'Sexist' workshop for students to cease by year-end: MOE

'Sexist' workshop for students to cease by year-end: MOE

A workshop on managing relationships for junior college students, which has been under mounting criticism this week for being sexist and promoting gender stereotypes, will stop by the end of the year, The Straits Times reported.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) has said that the workshop is not an MOE sexuality education programme. It "is run by one of the providers appointed by MSF (Ministry of Social and Family Development) to conduct workshops on healthy relationships for junior college students."

MOE said that the workshop "aims to educate students on healthy relationships and equip them with social and relationship management skills". It added that the workshop will cease its run by end-2014, without giving any reasons.

The workshop has come under fire for being sexist and for perpetuating gender stereotypes, after Miss Agatha Tan, a 17-year-old Hwa Chong Institution (HCI) student, wrote an open letter to her principal to criticise the workshop, ST reported.

ST said that more than 300 people who said they were former Hwa Chong Institution students have signed a petition calling for the workshop to be cancelled.

Workshop 'actively promote rape culture in school'

In her open letter, Miss Tan said that she learnt a "simple yet important lesson: That bigotry is very much alive and it was naive of me to think I could be safe from it even in school", just from flipping through a booklet provided by Focus on the Family Singapore (FotF), the organisation running the workshop.

The workshop, "It's Uncomplicated", is an opt-out course for junior college students, which Miss Tan said that all students in her year of study had to attend.

In the open letter to her principal, Miss Tan said that what she considered the most pressing concern she had about the course was that "the booklet actively serve to promote rape culture in school".

She said that "on the cover page of the booklet itself, it is written, 'no means yes?' and 'yes means no?'. The facilitators from FotF neglected to mention that thinking a girl means 'yes' when she says 'no' is actually completely wrong. Rather, they spent their four hours with us discussing things such as what a girl 'really means' when she says something else, as opposed to guys who are 'direct' and 'always mean what they say'".

She also took issue with the attitude that the facilitators of the workshop adopted towards people who didn't fit "into their binary model of a nuclear family".

"When someone else tried to raise that the facilitator's views were too narrow and that they failed to consider, for instance, LGBTQ or polyamorous individuals, he effectively shut her down by saying that her views were not what the audience wanted to listen to and that perhaps she could remain quiet for now and bring it up with him afterwards so they could end the first half of the course for break, which was coming up 'very soon'," she wrote.

'Emphasised and enforced stereotypes'

She also pointed out that "the workshop seemed to emphasise and enforce traditional gender roles in a relationship".

"According to FotF, 'gals' -as it is written throughout the booklet -are fragile and need guys' support, and everything a guy does in the relationship is excusable simply because he is a guy and is wired that way. 'Gals', it writes, 'need to be loved', 'can be emotional', 'want security', '[want] you to listen to her problems', and '[want] to look attractive', and validation of each of these can only come from the support of a male. It paints girls as hopelessly dependent beings who are incapable of surviving without guys. This is an extremely sexist view. It simplifies girls to nothing more than what FotF believes they should be like in their relationship with guys,' she wrote in the letter.

Focus on the Family Singapore "is a donor-supported Institution of a Public Character dedicated to helping families thrive", the organisation said in its website. It said that it "championed pro-family values in the media and challenged issues relating to abortion, cohabitation and liberal views on sexuality".

The organisation makes no outward mention of its religious views in its website, although some other reports have called it a Christian charity.

A different view of the same workshop

As the controversy rages on, a student who attended the same workshop on Tuesday morning has gone on to Facebook to defend it, saying that "the 'It's (Un)Complicated' workshop was the most relevant, informative and useful relationship workshop that I've attended throughout my schooling years".

Miss Tessa Ho wrote in her Facebook page that "the student mentioned that the booklet was bigoted and full of gender stereotypes. However the trainers made it very clear beforehand that these were only 'general sweeping statements' that might not necessarily apply to all 100 per cent of us... Yes, these gender stereotypes may not hold true for 100 per cent of us but it would be fair to say that it does apply to a majority of the people that were attending the workshop".

"The student (Miss Tan) seems to imply that gender stereotypes was all that was covered in the four hours we spent... However, the portion on gender stereotypes (titled 'Unravel') was only one out of four topics covered, and the other three topics covered (titled 'unique', 'unite' and 'underline') addressed many other issues such as the importance of drawing boundaries in a relationship and how it is not just about finding the 'right' one, but rather also about preparing and being the 'right' one."

Comments left on this Facebook post are mixed in their responses. Many have applauded Miss Ho for her post, while others have pointed out that Miss Ho had acknowledged in her own post that stereotypes were presented in the workshop.


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