Regarding that “EPIC WIN” forum letter response…

Edit: I have noticed (and it has been pointed out to me) that in my original posting I mis-attributed the letters to the Straits Times, when they were actually published in the print & online versions of Today. The post has since been corrected.

The backstory: a lady by the name of Grace Leong writes in to the Straits Times Today forum complaining about a risque womens’ lingerie advertisement on a public billboard. A gentleman by the name of Gary Ow writes in a clever response about lighting and photography that would be funny as a joke while having a drink with friends, intellectual gibberish on a semi-formal forum in a national newspaper. The response gets circulated around with great cheer on the Internet, notably by local blogging rockstar Mr. Brown.

I.. am not happy about this.

Click to enlarge

Alright. Let’s have a look at the two letters. The first one, by Ms Grace Leong, is riddled with issues. I will not deny that. Assuming that all women would be “too embarrassed” to look at the ad is… problematic at best, horribly horribly stereotypical at worst. And her horror that children and teens will be exposed to the same ad sounds a lot like a “think of the children, they’ll be corrupted!”-type argument (even if this point has salient truth in it–just not about OMG SEX IS DIRTY EW). But her last paragraph–even if unfortunately worded–brings up a good point: the lingerie ad objectifies women. And that is Not A Good Thing.

Mr Gary Ow’s “response”? To completely ignore whatever points she made and instead going on about lighting and focus of the photo. Of course! You’ve got me; I’ve seen the error of my ways now. It’s totally okay to objectify women because the photography is beautiful and it pleases the men who look at it. Mr Gary Ow must be patting himself heartily on the back right now, he’s so clever, mocking that silly hysterical woman’s legitimate concerns.

Thanks for underscoring exactly what Ms Grace Leong was trying to say, you brilliant man you. Her argument wasn’t even all that sound, but your response perfectly, perfectly exemplifies why this sort of advertising is problematic and has wider implications for society. Round of applause! You’ve outdone yourself.

But no. The story just doesn’t end there, does it? It’s not enough that the one of the nation’s biggest newspapers gives exposure to opinions of this level of douchbaggery. When the response letter gets circulated about Twitter (multiple times on my own timeline), not only does it get lauded as an EPIC WIN REPLY (epic win , you hear that women? The menz have spoken!), it also gets tagged with the ugly undercurrent of “good on that man for one-upping that prude“, with all the delicious implication that there must be something wrong with that woman who wrote it, because she isn’t enjoying being turned into a sexual object!

And when I start pointing out these things on Twitter, the epic game of Sexist Joke Bingo begins. “Maybe he didn’t MEAN to be offensive!” “It’s just a joke, I found it funny, why are you taking it so seriously?” “Can’t you just take it as a compliment?” With a bonus side of Oppression Olympics, and then, after realizing I wouldn’t quit about it, threats of unfollowing, “scary feminists are oppressing me”, etc.


I wish we could talk about male privilege in schools.** I wish we could teach kids the hard truths about how much women still suffer from being boxed into the roles that patriarchal society has prepared for them, and that even though great leaps have been made in terms of gender equality we’ve still got a long, long way to go before we get there. Even if they don’t agree with any of it, at least people will be less prone to assume that I’m attacking them personally when I point out their privilege or misogyny. It’s not just about you, really. This is everybody’s problem.

And yes–before I start getting responses that go “But I’m a woman, and I thought that letter was funny”, we did talk about that as well. And it boils down to this– whether you thought it was funny or not, it doesn’t change the fact that this is still a horribly sexist letter that was published in the most widely-circulated English-language newspaper in the country, in the forum pages which have, in the past, been shown to have enough influence to trigger changes in public policy. Just being a woman doesn’t exempt one from contributing to sexism against women, at all. I know plenty of sexist women. Some of them are even worse than the sexist men I know.

But how can a woman be sexist against women, you ask? That’s because we’ve been all brought up in this environment that still says women must be like this and men should be like that. And it gets to you. It really does. Even I am not immune to their insidious effects. Every day, starting from when we were little girls until we become middle-aged aunties and then old ladies, we get bombarded with messages that a our worth is tied to our looks, that to be beautiful and thin is the key to happiness, that the measure of our femininity is how attractive we are to the men who look at us. Hundreds and thousands of messages, from TV and movies and magazines and advertising on the side of buses.

Including scantily-clad, titillating lingerie models on billboards in very public arenas.

Think about that.

ETA: My friend Jo has written a long, thoughtful (and somewhat forceful) piece about the issue as well. Check it out: War of the Genders

**In fact I wish we could talk about all kinds of privilege in general. Straight privilege, class privilege, and (in the case of Singapore) Chinese privilege… but of course we couldn’t have that since Singapore is a meritocracy and privilege doesn’t exist at all, you just have to work hard hard and you will get to the good things in life.


12 thoughts on “Regarding that “EPIC WIN” forum letter response…

  1. Pingback: War of the Genders « Joelyn Alexandra

  2. I think that Gary’s response is less about ignoring the points she made and more about a playful interpretation of the original letter’s title. I’m not sure if you intentionally gave this a miss, but you don’t have to sensationalize everything little thing that makes people different from one another.

    • What was the point of writing that letter then? It contributed absolutely nothing to the conversation other than “let’s latch on to a few keywords she happened to use in her letter and make a few jokes out of it”. If he was really only about making clever puns instead of publicly humiliating the letter-writer he could have just circulated it online; there was absolutely no need to write an entire forum letter to the Straits Times about it. Sorry, that argument really doesn’t hold any water with me.

      • The argument does not hold water with you because you are of the view that writing jokes does not contribute to the conversation? Why, oh why? I would have thought you more creative/understanding than that, but oh well, perhaps then I should explain. It’s not that he didn’t have a point to bring across; he did, but as I mentioned earlier, he used a playful interpretation of her words in order to inject some humor into the situation.

        The point of the letter, then, is that sometimes we people need to lighten up. The author of original letter was being uptight about risque advertising. Thus, the joke letter sought to point out subtly through the use of humor, as well as rather politely might I add, that such advertising isn’t really a problem.

        You see, the point is that the original letter asks if the ad was in the right light. By ignoring the fact that the intent was to question the decency of the ad, the second letter’s author is making a statement that there is no problem with the decency with the ad at all, as if it never occurred to him. He says something, by deliberately not saying it.

        It is definitely not a case of just ‘making a few jokes out of it’, or even publicly humiliating somebody. In fact, I would say that when you engage in such word play with another party, you are signaling that you deem the other party worthy of repartee.

        It is unfortunate then, then most Singaporeans won’t get this, get outraged and all that. Good day to you.

        • Actually, I am of the view that there are constructive ways to inject humor into discourse, and that reply letter was no example of it. The original letter proposed what the writer saw as a social problem, and rather than attempting to counter it by saying “well I don’t think this ad is a problem for society at large”, humorously or not, the respondent instead chose to run with “I liked the ad and think it was well done”, which rather misses the point.

          Furthermore, your point that “the joke letter sought to point out subtly… that such advertising isn’t really a problem” is my major beef with the letter. I think that such advertising IS a problem. For me, the problem isn’t that people wouldn’t see the humor in the response–and they certainly did. In droves. My problem is that those same droves will laugh at the humor, and not think any deeper about its implications and the issues surrounding it. Because it’s not something that is seen as something worth taking seriously anyway. And that is a tragedy.

      • I think the author of the follow up letter was completely aware of the point the original author was trying to make. In fact, his main point is “well I don’t think that this ad is a problem for society at large”. You just have to read between the lines. You may read the humor in it, object against it, but you surely missed his point. Yet, as you have proven, what he intends to say would be lost on most people. It is a tragedy.

        So far, I have no advocated either point of view. But since you have provided your stand, perhaps I should also provide out mine.

        I do not find the ad offensive. I find it offensive that people find the human form offensive. Why is the naked or semi-clothed human body offensive? What is decency? To offer a semi-religious argument (I am not religious though), if God created us, then why do we insult Him by shirking away from nudity, His work? Why can’t we celebrate what we have instead of conforming to social constructs, that serve only to limit our freedom?

        What do we gain from being prude about our bodies? It’s disgusting how we manage to deny ourselves the only thing we come into the world with.

        • I think you might have misunderstood me, so let me state this very clearly: I have no problems with the depiction of nude bodies at all.

          My problem, in particular, is with the normalized depiction of women’s bodies as sexual objects in the mass media, especially in ways conventionally attractive to straight men.

          If this is, as you say, about celebrating the human body, why don’t we see overweight underwear models? Or underwear models over the age of 40? (Let’s not even talk about the fact that the equivalent “sexy male underwear advertisement = bored-looking young men in white cotton briefs”, which is in no way comparable to the sexual imagery present in womens’ lingerie ads.)

          I don’t even know what the original letter writer intended to say; I think she had a good point in the last paragraph but it was overshadowed by all the pearl-clutching in the earlier ones. My real problem was with the response letter solidifying the “women’s bodies = sexual objects for people to look at” angle.

    • you don’t have to sensationalize everything little thing that makes people different from one another

      Yeah, I can bingo with this reply as well.

      1. Humourless feminist, goddamnit.
      2. You’re looking for things to make you angry!
      3. Men and women are different, deal with it!

      So, my reply:

      A. Fucking rape culture. Fucking misogyny. Fucking structured oppression of women — no, it’s not funny.
      B. #microaggressions, look it up. They’re all over the fucking place.
      C. No to complementarianism, gender essentialism, and gender binaries.

      Sorry for swearing all over your blog, MizHalle.

      — Weds.

      • It’s okay, you can do all the swearing I’ve been doing internally. Ahem!

        I think a huge problem is that a lot of people coming from the opposite side have never even heard of basic concepts like privilege and intersectionality, since these issues are neither taught or talked about outside of the rights/equality circles. We can never get to a consensus because we’re not looking at the same book, much less the same page.

        Which is why I’m all for education and for bringing up these concepts & ideas for debate in schools, just so that the radical ideas that drive us become not-so-radical anymore. And then we can stop yelling over each others’ heads and start discussing the actual meat of the issues.

        What are the chances of that actually happening, though.

    • Actually even if it was a joke, I still would have given him benefit-of-doubt if he didn’t finish off with the last line. If it was really meant to be a joke, then I think he just shot himself in the foot with his last line. ~ Jo

  3. What do we gain from being prude about our bodies? It’s disgusting how we manage to deny ourselves the only thing we come into the world with.

    There’s a difference between being prudish and pointing out:

    (1) how the heterosexual male gaze is prevalent in media & advertising
    (2) how this manifests as male entitlement toward female bodies
    (3) how this contributes to culture of rape & misogyny

    No love,
    Weds, who hates doing 101s.

    • Actually not just that. But I just have one question to ask with regards to the above phrase, just to add on:

      “If that’s the case (nudity is beautiful, being prude with our bodies is wrong), then why is it that the same people who believe so still go, ‘MY EYES!!! MY EYES!!!’ when they see an old person in a string bikini on the beach. Or an overweight person in a tankini. Or someone with possible skin problems suntanning?”

      I’m not exactly looking for an answer here but I just want people to think about this. That’s all. Thanks.

      ~ Joelyn Alexandra

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