women got chosen, but I couldn’t watch the show anymore.

Every time after watching the show, I looked at myself in the mirror and think, “Something is wrong with my facial shape,” or “My nose could look better.” I mean everyone looked more beautiful and happier on the show, and deep down unconsciously, I was thinking, maybe I can be happier if I can fix the parts that I don’t like.

***

After reading the two episodes above, I hope you are upset or at least uncomfortable. Such trend that I have observed is not just limited to Korea, but everywhere (I do happen to see more about this stuff in Korea, though). Maybe you will say, “Well, isn’t it ultimately the women’s choices that lead them to those clinics and the show? Shouldn’t they have reasonable causes that lead them to such actions?” I argue that women’s “choices” are not entirely theirs when it comes down to plastic surgery decisions. The media and the entire society are telling you that there is something so wrong about your body that you need to hate those parts and yourself. And ultimately, it is not about your ability to have your own intelligent reasoning, but it’s about how you feel (ugly and awful) and how the society enforces its terrible reasons on women. Even as a highly educated woman (for God’s sake, I have a master’s degree), I felt terribly wrong, awkward and ugly whenever I had to stand on the street of the Beauty Belt and whenever I watched that show. There is nothing more discouraging and demoralizing than the feeling of self-hatred, feeling that you are not beautiful hence no one, including yourself, will love you. And these feelings are more serious and important than any other matters to one’s self-confidence.

All women have the right to believe that each and one of them is beautiful inside out. However, unfortunately, many women learn how to find what is “wrong” about their bodies and hate themselves as they grow up, instead of learn to love who they are. The human pursuit of beauty and vanity will never stop, but they should not have to be built upon the self-deprecating, self-hating ground where the media and industries are constantly telling you to not to appreciate yourself so that you may eventually buy into that scheme. If plastic surgeries are done completely free of such negative social baggage which damages women’s personhood, and if one can be completely happy after such surgeries are done, I wouldn’t be so against the idea of plastic surgeries. However, why is it that there are more and more women who are knocking on the plastic surgeons’ offices in the Beauty Belt every year from everywhere in the world? Why is it that I hear women who have had at least one plastic surgery would go for more of them over time?

There is certainly something missing to the (temporary) satisfaction that the perfect plastic surgery gives to a person.

Day 17: They [Rape Victims] Had It Coming? Stop Justifying Violence.

29 Feb

Despite the fact that facebook makes you waste a lot of time, it doesn’t matter so much to me now because I have almost too much time in my hand J. And facebook happens to be my news source where I encounter some quality articles and exchange different views with my friends. The article that I just read was posted by my friend Aarushi and published in the NYT.  It gave an excellent overview on the injustice regarding victims of sexual violence.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/29/world/asia/29iht-letter29.html?_r=2

It is talking about the “blame the victim” mentality in India in cases of sexual assaults while there are many holes in terms of policies and laws, policy makers’ views, and prejudices against women who are victims of such violence. Well, this proves that whether it is in a developed country like the US (remember my posting on Day 15 and Liz Trotta?) or a rapidly developing country like India, the victims of sexual assaults are tremendously stigmatized multiple times because of the society’s general support of violence.

Yes, I said it. Many societies support and justify violent men, because many think that that is just a part of their nature, and women just have to be careful about it (and if not, it’s considered all women’s fault, not men’s). We have to change this mentality. We need to nurture our society so that the violent “nature” does not prevail and get justified. And no, I don’t think violence is a given nature of men, and it’s rather a product of patriarchal nurturing.

Here are several words that I want to be ABSOLUTELY clear about sexual violence. Although I don’t claim to be an expert, I do believe that these are some absolute facts that all men and women should be aware.

A man does not have permission to sexually assault women at any time of the day. Whether it is during the broad daylight or 2:30am, no one has any right to impose such violence against women. At 2:30am, she might be coming back from work which supports her family, and don’t you ever blame her for being outside when it is so late. The fact that a woman is out late doesn’t give anyone the right to rape her.

It is a rape if you try to have sex with your girlfriend/wife/partner when she has clearly said no. The fact that you feel entitled to have sexual intercourse with your significant other doesn’t mean that you always have free pass to do so. That makes it an unequal relationship, and that is not healthy. Without mutual agreement, it is called spousal/date rape, and yes, you become a rapist without her consent.

A man does not have permission to have unwanted physical contact with women no matter what she is wearing. The standard for “revealing outfits” varies from country to country, and what one wears does not automatically invite you for any unpleasant contact or sexual assault. It is easy to blame women who wear “revealing” clothes, but a decent, normal man would not even think of such gross acts whatever he sees while rapists probably won’t even care what women wear (sadly true).

It is sexual assault if you try to have sex with a woman who is under the influence of alcohol or drugs (which might have been taken against her will), because her ability to make reasonable decisions for herself is impaired (and same to you). FYI, big NO to date rape drugs that some men slip into women’s drinks and spike them up. You have to walk away.

It is a rape if you have sex with children who are in brothels. In many countries, girls are often trafficked, because there are families who are too poor and do not value girls and because there are many men who want to have sex with them very cheaply.

Of course, there are many grey areas when it comes to sexual assault, and that is precisely the reason why many women are at disadvantage in current legal systems. And I do not mean to victimize all women, especially the survivors of sexual assaults, but at the same time, the systematic injustice is precisely the reason why many of VAW cases are not reported and still considered “something that should be taken care of between the two people.” Well, the physical strength tends to take care of the business all the time. And in India’s case in the article above, the people who are making policies and laws are oblivious about what is considered violence against women. Maybe we should just invent a program that can educate these old top dogs and implant chips in all of their heads. Such ignorance on sexual violence/VAW is a social disease that should be cared as soon as possible.

Day 15: What Part of Violence against Women Is Acceptable to You? (Hope None)

27 Feb

Yes, I skipped a day of writing, part of it because of the lack of inspiration and unexpected work that overwhelmed me until today. But I’m back, so I hope that such slip would not happen again. And I’m back to a heavy topic: Violence against Women (VAW). This is inspired by the recent debate on Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in the United States, and a VERY disturbing video clip of Liz Trotta’s rant on how feminists are increasing the military budget tremendously because they push for military women’s protection from sexual violence from other soldiers.

Initially, I ran into this Forbes article on facebook which talked about the Republican’s opposition on reauthorization of VAWA which has been in place since Clinton administration along with Trotta’s absurd junk on the Republican channel (Fox News). Then I was led to Liz Trotta’s video clip, which honestly upset me very much.

I have to admit that in American politics, everything has to be bipartisan (democracy? hmph…) even on the matter of women’s human rights. I hate this whole politicization of women’s bodies, while it is mostly patriarchal men (and women) talking about how they should be controlled.

But it is what it is at this point. And I must express that I’m strongly against the stance that some extreme conservatives are taking. They are saying that violence against certain women count more than violence against others. And these other women (and men) that cannot be protected are parts of undocumented immigrants, LGBTQ and Native American communities. Those who are not REAL Americans cannot be protected, in sum. Here, we see the political agenda deeply enrooted in the opposition as Republicans are generally for stricter border controls and against LGBTQ rights issues. But claiming that women in these minority communities deserve to get their rights freely violated (by not providing proper protection measures) is simply outrageous.

And according to Liz Trotta, military women should not be protected either, because they all cost too much of the precious military budget. Those who are risking their lives by taking professions which are often dominated by men (“masculine” professions) cannot be protected? And they should expect such violence, not coming from the enemies at the frontline but from their own comrades who are supposed to trust each other firmly? Well, I’m sure she was expecting such violence when she took on her career as a journalist.

Hence her anti-feminist ranting is mostly laughable. She herself, as you can see in the video, is quite an elite journalist, who has been to Vietnam War as a reporter and attended prestigious Columbia University. Well, excuse me, weren’t her professional field and high education all-men’s fields merely a few decades ago? Without feminist movement pushing boundaries for women to get into men’s territories in reporting and education, she would not even be talking on Fox News.

Come on people, let’s be real. Whether you’re liberal or conservative, how can anyone be OK with the fact that 3 women are murdered everyday by their intimate partners, the fact that more than 600 women suffer sexual violence everyday, and the fact that young women and minority women are more easily exposed to sexual violence? (Information from National Organization for Women, USA) And this is the United States we are talking about, the land of freedom and democracy (so they say…). I can’t even imagine how many women are battered and raped around the world, and practically every woman lives in fear, because of the potential violence they may suffer any time during their life time.

How can anyone be OK with the fact that their own sisters, mothers, wives, partners, girlfriends and female friends suffering such tremendous violence, even more because they are discriminated against by a policy?

It’s not a problem that exists just in America. In many parts of the world, women are considered properties of their fathers and husbands, and they are often subjects of domestic violence, marital rape, human trafficking (often to brothels and as wives to older men) and other violence, and no statistics can explain the seriousness of the problem all around the world. And in some countries, there is no law protecting women who are endangered by sexual violence, and even if such laws existed, they are not enforced in serious manners.

Women don’t need special protections, just because they are these delicate entities that deserve protection and respect, as men have traditionally considered. Women need protections because women are still subjected to way more sexual (and other) violence, and they are certainly not equally protected by laws and policies that are often made with patriarchal biases. And women deserve protection and respect because we are human beings, just as much as men deserve them, too. If you think that feminists are claiming for contradictory stance (“we need more freedom” and “we need more protection”), you’d better realize that we want freedom from restrictions that does not allow the equal opportunities (such as joining the military) and protection from violence (from the fellow soldiers).

FYI, here are some links on opinion pieces on VAWA.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/14/violence-against-women-act_n_1273097.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/26/opinion/sunday/dowd-ghastly-outdated-party.html?_r=1&ref=maureendowd

Day 13: Will Leadership Ever Feminize?

24 Feb

About a week ago, I ran into an opinion piece by Joseph Nye on Al Jazeera English titled “When Women Lead the World.” I assisted a research on women’s leadership in Asia briefly while I was in graduate school, so I was intrigued by what this international security guru has to say. This article was prompted by the recent book by Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature, and I would one day love to read the book on how a psychologist would put the current gender gap in women’s leadership.

Although I thought the article was OK (and I wasn’t disappointed), I still felt like something was missing. I mean, he isn’t the first person who has talked about the importance of more “feminine” style leadership and more women’s participation in leadership roles. Numerous people have already said that “we need more women in leadership positions” and “we need more people who have soft skills and feminine leadership styles,” and why does it ring a louder bell amongst people when a male leader speaks of the issue? (Answer? It’s a MAN speaking of a “women’s issue,” gasp! Well, you all know that it’s not just concerning women when it comes down to talking about a CEO of a global corporation or a prime minister of a country.)

I also thought that he was combining and mixing up two different –although often overlapping and difficult to separate– concepts: “feminine” style of leadership and women leaders. It seems like he’s talking about two different problems as if they are the same one: 1. There are not enough women leaders (hence we need more), and 2. Leaders need more “feminine” skills. Here, his assumption is that having more women would help feminizing leadership.

What Nye referred as “feminine style of leadership” is the antithesis of the old (and masculine) concept of leadership, a style (or multiple styles) that is more collaborative, conversational, participatory and soft skill-oriented, hence feminine. Yes, it is more likely that a woman leader tends to have more feminine style of doing work and going about her businesses, mostly because of the way that she has been educated in terms of how to perform her gender on everyday basis. But I believe that the current female leaders’ leadership styles are more likely to be masculine than feminine, because of the greater societal structure that still favors the masculine style more, and if she wants to be a top dog, she still has to play “fair” with the boys, with the rules that men have set within their club for ages.

I cannot help but thinking that the concept of leadership itself is already masculine but now it just wants to have some sprinkles of “feminine” elements, while it will fundamentally never change its masculine nature. In my radical mind, I believe that without the effort to completely challenge and uproot what it means by leadership, the gender binary will continue to exist with the constant challenge of how to feminize leadership. And let’s not forget that in the world of binaries, the elements that have been identified with masculinity have mostly held positive connotations (think of words like “strong,” “power,” “charisma,” etc.) while elements identified with femininity have been associated with negative connotations (words like “soft,” “indirect,” “peace,” mostly considered weak hence not proper for leaders) especially in leadership sphere.

So back to my point earlier. Here’s what I think.

The reason why we need more women in leadership positions is because women, for ages, have been systematically prevented from making effective political, financial, social and other major decisions that concern the wellbeing of greater population, including both women and men. Often the decisions concerned the wellbeing of free men (excluding women, men of lower classes, people of certain ethnicity/race, people of disability, etc.) and overlooked the concerns for “the others” whose lives were still very valuable.

The reason why we need more “feminine leadership” is because the old concept of masculine leadership is not properly functioning within the more diverse, rapidly changing society and population (with more women participating in various functions of the society) where ideas are constantly challenged and are in need of changes. The “old” concept of leadership has been generated mostly by men, and the leadership skill sets they held have not necessarily corresponded to the needs of the greater human race.

Yes, there are overlapping elements in between, but the two are distinguishable as well.

Also as a side note… I believe that there are plenty of women leaders around the world, especially at the grassroots level. Unfortunately, they are often underappreciated, which is another proof that the definition of leader and leadership is often limited by male discourse. For example, what about Somaly Mam of Cambidia who was sexually enslaved while she was a child, yet overcame her past and established an organization advocating for many children who suffer the same brutal sexual violence because of poverty? What she has done certainly requires tremendous courage and leadership. While new leaders have emerged from these “soft power” sectors (the arts, academia, NGOs, education, etc), the way that society still defines leadership is very much confined to politics, corporate sector and military where the real power lies (talking about the very real presence of patriarchy everywhere).

Hmmm… there’s simply too much to think about, especially when it’s on gender and power relations. I think the world would be a better place if women have ruled the world from the beginning , haha –or at least easier on my brain. Let me leave you with a humorous writing written by Gloria Steinem, “If Men Could Menstruate.” I think this is my favorite piece written by her.