From The Straits Times    |

Credit: Vivian Lim

“Pink is for girls, and blue for boys.” “Ew, how can a boy play with Barbies?” “Can you speak in a softer tone please; women should not be so aggressive.”

Angry already? These are just some of the gender stereotypes ingrained in the way we communicate in society; many of these messages are subliminal with no ill-intent, but they can have negative consequences when it comes to achieving gender equity. In fact, a study by Ipsos in 2022 revealed that 24 per cent of Singaporeans believe that gender inequality doesn’t exist, and “feminism does more harm than good”.

Vivian Lim, co-founder of The Idea Co and lead curator for TEDx Singapore, is hoping to bring attention to the semantics of gender-skewed language with a card game called Generally Speaking (only available to corporates for now). Generally Speaking is an inaugural project under GEN, The Idea Co’s initiative that promotes inclusivity, and features 40 statement cards with phrases like “I associate colours and/or fashion items with gender” and “I often associate life skills with gender”. These questions serve “as triggers to ignite thoughts, share them and other experiences, discuss reactions to the experiences,” says Vivian.

She adds, “Participants may share freely their point of view and be willing to listen to others’. Thus, the game challenges the participants to explore different perspectives, (e.g., someone from a younger or older generation) and discuss how one would understand or react to a particular gender stereotype.”

The truth is that it’s easy to fall into the trap of navel gazing and creating an echo chamber of sorts. Hence, a game like Generally Speaking creates a safe space for both men and women to start a dialogue and understand one another’s point of view. Education plays a crucial role in shifting mindsets, and Vivian believes strongly in the impact that communities can have when they’re empowered with knowledge.

She says, “I have been in the community-building space for more than a decade, and I still find myself actively learning new things with every event we hold or conversation we help facilitate. As generations in Singapore evolve, I firmly believe in opening more channels and opportunities for us to get together purposefully, with empathy and curiosity-driven conversations.”

On gender stereotypes in Asia…

“In Asia, some common gender stereotypes that occur in our daily lives and households are assuming gender-binary roles and life skills within families and homes, associating colour or fashion items with gender and passing down gender-affirmative roles between generations. Gender inequality is also extremely prevalent in Asia, a cultural practice that stems from the earlier days where men are better favoured than women – men could go to school and work while women stayed home. This social construct of ‘men can do more than women’ has stayed for centuries, and we’re now seeing various social movements coming forth and showcasing that both men and women are equally capable.”

On gender equality in Singapore…

“Gender inequality is still a pertinent issue in Singapore, and it trickles down to real life problems in our day-to-day personal or professional lives. A survey by NTUC U Women and Family (U WAF) and People’s Action Party Women’s Wing (PAP WW) found that 10% of female respondents had experienced being passed over for promotion or career advancement due to their gender. Women in certain sectors, such as construction, healthcare and engineering are more affected by gender disparity in the workforce.

On bringing society into the discussion…

“In Singapore, I feel we are in a good momentum when it comes to the discussion on gender equality. It also depends what demographics and background of women, the context of the women in that general statement. The pursuit on gender equity is not a conversation just with women, or a journey just with women. I hope that we can look beyond echo chambers to discuss such issues, rather, see if from a whole of society point of view.

One recent incident was when we brought Generally Speaking in a dialogue at NUS Baba House as part of our programme collaboration on feminine roles and norms. There was an NUS student who had to facilitate conversations with a diverse mix of participants. She has been doing a minor in Gender Studies, and well-versed, equipped and empowered on this subject matter. After the session, I asked what her takeaway was, and she said she has never left how much more work needs to be done on gender equity. Her participants had a dominant male mix with an age demographics well above what she was used to having conversations on gender equity with. Clearly, she saw what was missing.”

On how to contextualise the discussion…

“I feel gender equity is not just having a group of women feeling empowered. It is how we build better platforms and steps for our community so that everyone flourishes. It is how we can socialise these thoughts, concepts, and behavioural change with different generations, different diversity of community. I never felt we could do this with a one size fit all solution. To me, this is important, to understand our society and community’s journey, and how we can move forward to be better for our future generations. What does gender equity look like for our society? We need to contextualise this discussion, and understand the cultural, socio-political influences that shapes our gender conversations here.”

On what a diverse Singapore looks like…

“A diverse Singapore means people understanding that everyone has different experiences and being open to learning about each other’s cultures. It is more than being part of a tight-knit community but having that common ground to listen and understand others with empathy. We may not exactly understand what someone has gone through or what made them to hold a certain belief, but we have the ability to sense other people’s emotions, and the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling.

It is sometimes very challenging to get a group of friends to discuss and exchange ideas on certain topics, let alone strangers. However, in order to build compassion and empathy, it is important for people of all genders, races and generations to share their experiences and learn from others as well.”

On the importance of platforms like TEDx…

“I resonated with what TED speaker and author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said about having different perspectives at the table. “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

When we understand the plurality of opinions, perspectives and lived experiences, it helps us build better spaces for common ground. “