Singapore's feminist organization AWARE has become increasingly aware of the need for but lack of male support for gender equality efforts - in this society 'proudly calling itself patriarchal' as the government puts it (there isn't a single female minister in the cabinet either). So when I came up with this idea of starting a men's group for gender awareness & development, it was like trying to break an open door - I got a lot of support from the beginning.
A few excerpts from my email correspondence during the preparation process:
Braema had this short text promoting the group in today's The Straits Times - if you didn't notice. And this Chinese paper Lianhe Wanbao apparently had some notice about it some days ago already. And it has been promoted in at least a couple of AWARE's newsletters. And the press release went out to some 120 persons if I understood right. And I sent the invitation to the extended Male Chapter mailing list. And Tenley sent the invitation to the staff of the National University..
So if no men turn up tonight, there is, to misquote Shakespeare, really something rotten in the state of Singapore ? I'm not sure if it came through well enough that the invitation is intended for men only. If not, it may well be that a lot of women turn up and no or only a few men. But as this is the first meeting and I'm anyway starting the meeting with a presentation & discussion, it's OK as long as there are at least a few men present. Braema will be present - I told her to come disguised as a man, but she didn't think it was funny. She thinks that if no men turn up that's also news.
Connie just called me and asked whether someone had contacted me about this evening. I had to say no. She told me no-one has contacted AWARE's office either. So I'm really quite tense about the evening.
Then came the evening, Wednesday Jan 30. To be in time I arrived at 6:45 to the Discussion Room at the National Library. At 7 there were only me and a Finnish friend of mine. OK, I know Singaporeans are always late (unless their boss is expected, then they'll be on time ;-), so we'll just have to wait. A few minutes past 7 Braema, the TST journalist that wrote the ad about the group, arrives. Then a few more minutes past, the third expat, a teacher from the National University. Braema told me she thinks that whatever happens, it will be news - like 'no show for local men' ?
Time passes. We're just the three of us - talking smalltalk. It's a quarter past. Still we three only. And then it's half past - and I'll have to accept that men's lib isn't going to be a mass movement here either.. So, I propose we start - I have this presentation about men's groups as the first item on the agenda. OK.
I'm just in the midst of my first slide when there is a knock at the door - and a couple of guys drop in, complaining about how difficult it was to find the room, they've been all over the place before they found us - the information desk didn't know about us either.
Good ! So I start from the beginning. And just when I'm again in the midst of my first slide there is the next knock at the door. And then they keep dropping in - after a while we are nine men (well, including me). And I feel really spirited now. This is just about the ideal size of a men's group.
So I finish my presentation, we discuss the objectives I've proposed and then we present ourselves & our own expectations and finally discuss practical issues for a group meeting continuously - everyone seems to agree that we should continue. And then the time is up.
After the meeting I feel very happy - such a relief that there really is at least a handful of men in Singapore that are willing to sincerely discuss and hopefully go deeper into these matters.
This will be a learning process for all of us - for me personally to learn about Asian masculinity. Exciting. Wonderful.