The controversial workshop attended by Hwa Chong Institution (HCI) student, Agatha Tan, is “not a sexuality education program”, the Christian charity which runs the programme says.
Instead, Focus on the Family (FOTF) says it is “designed to be a relationship program to help young people unravel the world of the opposite sex, uncover the truths of love and dating, and reveal what it takes to have healthy and meaningful relationships.”
The charity defended the programme after it came under fire from Ms Tan, a first year student at HCI, who wrote about her experience attending one of these workshops.
In a lengthy post on her Facebook page which was directed at her school principal, Ms Tan said the programme, titled “Uncomplicated”, “seemed to emphasise traditional gender roles in a relationship.”
“From merely glancing through this booklet,” she said, referring to the handout at the workshop, “I learned a simple yet important lesson: that bigotry is very much alive and it was naïve of me to think I could be safe from it even in school.”
Ms Tan charged that “the workshop and booklet actively serve to promote rape culture in school.”
For example, she referred to the cover page of the booklet itself where “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,” Ms Tan says. “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’.”
Among some of the things which the booklet says are that “gals need to be loved”, and that “gals” have “a deep need for her boyfriend to find her beautiful.”
Ms Tan also took issue with the programme’s claims that “emotional security” and “closeness” are “far more important to [girls] than financial security.”
She describes this as “a questionable and even insulting claim, as is the claim that having a guy listen to a girl’s feelings “automatically solves the problem”.
“This sexist attitude not only trivializes girls’ problems, but also serves as a foundation for the further boosting of the male ego FotF seems so invested in doing,” Ms Tan says.
Guys, on the other hand, seem to be given a different treatment, she says.
“Guys, on the other hand, are portrayed as guardians who can ultimately do no wrong even when they are evidently doing wrong,” Ms Tan says.
She describes how the booklet portrays guys as “[needing] respect” and “are insecure”.
“While guys don’t want a girl to pretend to be clueless,” the booklet says, “they also don’t want a girlfriend that questions their opinions and argues with their decisions all the time.”
Ms Tan feels that in the same way that the booklet simplifies and generalises girls, the same is done for guys.
“However, I am also sure you agree that this view about guys does not hold true for everyone,” Ms Tan says. “Much as girls have been generalized and simplified in this booklet, so too have guys, and this is fair for neither gender. Yet while the simplification of girls serves to belittle their importance as individuals, the gross simplification of guys serves to boost their egos by perpetuating the message that anything and everything guys do is excusable simply because it is wired into them.”
She also took issue with how the programme seems to discriminate against minority groups such as the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.
Ms Tan expresses concerns that “the quickness and ease with which the facilitator dismissed anyone outside of his limited moral framework” of a heterosexual relationship “was a clear display of bigotry and tells students that acceptance is beyond him.”
“For someone questioning their identity, having someone in a position of authority tell them that they simply did not matter if they were not straight is emotionally destructive,” Ms Tan says.
She says “the school has a responsibility to the diverse school population.”
“[Even] if the school is unable and unwilling to provide inclusive sexuality education for students,” she says, “it has a basic responsibility to ensure that it is a place free of bigotry where students can at least feel safe to study in without fear of being persecuted for who they are or are figuring themselves out to be.”
Ms Tan then says the school, by engaging the services of groups such as FOTF to teach sexuality education in school, has “indirectly” participated “in promoting rape culture.”
“[It] tells students that we should conform to traditional gender roles instead of being our own persons, demonstrates that the acceptance of diversity in people is unimportant, and erases minority groups in the student population,” she says.
In response to Ms Tan’s online post, FOTF says that the workshop is not a sexuality programme, and that the charity is in touch “with the relevant parties” to address Ms Tan’s concerns.
Ms Vicky Ho, the spokesperson for FOTF, says that the programme curriculum is based on “well-researched material by various trusted family life and relationship experts.”
Ms Ho, however, did not provide details of these, or the number of schools which FOTF is currently running the workshop.
A cursory online check finds that some of the content in the booklet is also found in humour websites, such as Humor Is Contagious and Jumbo Joke.
The Ministry of Education, which approves such programmes, has not responded to the public uproar.
FOTF is headed by Jason Wong, who is also the executive director of Honour (Singapore), a non-governmental organisation which was itself in the news recently, after The Online Citizen raised questions of its Christian members on its board.
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