Yesterday (17/5/2009), 《联合早报》/Lianhe Zaobao (LHZB) published an interview special with Dr. Thio Su Mien, a self-styled “feminist mentor” who was a central figure in the recent AWARE saga.
For those of you all who are interested to read the interview and can understand Mandarin, the text of the interview may be found here.
As for those of you all who are interested to read the interview but cannot understand Mandarin, I will attempt to translate and reproduce it in English here. However, in light of the fact that the interview special took up an entire newspaper page, I will be splitting up the contents of the interview into three parts/separate blog posts. Part I will be of the main text of the interview, Part II will be of a side story attached to the interview and Part III will be of the quotable quotes by Dr. Thio during the interview.
Okay, that said, I will move on to reproduce the main text of the interview (all the headings and sub-headings were provided in the original text).
“Feminist Mentor” Dr. Thio Su Mien: The “coup” was accidental
The “coup” that occurred at AWARE’s AGM several weeks ago was actually an accident.
At least this was how Dr. Thio Su Mien perceived it.
At the AWARE AGM on March 28th, a twelve-member executive committee (exco) was voted in but the majority of the exco members, including Ms Josie Lau who later took over as president, were new and relatively unknown members. This provoked unease and dissatisfaction amongst the veteran members of AWARE; later, this also sparked a series of tussles between the old guard and new guard of AWARE.
However, Dr. Thio, widely perceived as the one who orchestrated this “coup”, in an interview with this newspaper, claimed that she did not expect the outcome of the AGM elections to result in a new guard taking over as the exco. She also claims that her encouraging of young women to join AWARE was aimed only at injecting new vitality into the organisation and to preserve the core family values of Singaporean society.
According to reports, AWARE’s membership numbers have, in recent years, been declining, reaching a low of 200 members at the end of last year. However, amongst those attending AWARE’s AGM on March 28th, only a minority was long-standing members of AWARE while the majority were new members who joined only shortly before the AGM.
According to Dr. Thio, if the long-standing members of AWARE had all attended the AGM, the new members “may not even have a single chance of winning a position, hence who can we blame for the outcome of the exco elections; even I was not expecting such an outcome”.
In a media report in April, it was revealed that Ms Josie Lau, the new AWARE president, along with another 5 new exco members are from the same church of Church of Our Saviour (COOS) while Dr. Thio is also a member of COOS and a mentor to Ms Lau and company. It was later revealed that Ms Lau is married to Dr. Thio’s nephew. All this were cited as proof of a well-orchestrated “coup” by Dr. Thio.
When reminded of this during the interview, Dr. Thio laughed and said: “If you say that I planned all this, I indeed was the one going around encouraging people I know to join AWARE. But all these people were mobilised at the last moment. Some amongst them did not know one another but only know me; some in fact are not that familiar with me. My purpose was: if you are able to, you should join this organisation and contribute to society”.
She added that if she was indeed the mastermind behind the whole thing, she would not be “as stupid as to find people from the same church”.
“If I really premeditated this, then I would be a real strategist; if so, I should organise a rainbow coalition like them (the old guard of AWARE). However, my thinking was very simple. But now thinking back, I was in fact rather foolish and naïve in my thinking. I never thought that the outcome will be this and that things will get so out of hand”.
On the April 23rd press conference held by the exco headed by Ms Lau, Dr. Thio was present to answer questions on behalf of the exco. At that press conference, Dr. Thio made statements about AWARE’s declining membership numbers, the proposed changes to its constitution to allow for male members to be eligible to vote. Her accusations about AWARE’s Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) programme and about it promoting a homosexual lifestyle were also made at that press conference.
The AWARE saga later attracted more attention from outsiders and supporters of the old guard and this was because of Dr. Thio’s confession that she has been the mentor of the exco for several years and was the one who encouraged them to join AWARE. Also, it was revealed through online sources that Dr. Thio had, before the AGM, sent out mass emails criticising the CSE and encouraging people to vote for “reformers who want to be in charge”.
The question is: why didn’t this retired veteran lawyer personally run for a position on the AWARE exco if she was so concerned about the supposed direction the organisation was heading in?
Dr. Thio, who is already 71 years of age, explained that besides her age, another more important reason why she didn’t personally run for an exco position was that she felt that being a mentor, her responsibility was to nurture people who can make contributions to society and not try to glorify herself.
Similarly, it was because of her role as a mentor that Dr. Thio decided that it was necessary for her to present at the April 23rd press conference to defend Ms Lau and company.
Surprised at the anger and emotions at the EOGM
“I originally only planned to speak at the EOGM but when I saw the exco being lambasted, I felt that I have the responsibility, since I was the one who encouraged them to join AWARE and serve the interests of womenfolk and the nation, to be present at the press conference. I did not expect that they will be attacked and, even worse, that their lives, livelihood and businesses will also come under threat.”
The exco originally has no plans to hold a press conference and had wanted to wait till the EOGM to express their views.
“But”, said Dr. Thio, “the media was having a field day with the AWARE saga so we had to hold a press conference to clarify matters”.
Besides being surprised at the “coup”-like outcome of the AGM, Dr. Thio also expressed great surprise at the sudden increase in membership numbers for AWARE and the intensity of the emotions displayed at the EOGM on May 2nd.
During the 7 hours long EOGM, a scene which is perhaps most memorable to those present and those paying close attention to the happenings at the EOGM would be that of Dr. Thio proudly holding up a publication by AWARE to announce that she is on page 73 of the publication. This act was heavily criticised by the supporters of the old guard present at the EOGM. Dr. Thio’s attempts to rein in the noisy crowd by reminding them that they need to respect their elders also provoked a round of jeers.
Reminded about this during the interview, Dr. Thio expressed surprise: “I never thought that on the day of the EOGM, people’s emotions would be so intense, that the atmosphere will be so filled with anger”.
Nothing to be angry about
However, with regards to being unable to finish her speech due to the jeers, Dr. Thio said that there was nothing to be angry about.
“There is no need to be angry. Being angry will be like playing an old record non-stop”. Dr. Thio feels that if an individual is not able to let go, he or she will only cause him/herself to be trapped in the past and not be able to move on.
Hence, even though her remarks of “Please respect your elders” and “I am on page 73” was printed onto slogan t-shirts, Dr. Thio also laughed it off, saying: “This sort of design is quite interesting and can increase the income for the designer; I also want to buy one to take a look”.
As for what her future plans for herself and her “mentees” will be, Dr. Thio said: “Let’s talk about this after I return from a vacation! Perhaps taking a vacation will inspire me. And hopefully, the anger over this saga will dissipate and Josie will be able to continue using her strengths to contribute to society”.
Box story: “Homosexuality is a political movement”
Been keenly aware of the developments in homosexuality in Europe and North America, Dr. Thio firmly believes that there is a political movement promoting homosexuality. And the aims of this movement will include the de-criminalisation of anal sex. This may be witnessed in the attempts by individuals in Singapore to repeal Section 377A of the local Penal Code.
Dr. Thio said: “This is a significant point. Because if once the law is abolished or liberalised, homosexual activists will start to raise issues, such as marriage equality, education equality, and medical equality, to ask for funds from the government.”
In Finland, singles and lesbians are, with government subsidies, able to receive artificial insemination. This, according to Dr. Thio, will thus involve how taxpayers’ money should be used.
Dr. Thio also cited an example from Canada. According to her, there was a case in Canada in which a kindergarten teacher filed a lawsuit against the school management committee, accusing the committee for not including three books with contents about same-sex parents in the syllabus for kindergarten and primary one students. Although parents from different religious backgrounds, e.g. Hinduism, Sikhism, Catholicism and Christianity, supported the school management committee in the Canadian Supreme Court, the school management committee lose the case and had to put the three books into the school library.