restricted access Chapter 6: Contesting Landscapes of Familyhood: Singlehood, the AWARE Saga and the Pink Dot Celebrations
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109 6 Contesting Landscapes of Familyhood: Singlehood, the AWARE Saga and the Pink Dot Celebrations Kamalini Ramdas Introduction In the 1990s, the Singaporean state inscribed a set of “shared values” (Chua 1996: 59) as the bedrock of the young nation. One of the five values maintained that the family should be the basic unit of Singaporean society. Inherent in this is the assumption that the family unit would consist of heterosexual partnerships enshrined by the institution of marriage. These shared values emphasise a family-centred communitarian ideal as part of the national ethos. This chapter critically examines such conceptions of familyhood endorsed by the Singaporean state. Yeoh and Willis (2004) argue that familyhood in Singapore is one in which men are seen as defenders of the nation and economic providers for the family. This normalises expectations that women would take on the role of primary caregivers in the family, even if it results in them taking on part-time work or becoming “stay at home mums” (Yeoh and Khoo 1998; Yeoh and Willis 1999). Such gendered roles are grounded  The other four values are: nation before community and society above self; community support and respect for the individual; consensus, not conflict; and racial and religious harmony. 06 C-Landscapes.indd 109 7/26/13 4:28:16 PM Kamalini Ramdas 110 in an understanding of care that privileges biological constructions of the family and in which there is often an expectation that care should be given first and foremost to those one is related to by blood. Geographers have engaged critically with appraisals of familyhood and they argue that discourses of gender and sexuality are deployed strategically to produce place-based belonging that are crucial to constructions of nationhood (Harker and Martin 2012; Nash 2005, 2003; Nast 2002; Oswin and Olund 2010; Valentine 2008). These constructions of belonging are premised on the belief that individuals are connected by blood, which is then “transmitted” from the individual, to family, community and nation through social practices and values. This results in a spatial representation of intimate relations that Massey (2004: 9) critiques as a “Russian doll geography” of responsibility in which there is an “accepted understanding [that] we care first for, and have our first responsibilities towards, those nearest [to us]”. It is a spatial representation that thrives on a “myth of blood” and is further reinforced by the heteronormativity of state policies that only recognise legally married heterosexual couples and their children as family. This invocation of blood ties has particular implications for women whose bodies not only reproduce offspring for the nation but also provide care for the family and the nation (see also Yuval-Davis 1997). Pratt and Yeoh (2003), for example, highlight how patriarchal norms play a part in constructing national belonging. They argue that nation-states implement “a descent-based theory of nation [that] firmly locates national belonging in familial reproduction”. It is, therefore, the heterosexual family as signified in “marriage, procreation and the traditional, middle-class nuclear family [that] is commonly held up as a model of good citizenship, necessary for ensuring national security and a stable social order” (Richardson 2000: 80; see also Rich 1980). This is evident in Singapore where state policies and laws promote heteronormativity by endorsing families in which men and women marry to form a family unit (e.g. Singapore’s public housing policies), and where male homosexuality is criminalised (Section 377A of the Penal Code ).  Section 377A of the Penal Code states “Any male person who, in public or private, commits, or abets the commission of, or procures or attempts to procure the commission by any male person of, any act of gross indecency with another male person, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 2 years.” Penal Code, Chapter 224 (or Cap. 224). Heteronormativity is based on the assumption that heterosexuality is both natural and normal. Heterosexual desire is seen as monolithic and stable over time. 06 C-Landscapes.indd 110 7/26/13 4:28:16 PM Contesting Landscapes of Familyhood 111 This chapter focuses on how gender relations and sexuality are deployed normatively by the Singaporean state to affect unequal relations of power between individuals and groups (e.g. ensuring male power over women or the hegemony of heteronormativity), thus reproducing gendered and heteronormative landscapes of familyhood. Such normative claims of gender relations and sexuality are espoused through state policies and they normalise societal perceptions that prescribe gender roles and sexuality. However...