Woman Up: Addressing the Issues of Toxic Masculinity in Singaporean Society



A few years ago, Mr. Shai Ganu had a senior colleague who would bang his fist on the table during meetings and tell people to “shut up” and do the tasks exactly as he wanted.

“It’s a form of assertion of dominance, which really should have no place in today’s workplace. It’s just not respectful and it doesn’t respect differences of opinion,” said Mr. Ganu, a board member of BoardAgender, an initiative to advance more women into leadership and boardroom positions. advice.

“If you have a dominant alpha male boss, he usually makes a point of diminishing the importance and prominence of anyone in the organization, especially subordinates or team members, because he wants to retain the alpha status.”

These men also tend to hog the spotlight, keep the credit to themselves and be unwilling to feed those in their care, Ganu added.

While such behavior may have been common and accepted over the past few decades, it is now in companies’ best interest to stop allowing it, he said.

“You deprive a group of talent because they can’t shine or aren’t allowed to.”

He also pointed out that disgruntled employees could leave scathing comments on company review sites such as Glassdoor, which would only make it more difficult for the employer in question to hire new employees.

“In this talent war where everyone is fighting to find the right people for the right jobs, is it worth the risk?”

Outside the workplace as well, some are pushing for broader definitions of masculinity.

Among them are a trio of interns from advertising agency BBH Singapore, which on July 1 launched a two-week social media campaign titled Redefining Masculinity.

Ms. Kang Jingyi, 21, Ms. Kirianne Lim, 22, and Ms. Ong Tze Kym, 21, said TODAY that when they received a briefing from their bosses to launch a social campaign to solve a societal problem current happening in Singapore, they thought about the national service lives some of their male peers related to them.

This included hearing verbal insults that degraded women or being labeled “gu niang” (roughly translated from Chinese to mean like a lady).

“The repetition of such terms has caused some of them to hold negative opinions about men who are not physically strong or built,” the team said.

The team added that they were tired of the stereotypical narrative that masculinity is embodied by a “successful, career-oriented man who must support his wife, children and parents without showing any signs of struggle or weakness”, and that a man who is “vulnerable, modest, feminist, empathetic” is not a “real man”.

Such ideas, the team noted, also harm boys and men.

“These standards expect boys to be ‘manly’ and penalize those who are unable to earn or prove their masculinity through bullying, harassment, teasing and physical violence,” they said.

After discussions with organizations such as Aware, United Women Singapore and Dads for Life, the trio came up with a series of Instagram posts about the benefits of expressing emotions and affirmations that men are still men even if they don’t. do not conform to the traditional genre. standards.

What they promote, they said, is “positive masculinity”, which can be expressed in many healthy ways and gives boys and men the opportunity to push the boundaries of traditional norms and explore their true self and their desires.

“Examples of such forms could include being emotionally vulnerable, not being competitive, and even challenging gender roles, such as being stay-at-home dads,” they said.

Mr. Kelvin Seah, who has been a stay-at-home dad since 2018, can be said to reflect positive masculinity in action.

“I think one of the clearest so-called definitions of masculinity is your ability to be the breadwinner or primary breadwinner,” said the 50-year-old father of two boys, ages 11 and 13. “So my decision goes against that kind of cultural stereotype.”

His decision was made when in 2017 his youngest son was diagnosed with moderate autism, prompting him and his wife, Ms. Shaw Hui, 50, to reassess their parenting strategies.

Eventually, the couple agreed that Mr. Seah should be the one to look after the children while Ms. Hui goes to work, as they agreed that their sons needed a positive male role model to figure prominently in their life.

And Mr Seah said he knew all too well what it was like not to have one, as his own father was emotionally absent, so he was all the more determined to be a better mentor to his sons.

“Values ​​are captured, not taught. If a parent is absent, how will he make it up? And where will they get their model from, if not their father?

When asked how he would teach his sons masculinity, Mr Seah said he would tell them to carefully consider whether these gender norms match the way they were raised and the way they see themselves. the world.

“Maybe there will be times when (the norm) won’t align with the values ​​you hold dear, or where you won’t really feel comfortable,” he said. “Then you have to be free to say, ‘No, I don’t have to follow society’s script. “”


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