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President Halimah Yacob calls on Okletsgo hosts to apologise to all women for misogynistic comments

SINGAPORE — President Halimah Yacob has called on the three men behind popular local podcast Okletsgo to “sincerely and humbly apologise to all women”, chiding them for the offensive, humiliating and misogynistic remarks they have made on their show.

The men behind Okletsgo: (From left) Dzar Ismail, Raja Razie and Dyn Norahim.

The men behind Okletsgo: (From left) Dzar Ismail, Raja Razie and Dyn Norahim.

SINGAPORE — President Halimah Yacob has called on the three men behind popular local podcast Okletsgo to “sincerely and humbly apologise to all women”, chiding them for offensive, humiliating and misogynistic remarks they have made on their show.

In a Facebook post on Monday (June 15), Madam Halimah said she had received many emails from individuals who raised concerns about the podcast and the values it promotes among its young listeners, adding that those concerns are justified.

“Our women in Singapore have worked very hard to raise their status through education, employment and in raising healthy families. They are important in building healthy communities, which will be undermined by such podcasts. They don’t deserve this treatment by Okletsgo or any other group.”

Madam Halimah’s statement comes amid a backlash against Okletsgo, helmed by former Ria 89.7 radio deejays Dzar Ismail, 34, Dyn Norahim, 38, and Raja Razie, 38, with many listeners speaking out against the three hosts’ pattern of misogyny.

Their podcast, which began in February last year, now has more than 100,000 listeners on Spotify, making it the most popular local podcast.

The backlash started with a viral tweet by Twitter user @anygalien who said the hosts reminded her of the Malay men in her life who “casually dehumanise and sexualise women and brush it off as jokes”.

She added: “Having that normalised and aired to the Malay masses does enable or shape the current and next generation of Malay men.”

The tweet garnered a sudden and large outpouring of support from other social media users, who cited examples of offensive remarks that have been made by the three hosts over the years.

In one episode, for example, one of the hosts commented that he could not take his eyes off the cleavage of a transgender woman, who had been invited on the podcast to talk about her activism work in Project X, an organisation that champions the rights of sex workers.

In another episode, one of the hosts remarked that he prefers women’s buttocks and legs to breasts, a comment that was met by raucous laughter from his co-hosts.

While the trio had in the past been criticised by listeners for their content, it is the first time that they have faced such a huge backlash.

On Saturday, the three posted a statement on their social media accounts, saying that they had started Okletsgo to use their “newfound freedom to talk and banter over things that had never before been acceptable on air within our community”.

“It was this break from rigidity and boring style of content that made us able to reflect genuine sentiments and happenings on the ground and we quickly gained popularity among our community,” they wrote.

They added: “While our response publicly has been relatively muted, it is because we have been reflecting and digesting everything that has been happening. We recognise the need for improvements and we will continue to improve both our content and delivery. We remain committed to our open minded approach and will not shy away from tough issues affecting our community.”

The statement did not go down well with critics, many of whom noted that it did not include an apology.

Soon after the statement was posted, Mr Raja sent a message to a Telegram chat group for Okletsgo followers, saying that he and his co-hosts will “stand strong” and will not apologise.

The trio have also previously argued that their podcast takes a no-holds-barred and unapologetic approach to taboo and controversial topics, and pointed to the support they have received from major organisations as proof that their content is relevant and strikes a chord with listeners.

The podcast has featured interviewees such as Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli and Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman, and it has carried sponsored content from agencies such as the Health Promotion Board, Mendaki and Workforce Singapore.

The podcast is also due to feature an interview with Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam in an upcoming episode, the hosts have said in promotional posts on social media.

In her Facebook post on Monday, Mdm Halimah said that taking cheap pot shots at women to boost ratings or make some people laugh no matter how offensive cannot be justified under any label, be it freedom of speech or encouraging conversations.

“How do you encourage healthy conversations about the role of women and families, when your starting point is to degrade women?” she asked.

She said that women are “not objects to be made fun of, ridiculed and trampled upon” and that it is not okay to treat them like “dirt bags and punching bags”.

Singapore Mufti Nazirudin Mohd Nasir, the highest religious authority for Muslims here, also added his voice to the discussion on Monday, writing on Instagram that while discussing social issues is helpful and those who offer such platforms must be encouraged, their words and actions would reinforce and shape the attitudes of their listeners.

“We should therefore use such influence to create positive change, not to perpetuate sexist attitudes and behaviours that have plagued our community for far too long,” he said. “Don’t just be a mirror to reflect what we think the society is. Let the misogyny train depart for good so that we can be better.”

PODCASTERS RESPOND

On Monday, the trio issued another statement on Facebook, saying they are “truly sorry” that it took them this long to realise the extent of the hurt they have caused.

“Thank you Madam President and respected individuals or groups for amplifying the voices of those who have been hurting, and we take this opportunity to sincerely apologise to all our listeners whom we have hurt with our words and content,” they said. They added that it is an “ongoing process for us to fully learn what went wrong”.

“We came from an industry that has peddled in these norms for a very long time, both on and off screen,” they wrote.

“This episode is a chance for us to unlearn some of what has been normalised around us, and truly take steps towards positive change. We will reflect and tweak our approach to not cause offence to any particular group within and beyond our community. The growth of our channel has made clear that we have a responsibility towards our community, and not only specific segments of it.”

They added that they “do not condone misogyny in any way” and said they will be “more careful in the way we portray matters moving forward”.

SEXUAL OBJECTIFICATION OF WOMEN

The Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) on Monday said that it supports the women who spoke up about the misogynistic language in the podcast. 

It said in a Facebook post: “Talking on air about your favourite female body parts (vis-a-vis sexual positions) is textbook sexual objectification. Telling a female guest that you can't pay attention to what she's saying because her cleavage is too distracting is not only objectification, it's sexual harassment.” 

Aware pointed out that the objectification of women is a “learned practice” and “perpetuated culturally” through popular media. 

“Misogyny doesn’t have to be intentional to be problematic. You may not set out with the conscious goal of degrading women, but (subconscious) attitudes and biases seep into your behaviours all the same,” it added.

As for the podcast’s ardent supporters who said that critics are nitpicking, Aware replied to say that this line of thinking “violates the speech rights” of these critics and implies that they should exit the conversation if they have a problem with the misogynistic language.

“(The critics) never asked for perfection, simply for you to exercise the responsibility conferred upon you by your platform, and understand that your speech has a real impact on society,” it said.

Related topics

podcast Okletsgo Halimah Yacob

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