By Zara Karimi (18A01A)
Illustration by Yu Ke Dong (19A13A)
“The first thing we were all told on the first day was to not pay the gender divide any heed, [because] we’re all ‘One Rafflesian family’.”
These are the words of an RGS girl, one of many new Year 5s who felt uncomfortable with certain remarks made by presenters during the January Induction Programme this year, better known as JIP.
JIP is the first introduction to RI Y5–6 that the Raffles Programme students receive. For the large majority of JIP, RI and RGS students are segregated (with DSA students split by sex), attending separate sessions of the same programme. It functions as a bridge between secondary school and junior college, with talks on academic studies, co-curricular activities, and adapting to a new environment. For many, this is the first time in four years that they will be attending a co-educational institution, and as a result, some talks during JIP covered concerns pertaining to socialising with members of a different gender.
However, during JIP this year, many found that there was a gap between the overarching principle of gender equality, and the treatment and discussion of differences between genders in other JIP talks. This largely occurred through statements, actions or incidents regarded as instances of indirect, subtle, and unintentional discrimination.
Following an increased amount of attention that this issue received from Year 5s, Raffles Press reached out to students who attended JIP for comment through interviews and a short survey. By and large, RGS girls felt that speakers made offhand comments reflective of attitudes that expected girls to be more mature and better behaved. In contrast, RI boys felt like they were constantly being put down, written off as rowdy and hormonal, as well as inferior to the girls.
“While a few jokes used to lighten the atmosphere were okay, the speakers’ repetitive mocking of stereotyped habits of boys [were] unnecessary,” opined one RI boy. Many of the respondents to our survey felt that these comments would result in a reinforcement of negative stereotypes of both genders, and introduce bad impressions of members of the opposite gender. This would ultimately hinder socialisation between boys and girls.
“Though there might be inherent neurological differences between boys and girls, and [by extension] men and women, putting huge groups of people into boxes is reductive,” explained an RGS girl.
Some sociologists and psychologists argue that attributing certain characteristics to boys and girls is the result of individuals being socialized from childhood to adhere to their respective gender roles. Girls are perceived as more ‘mature’ because historically, they have been taught to delay gratification, defer to others, and put their needs last. Boys are perceived as more ‘rowdy’ because our society demands that men be dominant, aggressive, and invulnerable.
Hence, the assumption that girls can control themselves better and faster, whereas boys have a harder time due to innate immaturity, can be perceived as a problem. This is in line with social trends within feminist and liberal movements which have increasingly been condemning narrowly-defined gender roles.
To seek clarification on the matter at hand, Raffles Press approached the Year 5 year heads, Ms. Eva Hor, Dr Ng Kai Ling, and Mr Tan Mian Ou, for their perspectives on this issue.
Their response was one of surprise, as they were unaware of the vehemence and direction of ground sentiment. While they did agree that the students’ response to the contradiction between the talks about gender and the remarks made was justified, they expressed concern about the context in which the speakers’ remarks were made. However, they were adamant about ensuring equal, fair treatment, and emphasized the importance of handling the issue of gender with sensitivity.
To quote Mr Tan, “My overriding message to the boys during my talk…[was approached] from the angle of making friends, [and] was about the importance of being gentlemanly, whether it’s among each other or with the girls. The principle was one of being a good person.”
What is clear through the examination of both sides is that none of the statements and sentiments expressed during JIP were intentionally or overtly discriminatory. Yet they reflect underlying archaic attitudes towards sex and gender which manifest through microaggressions, which in turn only serve to reinforce stereotypes.
A few of our respondents also thought that discussion of the gender divide could have been handled more carefully with a greater focus on objective and helpful advice rather than blasé remarks about negative stereotypes. This could be done through gender-neutral language, or more emphasis on mutual respect and positive communication. The Year 5 year heads also agreed that greater uniformity among speakers surrounding attitudes about gender would be beneficial.
Considering how Year 5 students will be working together closely over the course of the next two years, it may not be in anyone’s best interest to begin with these mindsets in place. As a result, perhaps an examination of the language we use, and on a deeper level, the biases we may hold, is necessary.
Raffles Press would like to thank our interviewees and survey respondents as well as the Year 5 year heads for their contribution.