ST Oct 24, 2007
Men have modesty too, so make laws gender neutral
TAKING a swipe at what he considered anachronistic differentiations between the sexes in the Penal Code, MP Charles Chong (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) said the law seems to consider men 'less modest' than women.
Arguing for gender neutrality in the way statutes are framed, he noted that under criminal law, a woman's modesty can be insulted by words, sounds, gestures or objects, but a man does not seem to have modesty enough to be outraged, he said in a speech peppered with the glib humour that has become his trademark. He acknowledged that there have been improvements - now the law recognises that a minor can be assaulted by a male or female predator, for instance - but still much more could be done, he noted.
For instance, he said that under Section 493, a man can be charged with deceiving a woman into believing she is married to him - so she would cohabit with him and have sex with him.
But it was not 'completely outrageous' that a woman could also similarly cheat a man in similar circumstances.
'The law seems to suggest that only women can be duped while men cannot be duped. This seems to underestimate women while it gives too much credit to men!' he said, to guffaws in the House.
........ In response, Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and Law Ho Peng Kee noted, with a smile, that archaic terms and gender neutrality were some of Mr Chong's 'favourite themes'.
Associate Professor Ho said that, in the Government's view, not all crimes should or could be gender neutral. There are 'logical and physiological differences' between men and women, he said.
Rape cannot be gender neutral, and the provision to stop rape in marriages in some circumstances also cannot be applied equally to men and women, he said.
Ho Peng Kee is wrong, of course. It is quite possible to draft all sexual offences in a completely gender-neutral way. Australia did this long ago.
How do you do it? Well, basically, instead of saying "Any man who does X is guilty of an offence," you simply say, "Any person who does X is guilty of an offence."
Instead of describing the victim as a "woman" or "man", you simply describe the victim as a "person".
For offences involving victims who are minors, instead of using words like "boy under 16 years of age" or "girl under 16 years of age", you simply use a term like "minor", and define "minor" as "person under 16 years of age". And so on.
This is not merely about political correctness or linguistic games. Such changes lead to very definite changes in the effects of the law. In fact, Singapore's laws against family violence (found in the Women's Charter) are already drafted in a gender-neutral manner - thus protecting not just abused wives, but also abused husbands, for example.
One example of how gender-neutral termininology in sexual offences would work is that the same legal protection will be extended to young boys and young girls alike. Women can also become guilty of sexual assault. You may, at this point in time, be reminded of an incident in Singapore whereby the members of a female teen gang assaulted a female teenager - stripping her naked, forcing objects up her vagina etc. With gender-neutral laws, such acts could then be dealt with as sexual offences.
In general, gender-neutral terminology simply removes a lot of unfairness and discrimination from the law. Men and women, whether they are the criminal or victim, are treated with equality. For example, if we treat soliciting in public places as an offence, then we treat soliciting in public places as an offence, regardless of whether the prostitute is male or female.
We also avoid absurd situations where the laws say it may be okay for you to penetrate an anus, but that it really depends on the gender of the person whose anus is being referred to. Similarly, we avoid absurd situations where the laws say it may be okay for you to suck a penis or kiss a vagina, but that it really depends on whether you yourself have a penis or a vagina.
Oh wait. My absurd examples just described Singapore, as it has just become. No wonder Ho Peng Kee doesn't want gender-neutral legislation:
Anal Sex Now Legal for Heterosexuals But Not Homosexuals in Singapore
Short News - 23 October 2007
Singapore: Parliament has repealed a law criminalising "carnal intercourse against the order of nature" thus making oral and anal sex between heterosexual couples legal. New laws were enacted to deal with sex tourism and child prostitution.
The parliament declined, however, to repeal a section which makes sex between men an offence punishable by up to two years in jail. The decision to keep the seldom enforced law came after spirited debate which included the presentation of a petition.
"They [homosexuals] live their lives, that's their personal space. But the tone of the overall society, I think, it remains conventional, it remains straight and we want it to remain so," said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.