Gender Inequalities: The Problems with Alexis Ong

I have no right to take issue with what some random woman out there wants in a man as a matter of personal choice, but no woman should speak as though she has the right to tell men how they should behave in order to be considered real men; nor should anyone tell women what they ought to like in men. But a “Singapore journalist” called Alexis Ong appears to have a divine prerogative to do so, as indicated by an article written a few months ago that caught my attention when it was recently featured in the main page of Yahoo! Singapore. Not only does she think she has the right to define masculinity for the rest of the world, she is doing so to show why Singaporean men do not make good dates for her—and for all other normal women.

But let’s first look at her as a journalist. It is not unreasonable to expect journalists to be able to construct grammatical sentences that make sense semantically even if not logically. As such, I wish someone could explain what the following means:

Even after all my bitching, it’s not actually hard for a guy to be a “man” in Singapore by current standards; if you are a girl who likes being in committed relationship with someone safe, ready, willing and able to play house with you.

One expects the clause after the semi-colon to explain why it is not difficult for a Singaporean guy to be a “man.” But we get nothing of this sort. Instead, we get an incomplete conditional (“if you are a girl…”). If you are a girl what? The content of entire paragraph transcends criticism because no one other than Alexis knows what it means. I can’t decide whether it all boils down to linguistic deficiency or logical lapses. (I’m kind enough to assume that it isn’t both at work here.)

For better or for worse though, we can generally tell what she is talking about and for the reader who does not wish to visit the webpage where the odious article is published, here is a list of her claims and why I think she’s being nonsensical.

1) Singaporean men are all effeminate

Her claim: Singaporean men are effeminate because they are “androgynous-looking” or are excessively groomed (in her opinion). An example she uses: two men (she refuses to call them “men” and deliberately uses the word “guys” instead) giggling as they looked at something on a phone.

The further claim: The effeminate men are “the rule” rather than the exceptions.

Why she’s being nonsensical: It’s not her business whether someone looks androgynous (just as it’s not my business that she looks like the Loch Ness Monster in a human wig), if they wear tight jeans, look prettier than her (who doesn’t?) or giggle.

It would be fine if she is simply not attracted to the men she is describing since it is her personal preference, but she has to say: “For healthy, straight girls, I’m going ahead and say [sic] this kind of sucks.” We see Alexis passing judgment on men she deems insufficiently masculine by her standards and discriminating against women who might be attracted to the men she finds unappealing. If you are a straight female who are attracted to one of the men she has described, you are unhealthy.

There also seems to be a homophobic insinuation that lesbians are not quite “healthy” and she seems to think that lesbians might be attracted to effeminate men (instead of women). What interesting insights into the workings of the world Alexis has.

If you are not convinced that she is being nonsensical, have a look at how she contradicts herself in Claim 4.

2) Singaporean men can’t chat (with Alexis)

Her claim: Singaporean men cannot make conversation but men elsewhere can. (What a surprise. I would have thought that no living being within our solar system would be able to make a conversation with her.)

Her idea of a conversation, for those who are unaware, includes engaging in debates. (By just reading her article, I suspect that a debate with her is likely to result in a bout of hair-plucking exasperation and lifelong trauma especially if it is one related to gender issues.)

The further claim: Singaporean men don’t like girls who can make conversation (i.e. debate?).

Why she’s being nonsensical: Good and bad conversationalists exist everywhere in the world. Some people may like good conversationalists and others might not judge people by how well they make conversations with strangers. Whatever it is, I am of the belief that cannot make this judgment based on personal experience because of the possibility that too few Singaporean men want to make conversation with her, causing her to mistake reluctance for inability. If personal experience counts so much, what if Molly always has Singaporean men chatting her up? Does it mean that all Singaporean men are good conversationalists?

But what really makes Alexis nonsensical is how she cites a study that claims that people in Singapore “are afraid to say what they think and are afraid to disagree.” And it becomes a problem with Singaporean men, not Singaporeans in general. If there’s any male reader who is eager to prove his manhood to Alexis, please visit her page, tell her what you think and disagree with her. Indulge in a heated debate with her—it might become a steamy game of seduction.


3. Singaporean men can’t accept independent, assertive women

Her Claim: Not many Singaporean couples are happy in their relationships and (Singaporean) men are at fault. “There are plenty of traditional old Chinese men in my family who just can’t compute when it comes to dealing with a modern career-minded woman, much less a woman who speaks her mind.”

Why she’s being nonsensical: Compute?!?!

Previously, all Singaporean men were said to be like girls. Now they are men who can’t accept women who speak their mind. So they are perhaps like girls who can’t take it when women speak their mind.

Perhaps the problem isn’t so much that men can’t accept outspoken women as it is that they can’t accept certain logic-deficient minds particularly when they are accompanied by exhibitionistic self-assertion. (If you are en empty vessel, you should at least have the decency to keep as quiet as possible. Molly maintains that she is an exception.)

No doubt, there are probably Singaporean men who can’t take it when women are independent and outspoken. But there are probably men in Singapore, New York and Boston who are like that. There are also men in everywhere who are not like that.

For years, Molly has been speaking her mind through blogging and most Singaporean men don’t seem to have a problem with it—certainly not the hordes of men who have asked for her hand in marriage online.

4) Singaporean Men are alpha males (or the opposite)

Her claim: “Guys here are either alpha-male dominant and aggressive (hello, CBD business crowd) or totally whipped — there’s hardly a visible demographic in between.”

Why she’s being nonsensical: Self-contradiction. Look at Claim 1 above that effeminate men are the “rule” and not the exception in Singapore. Now she claims that Singaporean men are either alpha males or, for lack of a better term, omega males. Alexis probably prefers the gammas and she’s upset that men are not being gamma for her pleasure.

For the sake of argument, let’s disregard the self-contradiction. After all, even if Claim 1 is untrue, it does not mean that Claim 4 is also untrue. It is not entirely clear what Alexis considers to be an alpha male, but after reading her article, I would think she considers alpha males to be “dominant and aggressive”—possibly the men who pass her basic masculinity test but fails overall because they are chauvinistic. She wants a hybrid of the alpha male and the omega male—a man who exhibits the traits of traditional masculinity as and when it pleases her, and also displays the traits of an alternative masculinity (of the archetypal sensitive new age guy perhaps) as and when it pleases her. She is the center of the universe. Her aversion towards male chauvinism is understandable since chauvinistic behavior may directly affect her position as an equal, but she has no right to insist that men exhibit other traits that are no concern to her.

No one has the right to stop her from wanting a gamma male or an x-man, but it is an entirely different matter when she puts it in such a way that the standards she sets ought to be used as the single, authoritative benchmark of true masculinity. Ultimately, she is ignoring the complexities of human behavior and being superficial. A manipulative smooth operator might win her heart easily though I don’t quite see why any would attempt to do so. But, well, to each his own.

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“Man enough, but don’t be a beast. Get rid of your excess hair, but don’t be a sissy.”

5) Real men need to have the 5 Cs and more.

Her claim: “Women expect a lot of you [Singaporean men] these days … having your own place, preferably with a car and a couple of credit cards thrown in.

“I’m a little hesitant to bring up the 5Cs (condo, career, credit card, car, country club) because I feel like they’re slightly outdated. These days, depending on the circles you travel in, there’s a lot of cultural capital and fashion savvy required, too.” (Emphasis Molly’s)

Why she’s being nonsensical: To be fair, Alexis is acknowledging that it is not easy for men to meet (her) expectations. But it would appear that she considers a “real” man someone who has the 5 Cs plus cultural capital plus fashion acumen. (But good luck to them if they are fashionable in a way that she considers sissy.) Working class men are not real men. They are too poor, do not have the right connections and do not have anything that would let them get ahead. No one cares what sort of men Alexis wants to date, but her message here constitutes outright class discrimination.


6) Singaporean men are unable to accept gender equality

Her claim: “Many guys here still can’t come to terms with gender equality.”

“From experience, they hyper-masculine set still don’t [sic] take a woman’s view seriously. And for the submissive man-wife, the message is: grow a pair.”

Why she’s being nonsensical: The issue is not gender equality. If men are unable to come to terms with anything, it is more likely to be the expectations that may accompany a mindset of equality.

Most people today would not disagree that gender equality is a bad thing, but here is no true gender equality in Singapore and probably elsewhere in the world. In a modern society like Singapore, we only have more complex gender inequalities under a semblance of equality. Women are discriminated against in some ways and under certain circumstances. Women who get pregnant, for instance, may not get to keep their jobs, regardless of whether their employers would admit to discriminatory practices. Men, on the other hand, also face discrimination by virtue of their sex. From being the ones conscripted to the loss of employment opportunities due to NS commitments, men are disadvantaged by being men.

There is also the patriarchy hangover: women may continue to be expected to be the ones who should perform certain roles like household chores or child care whereas men may continue to be expected to play a key role in supporting women financially (even if their wives work). By dictating the standards of true masculinity for everyone, Alexis is contributing to gender inequality while waving the flag of equality.

If the way Alexis is haranguing Singaporean men does not appear to be an act against gender equality, it might be useful to imagine a man doing the same to women and claiming that Singaporean women are either too girlish or too unfeminine. Imagine the same man accusing Singaporean women of being too shy (or too outspoken) for his liking. Imagine him telling women he considers being unfeminine to grow a pair of breasts and him telling women who are too girlish to learn to be more assertive and aggressive. He can easily be labeled a male chauvinist.

No one can and no one should set standards of masculinity and femininity. A man who enjoys spending hours grooming himself deserves as much respect as one who only takes care of the basics of personal hygiene and grooming. If an alpha male is aggressive to the extent of impinging on women’s rights, tell him off personally instead of making sweeping statements about all other men sharing the same citizenship as him. Similarly, if a Singaporean female journalist writes idiotic articles, we should not condemn all Singaporean women.

In any case, I would like to congratulate all Singaporean men. You can’t imagine how lucky you are than someone like Alexis isn’t interested in you. At the very least, your life will not be ruined by the romantic interest of a rabid elephant whose hobbies include cross-country gender rampages.

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