Spornosexuals showing off on Instagram

From ‘The rise of the spornosexual’, 1 March 2015, article by Gurveen Kaur, Sunday Life!

With his six-pack abs, bulging biceps and tanned, smooth skin, Mr Edwin Kon looks every bit the fitness model. The flight attendant, 29, has been snapping topless selfies ever since he began hitting the gym regularly seven years ago. Initially, the snaps served merely as a visual chart for him to track his physical development. Two years ago, however, he began posting them on Instagram.

“I’m proud of the way I look,” he says. “And there is nothing wrong with posting photos of myself in swimming trunks on social media.” Since then, he has amassed close to 37,000 followers with photos of his ripped physique – images that leave little to the imagination.

Nearly all of them are tagged: #spornosexual.

Coined last year by British journalist Mark Simpson (the same man who gave the world “metrosexual” in 1994), the term refers to a more hardcore, body- obsessed version of the noughties’ appearance- and fashion- conscious man.

Think football superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, pop star Justin Bieber and local actors Allan Wu and Zheng Geping.

If you’re wondering why there’s ‘porn’ in the term, ‘sporno’ is actually a portmanteau of ‘sport’ and ‘porn’, though I don’t see how that applies to Justin Bieber. Lest we forget, the singer used to look like a floppy muppet. I’m also not sure if gym counts as a sport at all. It’s like calling torture a hobby, or walking on broken glass tap dancing.

Bae Bae Bae ooooh

‘Porn’ is apt, in the sense of how these narcissists flood Instagram with their ripped torsos, or ‘torso-porn’. Like porn, sporno hunks objectify the male anatomy, reducing it to money shots of glistening abs, throbbing waxed pecs and bulbous biceps. The first thing you notice is their He-Man boobs, not their personality or their faces.  If you wear a very uncomfortable T-shirt over your sculpted body however, it sometimes looks like you’re hiding an alien trilobite underneath. Which explains why spornosexuals are often topless because the beast needs to breathe.

While ‘food porn’ gets your digestive juices flowing, ‘sporno’ makes you hate your flabby self and contemplate spending your money on ‘ab sculpting’ to fit in with the ideal of a ‘manly man’. It makes you look at your creepy fat uncle during CNY dinner and ask him: ‘Why can’t you do something about yourself and become more like Zheng Guoping, dammit!’ For some, it stimulates more juices than just salivation.

The idea of masculinity has been in flux ever since the first caveman began dragging his mate by her hair. Greek warriors and immortals like Adonis were fetishised and worshipped, similar to how our spornosexuals idolise the perfect body. Before Instagram, we already had buff, ripped men posing naked on canvas. Note the precision used in creating the shadow over his wondrous butt-crack. #greciosexual

In the 1950’s-60s, we aspired for the ‘Hollywood leading man’ look, the cool cat who didn’t think it was necessary to wear tight fitting shirts. All you needed were dreamy blue eyes, a sexy stare and wind-blown hair. Think classics like James Dean, Paul Newman or Robert Redford. Looking good was supposed to be EFFORTLESS, not spending your time pumping goddamn iron. Your face, that smooth pout, that intensity, did the talking, not your biceps. These men made the girls surrender to their irresistible indifference, hairy nipples or not. #dreamboatsexual

The 70’s had its ‘macho man’, and the Village People even made a song out of it.  These beefcakes were not afraid to show off their armpit hair, or sport porno moustaches. The 70’s man indulged in vices loud and proud, sexualising beer, cigarettes and illicit drugs. The spornosexual on the other hand, is often as hairless as a baby’s bottom, in more places than you can imagine. He champions a ‘healthy lifestyle’, owns more wrist monitors than I’ve had watches in my lifetime, and probably has never heard of disco. #hirsutesexual

Hey Girl

The 80’s was the era of the ‘action hero’, in the spirit of the machismo carried over from the decade before. Heartthrobs like Jean Claude Van Damme, Sly Stallone and Arnie were the real deal, and could smack today’s spornosexuals around with their pinkies while curling 10 kgs with the other hand. Conan the Barbarian FTW. Brawn mattered more than brain, and that was just fine.  They graced B-grade movie posters and the covers of Mills and Boons romance novels. Hair started disappearing from chests and faces and migrated in droves to the scalp. In the early 90’s it was Highlander ‘himbo’ chic. You could be a garbage man in overalls and still exude glorious Fabio levels of manliness. You are Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers running in slow motion. #barbariosexual

Me sword very big

Red Hot

Guys started to soften since. From lusty lumberjacks or stately warriors they became dandy princes on horses and pasty-faced vampires, and what used to be grease on their faces is now replaced by a more expensive form of emollient known as moisturiser. The new man was confident, well groomed, dapper and was ‘in touch’ with his feminine side. In short, they became richer but ‘gayer’. They’re not handy with power drills or axe to chop wood, but know exactly which button to unbutton to look absolutely ravishing. Cue the #metrosexual.

He’s a dish. Best served cold

But it didn’t stop there. The masculine identity hit its pinnacle with the UBERSEXUAL. George Clooney became the man of the decade. The ‘Sexiest men alive’ as voted by People Magazine became less rugged and grimy over time, from Mel Gibson and Nick Nolte (?!) to more recent winners like Adam Levine and Ryan Gosling who fit the ‘uber’ bill. The latest winner, however, is grog-guzzling Thor himself Chris Hemsworth, who embodies more of the throwback Conan the Barbarian archetype than the fitspo-addicted spornosexuals of today, guys who swing a mighty hammer like a woman twirling a hula hoop. There is hope.

An interesting trend is the evolution of James Bond, who has traditionally been a sleek, not too muscular ladykiller who epitomised the definition of ‘dashing’. Sean Connery was the classic ladies’ man, before he morphed into the more girly Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan. Today’s 007 comes in the unlikely hunky -doriness of Daniel Craig. Craig is roast beef to Brosnan’s turkey bacon. Or look at Superman. Then and now. All tight and buff but still afraid of Kryptonite. #supersexual

It’s a bicep, it’s a plane.

The rise of celebrity chefs led the way for the invasion of the GASTROSEXUALS. Men who like to imagine themselves conquering Hell’s Kitchen, who know exactly what’s the best spatula or egg timer to use when baking a souffle. Never have we seen the Y-chromosome subject to so much sexual selection over time. It’s more straightforward for the ‘ideal’ woman. They become fatter or skinnier, their hair and skirts get longer or shorter. One moment our girl-crush is Kate Moss, the next it’s Kim Kadashian. Sexy women are just ‘sexual’, without us having to compartmentalise them by their penchant for facial products or whether they post pole-dancing videos on Facebook.

Maybe it’s time to look beyond the physique and glamour and reflect on what society (by society I mean women) finds alluring in a man again. Wit, intelligence, a sparkle in the eye? A man who impresses not with his pectorals but his poetic sense of humour and charm, with an endearing beer-belly body type that suggests mirth and a devil-may-care attitude. Think anti-sporno characters like Jonah Hill, or Ricky Gervais. Comedians basically, with as much brain as belly, not so much brawn. #flabbosexuals

But on a serious note, maybe we need to see if such spornosexualising is even healthy to begin with. You may be fit as a fiddle, but fall prey to a gym addiction and obsess over your body-image. You may collapse into a nervous wreck every time someone makes a passing remark of your weight, or the size of your chest, or fall into depression if someone else got more ‘Likes’ than you did on Instagram. You decide to hit the gym past midnight because you feel guilty about having half a pineapple tart. You spend an hour touching up your pic just to get the right hue on your six-pack and aureolae before making it your icon on Whatsapp. People who nod off on your shoulder on the MRT get concussions because you’re built like a German tank.

That’s no longer ‘pride’ anymore, dude.  It’s body dysmorphic disorder.

SilkAir finally recruiting male stewards

From ‘SilkAir to finally have male cabin crew’, 1 March 2015, article by Karamjit Kaur, Sunday Times

After 26 years of having only women cabin crew, SilkAir has decided to let the men in as well.

…The major shift is necessary because it has become “increasingly difficult” to attract “the right (women) candidates with the qualities that we uphold”, SilkAir said in a recent e-mail to staff.

Amid an overall manpower crunch, the airline told staff that it also has to compete for stewardesses with other local and foreign carriers, such as parent Singapore Airlines, budget carriers Tigerair and Jetstar Asia, as well as Middle Eastern airlines Emirates and Qatar Airways.

…SilkAir’s decision to hire air stewards is a “positive and long-awaited” move, said Associate Professor Seshan Ramaswami, who teaches marketing at the Singapore Management University.

…SilkAir’s new hiring policy “reflects a moving away from a stereotype that only women are suitable for these flight crew duties on board”, he added. At the end of the day, what is critical is the training, he pointed out.

The men, whose uniforms are now being designed, will be subject to the same recruitment terms and 14-week training period as the women, who don one-piece lime green or rustic red wrap dresses, the airline’s spokesman said.

On why SilkAir never hired air stewards before this, she said: “Our earlier strategy was to hire women crew who embodied nurturing characteristics in line with the SilkAir experience we aimed to provide customers.”

According to the SilkAir recruitment ad, the airline requires the following: Cabin crew with a ‘combination of grace and a warm smile’ to provide excellent and attentive service to our customers’,  ‘grace’ and ‘warm’ being adjectives that are not often associated with the male sex, and really serve as a hint that women have always been preferred without explicitly stating that men need not apply. The real reason why SilkAir relaxed their females-only hire policy here is that they’re short of staff, i.e male cabin crew are an afterthought.

Given that other airlines have no problem with stewards, one wonders if SilkAir’s outdated profiling of the female sex as ‘nurturing’ as their rationale for not hiring men comes across as discriminatory practice. According to the Tripartite hiring guidelines, you’re discouraged from recruiting staff based on gender, among other things like race or language, and if there’s a strict gender policy it should be reflected and explained in the ad for clarity. There’s no evidence that SilkAir’s service needs to be differentiated from the rest by having, literally, a feminine touch. If you’re Hooters Air, I’d probably understand.

While we laud such moves as ‘progressive’ and ‘fair practice’, we shouldn’t forget to ask: Why only now, SilkAir? Even airlines from Middle Eastern countries like Kuwait Airways have gotten over the gender hump, for goodness sake. Thailand even has an airline (PC Air) that takes pride in hiring TRANSGENDERS.  Interestingly, SilkAir was the first local airline to break the gender stereotype in 2001 by hiring Singapore’s first female pilot. Yet the papers neglected to mention that at the same time they were hanging on to the traditional concepts of female compassion, empathy and motherly instincts by keeping their cabins testosterone free, with a staff profile resembling more like hospital ward nurses and midwives in the 1950s than a modern cabin crew.

If men didn’t have a ‘nurturing’ bone in their body, we wouldn’t see them volunteering in old folks’ homes, babysitting, nursing, feeding baby tiger cubs or being masseurs. In fact, there are times when you do need some manly muscle in the cabin e.g when there’s a drunk rowdy passenger who needs to be strapped down, or if some guy gets his crotch stuck in the zipper in the lavatory. Stuff which you can’t accomplish with ‘grace’ and warm smiles alone.

Julien Blanc banned from entering Singapore

From ‘Pickup artist Blanc denied entry into Singapore’, 26 Nov 2014, article by Yvonne Lim, Today

Self-proclaimed pick-up artist Julien Blanc will not be allowed to enter Singapore, said the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) and the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF).

The decision was made following a petition by a Singaporean woman to bar Mr Blanc, who recently made headlines when his visa was revoked in Australia, from entering the Republic.

In a joint statement today (Nov 26), the ICA and MSF said that Mr Blanc will be denied entry, especially if he was here to hold seminars or events that propagate violence against women or to participate in other objectionable activities in Singapore.

“Blanc has been involved in seminars in various countries that advised men to use highly abusive techniques when dating women. Violence against women or any persons is against Singapore law,” the statement said.

In 1970, the government banned all foreign ‘hippies’ from entering Singapore because they cause ‘social pollution’. Drugs and nudism aside, these deviants were also known to sport long hair and shaggy beards, though they may hold degrees in economics, electronic engineering or even pharmacy (which explains the drugs).  Legendary Japanese musician Kitaro was barred from entering Singapore in 1984 for his flowing mane and looking like a wandering ascetic. We have zero tolerance against convicted junkies, such as Australian journalist Peter Gerard Llyod in 2009, members of wacky religious cults, like the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity, or the Moonies (1983), and especially IMF/World Bank activists, who may pose a ‘security threat’ to our peaceful nation. Yet, we’re exceedingly accomodating to ruthless, corrupt African dictators with health problems like Robert Mugabe.

Julien Blanc isn’t a hippie nor is he even half as cool as Kitaro. A self-professed PUA (pick up artist) inspired by Neil Strauss’ notorious dating book ‘The Game’,  he evangelises ‘dating’ advice and charges the aspiring ladies’ man $67 USD to get a ‘GF/F-buddy’, among other predatory skills in his ‘PIMP’ programme, like ‘destroying her Bitch Shield’, and overcoming ‘Approach Anxiety’. Singaporean men are not known for being smooth with the ladies, but give us credit for debunking modern Casanovas who specialise in making women submit to their brand of animal magnetism with physical restraint and chokeholds, because that’s what you need to resort to if you’re an ugly, desperate twat. Still, I doubt Blanc would actually sexually assault anyone here without having the police clamping down on his unquenchable mojo. The only ‘dangerous’ idea he seems to be propagating is that one can make a living out of being a complete, unabashed jerk.

Blanc’s banned not because of any risk of ‘social pollution’, nor is he here to turn Singaporeans against the PAP 0r make us worship some charismatic loony messiah, but because this proud country has no room for a prick of this magnitude. On second thought, maybe we should let him in for a day or two, lure him into a nightclub and then into a torture chamber full of AWARE members waiting to dig their sharpened heels into his bloated manhood.

IPPT tests ditch-leaping and bullet-dodging

From ‘Let’s be cautious about lowering IPPT standards’, 5 July 2014, Voices, Today.

(Ben Ong):… I may not be an IPPT Gold award holder, but the logic behind each IPPT station seems clear. The test was designed to gauge soldiers’ fitness in relation to the physical demands placed on our bodies during combat situations.

For example, chin-ups are a good way to gauge whether we can haul ourselves, body armour, weapons et al, across a wall or parapet. The standing broad jump gauges our ability to hurl ourselves across a ditch. The shuttle run measures our ability to sprint short distances — probably useful when dodging bullets or looking for cover.

…What about a special type of IPPT with reduced stations for those unable to pass? It would be bare-bones, but set at a standard established as the minimum required of any soldier. There would be no monetary award, but those who opt for it may have their NS liabilities extended. This makes it fair on other NSmen who do pass the IPPT.

My NS mates and I have concluded that it is not easy, but not impossible, to pass the IPPT. We just have to look after ourselves, eat healthily and do simple exercises as part of our daily lives. We try not to eat chicken rice or char kway teow every other day; we climb stairs to the office instead of taking the lift; we walk to places where we have lunch instead of driving; we do push-ups, tuck-jumps or sit ups at home while watching the news.

If the IPPT were designed to create fighting fit supersoldiers, then we’d have to wear ‘body armour, weapons et al’ AT EVERY STATION in order for it to be a realistic gauge of combat fitness. SBJ is particularly unpopular, with 38% of NSmen polled by ST wanting this station dropped, second only to the murderous 2.4k run. It also happens to be the only station that you can complete in less than 10 seconds if you’re the kind who jumps over longkangs on a daily basis. Yet nobody, full battle order or not, leaps over gaping ditches looking LIKE THIS.

Gold standard jump

Gold standard jump

In the event of a real war, I’d take my chances with a running start than standing at the edge of a death drop swinging my arms like  I’m doing warm-ups for a ski jump event instead. If it’s jumping over obstacles that you want to test, then why not put our reservist NSmen through SOC (Standard Obstacle Course) instead? It’s IPPT, not Ninja Warrior. SBJ proponents argue that the station emphasises on lower body muscular strength, and strong legs would come in handy should you need to carry the wounded to safety. In that case, why should distance be a critical factor? How about having us do 40 squats instead?

If there’s one ‘proficiency’ that Shuttle Run serves to improve, it’s unlikely to be escaping a rain of bullets. It’ll be more useful for a situation whereby you spot a gleaming 1 dollar coin on a busy road some 10 metres away and you need to dash and grab it before a car runs you over. Escaping bullets is not just about bursts of speed or dumb luck, but agility and lightning reflexes as well. How about replacing the shuttle run with a station called ‘Bullet Duck’ instead, which gives you points based on somersaulting, rolling, bending over and jumping sidewards in slow motion while returning fire.

Today, you can even do your 2.4k run on a TREADMILL in an air-conditioned gym. I can’t think of one ‘combat situation’ where this may relate to. Or perhaps it’s mental preparation for POW capture. Because that’s exactly what running stationary on a treadmill for 10 over minutes feels like. Torture.

In real war, nitty-gritty rules like overstepping the SBJ line, ‘fault jumps’, ‘chin over bar’, ‘no cycling of legs’, ‘elbows touching the knee’ are all rendered irrelevant, yet these are exactly the small things that make the difference between a pass and fail. No NSman should be compelled to do RT(Remedial training) over a trifling technicality. Being an ‘INDIVIDUAL PROFICIENCY’ test, the IPPT also undermines what really counts in the battlefield. Teamwork. If you can’t jump or scale walls for whatever reason, your band of brothers are supposed to be there, hauling you up from the brink of certain death, saving you from a lobbed grenade and taking a bullet for you. Like the SOC, such fitness tests and its incentives encourage a ‘me-first’ mentality where the one who gets the Gold (and money) escapes unscathed, while the less fit fall into bottomless pits and get impaled on barbed wire because they lacked certain ‘techniques’ or physical prowess that some people are naturally gifted with. Or worse, do RT.

As an ex-IPPT sufferer myself, I can tell you maintaining a ‘healthy lifestyle’ alone will not guarantee a pass. I know guys who are professional sportsmen but falter at chin-ups or SBJ. In fact, I may argue that forcing IPPT down our throats may turn us against general exercise for its own enjoyment, to the point that one can’t jog around a stadium track anymore without being reminded of RTs, or manage a chin-up without hallucinating voices shouting ‘No Count. ZERO’. One argument that may make the Government sit up and listen is that RT takes the NSman’s precious time away from family and procreation, which I believe has higher priority over IPPT passes, or an army’s proficiency in jumping over ditches.

UPDATE: When the SAF decided to reduce the number of stations from 5 to 3 (push ups, sit ups and 2.4 km), I suspect the same writer Ben Ong complained allowing more guys to pass the test by removing problematic stations would make us a weaker, ‘strawberry generation’ army. Using the dodgy analogy of removing composition from Mother tongue exams so that more students can pass, he reiterated his point that anyone should be able to pass as long as they ‘watch their diet’ and do basic exercises ’10 to 15 minutes a day’. Another writer griped that the IPPT needs to be a ‘struggle’ to bring out the best in soldiers. All these complaints before the whiners even experiencing the new IPPT themselves. What makes you think it’s easier to run 2.4km after doing BOTH push-ups and sit-ups?

Dudes, the army doesn’t maintain its ‘operational readiness’ based on tough IPPT stations alone, and there are many who pass or even score flying colours in the IPPT but make terrible soldiers who won’t leap over ditches (SBJ) or can’t duck bullets (shuttle run) in a real war situation. Stop preaching your fitness sermon or you’ll be at the receiving end of a blanket party. Now no Gold in IPPT can save you from that.

Women’s Charter penalising men unfairly

From ‘Stop abuse of Women’s Charter’, 26 April 2014, St Forum

(Derek Low): I SUPPORT Justice Choo Han Teck’s suggestion to reform the Women’s Charter (“Maintenance not an unalloyed right of women: Judge”; Tuesday), although his idea of a Marriage Charter may take years to become reality. Women in our society have often pleaded for equal rights in every aspect of their lives. So why do we still allow double standards that penalise men under the Charter?

The Charter was enacted in the 1960s to protect the many housewives who were supported by their husbands. But times have changed. Our Government has encouraged women to join the workforce to be independent and contribute to nation building. Women have come a long way since then. Many are more successful than their husbands, who are proud of their spouses’ achievements.

I urge Singapore’s modern women to take pride in who they are, what they do and the effort they have put into their marriages. But when the marriage fails, they ought to be logical and sensible, instead of making unreasonable demands under the outdated Charter.

Justice Choo called for a fairer ‘Marriage Charter’ after rejecting a woman’s $120,000 claim from her ex-husband. She’s a regional sales manager while he’s a senior prison officer, the latter already currently paying $1000 monthly for a 17-year old son from her PREVIOUS marriage. The judge cuttingly refers to such arrangements as ‘patronising gestures of maintenance that belie deep chauvinistic thinking’. In 2011, ST reported that an average tai-tai can expect to earn $15-30K of monthly maintenance from ‘high net-worth’ husbands. The Queen of Instagram herself, Jamie Chua, sought a jaw-dropping $450,000 monthly from her ex-husband.

Unfortunately for some not-so-well-off men, such flexibility wasn’t so readily applied in the past. In 1980, divorcee ‘Born Losers’ cried foul when his ‘recalcitrant wife’ got to benefit from his maintenance, even though she wasn’t the one looking after the kids. It was already known in 1970 that men get the shorter end of the stick when a marriage fails, with one writer referring to the Charter as the ‘additional FANGS to a woman’s natural armoury of feminine weapons and wiles’, and that marriage was mostly beneficial to women, the men being ‘unappreciated, unsung martyrs’. Some fall victim to frivolous accusations of defying ‘personal protection orders’, especially if they’re twice the weight of their wives and naturally viewed as the bully in the relationship. This call for ‘gender equality’ isn’t new really, with people recognising the unfairness in the laws as early as 1971 – more than 40 YEARS ago!

We have to thank a certain Mr K.M Bryne, Minister of Labour and Law, who in 1959 decided that ‘women and girls’ needed to be protected from the abominable pigs that are men, which interestingly included elements such as ‘sweeping powers against patrons of brothels’, and a ‘one-man-one-wife law applicable to all EXCEPT Muslims’. The intention was to bring the laws ‘up to date’ with other countries ‘like England’, based on the assumption that women are the more devoted parents who only want the best for their children that they would give up their careers for them. That they would never marry a rich dude for money, find a reason to desert him, then ask for maintenance leveraging on this wife-protecting charter. Meanwhile, men are compelled to read the laws carefully before deciding if marriage is worth the risk of a lifetime of indebtedness, and even if they are financially worse off than their spouse, they’re sometimes liable to give what the law refers to as a ‘token fee’. In some cases, this can be even as low as 1 freakin’ DOLLAR.

In an attempt to nullify its image as a male-bashing organisation, AWARE stepped up to propose that the charter be renamed the ‘Family Charter’ (Tweak Women’s Charter for gender equality, ST Forum, 25 April 2014), claiming that they have ‘LONG ARGUED that much of the Charter needs to be rethought’. Well have they really? What have they been doing to urge ‘rethinking’ of the Charter to ease the burden on men since their formation in 1985? It’s not stated anywhere in their list of milestones, though in 2010 then Executive Director Corrine Lim defended that it was a ‘misconception’ that the Charter was ‘anti-male’, yet at the same time admitted that the maintenance issue was ‘outmoded and unfair’. Well of course it can’t be ‘anti-male’, it was a MAN’s idea in the first place.

Maybe more men could have been rescued from such archaic laws if the organisation had focussed more on pushing for revisions of the charter rather than slamming ads for being sexist or getting misogynistic army songs banned. More recently AWARE has complained about NSmen receiving benefits as reward for service because NS isn’t the ‘single gold standard for citizen belonging‘, and that this threatens to create ‘different tiers’ within society. As one who served himself, such handouts are well appreciated, though it’s tempting to brag it’s only one’s duty to serve and that we’re not doing this for housing or education benefits but for the NATION. We especially didn’t ask for AWARE, who is obviously in no position to comment on NS matters, to urge that we should be deprived of the fruits of our labour should the Government deems us deserving of such. Maybe this gender-neutral Charter response is really a smokescreen for the backlash from that previous NS comment.

But back to the Charter. AWARE weren’t the first to suggest a change of name and have no right to claim credit for it.  In 1980, some Christian societies called for the courts to exercise discretion to grant maintenance to the husband ‘where circumstances justified it’, like the handicapped or those too poor to maintain themselves. The name ‘Family Charter’ was proposed then. Others called for a counterpart to the Women’s Charter called the MEN’s Charter. Maybe we should have a CHILDREN’S Charter too, one that protects kids against neglect because their splitting parents are too busy fighting over money to perform basic childcare duties.

As a credit card company once famously said: The men don’t get it.

More spouses straying within 5 years of marriage

From ‘Rise in couples who split within five years’, 16 Feb 2014, article by Janice Tai, Sunday Times

The first five years of marriage are proving a challenge for more Singapore couples – that is when partners stray, and a rising number of marriages break down. A study on straying couples by Touch Family Services found that slightly more than half the 164 respondents polled had affairs within five years of marriage. For one in three, the affairs happened in the first two years of married life.

…The Touch study, done over the past two years, invited individuals who had unfaithful spouses to complete questionnaires online. Close to 1,000 people responded, but only 164 met the criteria of having been married and of having an unfaithful spouse. The researchers found that nine in 10 of the troubled marriages involved dual-income couples and one in three cheating spouses earned more than $5,000 a month.

…Counsellors point to several reasons the crisis point of the modern marriage seemed to be arriving sooner, and especially among better-off working professionals. They say there is a diminishing social stigma attached to divorce and some couples are more willing to give up on a marriage in trouble.

…As to why adultery seems more prevalent among better-off couples, he (Dr Terence Yow, Reach Family Service director) said overseas studies have also established that people with a higher socio-economic status have a higher risk or propensity for infidelity. They tend to be more stressed, have the means to maintain an extramarital affair, have a bigger social network and are more attractive to others.

In a separate CNA report of the same study, 6 out of 10 people surveyed would remain married despite having a spouse cheat on them. CNA also revealed that Touch Family Services is an affiliate of Touch Community Services, whose chairman is renown as a staunch opponent of the ‘looming threat’ to family that is homosexuality. His name? Lawrence Khong.

Knowing who’s in charge behind Touch, it’s only natural to scrutinise this study for selection bias. A surprisingly high number of those 164 polled were spouses who were earning good money, a finding milked by the investigators to suggest that the higher your income, the more likely you’d stray. This simplistic assumption correlates status with sex but ignores other factors that contribute to infidelity. No details were given on how the researchers defined ‘unfaithful’ and how the subjects and investigators verified that cheating was even real, or whether they were delusional. Did the spouse go out on a ‘date’ alone? Did the subject stumble upon a naughty Whatsapp message? Did the spouse surf porn behind her back? Were ‘in-depth’ interviews conducted such as those in a 2012 study which concluded that half of about 500 married couples ‘considered’ divorce?

I’d be interested in the demographics of those polled, namely their race and religious inclination and whether it was representative of the general population. Are people who respond to Touch initiatives more likely to be Christian than Muslims, Buddhists or Hindus? Or the fact that they were looking for resources or help from the Touch website before even participating in the poll suggests that they’re already motivated to salvage the marriage (hence the 6/10 who want to remain married).  Given the complexity and diversity in attitudes towards marriage across cultures and social class, the Touch results appear skewed towards those ‘well-off’ and puts high income earners under an unnecessary spotlight. As for keeping marriage alive, whatever motivations you have in saving it may also depend on what your religion says about it, rich or poor.

The jury is still out on what causes spikes in early cheating and ultimately divorces given recent mixed results and anecdotes from elsewhere. One report last year cited wedding expenses as a reason for Muslim couples splitting. Another concluded that OLDER couples above 45 are breaking up because parents ‘don’t know what to do with each other’ once the children move out. In 2011, the top factors were ‘unreasonable behaviour’, ‘infidelity’ or ‘domestic violence’ depending on whether it’s a civil or Muslim marriage.  There’s also the issue of parenting troubles, dealing with crazy in-laws and in some cases, taking offence toward one’s cooking. Other counsellors have encountered relationships strained over simple household chores. Why not blame the rise of social media, online dating/chat apps, and sexting too?.

In short, a broken marriage can’t be explained by income alone without adjusting for all the little petty things unique to each couple that pave the way to destruction. Experts also talk of this ‘diminishing social stigma’ but don’t have any data to back up what appears to be a ‘still-hot divorcee’ theory. Even if the stigma is diminished, it doesn’t mean more people are taking divorce lightly. Divorce is emotionally and financially taxing, and the possibility of being back ‘on the market’ instead of branded as ‘used goods’ may not be worth the cost, time and effort of killing a marriage especially one with children involved. Unless you’re ‘born again single’ Allan Wu, of course.

NS as a 2 year character enrichment programme

From various letters, 15 Oct 2013, ST Forum

(Paul Sim Ruiqi): I READ the results of the Institute of Policy Studies survey on public perceptions of national service with much caution (“Poll reveals changing perceptions of NS”; last Wednesday) – in particular, the finding that more people viewed NS as a way to instil discipline and values among the young than as a pillar of national defence.

NS should not be seen as a two-year enrichment or character-development programme as much as it is an individual’s contribution to the nation. There is an undue emphasis on the transformation of boys into men, as portrayed by recent movies and television series.

(Gerard Ong):…We must never forget that we train our national servicemen to fight to win – nothing less.

…When I was called up for NS, many of those in my cohort and I were convinced that we were going to be trained to be fighting soldiers. We understood that the discipline and values that came with our training were incidental and part and parcel of military life. We wanted to be out in the field, learning how to handle our weapons, field craft, operational procedures, shooting and unarmed combat.

We came in wanting to be fighters, not disciplined team players, which we had already learnt how to be by playing team sports or joining school uniformed groups. The survey findings should be examined closely by our leaders and Ministry of Defence, as the public’s perception of NS as primarily an instiller of discipline and values is rather disturbing.

There was a scene in the Ah Boys to Men 2 movie where the main cast applied their military skills to enact revenge on a couple by bombing their car with shit. A comedy played for laughs, some viewers thought Jack Neo’s movie trivialised NS, calling it sexist, misogynist and bad for SAF overall. By the end of the movie, we never know if the boys are capable of killing the enemy, but are constantly bombarded with the message that NS is great for life-skills, family bonding and ‘camaraderie’. There is, however, no evidence that men emerge from NS as better friends, husbands, employees or leaders, and the social benefit of NS, grossly exaggerated in pop culture, has turned from a by-product of regimentation and suffering to a convenient justification for having NS in the first place.

The army itself is guilty of plugging the ‘character building’ angle. Being in uniform would supposedly make you more attractive to women. It also makes you think of your father as an embattled hero and role model. Unlike the ads for the Air Force which emphasise protection of the motherland, the Army insists on humanising NS because the original bloody intent of conscription i.e killing people is a bitter pill to swallow. Especially if you’re a worried parent who’ve seen one too many boys die for nothing.

The researcher who led the poll, Dr Leong Chang Hoong, revealed to the media that only 1 in 10 women would serve NS, and then followed up to say ‘even simple gestures from the female population, such as ORGANISING LUNCH for men training in the field, would make a “significant psychological impact”. Is it any wonder Singaporean women would decline the offer to don the uniform and hang out with the boys, only to be summoned to make Ayam brand tuna sandwiches or cook instant noodles in mess tins for them? I doubt anyone would argue that NS for girls would make them better wives or mothers without receiving a nomination for AWARE’s Alamak Awards. Why stop at green eyeshadow? How about distributing a recipe booklet called ‘Outfield BBQ for Heroic Boys in Green’ or something.

I’m not sure if the survey addressed the ‘fighting soldier’ argument as to how many of our men are actually battle-ready and willing to die for the country, that includes the writers above who support the ‘pillar of national defence’ rationale. The reality is many men spend their NS in filler, ‘supportive’ roles like ‘storemen’ or logistics supervisors, and are likely to pass out of it without a single day of field camp, without a sense of undying self-sacrificing purpose that anyone who puts on that uniform is supposed to have. Men without a single meaningful memory outside of staying in the bunk and waiting for orders to perform odd jobs.  At the other extreme, some have compared NS to SLAVERY, whereby minions are drilled in unarmed combat and how to stab dummies with a bayonet. Sort of like gladiators, perhaps. And then there is this guy, who has clearly applied aggression, the vital force of a winning army, in real life. In a LIBRARY. Shudder in fear, enemies!

Despite gaining all the ‘discipline’ and ‘values’ over 2 years, your boss may still quietly frown on your frequent call-ups, or you may miss out on crucial projects that could have earned you a promotion. Some can do without the ‘enrichment’ altogether by getting themselves downgraded, to the extent of celebrating it in public. How ironic that a ‘chow keng’ becomes a millionaire even before you manage to land your first job because you’re too busy defending the nation. Well, at least you still have your lifelong friends and an arsenal of explosive swear words, eh?

Our boys aren’t born Vikings, nor do they pass out of BMT mass chorusing ‘We will still be Friends Forever’ in Vitamin C’s hit ‘Graduation’. Personally I wouldn’t call NS a total waste of time, but I wouldn’t make a big-deal macho fantasy out of it either. The ST editor referred to our defence strategy as that of a ‘poison shrimp’ (NS is no glorified boot camp, 12 Oct 2013, ST) which deters anyone from stepping on it despite our miserable size. It’s dangerously unrealistic to think that we’re tiger prawns instead.

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