Our Singapore Happenings
Saturday, 23rd November 2013
The Purple Light Saga: The Dark Reality and the Work Ahead
Singapore’s gender equality advocacy group for women – AWARE recently raised their concerns with a marching song, “Purple Light” that is sung by NS men which contained the verse:
"Booking out, see my girlfriend
Saw her with another man
Kill the man, rape my girlfriend
With my rifle and my buddy and me."
According to their Facebook post, AWARE was “troubled that NSmen were bonding over misogynist lyrics about committing sexual violence against women.” This led to MINDEF and the SAF halting the singing of the above lyrics though the song is not banned as the original lyrics do not contain any element of misogyny. This drew heated views from both camps with some strongly opposing and others applauding the decision.
Some may argue that it is merely a song to lift the spirit of soldiers during trying times or that these are merely words to a song and that soldiers would be able to differentiate right from wrong in real-life situations. But the fact remains that if our society can treat something as serious as rape so lightly, I think there is something seriously wrong with our social and moral values. If anything, this reflection of public sentiments shows how deeply entrenched sexism and misogyny is in Singapore. One may write it off as merely a song, but it is a known fact that mindless repetition of an idea in a song may subconsciously desensitize us to the concept of rape and misogyny. Thus, it shouldn’t be taken lightly in any way.
In addition, if these lyrics were not banned and allowed to be sung by NSmen and NSFs alike, we are essentially normalizing misogyny in our society, which is an extremely dangerous line to thread on. If we as a society can normalise such immoral behaviour it shows our foundation for what we stand for as a society is shaky or that we are uncritical and unthinking. This creates a slippery slope where we take such discrimination towards women as a norm and condone more of such behaviours.
Really a victory?
AWARE may have perceived MINDEF’s ban on the lyrics a win for them but have they really furthered their cause for gender equality for women? I don’t think so.
Firstly and most importantly, by banning the lyrics to the song, it does nothing to solve the root cause of the issue: The inherent misogyny mind-set of these individuals. By banning the song, these individuals would be unhappy with the way AWARE has forced their agenda upon NSmen and may even ignite more misogyny sentiments and behaviours than before. Servicemen may even out rightly sing the now-banned lyrics to prove their point that a women advocacy group has no right to meddle with the affairs of the SAF – a mainly male dominated force.
Secondly, the way AWARE has phrased their Facebook message about the announcement of the ban led people to wonder their main motive for raising the concern.
As quoted from their message: “And now we have excellent news: MINDEF and SAF have confirmed that they took steps to investigate. They will "immediately halt" the singing of these lyrics, which they describe as "contrary to the values of [their] organisation".It's really encouraging that MINDEF and SAF are prepared to listen to feedback, recognise this as an issue and take action on it. Thumbs up!”
The message came across nothing less than “gloating” which led to many to question if AWARE is really committed to making progress on gender equality or more concerned with generating headlines and advancing their public position on issues.
A Bottom-up Approach
Instead of being so caught-up over this trivial issue of banning the lyrics to the song, AWARE could have taken a step back and look at the big picture. Instead of using a top down approach (as in this case) of promoting gender equality, which obviously back-fired, could they have taken a bottom up approach instead?
For one, AWARE could have easily started a study to understand the root cause of such misogyny mind-set present in Singapore and organise open dialogues and discussions on how to move forward with such issues. Such open engagements are healthy as it invites the population to question and assess their views on women equality which they may have never thought about. But with the above actions, they may have well closed the door for discussions with these hard-core critics.
In addition, AWARE could partner up with schools to explore how they could include character building and moral education to inculcate the right values to our next generation. Educating our next generation is the way to go if we want to nip the problem in the bud. In fact, if AWARE can change the mind-set of the public to see the importance of gender equality, then we don’t even have to worry about the alteration of lyrics to songs like “Purple Light”. The change would then be organic; truly from the bottom up.
Overall, the banning of the lyrics is a symbolic move in the right direction but AWARE has missed the point entirely. But this issue has shed light on a darker side of our society - that sexist or misogynistic attitudes are indeed prevalent. Indeed, AWARE has its work cut out for them ahead.