on AWARE's 'It's Your Space!' ad. Let's talk about space.

“Its your space. Public contact cannot be avoided but sometimes you may feel someone has come too close and made you angry or upset you by saying something about your body or touching you without permission. It’s a criminal act only you can stop.”

This brings to mind a recent incident where a bloke had to fork out $8000 to settle a case where a woman alleged that he touched her posterior on a dance floor. I said to a friend afterward, ‘Hmm..wish i was a woman. I can make a killing on dance floors. All i have to do is wait for some guy to walk past and the cash registers starts ringing.” I continued, ‘what if I was the one who cried, ‘oi, why you touch my ass?!’, would I get a couple of grand in my pocket? The police would probably laugh it off!” I’m not saying that such incidents don’t actually happen, and ought not to suffer the full raised-brow weight of the law. But doesn’t this enable just any woman to make a pile out of a hapless passer-by? Well, I too have been ‘sexually harassed’ before - whilst tending a blues bar (Roadhouse, tanjong pagar) in the early 90s (before the area was turned into sleeze city....with the death of egalitarian multiculturalism, restaurants and sleeze bars came in to replace character). As Shenton way was not too far off, and the pub being just about the most avant garde joint in singapore at the time, many ‘execs’ used to come in. Well, it was some women amongst their number whom had adventurous hands. I suppose i did look a bit fetching in my skin-tight jeans tucked into rocker boots;) But I was quite taken aback when I received a pat on the behind after taking an order from a woman. However, I just let it pass. Perhaps if men had an ‘AWARE’ for itself, then I could have made a couple of grand.

But let’s talk about space. What is ‘too close’? If I was to stand as close to a woman as I would to a man whom I didn’t know, would that be ‘too close’? Hey, I thought we’re talking about equal rights here right? I pity the bloke who was relived of $8000 dollars for allegedly touching the woman on the dance floor. Maybe he did, and maybe he didn’t. But it wasn’t as if the woman was standing still was she. It was a dance floor after all. I don’t see any reason to take her word for it over his just because he had an longer clitoris than her. Let’s get back to space. I’ve been with women friends having a cuppa-cum-banter before, and I have noticed that when a guy looks at one amongst their number, she might sometimes remark, ‘what’s that guy looking at me like that for?! Pervert?!’. But that is usually when she does not find that guy desirable herself. But if the guy is, say, some ‘ang moh’ (chinese term for ‘whites’, literally, ‘red face’, I think), then she might respond with a flattered, ‘Hey, hey, i think that guy is checking me out!’. And when it comes to taking pictures or saying goodbye. A local can expect maybe a handshake but an ‘ang moh’ can generally get a way with a hug and a kiss. They might say, ‘It’s their culture to do that’, which is another way of saying, ‘our culture can be put aside for those we deem desirable’. It’s not like these people are falling over their finely sculptured toenails to conform to the culture of others in monocultural Confucian singapore right?

Additionally, whilst AWARE might be going on about women’s rights, and I do personally applaud them for their efforts and support many of its causes, I am also very much aware that the status of women in a modern Confucian society in many arenas is above that of men. As I said to my Chinese friends, ‘women, in Chinese society, serve as the party whip’. In other words, they keep the men in line and out of politics. The reason for this is simple enough - though it skips the attention of most - as women had traditionally been the stoker of the hearth, they are more familial-focused. Men, however, having lost the battle with the political, are thus disempowered, and other than being able to bring home the leg of pork, pave the way for the emergence of the woman as the superior force once they join the workforce and gain equal rights. At this point, the women will gain the upper hand as they, being familial-focused, will emphasise the need to keep the family afloat given male political impotence. Hence, they head the chinese pragmatic move toward doing one’s best to allay the consequences of the political defeat suffered by men. And given that many too bring in the funds to maintain the family unit, and given their historical expertise in family-related pragmatic matters, and given their equal rights and the right to keep their legs crossed in an un-enticing fashion unless the hubby has been a good boy, their own self-perceived value would go beyond that of men. That is one of the reasons, I believe, that founds what I had previously termed, ‘the Goondu phenomenon’, where one can oftentimes see a well-physiqued and fashioned chinese women with a guy who is not as well-physiqued or fashioned. It seems to be a power move where the woman keeps company with a man who is a ‘lesser’ in these respects so as to validate their sense of superiority. This throws out the ‘matching hypothesis’ put out by psychologists in the 80s or thereabouts that had found that similarity attracts when it comes to looks, style, etc. Over here, it is complementarity that seems to attract. In other words, the more desirable women keeping company with less desirable men for the purpose of control. And isn’t ‘control’, as opposed to ‘reason’, what Confucian civilisation is about? It seems that where control is the predominant virtue at the topmost level, it is mirrored in all other arenas in society.

So, when we put all of these together, we have to wonder after the acceptable ‘space’ to a woman. What is acceptable space to a peasant as opposed to royalty? Our value of another’s space is, in a society that values power, prominence and wealth, determined by our perceptions of our value and the relative value of another determined in turn by our criteria of self and other worth. Where women deem themselves superior to men, the acceptable space is expanded. Hence, to what degree can we consider it sexual harassment when a guy comes close? It’s too bad that the above AWARE ad does not give prominence to the lower half of the ad, which states, ‘... and made you angry or upset you by saying something about your body or touching you without permission. It’s a criminal act only you can stop.” That is the point that has to be put out, as opposed to prominence being given to, ‘...but sometimes you may feel someone has come too close and made you angry or upset...’. That tends to turn it into a subjective experience which might be interpreted, not according to facts, but biases.

As for the case of the guy who had crossed the dance floor and paid $8000 for his efforts, if i was in his position, I would have simply stated, ‘I’m sorry, i’m gay’.




  1. Firstly, i do also think that instances when the local women who are selective and discretionary in choosing how physically 'intimate' they want to get with men (foreign-ang moh vs locals) also have something to do with the formers' preference in associating with something or someone perceived to be more superior (well, history and media have played a big part in such perception).

    I mean, traditionally and historically, women within a 'confucian society, tend to play a more familial and secondary role within the family, yes we do recognise that equal rights should be afforded to all regardless of gender, race, religion etc. what you have described has opened up a very contentious topic which requires scrutiny of the concept of space in this context. In consideration of human rights, don't we also need to prove beyond any doubt that one party is absolutely guilty before handing down an appropriate punishment? Isn't law suppose to protect all?

  2. I can understand that local women might prefer to get more physical with 'ang mos' and not so with locals because of their adherence to local cultural norms. That is acceptable. However, that detracts us from considering the efforts made by women to conform to western standards whilst not really doing the same with other standards other than the predominant one. It shows that some women are willing to make the extra effort to conform to western standards as they are going past accepted local norms.

    The law is not moving with the times. The difference between women and men is closing in some respects, and in others, men are taking the place of the previous position of women - as the weaker sex, and especially so amongst the chinese. Additionally, I don't see any reason why women ought to be able to claim a particular percentage of the man's income upon divorce if this is not similarly applied in the inverse given the economic status of many women.

    I dare say that these oversights by the government might be due to the desire to use women as the 'party whip' and keep the men in line 'pragmatically' and out of politics. Or at least, that is quite the consequence if not the intention.



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