There should be space for “open” and “respectful” conversations without the fear of being “cyberbullied”, said Minister of State for Manpower Gan Siow Huang last week in response to a controversial TODAY piece written by a National University of Singapore student.
In a Facebook post on Friday (19 Mar), the Marymount SMC MP said that only by making such space can Singapore “build deeper understanding of issues and stay united as a nation”.
Veteran journalist Bertha Henson had submitted an article written by Dana Teoh, who is one of her students.
Ms Teoh argued that billionaire author J.K Rowling of Harry Potter fame’s “fall from grace” is an example of the dangers of “wokeism” and “cancel culture”.
Ms Rowling’s legacy has been mired by accusations of her using her public platforms to perpetuate transphobia, from her tweets to a 3,500-word essay containing trans-exclusionary radical feminist talking points, and even a novel narrating the case of a woman who disappeared in 1974 and is believed to be the victim of Dennis Creed, “a transvestite serial killer.”
Ms Teoh believes that while Ms Rowling had phrased her stance in a “less than tactful” manner, there is, in fact, “nothing wrong with saying, believing, and perhaps even convincing some people that what she thinks is true”.
“Everyone is entitled to the freedom of thought, if not of speech,” she wrote.
The culture of “wokeism”, according to her, “encourages narrow-mindedness” and the refusal to “acknowledge, let alone respect, even the mere suggestion of differences in opinion.
“[P]eople end up opting for fake niceness over their true opinions, presenting an inauthentic (but acceptable) version of themselves to you, Mr Hella Woke,” said Ms Teoh.
The article, however, had garnered backlash on social media, which prompted the NUS’ Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences to issue a statement on 16 March calling on cyber-bullying and personal attacks against Ms Teoh to come to an end.
Several activists also criticised the article, saying that it endorses “untruths” and “bigotry” against marginalised communities in Singapore.
Despite the backlash, Ms Gan expressed her “respect” towards Ms Teoh for “speaking up on woke”.
Many netizens criticised Ms Gan for her support of the opinion piece and urged her to “show more empathy” in how she encourages youths to discuss such sensitive issues.
“You respect someone for saying that they are “weirded out” by trans bodies ?! Please re-think this, Minister. This is extremely disappointing,” one commenter said.
Her post had garnered 37 comments at the time of writing. Many netizens, however, pointed out that Ms Gan has either hidden or deleted comments from her post in response to the negative comments.
Facebook page owners can hide comments from a post on their page, which will result in the hidden comment being visible only to the person who wrote it and their friends. Deleting comments would mean that the comment is permanently removed from the post.
In Ms Gan’s case, former chocolatier and social issues commentator Lim Jialiang explained that the comments on her post have actually been hidden.
He had also reproduced some of the hidden comments in a Facebook post “in the interest of an open and respectful conversation”.
“This is not a deletion, but simply only allows friends of the poster to see and interact with the comment. But of course it doesn’t really allow people to see the extent of the disagreement/discussion that was brought forward with the post,” said Mr Lim.
Several netizens also pointed out the irony of Ms Gan’s move to encourage making space for “open and respectful conversations” on one hand and hiding negative comments from her post on the other.