Much Ado About A Kate Spade Bag

(Or, Sexism? In My Politics? Well I Never!)

Here we go again.

I’ve been on a blogging hiatus of sorts– rushing to submit a novel manuscript to these guys (who will most likely get a good laugh out of it, and nothing more). On top of that, I told myself that I’d stay away from commenting on social/political issues, because that wasn’t the reason I started this blog for.

But something’s happened in the past week that I just can’t let go. So here I am, putting on my flame-retardant suit with another one of them ranty blogposts.

The scoop: Several days ago the ruling party announced candidates for the upcoming General Election. Of chief interest, apparently, was Ms Tin Pei Ling, the youngest candidate to run for Parliament since the last one (both at age 27). Naturally, this caused an uproar amongst the politically- and not-so-politically- inclined Netizens: wow! So young! Who is she? Never heard of her before.

In rolled in all the predictable responses. The first wave: comments about her looks. As a matter of fact, that is how I heard of her first– from a retweet of an online news article by a guy friend, together with a comment that we finally had an attractive female politician. (Yes, I did point out to him that his sentiment was rather missing the point of politics; he did say he was aware of it, so there’s that.) Ruh-roh, we’re not off a good start.

Then, joy: someone went through her Facebook profile and dug out a photo of her doing the infamous V-pose with a Kate Spade bag. Accusations of being frivolous & too cutesy to be taken seriously are dumped in by the bucket. One of the radical opposition sites here ran an article that questions her relationship history, her motivations for marriage, her choice of honeymoon vacation… really? Really? Oh. Really. Oh dear.

Thankfully I was not the only one who was, by this time, getting alarmed by the direction in which the discourse was going. Siew Kum Hong, in particular, put out a brilliant post urging Singaporeans to focus on policy, not personal issues. This was linked on Twitter along with a sentiment that approximated, “oh look, we can’t criticize her anymore”, because, really, that’s exactly what the post said.

And so it went, on and on ad nauseum. I still see jokes being made about Kate Spade bags on Twitter. There is the occasional critique that is based solely on policy issues, but so far every one I’ve seen comes from someone who is specifically responding to the brouhaha (and therefore the impetus for the criticism was not independently derived– in other words, I’ve yet to see someone come in fresh on the issue and directly talk about Ms. Tin’s political views, instead of other things). At this point, the loudest notes in the discourse–the biggest words floating around in its cloud, so to speak–are still directed at her as a person, and not her political stances (or lack thereof).

Of course, there is the sentiment that these attacks come from legitimate criticism of a rigged, unfair system, one in which the ruling party’s untested & unknown candidates with zero governing experience (like Ms Tin) can walk a sunny landscaped path into Parliament while opposition candidates with far more credit on their resume have to hack through fire and thorn bushes and climb over mountains to get there. That’s fine! I agree! It isn’t fair! Except that the bulk of it isn’t criticism of the system– it’s personal attacks. Not only that, it’s personal attacks of a nature exclusively directed at women: “gold-digger”, “slut”, “too sexy”… and on.

So far, none of the other male political candidates from the incumbent party have managed to generate this amount of chatter online. I’m not going to say that Ms Tin’s gender is the sole reason for all this controversy–her age and inexperience definitely play a huge role in this as well[*]. I am going to say, however, that her gender is influencing the type of criticism being aimed at her, particularly the loudest and most vicious parts of it. And I would say that I’m disappointed by it, except that I’m not. I’ve really come not to expect better of people.

And that’s sad.

[*] Notice that I’m not even touching the difference in social expectations of the capabilities of inexperienced young men versus that of inexperienced young women– watch how we worship the cult of the innovative, forward-thinking, whatever-saavy young (male) entrepreneur…

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