SRN-AWARE Roundtable on ‘Changing Definitions of Masculinity and Femininity in Singapore’

14 May, 2012

On Saturday 12th May 2012, the SRN were delighted to host a roundtable with AWARE (Association of Women for Action and Research) on the subject of ‘Changing Definitions of Masculinity and Femininity in Singapore.’ The three speakers included our own Head of the SRN Steering Committee, Associate Professor Michelle Lazar. Originally three speakers were invited to present but unfortunately at the last minute Associate Professor Eric Thompson of NUS was unable to attend due to a family emergency. Nonetheless, a packed house in the Faculty Lounge were welcomed by the afternoon’s chair Dr. Vernie Oliveiro who would also act as moderator for the Q&A session.

Dr. Vernie Oliveiro, A/P Michelle Lazar and Dr. Teo You Yenn in front of a packed audience

Frist to present was A/P Michelle Lazar on the topic of ‘”Power Femininity” and Beauty Advertising’. Using examples drawn form contemporary advertising Prof Lazar showed how ‘power femininity’ is part of a global post-feminist discourse which appropriates the language of emancipation and empowerment to seduce women into consuming beauty products and services. Four particular tropes identified through the language employed in the ads were ’empowered beauty’, ‘knowledge as power’, ‘agentive power’ and ‘sexual power’. Despite the promises of this new actualization, the images used are still structurally hierarchical where the women depicted are all traditionally beautiful, young, slender and heterosexual.

A/P Michelle Lazar speaking with a typical slimming advertisement on the screen behind

Next to present was Dr. Teo You Yenn, Assistant Professor in the Division of Sociology at NTU, who presented on ‘Gendered Citizenship in Singapore: Good men citizens vs. good women citizens’. Despite the broad opportunities available to Singaporean women in the workplace Dr, Teo demonstrated the persistent difficult ‘choices’ women are forced to make when it comes to having a family and care-giving, many of which are reinforced by structural aspects of state policies. Much of the discourse on typical domestic roles needs to be revised to incorporate the notion of housework and caregiving as a privilege rather than a chore. The false zero-sum game between male and female identities and responsiblities needs renegotiation, perhaps to broach the hitherto taboo issue of national service obligations.

There then followed a very lively question and answer session, which lasted for around an hour.

Corinna Lim, Executive Director of AWARE raises a point about vulnerable young women and the risks associated with mixed messages of sexuality and availability

The points raised were varied covering the ‘slut walk’ movement in India, the lack of critical thinking in the post-feminist era, the depoliticization of feminism and the increasingly disparate feminist voices in our complex mulitcultural present. The afternoon concluded with an opportunity for participants to discuss the issues further over tea and refreshments.