View stereotypes in context

View stereotypes in context

Based on the Focus on the Family Singapore's relationship workshop material reported last week, one of the supposedly "sexist" lines goes like this: If she says "Do you love me?", she really means "I feel insecure and I need you to know that you value me" ("Charity strongly defends its workshop" and "Experts warn against using stereotypes"; last Saturday).

My wife would ask me this question every now and then. Sometimes, I get irritated and reply: "Why do you have to ask me the same thing over and over? You mean after all these years, you can't tell whether I love you?"

It takes a while for me to realise that she thinks and feels differently from me, and I have to remind myself of that constantly, for the good of our relationship.

If a male friend asks me for advice on marital relationships, I might say something like: "Women do not always say what they mean, so you have to pay attention in order to figure out what they really want."

This can be construed as gender stereotyping because that statement cannot be true for all women. But I would expect my friend to contextualise what he heard and decide for himself whether the statement applies in his case.

Stereotypes can be used for effective communication. Much like caricature, statements that paint a tongue-in-cheek stereotypical image can provide comic relief as well as highlight important points in a presentation.

I also believe that some amount of stereotyping is an inevitable part of our decision-making process. If I need help to move heavy furniture, I would look for men to help me instead of women because I believe guys are generally physically stronger than women.

This kind of gender stereotyping is not the same as saying "women should not vote because they cannot be trusted to make good decisions" - which would be a form of discrimination.

Neither does it imply that I believe women can never be physically stronger than men.

Leong Seng Yook

This article was first published on Oct 13, 2014.
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