When emotions steal a march on reason

When emotions steal a march on reason

Of the many things I have learnt to appreciate about Singapore since coming to live in Japan, gender equality is near the top of the list.

Here, chauvinism is a way of life. When a woman quits her job to get married, her colleagues congratulate her warmly and throw a party.

If that happened in Singapore, those colleagues would be saying: "Siao ah, only one income, how to buy house?"

On many fronts, men and women are treated with more evenness in Singapore than in many other countries - except when it comes to issues such as national service (NS).

That is why I was fascinated by the furore last week, when the Singapore army banned a verse of a popular marching song after receiving a complaint about the lyrics.

The verse in question contains the following lines: "Booking out, saw my girlfriend/Saw her with another man/Kill the man, rape my girlfriend /With my rifle and my buddy and me."

Now, there are at least two questionable phrases in this stanza, even if you disregard the eccentric tenses. Murder and rape may be common war crimes, but they are no more acceptable than the wilful destruction of grammar.

However, the verse was deemed offensive not because it glorified killing, but because it trivialised rape.

The complaint came from the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware), which said it was "troubled that NSmen were bonding over misogynist lyrics".

Since rape is no laughing - or indeed singing - matter, many Singaporeans spoke out in support of the ban. And not just women, too; it was men who first brought the lyrics to Aware's attention.

But there was also a huge backlash against the ban, from NSmen as well as some women, questioning the need to crack down on what they saw as an insignificant issue.

There is no link between these lyrics and the incidence of rape, some said. ("Words are powerful," Aware replied.)

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