Any Singaporean who hasn’t been living as a hermit would have heard by now all the fuss surrounding the ban of the marching song “Purple Light”—an integral part of a Singaporean National Serviceman’s life. For those unaware of this issue, this article sums it up. The main problem lies in the line “rape my girlfriend”—in some cases “rape” is replaced with the word “beat” which similarly promotes violence against women.
While it makes me proud that we’ve moved one step forward in the fight to end such misogynistic ideology, the negative reactions surrounding the ban just proves that there are still an infinite amount of people who aren’t on the same boat with regards to striving for gender equality. The comments on it surrounding the whole issue just appalls me and honestly makes me want to break down and cry. Examples are articles like this that poke fun at the issue and make light of it—and their accompanying comments from Facebook users. This isn’t what progress means. They say Singapore has achieved many feats within mere a couple of decades but in this aspect, we have remained stagnant and so far behind many other countries. I would like to problematize many other issues that plague Singapore’s supposed success, but in this piece I’d like to voice my responses to the negative reactions surrounding the “Purple Light” ban.
There is a view that AWARE is over-dramatizing a song that national servicemen bond over. Local advocacy group AWARE was the catalyst to this ban, but the question should be why the line “rape my girlfriend” or “beat my girlfriend” was ever part of the song. Some provide the argument that problematizing the lyrics is not justified because rapists never came out of National Service because of this song. This isn’t just a song. This isn’t just another thing for feminists to fuss over. If you are human, you should not even be willing to utter such words. I know that this song provides our national servicemen with strength and camaraderie. But the fact that national servicemen are bonding over a song that legitimizes violence against women highlights the deep-seated misogyny in our society. Anyone who thinks it is okay to sing the song is condoning violence against women. To put this in another perspective, it will not be okay for anyone to sing a song that condones beating animals. Why should women, or humans be any different? Violence is never okay and should never be tolerated. Anyone who brushes the violent lyrics aside and says banning the song is going too far and making too big of a fuss, is sweeping the problem of violence against women under the rug and saying that violence against women is a “should” and an entitlement to men.
Some go as far as to say that equality is an illusion, and there is no equality in the fact that only Singaporean men are required to complete two years of National Service. National Service is a touchy subject that has long been greatly debated over. Many simply do not see the necessity to make national service compulsory. I acknowledge the inequality in having only males serve compulsory National Service. However the point here is not about national service, but violence against women. There are many things that occur within the walls of National Service in Singapore that must be changed, including transparency, but to use this rebuttal—that if AWARE really stood for equality, they should fight for National Service being compulsory for women as well—is just brandishing a wooden stick in retaliation to a sword. To say that equality is an illusion is just sad because anyone who thinks this way will not even bother to stand up for what is merely the right thing to do. To say that equality is an illusion, is like saying poverty will always exist, so why are we even trying to eliminate it? It is akin to saying there will always be wars, so why are we striving so hard for peace?
Many justify the horrifying lyrics to the way girlfriends ditch their boyfriends during their two years at National Service. This is one of the worst views I’ve come across regarding this issue. By justifying the horrifying lyrics this way, these people are asserting that it is the natural “rights” of men to punish their girlfriends for “ditching them” during their National Service. Relationships begin and end for many reasons. People have the rights to choose who they want to be with (which brings me to the topic of homosexuality which I could write an entire separate essay on, but let’s be focused here) and being in National Service does not entitle you to owning your partner. By justifying the lyrics this way, these people are legitimizing that men should dominate their partners with violence.
Some may say that it is impossible for me to understand the special place this song has in the hearts of Singaporean men, since I as a female did not have to undergo National Service. I acknowledge that having something from your past taken away from you may feel as though a part of you is missing. However if we do not problematize such lyrics, we are simply condoning such acts of violence against women. To me, the negative reactions from ex-National Servicemen comes from their inability to look from the outside and step out of the myopic view of their two years in National Service. “Purple Light” is not simply a song. It is an integral part of a Singaporean man’s experience and this means that the song has implications that go far beyond the walls of National Service. This article, in particular the last two paragraphs, illustrates my point beautifully.
Singaporeans have to realize that misogyny is never as blatant as they expect it to be and does not appear in your face but rather, is always interlaced into our reactions to issues, our language, the words we use, and little actions—it’s so interconnected with many other issues that it creates a thick web we have to work through to get across. Social issues are never black and white. While patriarchy is a word that many hate to use in our supposed state of progress in the 21st century, but when we re-examine our society, patriarchy rears its ugly head in more nuanced ways and expresses itself in an infinite number of ways, but is still nevertheless present.
On another note, I applaud all National Servicemen past and present, and Singaporeans who support the ban of this song. There are many other issues that plague our supposedly highly forward-looking society with regards to gender equality, but it is small moves like this that creates the light at the end of the extremely long tunnel, despite the negative backlash from myopic individuals who fail to look past the surface problems and into the inter-tangled web of social issues our society faces