Women wear what they want to in Singapore, or How awesome it is that there is no catcalling in Singapore
Sure, you have heard that Singapore is a safe and clean city. Or that it’s the most expensive city in the world to live in. (This is mostly skewed by the price of cars, which are not essential, but that is another story.) But what you may not know is that women wear what they want to in Singapore. It’s remarkable, and simultaneously a sign of old stereotypes/gender roles and a sign of hope in the face of gender issues in Singapore. There are a few things that I really like and admire about Singapore, and this is one of them.
The recent video of a woman walking in New York City has gone viral because it shows just how much harassment a woman can receive just by walking around in NYC. I’m glad that they are drawing attention to this issue, because this is at the root of what I don’t like about NYC. Catcalling is nonexistent in Singapore, which one reason why I think women can have the freedom to dress as they wish.
In Singapore, at first, I was a slightly appalled at first that so many women wore short dresses and skirts around campus, offices, malls, wherever. I found myself thinking things like “that’s too short” or “that is too see-through.” Or even “that is way too fancy for just being on campus.” The thing is, women here can wear whatever they want to, without having to worry about their safety, or other people thinking that they are slutty. In fact, you could maybe say that most people in Singapore are quite conservative when it comes to sexuality, but that is also another story.
In any case, I was judging them, and by standards that I would say almost sound like the ultra conservatives who blame the victims (I’m ashamed to say).
BUT I’ve realized now that I’m not truly offended or appalled by the way that they are dressing…I’m actually jealous of them. I’m jealous that they feel confident and secure enough to walk out of their homes in clothes they like. Jealous that it’s not a big deal to them.
Most of all, I’m jealous that I haven’t been able to do the same.
Why I feel this way
I grew up in New York City in the United States. Though it has gotten a lot safer since my childhood, I still don’t feel comfortable enough to wear short dresses or things of the sort. I don’t like feeling eyes on me when I walk down the street. Though I haven’t had nearly as many bad experiences as some friends, I find it affects me much more than I think it does.
A friend once had a breakdown after one incidence where a man in a car asked her “How much?” This was in broad daylight. That sounds ridiculous because it is ridiculous. If I remember correctly, she was so upset that she was nearing the point of hurting herself. She’s also been followed home and grabbed in the past. You can blame the neighborhood and say that she shouldn’t have been out at night by herself. But that’s not fair. When can women stop changing their own actions just because there might be some jerk out there who will objectify her?
My response to her was she should take taxis more often to go home, because that seemed to be the best solution. But then there are still guys who are waiting to follow women into their buildings to grope them and then run away. It never ends.
You can say that it is a compliment to be noticed and given attention. Sure. The well dressed man who tries to be nice to me late at night at the bus stop is just as much harassing me as the homeless man who tells me I’m beautiful. This awesome blogger makes the point that, random women never say hi to her.
What I want to know is, what is going through these guys’ minds?
To the women of Singapore
To the women of Singapore, it’s hard to really explain how it feels. It isn’t something that you can easily understand from the outside, though that video may give you an idea. This also goes for men who try to understand how women feel. You feel violated. You feel small, and you feel like you want to become smaller each time an incident happens. And you might feel dirty, and you hate yourself a little more. There is sexual harassment in Singapore, but it’s different. I’m not trying to downplay the Singaporean woman’s experience here. I just want to make clear that the situation is much different in other parts of the world.
It’s not just the verbal harassment, though. Visual harassment happens too. You can feel someone’s eyes on you, and in a way dig into you.
I remember reading an article about women in the Middle East who chose to wear full burkas. One girl said she felt safer. But this isn’t necessarily true! Yes, wearing full burkas blocks eyes from your body, but there are still occurrences of rape of women who are so fully covered that you cannot possibly argue it was her “fault” for dressing too sexy.
But she probably felt safe because she was somewhat safer from the glaring eyes of men. The eyes!
If the eyes can be a weapon, then what are the women supposed to do? Be more invisible?
Gender issues in Singapore
By no means am I saying that sexism is not a problem in Singapore. Gender issues in Singapore may be unique to the country. Recently, there was some interesting talk about Focus on the Family, a sex education initiative that runs in the junior colleges (similar to high school level). It openly promotes gender stereotypes. There is subliminal emphasis on gender roles in Singapore, and the ultra feminine style of clothing doesn’t help this (mostly skirts and dresses, very few pant suits for women).
There are public ads on the buses for women to call the police if they get molested. With “molested” in huge bold letters, it tells women to not be a victim. But who will tell the men to not victimize the women? Why is that not on a public ad? Why is the onus placed on the woman? Plus, there is no fine for molestation that I could see. So it probably won’t get engrained into the subconscious, ’cause that’s kinda how things work in Singapore. The responsibility is on the woman to report molestation events. This in itself has negative connotations of “getting someone in trouble” or “making a fuss.”
The closest thing that men might feel is getting hit on at a gay bar or gay nightclub. A quite good looking heterosexual male acquaintance of mine protested strongly to going into a gay club with the group. He didn’t explain why, but I could guess that it was because he hated getting hit on and felt up by other men. We went inside, and that is what happened. I couldn’t help but think to myself that if every man got a taste of this, a lot fewer would impose themselves on women. The sad part is that I don’t think he made the connection here that what he didn’t like about gay clubs is what women have to deal with everywhere, not just in clubs.
Last thoughts, Singapore is a pretty good place to be a woman
There’s social pressure to fit into a markedly East Asian influenced image of beauty for women in Singapore. But I would argue that the freedom to make your own choices trumps this. I admire this blogger for making her thoughts known on this. I hope that she continues to be herself. Insecurity is something that can run deep. Reinforcements of an ideal image of beauty only make it harder for women to feel good about themselves.
I have never felt unsafe in Singapore even at night walking alone. I’ve even started to feel comfortable wearing dresses and skirts. Still, I sometimes catch myself judging other women’s clothing choices. I’m accepting that it’s ok for them to wear what they want and respect them for ownership of their bodies.
I think it is amazing that Singaporean women, and by extension all women in Singapore, can choose to wear whatever they want to and not feel unsafe or judged by it.
It is a great freedom to feel that you have full control and decision making power over your own body.
What might be interesting now is that I’m going back to New York City in a few weeks. Although it will be colder weather, I’m sure that I’ll notice a difference and start to readjust my clothing choices.
I love NYC, but sometimes it feels like it is killing some parts of me slowly and this is one of the ways that it does.
What are your thoughts on street harassment? Have you been in Singapore?