truth nugget #61

so I’ll just come out and say it. it still bewilders me that in our long history, we are still fighting for rights. it’s absurd. but what’s more absurd than the fight for rights is fighting for one right that inevitably ends up cancelling out the right of another.

in very wealthy, high-tech Singapore, we are still fighting for a disturbingly overwhelming amount of things. we find ourselves needing to fight for free speech, performance spaces, the right to our savings, the right to medical care, the right to retire, support for the arts, transparent press, privacy, racial equality, gender equality, proper punishment for animal cruelty, the truth, minimum wage, understanding, sex between two consenting adult males, and more more more.

I’m a musician and a writer. I’m not just a performer, I consider myself an artist. I do my own fighting for my rights and the rights of my fellowpeople through my music, my poetry, my writing. to me, rights are what they are: the right to be who you are, whatever gender, nationality, race, species you identify with, and to live exactly that way without apology. but what is the point of exercising that right if it limits someone else’s right in the process? I’ll give you an example.

a musician genuinely wants to push his career. he understands how the industry works and he knows its tendencies to exploit people in the process of making people stars and making everybody money. but he considers this his right to his “art” and to his potential musical legacy. so he decides to produce a video that enlists consenting women who are not opposed to be shot in outfits that can be interpreted as exploitative, knowing this will give him the hits and fame he desires. all parties were participating within their rights and it doesn’t seem like anyone got hurt.

however, the rights of women all over the world are continuing to be bashed by incidents like this because it’s hard to explain to your children why it is counter-productive to behave in a way that is being glorified by their music and film idols. and it’s hard to make the distinction between sex offenders and gangsta rappers who fondle women in their laps.

I’ll give you another example.

a well-intentioned group exercises their right to spend their money as they see fit and organise a music festival/art exhibition/fundraising endeavour. again it is within their right to set it up as they see fit, bring in whichever artists they want and fund whomever they want. it’s also the right of every participating artist to go in guns blazing and get what they need from it. but when people play favourites (because it’s their right to do so) and the same artists get all the press and all the funding and the less-celebrated art-makers have to deal with the scraps, it doesn’t seem like a fair system. and my question is, whose right is THAT to come in and mess that up?

these issues are not new. but that’s precisely the point. why are they still here? why are they still in our faces? why is it still okay? why, despite our heavy histories of prejudice and slaughter and war and persecution is it still acceptable to exploit women and minorities and jungles we have no claim over and animals who can’t fight against our guns? why is it still acceptable to deny people education and standards of living and water and ownership over their own bodies? why is it still acceptable to destroy one’s reputation and one’s self-esteem and one’s rice bowl and one’s passions?

one right does not have dominion over another. the right to one’s art or one’s wealth or one’s health cannot exploit another’s right. and here’s what this is really leading to. we live in this shithole because we confuse brattish entitlement with rights. we are not fighting for our rights, we are fighting for power over each other. so let’s call it what it is. no one has the right to be an asshole, no one has the right to exploit someone else even if that other person doesn’t know any better and is allowing it. no one has the right to take away someone else’s integrity. if you are behaving in a way that does these things, it is not your RIGHT. you may be feeling entitled but you’re WRONG.

truth nugget #61

truth nugget #59 (LKY)

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I haven’t yet said or really known what to say about Lee Kuan Yew’s passing. I was in Kuala Lumpur when he died and I had my own tiny grief party among my very good Malaysian friends, but being away I didn’t really know how to feel; in fact I felt even more disconnected than I usually do. after a while, I even stayed away from social media because some of the hate I felt from some of my countrypeople made me feel inexplicably sad and at the same time the repeated rhetoric of “you are our father, thank you for what you did for our country” also felt like knee-jerk mourning out of ignorance than anything else.

but when I arrived in Changi Airport yesterday evening, and saw the propaganda-soaked slideshows everywhere about how the man himself turned our port and airport into what it is today, I still burst into tears.

truth is, even those of us who know our history have a very complicated relationship with this man. because of what has been taught to us since we were little, many of us do consider Lee Kuan Yew Singapore’s father and because of the man he was, like it or not, every Singaporean has daddy issues. I’ve never been a PAP sympathiser, I have openly spoken up about my issues with the hypocrisy of our governing style and our embarrassing lack of human and civil rights, not to mention the joke that is our press and the clueless child that is our censorship board, amongst many, many other things. so why am I hit so hard by the death of the man who started it all?

I don’t know how many of you have read his book “Hard Truths”. my Uncle Glenn gave it to me and he, like my Grandpa, has a fascination with the man. Mr. Lee was older and had much less of a filter when the book was recorded (interview style) and he was very candid about what he felt our situation was when we split from Malaysia and what he felt we had to do to keep our island afloat in the middle of giants that could very easily sink us. was he paranoid? maybe. was it all self-serving? possibly. was he right? I don’t know. but he sure made it impossible for us to even contemplate the alternative.

I understand the polarised Singaporeans, the ones who are full of anger and the ones who are full of gratitude. they’re two different kinds of people. I don’t think I’m sitting on the fence, but I am in between. that’s also because I am part of a third group, those of us who have been fighting for a hypothetical Singapore that we don’t know if we would even be in the position to fight for had he not done some of the things he did. what could have been the alternative? Malaysia kicked us out, we didn’t “strengthen” ourselves LKY/PAP style and we might have found ourselves once again conjoined to our neighbours, this time maybe without any governance of our own and living under Syariah Law. another possibility: we get kicked out, he runs the country like a utopia with everything that we wish for, human rights, free speech, equality, and we either win awards for being the most enlightened society in the world or we become another failed Communist experiment.

I’m not saying I know, but no one really knows. he did what he thought was right, he did all he knew how to do. he had a vision and it might have been selfish or it might have really been the only way he saw Singapore moving forward. he crushed people who opposed him and no doubt he was a dictator who openly condoned eugenics and nepotism. I was always taught to speak my mind but no one had to tell me to be careful about what I say about Mr. Lee or his ruling party, the way he did things made fear a natural part of our genetic code. but many fathers are built that way. it doesn’t make it right, it just makes them human.

there has been this overflowing gratitude from Singaporeans now that he’s gone. some people are shocked by it considering how much we love to complain, but I’m not. most of us aren’t informed and that’s how he liked it. Alfian Sa’at has put out the hashtag #erasinghistory because it’s true, what the government has led us to believe is, much of it, far from the truth. we weren’t a “sleepy fishing village” that LKY magically transformed into a hub of godawful skyscrapers. we had a British infrastructure in place that he simply built on. my mother was born before independence and she can attest to that. we weren’t a swamp people who didn’t know any better. our education system was already here in 1959 and we still very much follow the British syllabuses. but when Malaysia didn’t want to gotong royong with us anymore, I think he panicked. and he needed to start history afresh for himself and his party because he didn’t know how else to take the blow and save his face. he’s a man and it was a very human thing to do. but was he qualified to run our country then, being just a man? who else would’ve done it who wouldn’t have been just a man as well? his opponents might have brought us to a different place, we’ll never know. but just like all screwed up relationships with fathers, most of the time we don’t get to pick ’em, and we just have to live with them. some kids can forgive when they are gone, some kids can’t. some kids can see all sides and understand where they were coming from despite the hurt they caused and just take it the way it is, because he was just a man not some patriarchal God, and these kids know better than to have higher expectations. the daddy’s girls and boys who considered themselves the ones in daddy’s favour will continue to put wreaths on his grave and champion all the things he did because they don’t see the things he didn’t.

he was a master of economics and he made us richer than we thought possible but we complain about what had to be done to get our GDP where it is. he also spoilt us and gave us everything we thought we wanted without having to ask, and made us bitchy, whiners. he also understood geopolitics like no other and every politician around the world tips their hats off to him for his smarts, foresight, hard work, determination, gumption, balls. he might have dealt with the threat of corruption through fear and bullying, but he dealt with it. he might have been a money-minded, tyrannous grinch but he advocated hard work over welfare because he felt that’s what made a disciplined, successful society. let’s be honest about this man. about the things he did and the things he didn’t. about the ways in which he tried to bring up his country that were laudable, questionable or outright wrong. he was a man and he made many mistakes and had many successes. I don’t know if he was a good man but he knew what love was, and in many ways he was great. there are many reasons that people the world over are celebrating his life.

I won’t miss him, that’s not why I cried when I came home. he had a fulfilling long life, I’m not sad because he’s gone. but it’s a similar feeling to why I mourned so violently for my own father, I cried for all the things we could’ve been, I cried for all the possibilities. there are things we will never know and never see because of the things we never got to choose. I cry for that, I cry for us and the end of this era that was his life.

but now, now we have a choice. he’s gone now and we no longer have to live with a self-appointed father/mentor. all us Singapore kids have our own feelings and the fact that many of us see the things he did as the foundation of what our country rests on (good or bad), means we cannot deny what a great and powerful man he was. but how long is the entire fate of this country going to be his sole responsibility? how long are we going to say Lee Kuan Yew brought this country to where it is (good or bad)? how long are we going to complain about the lies or truths of our history? when are we going to start writing our future?

truth nugget #59 (LKY)

truth nugget #56

I had an online conversation with a woman I greatly respect and came to understand that we were two who felt the same way about a trending topic, amidst a sea of people who found our opinions, well, colourful.

to be honest, I wasn’t going to say anything because I didn’t think it was a big deal to begin with. but reading some of the things expressed on social media created a bubbling inside that I had to let out.

last year, Miley Cyrus twerks and it becomes a huge scandal and there are public letters and what not because she’s just a girl and where are her parents; when really, she was over-exploited as a child, not just by her guardians but by the very same industry that hates on her. but she took that in her stride and owned up to it and didn’t give a sh*t, and I thought that very womanly of her. this year she advocates for the homeless youth in California at the same award show and her wrecking ball really must have smashed some of the ideas people had about her.

now 100 female celebrities have had their nude pictures leaked. my first thought was, ONE HUNDRED WOMEN? what is this, a female celebrity must-do? my second thought was, if they really didn’t want anyone seeing these private photographs, why are they putting them in a very unreliable cloud in a time when it has been proven that the most classified documents can been hacked into and released, and then stomping their feet with a feminist growl saying their integrity has been soiled?

I’ve read articles with headlines like “this is why you shouldn’t click on the naked photos of Jennifer Lawrence” as if that needed to be explicitly communicated and posts damning the people who said that these women should have known better than to keep such private pictures unprotected. “victim blaming” has been dropped so many times I can’t count and this has escalated to people crying out against this form of abuse.

first of all, I DO consider this sexual harassment, I DO consider this wrong and I DO consider this hacker or group of hackers to be assholes. this IS an invasion of privacy and NO woman, man, transsexual, transgender individual etc. deserves this.

however, this is my issue (which is up for discussion, please). the idea that these women have been reduced to victims who could have done nothing to prevent this really bugs me. where are the people who see feminism as true empowerment, as taking responsibility for every action and as having smarts and common sense? while I definitely don’t think any of these 100 women deserved to be humiliated, I do think they could have been smarter about this. public figures who have chosen this life and don’t know that they need to be 10 times more careful with things like this than other people, need to keep their wits about them a little more. you NEED to know that in this era, an intentional, deliberate hacking is possible. and yes, that onus is on you who takes nude photos and puts it in a digital cloud. and no, this does not take ANY responsibility away from the hacker who did this awful thing. and this goes for anyone of any gender.

the feminist world is going on the extreme defensive, saying that anyone who questions why there are so many female celebrities obsessed with taking naked pictures or why they didn’t keep the pictures safer, is passing the blame from the rightful perpetrators (the MALE hackers) to the FEMALE victims. but why aren’t these questions valid? why is it so ridiculous to suggest that you should know to keep your personal articles out of the cloud and out of a space that constantly puts you in contact with spammers, people who give hackers a bad name and internet trolls? and why is that automatically demonised as “victim blaming”?

I know this is ultimately a female issue, men are unfairly spared from this sort of gender bashing and victimising. but that in itself makes me think that if women keep playing up to the opposite end of things, we are perpetuating it ourselves. if we keep on this track of crying “victim blaming” in EVERY circumstance, even in the ones where the women actually have a chance to protect themselves, then I feel like we are losing sight of what this battle is actually about. is it not counter-productive to female equality to say that this was not their fault because there was NOTHING these women could have done to stop this from happening? is it not enabling the cycle of abuse by eternally labelling the woman as the victim? when does the woman take it into her own hands? when does she say, I am real and I live in reality and while these things still happen, the stand that I will take is to arm myself with my wits and common sense and not to join the up-in-arms-army when they want me to keep playing the victim?

female equality is very important to me. I grew up around very strong women who encouraged me to speak my mind and form my own opinions. I do not take this matter lightly in the least. sexual harassment and abuse is something that angers and upsets me beyond what I can express, it leaves me with no words. I take “victim blaming” in these situations very, very seriously. I wrote a post about it here before and my feelings remain the same. to abuse someone of any gender is despicable and I will speak up against it and do all I can to help anyone going through it, if they will let me.

I know my herstory. I know about all the women who have fought and continue to fight the good fight. I can only hope to carry on everything they started. but I know that I cannot live my life demoralised every time there is an attack against my gender. I know that while I can be angry when someone disrespects a woman by stealing pictures of her in the nude, I have to ask myself, as a woman, what I think I would’ve done and if I would’ve considered myself helpless in the situation or if I would’ve had to take responsibility for the things I could’ve controlled better. I know that when something like this happens, reacting like I am a victim on behalf of my gender, really does make me a victim, when I don’t have to be one.

I know there are many, many, MANY women in the world who can’t make better choices because they are stuck in terrifying circumstances or in countries where there are no laws protecting women, and my heart goes out to them, but this post is not about them. this post is about 100 educated, privileged women who live their lives in the limelight, who need to shake off the “victim” label and understand the cloud for what it is: a space in the digital sphere that isn’t safe, call out the hackers for what they are: people of the human race with no decency, and own up to what they are in the present moment: people who can use this experience to teach other people about protecting their privacy. do it like Miley and don’t be the victim. this Miley quote is so cheese but it sums this up: “when life puts you in tough situations, don’t say ‘why me?’ say ‘TRY ME.'”

truth nugget #56

truth nugget #52 (gong xi fa cai!)

horses can teach you more about yourself than you would believe. they really are sentient beings who bring out the truth. I’ve been lucky enough to spend some time with them lately.

this year I wish you all a sense of invincibility coupled with humility, strength coupled with an openness to vulnerability, and kindness: all the things horses have taught me in the last couple of years. happy Lunar New Year of the majestic horse people!

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truth nugget #52 (gong xi fa cai!)