Yawning Bread. 24 April 2009

Pirate mother ship appears on horizon, guns blazing


    

 

 

At a press conference hastily called by some members of the new executive committee (exco) of the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) on Thursday evening, the most prominent person at the head table was not even a member of the exco.


   

Thio Su Mien (right) had evidently decided she could no longer rely on the hachet-women she had put into AWARE's exco to hold their own in the face of media publicity. They had done a risible job ever since the controversy broke.

Thio, who is the mother of Nominated Member of Parliament Thio Li-Ann - yes, the same one known for her tirade against gay sex in Parliament in October 2007 - was introduced to the media as the "feminist mentor" of the exco leaders. Asked about what role she had played, she effectively conceded to the media that she was the mastermind behind the putsch.

Dr Thio Su Mien also revealed that she had emailed several groups with her concerns about the direction the association was taking, which prompted reporters to ask if the takeover was orchestrated.

"It depends on what you mean by organising. It is kind of flattering in a way. Im frustrated, I talk to people, I collect info, I send to different people. You want to join, (then) join. I will help you. We discover that networking helps," said Dr Thio, adviser to the new AWARE exco.

-- Channel NewsAsia, 23 April 2009, New exco wants to bring AWARE back to its "original cause"

The Straits Times reported similarly:

Senior lawyer Thio Su Mien yesterday revealed the key role she played in bringing about the change of leadership at the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware).

Appearing at a press conference called at short notice by some of the association's new leaders, she said she was alarmed to discover that Aware had lost sight of its original purpose and become pro-lesbian and pro-homosexual.

Dr Thio, 71, a born-again Christian who runs her own law firm, is the mother of Nominated Member of Parliament Thio Li-ann and her nephew, Dr Alan Chin, is married to new Aware president Josie Lau.

She was the first woman dean of the Law Faculty at the then-University of Singapore, from 1969 to 1971.

Introducing herself as a 'feminist mentor' to working women, she said she began monitoring Aware's affairs about a year ago.

Disturbed by what she saw as signs that it was promoting lesbianism and homosexuality, she began urging women she knew to challenge Aware's attempts to redefine marriage and families.

-- Straits Times, 24 April 2009, Lawyer's
key role in Aware coup

On Straits Times' Stomp portal, someone with the nick Diabolo2428 posted (at 6:43 pm, Thursday 23 April 2009) what he claims is an email from Thio:

From: smthio@xxxxxxx.sg 
To: stjh21@xxxxxx.sg, Undisclosed-Recipient: 
Subject: Re Aware Attachments AWARE_membership_mail-in_application_form.pdf concerned parents.1.do

PRIVATE & CONFIDENTIAL

Dear All

Please see Attachments on some recent developments in Aware. Aware is a woman's organization which conducts comprehensive sexual programmes for girls and it runs this programme in some of the schools. They encourage girls to express their full sexuality and this includes experimenting with other girls. It would be a good idea to join it and change its focus to other problems of women and families.

..Please ask your like-minded friends to join Aware so that you can give the vote to those who wish to be an agent of change for the Lord. They could also contribute to the activities of the oprganization as there is much to be done for women and families in this dowturn of the economy. Unfortunately, I cannot surface but shall be assisting in the background . I attach the Aware membership application form for your use. The Aware application form has a section as to who ( if any) told you about Aware. You can just leave it blank . Please let me know whether you can join and attend the AGM which will be towards the end of March 2009. The fee is $40/ and should be mailed to the Aware Office ( see application form).

Look forward to hearing from you. Please call me. May I have your phone no?

Blessings, Su Mien

Although the above email is undated, its reference to the AGM "which will be towards the end of March 2009" indicates it was sent out before that.

Diabolo2428 also posted (at 6:45 pm) what appears to be a follow-up email spreading the call further:

From: lynkl@xxxxxx 
To: leonglh@xxxxxx, siowkee16@xxxxxx.sg, shari200@xxxxxx.sg., aikhoons@xxxxx.sg, siuyoong@xxxxx.com, sulilee8@xxxx.com, jesgbf@xxxxx.com, eschan@xxxxx.sg 
Subject: Fw: Re Aware Attachments AWARE_membership_mail-in_application_form.pdf McFarlane v. homosex therapy.htm selected articles (1).pdf

Dear beloved Sis In Christ, 

Would like to ask you and your like-minded friends who are believers to join as members of AWARE to cast votes and be a change agent for the Lord in some of the recent issues happen in this organization that is not according to the Lord's principles........... Please pray for Lord's wisdom to pass on this important message as it is confidential...... 

Thank you. 
Lynn. 
12/2/09

There is no way I can verify if the emails are authentic, but they do sound real because firstly, they are written in typical Christian-speak, and secondly, they bear the same points as Thio would later reveal at the press conference.

These were:

Dr Thio explained that her concern about the direction that Aware was taking was partly prompted by a letter from a parent who was concerned that the society was promoting a homosexual agenda.[1]

He wrote to the Today newspaper in 2007 to ask why Aware's choice of a movie for a charity show was Spider Lilies, about two lesbians who fall in love.

Dr Thio said she went on to discover that in Aware's comprehensive sexuality education programme, which is taken to schools, homosexuality is regarded as a neutral word, not a negative word.

'I started thinking, 'Hey, parents, you better know what's happening,'' she said.

'I talked to parents. I said: You better do something about this, otherwise your daughter will come back and say, 'Mum, I want to marry my girlfriend.'

'Or your son will say: 'Dad, I want to marry my boyfriend.''

These parents were flabbergasted, she said, adding that such sexuality education was taking place in the United States and Europe and was not new.

'What is happening in society is that we are redefining marriage, we are redefining families,' she said.

'So I'm a concerned citizen and if people are so ignorant, I think I want to teach them.'

Pointing out that Aware's programme was already in 30 schools, she said: 'The suggestion is that in this programme, young girls from 12 to 18 are taught that it's okay to experiment with each other.

'And this is something which should concern parents in Singapore. Are we going to have an entire generation of lesbians?'

[snip]

She then started looking into the affairs of Aware to see what was going on at the organisation set up by her friends.

She said that there were many women's issues that needed to be looked into, and cited the need to ensure that retrenched women are dealt with fairly.

'I find to my dismay that Aware seems to be only very interested in lesbianism and the advancement of homosexuality, which is a man's issue,' she said.

-- Straits Times, 24 April 2009, Lawyer's
key role in Aware coup

* * * * *

 

 

 

 

I find it amazing that Thio thinks homosexuality is a man's issue.

The only way one can come to this view is if one denies that same-sex attraction in women exists.

This is usually linked to the completely outmoded idea that no sexual impulse can possibly exist in females. Women have no agency with regard to their sexual lives; they do not have desires of their own. They're basically a piece of meat lying there for men to use. 

How can a person holding such an attitude call herself a feminist?

 

Now we can begin to reconstruct what happened and understand better the issues that this drama raises.

It began with Thio getting upset that AWARE was living up to its mission and going about its work in an inclusive, non-discriminatory way. The organisation was beginning to recognise the existence of lesbian and bisexual women, and take on board this group in addition to its multitude of programs.

Thio also felt that AWARE message of empowerment of women - "take charge of your own lives, take control over your own bodies, make your own decisions in your own best interest..." -- severely contradicted her religious leanings. So she went about recruiting others who shared her views.

Stripped down to the basics, the "agenda" of Thio and her recruits had nothing to do with serving women or advancing feminism. It had just one objective - to purge AWARE of anything to do with tolerance, diversity and the empowerment of women.

During the last few weeks, many people have wondered why this clique that took over AWARE did not instead set up their own Christian-linked organisation to promote their views. As you can now see, that wouldn't have achieved their objective: It was never to construct an alternative discourse, it was to silence and destroy AWARE's work.

Thio must have known that it might meet resistance and would provoke a public outcry, even if the official leaders on the exco were too naive to anticipate that. So stealth was essential to success.

The plan must have been to take over AWARE, and while proclaiming for public consumption that they were running a secular organisation, infuse their fundamentalist Christian views into AWARE's programs on the quiet. By the time outsiders realise what they have done, it may be years later. Schools will have gladly invited AWARE speakers to talk about sexuality when in fact they will have been promoting conservative Christian norms.

More interestingly, a double layer of stealth was designed. Thio herself wanted to conceal her role as the mastermind. I don't know why, though I think it would be an interesting angle to inquire into.

I cannot imagine why anyone even imagined that they could get away with stealth. Within a day of the annual general meeting when they successfully mounted the coup with the help of new members of AWARE whom Thio and disciples recruited, questions were raised about their intentions.

Since they couldn't declare their true intentions, the new exco leaders resorted to evasion. But they weren't good at it either, and kept getting caught out with discrepancies between what they said one day and the next. Accusations of "lies" began circulating on the internet. Questions about "integrity" flew thick and fast. 

The new exco also had nothing to say about their positive program for AWARE -- since they had none -- falling back on generalities that only sounded more suspicious the more they repeated them.

This is roughly where the story is now, but it leaves us with an interesting question - why did Thio choose to reveal herself last night? I can think of three, not mutually exclusive, possibilities:

  • She realised that the stealth game was up and decided to change strategy to attack the old guard directly as pro-lesbian, which, if you see my earlier article Pirates ahoy! Gay netizens and the AWARE hijacking would not be supported by actual facts. Yet, she had no confidence that her hachet-women were competent enough to wage this battle, so she had to get involved on the frontlines.
      
  • She realised that her emails and early role would leak, and decided that she might as well reveal herself.
      
  • She faced a revolt by her hachet-women. They might have got upset that they were getting all the public flak, while the mastermind was cowardly hiding behind them.

* * * * *

 
What's next?

I am sure more twists and turns will come. Even as I am writing this, I know that the old guard are calling a press conference Friday (24 April) evening.

The big showdown however, will be the Extraordinary General Meeting (EOGM) scheduled for early May. It is not clear which side will prevail. Yet, even if the new exco, by shoehorning in as many church friends as they can find, wins the vote, I really can't see how that will be anything but a Pyrrhic victory.

The grand plan could only have succeeded if executed with stealth. It was crippled once the cover was blown. There is no way now that they can take their Christianist message into schools under the pretence of a secular sexuality education package. The glare of scrutiny will be intense.

Moreover, the new exco has begun a purge of all old hands, which means all the human resource assets critical to AWARE's mission will be lost.

Even if the old guard and their hundreds of new supporters lose the EOGM vote, I believe they are determined to start a new organisation, and that's where the skills and experience will be.

Yawning Bread 


 

  

 

Among the "proofs" the new exco put to the media that AWARE had adopted a mission to promote homosexuality, was this:

When Aware wanted to conduct health education courses, it invited Alex Au, 'a famous homosexual activist', to talk about HIV.

-- Straits Times, 24 April 2009, New exco members tell of death threats (sidebar)

This was the original synopsis of the 20 August 2005 talk at the forum on HIV and women titled "Playing it Safe - Keeping HIV at Bay"

My talk's title: "In the beginning, there was sex"

"I hope to talk about how often we are unable to deal with sex without the baggage of power and dominance, abstinence and religion, shame and morality, love and fidelity. I will argue that all this baggage hinders our ability to deal rationally and effectively with health issues that spring from the incredible variety of real behaviour (as opposed to a narrow set of normative behaviour ) either through alienating attitudes, offensive communication, neglect from being unable to imagine situations, and a misreading of power centres in sexual relationships. I will argue that before we can act effectively against HIV, we have first recognise that there was, is and will be, sex."

AWARE thought the language was too difficult, so I rewrote it:

Title: Relearning the alphabet

A is for Abstinence, B is for Be faithful and C is for Condoms. It's a message that covers all bases, and yet may not work. Why? Alex Au argues that to understand HIV, we have first to understand people.

The essay When sex, condoms and HIV remain unspeakable refers to this talk I gave.

Indeed, I was telling the audience that if we are ever to stop the spread of HIV among women, particularly heterosexually married women, we must first be realistic about the incredible variety of human behaviour, which includes philandering husbands and same-sex relationships. It is pointless, in fact dangerous, to over-stress the faithfully-married heterosexual model, because many women are then led to believe that their husbands do not stray. In their minds, the theoretical model replaces the true reality. They believe their husbands are faithful because the orthodoxy says they are supposed to be. 

Add to that the inability to talk openly about sex, as promoted by religious conservatism, and we have a situation where married women either do not know or do not believe they are at risk, or are unable to do anything to protect themselves even if they do know.

Is this not a legitimate area of concern for AWARE? How does organising this forum and hearing me say what I said prove that old AWARE had lost its way?

 

Footnotes

  1. For a strong rebuttal of this, see Ovidia Yu's blogpost.
    Return to where you left off

Addenda

  1. Read a straight guy's take on Thio Su Mien's words at Tantalizine.

  2. See the raw transcript of the press conference archived on Mathia Lee's blog. It's one of the three pdf files she has on that blogpost. Reading it, you get the sense that it was a shambles of a press conference, with different people butting in and talking at cross-purposes. Also, almost all answers given to reporters were evasive or convoluted. The transcript starts with a big argument between the Asst Hon Treasurer and the exco members seated on the panel.

  3. The Church of Our Savior (COOS), with which Thio and six members of AWARE's new exco are affiliated (Source: sidebar to Straits Times' story 'Too diversified or too focused? Which is it?', 25 April 2009) is no ordinary Church. This blogpost describes how it is better described as a neopentecostal church that includes "prophetic dance", "indoctrination lists" and "health and wealth" gospels. Its "steeplejacking" of Aware is a tactic typical of other extremist churches. -- Thanks to Stuart Koe for this tip.