The Objectification of Women: Misogyny, Westernisation, and Beauty Standards
TW: MISOGYNY, MENTIONS OF SEXUAL VIOLENCE
“Y’ALL LOOK LIKE Y’ALL JUST DIED AND CAME BACK FROM THE DEAD”
Nope, this is not an allusion to Jesus’s resurrection (although I would say that women are goddesses). If you have been on TikTok around late December 2021, chances are that your “For You” feed was filled with clap-backs in response to TikTok user David Rosal’s misogynistic and white-washed comments objectifying Singaporean women.
Here is a TL;DR of this incident: After spending some time in the United States, Rosal uploaded a TikTok video insulting Singaporean women for being poorly dressed and unkempt. Here is a transcript of his video, which was reuploaded by Mothership (TW: MISOGYNY):
“Can I just talk about this for a sec? So basically right, I feel like American girls, they know how to groom themselves better and make themselves look more presentable. Like, it doesn’t matter what race it is, like White, Black, Hispanic, err, Asian. Dude, they know how to. It’s not even make up. It’s just like they can take care of themselves better. Like I swear you Singaporean girls like y’all just be wearing the same shit, y’all just be f**kin’ – I don’t know – not be taking care of yourselves and y’all look like fuckin’ ass, like y’all look like y’all just died and came back from the dead. Like come on man you got to step your game up for real. Like [engine noises] I-I’m out here in-in California, I’m not even in L.A., and these-these-these [inaudible] fine as f*** man for real. Tsk yea, I’m probably gonna like get cancelled for this but [blows air] whatever.”
Within hours and over the next couple of days, other TikTok users responded with criticism, addressing his prejudice against Singaporean women. @barbersnotsalon, for instance, talked about how it is ok to find people overseas attractive, but it was not ok for Rosal to then proceed to belittle or talk down on people from his own country, just because they do not suit his standards – after all, “none of us are doing it for you – we don’t care what you think”.
Rosal’s misogyny also reflects wider issues with regard to the objectification of women in Singapore. While his video also prompts questions about the influences and effects of westernisation and beauty standards, this article will focus on addressing how gender norms drive misogyny, and in effect, the objectification of women.
The article concludes with a non-exhaustive list of actions you may take to fight misogyny online.
Gender roles norms and stereotypes
Especially in a cisnormative society that largely equates sex and gender, gender roles refer to “how we’re expected to act, speak, dress, groom, and conduct ourselves based on our assigned sex”. In our patriarchal world, women are assumed to be weaker than men, and are expected to adopt passive, domestic, and nurturing duties, while men are expected to be aggressive, ambitious leaders.
When society becomes accustomed to such gender roles, these gender-based and/or sex-based stereotypical expectations of people form a part of the social norms.
The imposition of such gender norms contributes to sexism, which is “prejudice or discrimination based on sex or gender, especially women and girls”. In other words, the assignment of gender roles disproportionately affects women, who are treated as second-class citizens, as objects simply based on the stereotypes attributed to their gender identity.
Misogyny and the patriarchy
As such, it is clear how gender roles, stereotypes, and norms drive sexism. More specifically, such harmful gender-based and/or sex-based expectations form the root of misogyny, which is about controlling and punishing women who challenge male dominance.
Ultimately, gender roles serve to sustain the patriarchy, “a social system in which power is held by men, through cultural norms and customs that favour men and withhold opportunities from women”.
The prevalence of misogyny in Singapore (at least in the online space) is evident with the research findings by a 2021 Quilt.AI and AWARE study. For instance, Quilt.AI’s machine-learning model “found that female accounts on Twitter received twice as many misogynistic comments as a random sample of accounts, [and that] misogynistic comments were twice as likely to be “liked” and 4.5 times more likely to be retweeted compared to non-misogynistic comments”.
Such misogyny is intrinsically linked to the objectification faced by women as well.
The objectification of women
Objectification is defined as “treating people like tools or toys, as if they have no feelings, opinions, or rights of their own”. On top of being stereotyped as being more emotional and nurturing, women are also seen as being weaker than men, as being submissive to men.
Not only that, but the systemically-embedded patriarchy also structurally disadvantages women in society, putting them in more vulnerable positions.
As such, women tend to be objectified, being undervalued for their labour – aside from the gender wage gap, women are often subjected to unpaid domestic work, such as cooking, cleaning, and childcare. In Singapore, policies like the 1984 Graduate Mothers’ Scheme, for instance, served to “encourage better-educated married women to have more children”, while the disparity between the maternity leave (four months) and paternity leave (two weeks) “reinforces the notion that raising a child is primarily a woman’s job”.
Then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was also not shy about reiterating such sentiments, having said, “We shouldn’t get our women into jobs where they cannot, at the same time, be mothers,” (1983), and also that “attractive and intelligent young ladies” should go to finishing colleges so that they will be “marvellous helpers of their husband’s career” (1994).
These policies and public sentiments by influential persons of authority not only socialise the masses to internalise such sexist stereotypes, but also systemically and materially entrench such gender roles. No matter how much a woman thrived academically, they have been relegated to objectification and submission, pushed to prioritise marriage and motherhood over their career and education, while men are expected to be the primary caregivers.
Women also tend to be objectified in terms of their appearances, being subjected to the male gaze, whereby a “woman is visually positioned as an ‘object’ of heterosexual male desire; her feelings, thoughts and her own sexual desires are less important than her being ‘framed’ by male desire”. Aside from media portrayal, how women look are also subjected to the scrutiny of some men with their patriarchally-enabled audacity and ego (case in point: David Rosal).
(TW: MENTIONS OF SEXUAL VIOLENCE) Furthermore, the harmful effects of gender stereotypes and the patriarchy in Singapore can be seen in the perpetuation of sexual violence against women. AWARE “warned about the growing online communities of ‘incels’, or voluntary celibates, in which men position themselves as the dominant gender, deserving of sexual pleasure by virtue of being male”.
How to fight misogyny online?
The relationship between gender norms, misogyny, and gender-based violence is clear – gender roles established under the patriarchy disproportionately disenfranchises women, placing them in positions of vulnerability while uplifting men into positions of power and authority.
So, what can all of us do, at least in the virtual space?
According to Shailey Hingori (Head of Research and Advocacy, AWARE) and Michelle Gay (Director of Operations, Quilt.AI), a bystander of online misogyny can take the following actions:
- Post something supportive about the victim(s),
- Send the victim(s) a sympathetic private message, and/or
- Call out the abuser by responding critically to their original post (which is what many TikTok users, including @barbersnotsalon did, in response to Rosal’s video).
Hingori and Gay also highlighted the importance of instilling gender-equal values and encouraging more active prevention of misogyny and violence foundationally through comprehensive sexuality education, as well as through bystander intervention programmes.