pay attention, gals
October 11, 2014 12:14 AM   Subscribe

Singaporean student Agatha Tan wrote an open letter to her principal after noticing major flaws with a sex ed program at her junior college. Specifically, the Focus on the Family-created program posited relationship advice for "guys" and "gals" and what they really think that seem to be directly cribbed from a joke book. Focus on the Family claimed that it wasn't designed as sex ed but as a "relationship education" program (here's Singapore's actual sex ed curriculum) and that it was supposedly based on research studies about the neurological differences between men and women. The principal says that the facilitators were "ineffective", and the Ministry of Education says that they will cease their working relationship with FotF soon.
posted by divabat (32 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
A friend was a teacher in Singapore for a while, and was the one that had to handle sex ed. He took one look at this curriculum and sat down with the kids first day and said, "okay - I know the books are crap and so do you. So I'll make you a deal - I won't use them and I will shoot straight with you if you don't tell the principal. Got it?"

He was the most popular teacher in the school after that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:51 AM on October 11, 2014 [43 favorites]

Googling one of the experts (Shaunti Feldhahn) FOTF claims to base their stuff on led me to some survey results that are painful reading. Such leading, sexist questions, originating deep from the gender assumptions they are trying to measure. It's like heteronormativity trying to taste its own tongue.

Like the note on #16 (pdf):
Note: We were interested to see that roughly 55% of women said they wanted sex more
often or exactly the same as their husbands, which means the percent who want it less
is in the minority. However, we did not have the ability to test whether the husbands of
the women answering "exactly the same" were in agreement with that assessment.
Therefore, we decided to deal in the book primarily with the women answering "less
often," since it appears that the majority of men believe their wife to be in that category.
We were surprised not to get the answer we wanted, but eh the women are probably wrong.
posted by fleacircus at 4:52 AM on October 11, 2014 [41 favorites]

Oh dear lord.

(Like so many others - born in Singapore but conceived in Indonesia).
posted by Samuel Farrow at 5:04 AM on October 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

Is that because of differences in health care facilities?
posted by XMLicious at 5:15 AM on October 11, 2014


Agatha Tan did a great job raising her objections with authority though. That's certainly not easy.
posted by arcticwoman at 6:47 AM on October 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

FOTF got its camel nose under the singapore tent? how did this happen? i had always envisioned singapore as a fairly well-run, if excessively authoritarian country.

any organization with the word "family" in its name is going to be stupid. what's the stalwart oregon family council up to? according to last night's (the oregonian), it's attacking a book.

he was an army major stationed in iraq, and to pass the time, he coordinated a writing project with other soldiers which produced a sexy, gory vampire novel. when he came home and ran for an oregon house seat as a democrat, the republicans seized on this as evidence of his moral unfitness. hello, it's a fucking vampire novel; they're supposed to be gory and sexy, and focusing on it overlooks the real horrors of our involvement in iraq, things like slaughtered children. without going into detail (because it wasn't a book review), the reporter managed to suggest obliquely that this novel will not be challenging stephanie meyer, let alone bram stoker, in the vampire canon.
posted by bruce at 7:36 AM on October 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

FOTF got its camel nose under the singapore tent? how did this happen? i had always envisioned singapore as a fairly well-run, if excessively authoritarian country.

From what my friend says, it is indeed authoritarian, but also fairly Conservative, so from the sound of things it's not surprising that something that advocated an abstinence-only approach to sex ed found favor.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:05 AM on October 11, 2014

>> it is indeed authoritarian, but also fairly Conservative
Are there any authoritarian AND liberal governments?
(mostly joking, but if one exists, I'd like to know about it)
posted by falsedmitri at 8:08 AM on October 11, 2014

I read through the list of "she says" with anger and then with annoyance noted that the "he says" list was a third the length of the "she says" list. Then I saw the contents of the "he says" list and my brain exploded with rage.
posted by geegollygosh at 8:24 AM on October 11, 2014 [7 favorites]

the list of "she says"

Oh my fucking GOD. That's it. Focus on the Family has to be a secret organization of time travelers from the 1930s.

Someone check their closets for silver jumpsuits and Science Goggles.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 8:28 AM on October 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

Wow, I can't believe I'm actually shocked at how fucked-up something from Focus on the Family is, but I am. What the everloving fuck.
posted by threeants at 8:53 AM on October 11, 2014

“Many guys feel neither the ability nor the responsibility to stop the sexual progression with [girls]”, and thus they “need your help to protect both of you” (page 28).
That made my stomach turn. Well, the whole thing did, but managing to victim-blame and slut-shame women and girls in a single sentence is rather astounding.
posted by jaguar at 9:41 AM on October 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

This sounds like it was written by Freddy Rumsfeld of Mad Men.
posted by sfkiddo at 11:49 AM on October 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

There are lots of things to hate in this, but I'm curious about why people are reacting so strongly to "gals." Although it's not used as frequently (in many English-speaking circles) as "guys," it serves the same purpose -- an informal-but-still-grownup label between "girls" and "women." To my ears, either "guys and girls" or "guys and women" would be gross. Given the choice between the folksiness of "gals" and the sexism of equating men and girls, I think they made the right choice.
posted by roll truck roll at 12:27 PM on October 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

One other thing: a bunch of the text in the booklet says "girls," and again, those parts read way worse to me, from a gender-equality perspective.
posted by roll truck roll at 12:29 PM on October 11, 2014

I think "gals" just sounds overly familiar, plus archaic when used with teenagers. It sounds like an older woman lecturing a younger woman while trying, and failing, to hide her condescending attitude.
posted by jaguar at 12:37 PM on October 11, 2014

I think "gals" brings to mind grown-up women being referred to in a condescendingly manner. (It would be nice if we had a neutral "guy" equivalent, though.)
posted by sfkiddo at 1:20 PM on October 11, 2014

the list of "she says"

Oh my fucking GOD. That's it. Focus on the Family has to be a secret organization of time travelers from the 1930s.

They are. The problem is their time machine sends them forward at the rate of one second per second.
posted by MikeKD at 3:17 PM on October 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

Knowing Singaporean culture, it's likely one part tone-deaf adults trying to be cool and one part condescension.
posted by divabat at 3:29 PM on October 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

I use to live in Singapore. While I was there, one of my best friends, an American lecturer, got fired from a polytechnic (college) there for setting an assignment that asked the students to get a Singaporean newspaper and a Malaysian newspaper and contrast their reporting on the same topic. The government said she was encouraging dissent amongst the students and a potential uprising against the government. They then took away her visa and tried to kick her out of he country but she started her own business and managed to stay.
posted by Jubey at 5:17 PM on October 11, 2014

"Gals" is almost always used by dudes acting in a condescending manner to a group of women (often all women). It may have started out innocuously but I've seldom heard it used in any other context. It's certainly not a word you apply to a group of teen girls, if you want them to not roll their eyes at you. It is archaic.

When I was young and fundamentalist, FotF would often have a little radio program that came on to the horrible Christian rock station I often forced myself to listen to. James Dobson usually did the bit, in his warm avuncular voice, but the stories he told pretty much all boiled down to "obey men, women; obey parents, children; obey God, everyone; trust me, for I am an old man who uses comforting tones and Christian phrases."
posted by emjaybee at 5:43 PM on October 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Given the choice between the folksiness of "gals" and the sexism of equating men and girls, I think they made the right choice

This overlooks the fact that there are other, better options. They could just have gone with "men" and "women," for instance

Or, y'know, not built their entire sex-ed curriculum around gender-binary stereotypes to begin with.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 6:47 PM on October 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

The "what she said/what she actually means" crap has haunted me my whole life, both in romantic relationships and workplace situations. The basic assumption (even tongue-in-cheek) that if you have prominent breasts you must be dissembling and incapable of articulating your thoughts and feelings is infuriating. Or that penis-wielders don't also struggle to sometimes express themselves, that somehow they can magically do it when women can't -- ARRRRRGH.

FOTF can go die in a fire for perpetuating this bullshit.
posted by offalark at 10:56 PM on October 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

And no, that isn't code for "hey FOTF, why don't we go out to the diner on Saturday night for malts and burgers". Literally. The whole organization can go up in flames and I will light my cigar on the coals.
posted by offalark at 10:57 PM on October 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Gals is regular local slang here among teens used non ironically. I have four teens and see it in their text messages for a group of girls or for hey guys n gals, etc.

The FOTF and other secretive religious promoting organizations in secular civil organizations is a growing tension in Singapore. The conservative majority value religious plurality and harmony more than traditional right wing type values, and religion and politics are firmly separated in public, so this has already been controversial with AWARE, the local feminist group fighting off a takeover attempt by church members and a recent NGO, Honour, to promote good values that is almost entirely from another church and the government is allowing criticism of this because the powers that be are firmly on a secular multi-religious side.

Singapore isn't Amsterdam or Bangkok, but we have legal brothels and licensed sex work. The approach is essentially pragmatic, not conservative.
posted by viggorlijah at 12:32 AM on October 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Ooh.. didn't realise this was already on Mefi, as I was distracted by my wife having a baby. Also, I might not make sense as I have not slept well in 5 days.

Yeah like viggorlijah says, "gals" is commonly used her among young girls, so there isn't really any malice in the use of the word. The rest of the handout seems to be total shit though.

I happen to actually be an alumni of the school where this happened, and I'm quite proud that a junior of mine wrote that letter. The school (Hwa Chong Institution) began as a Chinese-language school, and so it can be a bit conservative in the traditional Chinese sense, but is definitely not religious in any way. The reaction of the principal (who used to be a dean when I was there) appears promising and suggests he is handling the situation correctly.

Basically it boils down to FotF managing to infiltrate secular institutions with its nonsense. In Singapore I've noticed that the organization keeps its conservative Christian roots hidden; for a long time I had just thought of them as some kind of well established self-help and motivational group, publishing articles on how to achieve success in life and all that. Given that, it might have been that somebody at the ministry wasn't paying enough attention to the contents and just green-lighted the programme.

Nevertheless, as far as sexuality and feminism goes, Singapore is still somewhat more conservative, especially the general public. This handout is particularly worrisome because some of the things in it are stereotypes many Singaporeans have, e.g. that girls don't say what they want, are more emotional, etc. Hopefully this incident will help bring such stereotypes into the limelight.
posted by destrius at 5:52 AM on October 12, 2014

Focus on the Family should focus on their own damn families instead of bothering everybody else.
posted by jonp72 at 6:27 AM on October 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yeah like viggorlijah says, "gals" is commonly used her among young girls, so there isn't really any malice in the use of the word.

The student is the one who objected to it, though, so it's presumably not 100% accepted at all times. It looks like she's saying it's not appropriate for the age group:
This is driven home by the use of the word “gals” throughout the booklet. As a seventeen year-old –someone who should be considered a young adult –I resent the use of this word to describe me. Using the language of twelve year-olds to describe girls makes us seem immature and frivolous and ultimately, easily dismissible. We are not, and should not be portrayed as such.
and she seems to prefer "girls" as the more appropriate term.
posted by jaguar at 9:33 AM on October 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hmm... it might be that the term isn't used much anymore by kids these days then; my wife and her friends still refer to each other as "gals" even though they're in their 30s. Perhaps whoever wrote the handout didn't realise that the vernacular had changed over the years. In any case this is kind of a derail as the use of "gals" is to me the least troubling thing here.
posted by destrius at 8:09 PM on October 12, 2014

The sex ed here tends to be pretty daft, but what is great is that she spoke up, got a debate and support from her school, and that this kind of sneaky disguised as secular but with a religious agenda technique is being quite widely denounced. One of my kids goes to a public catholic school, and they are pretty good so far about denoting where the school's inherited catholic traditions overlap the secular public school parts, and letting families navigate them.
posted by viggorlijah at 10:42 PM on October 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

every time i run into stuff like this it makes me understand myself a little better.
posted by rebent at 6:21 AM on October 13, 2014

Yeah, I definitely agree, viggorlijah. I went to a public Catholic school in Singapore too, and it was always very clear that anything religious was completely opt-out. Obviously it would was frowned upon to disrupt prayers, but that's only decent. I think only about a third (if that!) of my classmates were Catholic.

And then I went to Hwa Chong (hi, destrius!) so I'm glad for this having happened. This kind of openness from the administration is a couple years in the making, I think - I only graduated two years ago, and at that time we had dialogue sessions with the principal every three months, not to mention a public pupil suggestion board as well. He also occasionally posts links to news reports about world issues, and issues like these, on the internal mailing list to ask for students' opinions, which is pretty neat.

Yeah, and I wouldn't say 'gals' unironically. Not that I find it particularly condescending among friends, but it's just not done.
posted by undue influence at 7:31 AM on October 13, 2014

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