Traditional gender roles sexist? Hardly


Sherrie Chong

Published: 4:03 AM, October 10, 2014
Updated: 7:59 AM, October 10, 2014

I refer to the report “Ministries studying feedback on relationship workshop” (Oct 9). The main critique levelled at Focus on the Family Singapore was, ironically, that it “seemed to emphasise and enforce traditional gender roles in a relationship”.

An organisation focused on promoting family values would naturally point out traditional gender roles in a relationship. To describe these roles is not to promulgate sexism.

To say that women and men are biologically different, and are characterised by different traits, is not wrong. Contrary to Ms Constance Singam’s suggestion, promoting traditional gender roles is not an “out-of-touch” approach to relationships.

The assumption that these roles are oppressive is only true if they obscure the individual’s expression of his or her gender identity.

If gender identity is more a biological fact than a social construct, these roles do give expression to an individual’s identity. To say that both genders approach relationships the same way does more harm to my identity as a female than it would to acknowledge that men and women are different.

In our pluralistic society, claims of bigotry are only valid if women are regarded as subservient to men. It is one thing to acknowledge gender differences, and another to promote misogyny.

It is one thing to acknowledge that teenage boys are generally more hormonal, and another to say this suggests that men “can’t control” their actions.

Similarly, the statement “no, means yes?” acknowledges that there are confusing moments in a relationship between a man and a woman; it does not mean that “women’s consent is neither sought nor valued”.

Beyond the workshop’s content, what is unsettling is how this issue arose. Agatha Tan did well to raise her concerns with the school administration, but by airing her grievances in an open letter on Facebook, she only politicised the issue.

The scrutiny on Focus on the Family is unwarranted because, like any other organisation, its views should be heard, rather than caricatured in the court of public opinion.