How to build your Fuck Off Fund: SG Ver

I was really inspired by A Story of a Fuck Off Fund, which I read last year. I, too, believe in the amazing power that you have when you create and sustain your financial independence. Unfortunately, that story didn’t tell you exactly how to build said fund, but here’s some tips that worked for me! Hopefully some of them will work for you too.

I know it’s impossible to do things like save half your salary and completely ban yourself from touching it, much less even navigate the world of financial planning and insurance, but I do hope that you will be able to build up enough savings to feel comforted in times of need. Needing to worry about money is honestly one of the worst feelings to have, more so when you have ten thousand more things to worry about. So build your Fuck Off Fund up, watch it grow, and don’t forget to be kind to yourself.

 

Just to be clear, I ain’t no financial advisor. I’m a normal human bean, just like you. I have a degree in English literature with a minor in creative writing which means I know shit about money, probably like you. So this won’t be your ‘how to invest’ post or ‘how to save $200k in two years’ post. This also won’t be a ‘I’m gonna show off how much I’ve saved in two years because I’m so good at managing my money wow me yay me’ post.

This is a ‘I am a graduate with an extremely meh salary trying to save up and anticipate grand dangerous things in life like job changes, preparing to move out of the house, health changes, etc, without having to resort to extremes like saving half my salary and talking to pushy finance/insurance/investment people’ post.

Phew, that was a long sentence.

Anyway, my monthly cycle of money looks like this:

  • Day 25ish – I peek at my bank account, hoping it is not a 0. Usually at this point I take out what I need for the next few days, then toss whatever I have left into my savings account
  • Day 28 – Salary goes in. I pay my bills – phone and credit card – and give my parents a wee bit and/or top up my dad’s car haha
  • Day 1 of the next month – POSB automatically shifts some money to my savings
  • Rest of days – I spend my money, try mostly to put it on my credit card, sleep on things that I wanna buy when it’s over $50, hide random amounts of money in random pouches and diaries, occasionally peek at my bank account balances and hope that I’m still safe, occasionally peek at my credit card spending, try not to cry at how little I earn (post-graduate employment surveys are a lie, I tell you)

I do get quite a decent amount saved every month. I scrimp where I can, but I’m honestly not the tapau food from home every day just to save kind of girl. I’m the lowkey worries about money almost every day because I want to move out despite living in asswipe Singapore kind of girl, yet also the lowkey buys into the slightly capitalist new age idea of ‘self-care’ when I feel like I need a pick me up kind of girl.

So if you’re like me, I hope these tips will help you!

1) Determine your monthly cycle of money

When does your pay come in? Mark it in your Google calendar and set up notifications for it. What about your bills? What bills are you paying for? Phone? Credit cards? Netflix? Spotify? Put them all on your calendar so you know exactly what you need to pay and when. Doesn’t matter if it’s automatic. You gotta know what’s sucking your money every month.

2) Get a job, then get a credit card

I know this might go against every instinct you probably have about money and savings, because this is a one way road to debt, but hear me out. Credit cards come with a whole bunch of rewards, like rebates and points. Do your research on what cards there are, and see which one you’d like the most. If you’re aiming for more savings, pick a card that gives you the most rebates. Mine gives me back about $50 every month, though I have to shop at certain stores and spend at least $500 a month on it to get maximum rebates.

Put everything on it – groceries, food, Grab and Uber, etc – and keep an eye on how much you have spent. Being a child of the 21st century, I trust that you already have iBanking. If you don’t, please go get it now. Having iBanking means that you can keep an eye on how much you are spending on your credit cards, so that you won’t get a shock at the end of the month.

And here’s the most important part – Pay your bills on time every month. Don’t ever miss it. Put a recurring reminder on your calendar at least a week before the due date and make sure you pay it by then. Having a credit card is not a one way road to debt, but missing your bills’ due date is, because you’ll be slapped with a late fee and interest, which both will amount to a lot.

3) Set up automated transactions from your current to your savings account

I use POSB, which allows me to make multiple personal accounts under my name. I’m pretty sure other banks do too. Anyway, have two, and don’t touch the one you’ve made to be your savings.

If your bank allows it, set up automated transactions every month from your current to your savings, so you save without having to put in effort at all.

4) In addition to 3), stash bits of money in random places

This is my second-most helpful trick. Whenever I have more than 1 $50 note in my wallet I’ll shove the extra into my diary. Sometimes when I feel like it I’ll shove $10 and $5 notes in there too. I also like to shove money into my passport cover, makeup pouch, pouch that holds pads and pantyliners, and pencilcase.

The best part about this is that I completely forget that I have all this cash hidden and yet, still with me. And when I really need it, like when I queued for 20 mins for really good bergedil and sambal goreng and realise this isn’t MacDonalds, I need to pay cash that I don’t have in my wallet, but oh look! I can just pull out one of my wee lil hidden things.

You can definitely set up a proper system for this, like set aside a special pouch or jar for emergency cash, but that will take out the fun of rediscovering your money. But you do you!!

5) Set a spending limit for each item or shopping session

And we’ve arrived at my most favourite trick!

My spending limit is $50. This means that anything under $50 I’m okay with buying on the spot, and anything that is over $50 I force myself to sleep on before buying. If I wake up the next day still thinking about it, I’ll buy it. If I don’t, then it’s bye-bye.

This of course has its pros and cons. One month I was really lazy, and Uber-ed everywhere because, meh, $5-$15 per ride who cares. Because it was also on my credit card the expenses were hidden, and I didn’t realise how much I’d spent on Uber until the end of the month when my credit card bill went about $200 more than my usual.

Basically, moral of the story is, just because you have a spending limit doesn’t mean that you can anyhow spend when the thing is less than that limit. Yes, definitely take time to think on big ticket items (I pause for a week when it comes to things that cost more than $100), but also remember that every small thing also adds up.

6) If you’re aiming for a thing that burns money, save up for that on top of your savings

When I was planning to go on birth control, I knew it was gonna be about $30+ a month. Doesn’t sound like a lot, right? Why not add consultation fees to the mix, and also the fact that you’ll have to buy a few months’ worth of pills at a time? Basically, each time I go to the clinic I’ve had to spend about $150 for three months of pills. I didn’t want to pay so much for consultation, especially since I have nothing to consult about now that I’m stable, so I set aside money, then blew all $270 of it on 6 months worth of pills.

It could come out of my savings, but I always feel icky every time I have to touch it. So if it’s for something I can anticipate, that doesn’t cost hundreds of hundreds of dollars, like birth control or a staycation or new bras, I’ll just set aside money (I stuff $50 notes in an envelope lol, in addition to all my hiding places in 4)) and then go get it.

7) Don’t ever feel guilty for having to withdraw money from your savings

That being said, don’t ever feel guilty for taking money out of savings! Life sucks, and it always throws these horrible curveballs at you. Like telling you to leave your job. Or making someone in the family fall sick. Or making your laptop fuck up in front of your very eyes. Or letting your phone screen crack when you drop it. Or making you so stressed you just need to yolo off to KL or Bangkok or whatever.

Take the money out, put yourself in a better place, then just build it up again. No problem.

 

Ultimately, your Fuck Off Fund/savings/whatever you want to call it is there to be your cushion when you fall. It is the wind beneath your wings. It is the spring in your step. Knowing that you have money in the bank that you earned and saved by yourself is incredibly empowering and validating. It gives you the confidence to take risks, to be brave in the face of change, to be able to help out others without worrying too much about yourself.

I wish you all the best!

Advertisements

when i speak to the void in my soul it does not answer

18160007

ask me what you mean to me
and i cannot say you are home
for i do not have the words to describe
how i came from a void you created
so desperately out of fear out of
insecurity out of ambition

on my lips lie words i cannot use
a language i loathed as a child
because you taught me that
it was less

when my grandmother talks
to me in pantun i cannot answer
i grieve for her messages that will
never reach me. a plethora of
colours and textures and rounded syllables
instead i craft poetry using these alien words
that i cannot share with her
i grieve for my messages that will
never reach her

once a friend said there were holes
in singapore’s city skyline
that it looks incomplete
but what if those holes are
voids from which we came?

i am not surprised if the void in my soul
matches the voids of newly dead buildings
cultural historical important sites
they say to build you must destroy
but i don’t feel like i’m newly built
in fact most times i feel like nothing at all

when i speak to the void in my soul it does not answer
(alternative title: identity crisis at age 22)
19 sept 2014, edited 28 dec 2016

Grief without faith

These past many weeks one of the questions I’ve been incessantly asking myself is: How do I express grief without faith?

Growing up, and till today, my automatic response to the news of a loss has been inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi raji’un (surely, we belong to God, and to him we will return). It was a promise of a continuum, of a better place beyond this tumultuous world.

But it leaves a bitter taste on my tongue now, because it is also a reminder that this world is temporary, and that everything we do in it will be used to judge us if we are fit for heaven or hell.

I don’t need that kind of negativity in my life.

I don’t want to live my life doing things just because it will make my experience in the hereafter better. I want to live my life doing things because I know this is the only life I have, and I sure as hell better make full use of it.

So how? How does one express grief without talking about a higher being and his hold and control over all of us? Without talking about better places that may or may not lie beyond this one?

I want to celebrate the amazing things that people have done in their lives instead of being sorry that they are gone. I want to learn from the mistakes that they have made, and be damn sure that I don’t do the same.

But then again, I acknowledge that this consciousness and understanding is a process, and it isn’t one that can be accessed straight away, especially for those who have grown up in steeped in religion.

Ideally, I’d like something I can say to express my grief whenever I hear of a loss or a disaster. Yet another hate crime in the US against black, queer or Muslim people. Yet another group of refugees lost in their search for peace. Yet another group of innocents slain by terror.

I reach for innalillahi wa inna ilaihi rajiun, but I can’t feel for it anymore. I want to express my condolences, to say sorry, but those words feel so emotionless, so weightless, when juxtaposed with a loss of lives so priceless.

Is there a language at all for grief for people who no longer believe?

 

I sit in silence in my white baju kurung, my hair hidden under an off-white tudung, a worn buku yasin in my hands. The Arabic looks familiar to my eyes, yet so, so foreign. I struggle to keep up with the murmured verses my cousins and aunts are reciting next to me. Most of my energy is spent trying to make sure I am on the same page as they are, so that I can keep up this act of mourning that I can no longer feel for.

It is exhausting.

What I want to do is hold the hand of my great aunt, now passed, and spend a moment just contemplating the memories I have of her. Snapshots of listening to the conversations she has with my parents every raya. My father telling me how she had taken care of him when his mother was sick, how she was another maternal figure for him. Her eyes, distant, in her later days, as she started to lose her sight. How I had to reintroduce myself every raya as the years wore on. I didn’t have many happy memories of her, but whatever little I had, I wanted to share them with her one last time.

Instead what I was allowed was one kiss on her forehead once we were done reading the yasin. Her skin was extremely cold under my lips, which made me realise that death is not the end of a life, but an absence of it in that body.

I would like to think that she still lives on: in my father’s childhood memories, in those of his siblings and cousins, in the hearts of everyone who loves her, and even through my words in this post. I would like to think that we all live on in this way – through the love and memories we leave behind, in the hearts of everyone who loves us.

Which brings me back to the main point of this post: how exactly does one grieve without faith? I would say celebration is an ideal to chase, part of a process dealing with grief and moving on from a loss. But for now, when I hear of Orlando or Syria or the #blacklivesmatter movement, I’ll take a moment to read about their lives, and know that they will live on through the hearts, voices and actions of the millions of people who are spearheading movements to make sure that this never happens again.

After all, prayer doesn’t end injustice. Only actions will.

♡ birth control pills ♡

I started taking birth control pills (BCP) in January this year. It wasn’t an easy decision to make, honestly, because pills were always regarded in my family as unnecessary and poison. If you’re sick, eat porridge and sleep it off. That was pretty much the mantra, and it covered all kinds of illnesses, including PMS and everything that comes with it.

It didn’t help that my PMS was particularly bad. I’d have mood swings about 2-3 days before my period starts, and that usually comes with an increase in appetite and boob aches. Basically, I’d be a grumpy lump who ate a lot of chips while lying on her bed because 1) grumpy 2) my boobs ache and hugging a bolster helps.

And when my period starts, it’s a different ballgame altogether. I’m still grumpy, but it’s because of cramps, nausea, aches in my lower back and thighs, and shitty appetite. I end up spending two more days in bed, though this time watching Say Yes To The Dress (real feminist choice of reality TV, I know) while eating nothing because my stomach is a stormy sea.

Man, typing all this makes me feel almost nostalgic towards those four (!!!) days I’d lose every month thanks to my roller coaster ride in Hormoneville. But I should forget all that because I don’t ride that shit anymore!!!! I have my days back!!! And it’s all thanks to:

♡ birth control pills ♡

 


 

To the clinic!

The gynae I got them from is Dr Rachel Ng of Dr Tan & Partners (Bencoolen). They have an amazing site that shows how super inclusive and open they are. There’s even an article on bisexual and lesbian health, just in case you need a litmus test as to just how inclusive they are. I dropped an email to Dr Ng about why I’d like the pills, and we set up an appointment (you don’t need to do this, by the way).

Anyway, I went one sunny Sunday morning, waited for a while, then went into the consultation room to meet Dr Ng. She was absolutely lovely, and I felt safe and comfortable with her that I told her everything – the four days I lose every month to my uterus, and how I’d really like them back.

I was expecting her to do some kind of examination on me, so I’d mentally prepared myself to have to be subject to that (I even wore a dress so I won’t have to suffer the prolonged humiliation of having to peel off my skinny jeans, lol), but it wasn’t necessary. We chatted for quite a while about what I’d like out of birth control (“I just want to not have mood swings and not have cramps, please, that’s all”) before she told me she’d get me started on a low dose pill.

She then showed them to me, and told me at length how to take it and what to do if I ever missed a pill. She also warned me that there will be an adjustment period where all sorts of weird shit might happen, like more mood swings, irregular periods, weight gain (!!! I was actually looking forward to this one, not gonna lie), pimples, etc, and that it might last three or so months.

But I wasn’t fazed. I wanted to try this. If it doesn’t work, she’d adjust the dose and put me on a stronger pill, because every body reacts differently to hormones anyway.

So I told her I’d take it, and she sent me along with three months of pills and a hefty bill of about $150. TT______TT

(That’s $40 for consultation and about $32 per pack of 28 pills. Because private clinic. No, you can’t use Medisave. Because Singapore doesn’t think that women should be supported in their effort to help themselves control their uteruses so they can live normal lives. If anyone knows of a medical insurance that covers BCP please tell me, pleaaaase.)

Adjustment period

If you were to talk to my boyfriend about this period he’d tell you in great detail how I’d morphed from Playful mode to Angry At Him For No Reason mode in 10s while on the train from Buona Vista to Harbourfront. And when he pulled on his headphones to ignore me because he’d said what he wanted and was confused and didn’t want to be angry at me for no reason, I snapped at him. Then started crying.

Yeah, great fun.

My adjustment period lasted about three months. The first month was pretty normal, though my period came a little late, which was perfectly normal because my body was just confused at the new source of hormones that seem to pouring in at approximately 10am every day. I had random spikes of mood swings like the episode illustrated above, and it made me so miserable because I had no control over it.

Then there was also the between-periods spotting, which started around week 2 of BCP all the way till halfway through the second month. I had to wear a pantyliner every single day. It was annoying, but it wasn’t that terrible.

I was also warned by Dr Ng that I might have bouts of nausea after taking the pill, and told me to eat it with or after food. Funnily, I’d have nausea at night sometimes, even though I took it in the mornings at 10am.

Then between my first and second month I decided to play Goddess and skip my period by skipping the inactive pills of the pack and moving onto the next one. My period didn’t come, which was great because I was in Seoul and didn’t want it to, but the second I came back to Singapore it started.

And didn’t stop for the next fourteen days. =.=

Drama much, uterus?

I also had really bad mood swings in that period, and my appetite was pretty much non existent. But then again this may not be a side effect of the BCP, because I was also going through some major life changes and under a lot of emotional stress.

HOLA: LIFE AND GOOD THINGS

Anyway, after the fourteen days of blood my uterus finally calmed down. And accepted BCP as its own. So now my period is entirely synced to my pills, which means it comes about two days after I start on the inactive pills. I have no PMS, no aches, no nausea or appetite problems. I AM A FULLY FUNCTIONING HUMAN BEING.

Other than ridding me of the four days of drama that I had to endure every month thanks to my PMS and period, BCP has also given me:

  • Lovely, clear, glowing skin
    • While previously I didn’t really have bad acne, I did have breakouts around the middle of my cycle (ovulation, ugh, so glad my uterus doesn’t do that anymore). It didn’t really bother me that much, but it has been a very welcome side effect. So many friends have commented on my skin and my boyfriend no longer offers to pop my pimples BECAUSE I HAVE NONE and I am very happy
  • Very very light periods
    • My periods used to be freaking seven days long, three of which would be relatively heavy (maybe a pad change every 4-6 hours?)
    • Now they’re only three to four days long, and extremely light
  • NO CRAMPS. ABSOLUTELY NONE.
    • (edit: I am on month 6 on BCP and I’m having mild cramps and I’m complaining like a baby but it is nothing compared to the pounding in my abdomen that I used to have that would render me bedridden)
  • NO MOOD SWINGS
  • My appetite is pretty damn healthy.
    • My weight is a stable 43, up from the nonsense 39 that I used to be.
  • No nausea
  • No aches
  • A slightly increased sex drive
    • I used to be perpetually lowkey horny all the time, but now it’s like perpetually midkey horny I guess
  • Better energy levels during my period
    • I think this is in part that my period itself is so short, and also I don’t have to deal with cramps and other shit. But I notice that I have more energy when my uterus is bleeding when I used to be so tired and exhausted

Conclusion

If you’re someone who’s frustrated as fuck at your uterus every month because of all the bullshit your period gives you, and you have money to spare, I strongly recommend this product. Look up women’s clinics in Singapore if you think $40 is a bit too steep for consultation fee (though if you go private that’s pretty much the standard rate). Otherwise, you can try going to a polyclinic!

Personally, I feel that this is something women should have access to for cheap, because we didn’t choose to have these uteruses, and we didn’t choose to go on roller coaster rides around Hormoneville either. And if science has already developed a low-cost product that can help with this nonsense, then we should be able to get it at a rate we can afford to pay. It’s not a luxury item like viagra. This won’t make me better at sex. This just makes sure that I’m a functional human being all 30 or however many days there are in a month.

(TL;DR: this will change your life if you have PMS and cramps, too bad patriarchy thinks we shouldn’t have the power to have control over our own bodies)

ETA: Here are some resources I read when I was deciding to go on BCP:

Basically I googled variations of ‘birth control pills’ and read everything in the first two pages, so I can’t remember everything I read but these were the ones I found most helpful!

Fiery girlchild who cared too much

Putting into words how much hurt I felt after being told to leave aware has been extremely difficult. If you were to take a peek into my Google drive and the many notebooks I carry around you’ll see multiple drafts of me just rambling about this to make some sense of it. Moving on from aware has been the hardest journey I’ve had to take. It’s a little bit like having my quarter life crisis a year early, or maybe just having yet another identity crisis all over again, hah.

To really understand why I felt so much deep, earth shattering hurt, let’s go back to me in uni and basically my whole life before that lah. I was a fiery girlchild who cared too much and too deeply about all sorts of things – racism, sexism, inequality, discrimination. I regularly got upset about things that apathetic people would say have absolutely nothing to do with me. I’d tell them to take their elite uncaring faces and fuck off.

Fast forward to a week before my final exam in my last year of uni. One of my favourite partners in crime had told me about a job opening in everyone’s favourite gender equality NGO. I jumped for it. Polished my CV and some of my writing, and shot it off to aware. They replied asking for samples of my graphic design, so I polished that and sent it off too. In the same week of my finalest of final exams, an interview was set up. I remember it lasted more than an hour, and with each passing minute I spoke to them I thought, yes, this is what I want. This is what I’ve wanted more than anything.

A few days later, I was told I got the job. No one around me was surprised that this was where I was headed to after uni. Many told me that “this is so you”. I knew it too.

As a fiery girlchild who cared too much about things and always wanted to make a change in this world, working in an NGO was an absolute dream come true. I fit in. My colleagues cared about the same things I did. We were working together to make changes, to help make people’s lives better, even if it is in the smallest of ways.

People say that your first job will change you. I don’t think it did at all. But what changed was how I defined myself. Everything I was gradually became my job. Fiery girlchild who cared too much about things became activist. Things I cared about that I wanted to try in some way to make better became income inequality, gender discrimination. The changes I wanted to see in this world became press releases, policy changes, aware’s work, my job.

Ask any of my friends: when I met them 80% of my life update to them would be about my job. We did this at aware this week. We’re going to do that next week. The other 20% was related to my job. I don’t think that the government should’ve proposed that. It’ll just make this worse. That’s sexist.

My job and everything related to it was everything to me. It was my hobby. It was what I wrote about on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. It was what I talked about all the time. It was how I related to other people. It was how I related to myself. I don’t know how or when it came to be, but I realised that I had equated everything that happened at work, at my job, to everything that happened to me. I wasn’t working a job. I was my job.

I didn’t see anything wrong with that before. But I now I know exactly how dangerous that was, because when I was shown the door, it felt so incredibly personal, like the deepest most hurtful rejection ever. It was a forceful divorce from what I thought was my self. My achievements, my self worth, my ego, my successes and failures – everything was tied to my job. To have that forcibly removed from me was just devastating.

When you compound that with the correlated fact that I absolutely adored my workplace: the organisation, my colleagues, the office – it was just. Yeah, devastating lah. I’m running out of adjectives, sorry. I felt like I had to start from zero all over again. Like Cinderella after midnight back in her rags.

Okay, not so dramatic lah. Remember fiery girlchild who cared too much? I had to learn how to become her again. It was hard because it felt like a devolution. Because Communications Executive of aware could care too much and use that care to try to make a change in this world through all the projects she was working on, all the media queries she handled, all the events and meetings she set up. But fiery girlchild who cared too much just… cared too much and could barely do anything about it. Learning how to be okay with having way less power to make a change after having that privilege to was hard. Coping with that while having to find myself all over again after my divorce with my job (aka my adopted identity), and dealing with the loss of a space and community that was like my home and family, was a very, very, very difficult process.

But I’m done with crying. I spent the last almost three months feeling completely upset, lost, hopeless, sad, angry, powerless, out of control, hollow, miserable. I slipped in and out of depression. Each time I pulled myself out something would suck me right back in. I cried when I was alone and with people I felt safe with. I cried myself to sleep almost every night. Spent days on end in bed. Quit a part time job and couldn’t turn up for the other. Refused to celebrate my birthday. Was generally a nonfunctional human being.

I’m so tired. I’m sick of grieving for what I thought was a part of me. It’s not me. I can still care so deeply for everything my job strived to work for, but I don’t need to do that within a rigid job scope that possessed and drained me and under a supervisor who couldn’t see past what she thought were holes in my being.

I am still that fiery girlchild who cares so deeply about a lot of things. I will always be her. From this episode I’ve learnt that everything that I do in my life I will always want to try to make some sort of change, because my fire really cannot be doused. But I don’t need to be an activist and the Communications Executive of aware to do that. I can just be me.

No, your Islam is not feminist

Don’t tell me that grinning wife beaters in Malaysia, the law Saudi Arabia not allowing women to drive because they might commit sin, and sermons from ustads about how women who don’t cover are bringing on natural disasters are “some outliers”. They are part of your Islam.

Your Islam tells me that my body never belonged to me, it belongs to the men who are “responsible” for me. Your Islam tells me I should cover, because my exposed skin will make men stare and lust. Your Islam tells me I should be subservient and obedient to the husband I may or may not have, because he is meant to lead, and I to follow. Your Islam then tells me that not wanting to marry is an sin, because women are not meant to lead themselves, and anyway God created us in pairs, so stop being stubborn and find your other half now. Your Islam tells me that I am less than my brother, my mother less than my father. Your Islam tells me that if I start searching for alternative interpretations of Islam that actually hold women to an equal standard as men, I am “going down the wrong path” and that I might be “lost”.

Don’t tell me stories of Aisha, Khadijah and other amazing women, thinking that I never knew of them, and that your shoddy interpretations of their legacy will change my mind of how your Islam is sexist. Shame on you for never thinking of them, and only using them as a defence when you want to silence a noisy, angry feminist. Don’t quote me An-Nisa, thinking that a single verse about women in the Quran makes your entire interpretation of it fair to all women. Don’t you realise that your Islam interprets it as an excuse to treat women as less than men? Do you really think that God wants half of His creation to be restricted by the other?

Before you dismiss me as an apostate, or a woman who has gone one step too far, let me make it clear that it is not Islam itself that is the problem. Islam is not sexist. Your interpretation of it is. Why? Because you’re a sexist person. You’re the sexist person who believes in using religion to explain that women should “learn their place in this world”. You’re the sexist person who wants to enforce this mentality onto the women around you. You’re the sexist person who’s using lazy, patriarchal interpretations that has lasted for centuries because people like you don’t bother to question or to reflect and consider how it might actually just be but one interpretation out of millions.

If you can dismiss ISIS as “not your Islam” because it is violent and extreme, I will dismiss your sexist interpretations of Islam as not mine, because it is violent and extreme to millions of women in this world.

Is it that hard for you to believe that women and men are equal? That women are just as capable, just as intelligent, just as driven, as men are? Or is that not what you think feminism is? Do you think feminism is some kind of oppressive ideology that holds one group of people superior to another?

Oh wait, that’s patriarchy, and that’s also your Islam.

As skinny as me

I’ve been skinny all my life, and I hate it. When I look in the mirror I see bones poking out and flat planes of flesh, and I hate it. I occasionally describe my body as prepubescent as a joke to my close friends, but sometimes it isn’t really a joke to me at all. My hipbones stick out and they hurt when I fall or bump into things. Sometimes I don’t wear my jeans because the back of it can’t be filled by my non-existent butt and thighs, and I’m so self-conscious of the extra cloth just hanging there. I find it hard to look in the mirror and see a woman, because all I see is the body of a child.

People look at me and tell me to eat more. Some of them praise my skinny body, and say they wish they were as skinny as me. Sometimes I tell them that no, they really don’t want to be this skinny, because being as skinny as me means that you can’t walk from your house to the bus stop without feeling dizzy, which is why sometimes when you’re rushing and don’t have time to stomach breakfast you just think, fuck it, and open up GrabTaxi or Uber instead because there is no way you want to risk fainting after running for the bus.

Being as skinny as me sometimes means not being able to find clothes, because everything just hangs off you like loose cloth, you decide to buy everything oversized so that at least you got some semblance of that hobo hipster look down pat. Being as skinny as me means always having sweet snacks in your bag just in case you’re walking somewhere and you start to feel lightheaded – they’re your emergency stash to prevent you from fainting in public, because that has happened before and you don’t ever want it to happen again. Being as skinny as me means your periods sometimes end up being late, and you worry because did you drop some part of you somewhere that your body just gave up producing hormones?

Then there is that strange kind of guilt that comes with being as skinny as me. Advertisements and society in general tells you that your skinny is good, your skinny is ideal, and when your friends and loved ones pull at bits of themselves and say that it’s unattractive, they want to lose it, why can’t I just be born as skinny as you?, you purse your lips and struggle to say something, anything. But you’re perfect just as you are sounds contradictory on your lips, because you hate yourself too, and no, you really don’t want to be as skinny as me just opens up that can of worms about your own feelings towards your body that you don’t really want to explain to anyone, because your skinny is desirable and ideal, why do you hate it so much?

When you’re as skinny as me you hide your stick-thin wrists under long sleeves, your lack of curves under baggy tops and cardigans. Layering is your best friend, because it gives the illusion of more filling, even when you have none and it’s swelteringly humid outside but you’re too self-conscious about your arms (too long, too thin, looks like they’ll break in half at any given moment) to wear sleeveless clothes. You hide your jutting out collarbones with collared shirts and let your hair grow out to hide your narrow neck.

You’ll want curves, want to press your fingers against your flesh and feel softness instead of the unforgiving hardness of bone. You’ll want to fill your jeans with your self, take up more space than you usually do, be able to stand your ground in a fluid peak-hour crowd. You’ll want people to look at you and not think of eating disorders and helplessness, but strength and power instead.

It’s easy for me to say that we should love the body we’re in, but we all know that that’s not going to happen. We’re always going to find something that’s wrong about it, that makes us want to turn away from the mirror and put on clothes to hide it. It’s easy for me to demand society to erase its belief that there is an ‘ideal’ body that we should all strive towards, but we all know that that’s not going to happen either. Advertisements will find some way to market a body that is the most desirable, that is also so unreal that none of us will be able to match it, we’re left with hating our own bodies and wanting it to change.


I admit I don’t have a conclusion for this reflective post. Right now I’m trying to make my body a body I can love, or at the very least, a body I can feel good in. Exercising was said to help to increase appetite, so I started a food-and-exercise schedule where I’m active at least four times a week, and eat at least four times a day. At the start I could keep up with the exercise (I jog and swim), but the food was a different story.

Eventually I could finish my meals, when previously I’d only be able to eat half and leave the other half for friends and family to finish. I reached a point where I was eating three full meals and snacking substantially in between, and was slowly pushing myself further during jogs and swims. But all my progress was undone when I was hit with a bout of food poisoning, and lost 4kg in 3 days. I was weak, could barely walk around the house without wanting to faint, and I felt like I was back at square one, or even way before that.

I picked myself back up by telling myself that I couldn’t let food poisoning undo everything I’d built. Just before I was hit with it I was feeling amazing in my own skin. My mood was great, I was eating well and finishing my food with no wastage, I could walk around in the sun and not feel like I wanted to faint. Just feeling this way was a huge deal for me, and I wanted it back so badly. Now I’m back to where I was before I was hit with food poisoning, and I’m only going to go up from here.

I really want to look in the mirror and feel good with what I see, instead of narrowing down on the too-sharp angles of my collarbones, ribs and hipbones. I want to feel good in my own body instead of wanting to hide. I don’t exactly know when that feeling will come, but I know I want to keep chasing it. If it means I’ll have to toss out half my wardrobe when I’ve reached that point, so be it. I’ll keep working towards it.

My Life is Not Mine – Intruding on young women’s personal lives

I’m not too fond of Hari Raya. I guess quite a lot of good things come out from it – great food, an excuse to bring out all my gorgeous baju kurungs, money from distant relatives who think I’m still schooling – but there are also so many things to dread, like the questions I get asked.

One of the questions I get asked is regarding the hijab, which is worn for a variety of (very personal) reasons. My grandmothers wonder aloud when I will grow up and put it on. Distant relatives compare me to their pious daughters. Many scrunch their noses at my dyed hair. My nine-year-old cousin asks me when I will wear the hijab, because I am “less beautiful in the eyes of God” without it.

My relationship status also comes under scrutiny. Ever since I hit my late teens I have been bombarded with questions about my dating life and if I have met someone. When the answer was no, prayers were offered so that I would be able to find my soulmate. My paternal grandmother has, in the past three Rayas, clasped my hands in hers and told me, with teary eyes, that she would like to see me married before she dies. My aunt and my parents plan my wedding without me, and suggestions about how my wedding should go are tossed around in front of me.

Our community seems to put quite a large personal investment into our young women and their personal lives. So many choices that should be considered to be deeply personal are perceived by our families to be anything but.

In our community, women are not seen as independent people with their own unique goals and aspirations beyond family, God and marriage. There is an increasing emphasis on how feminine icons of piety such as the hijab and marriage should be something that all Malay-Muslim women should aim towards. However, Malay-Muslim women are not a homogenous demographic, but one that consists of vastly different individuals.

I want many things for myself. A career that draws on my strengths and passions, holidays spent exploring the world, sustaining close and fulfilling relationships with dear friends, and a place I can call my own. None of these seem to tick the boxes of family, God or marriage in my family’s eyes.

Our community seems to have a mistaken sense of responsibility towards young Malay-Muslim women. It is thought that if an elder does not tegur, or advise, a young women perceived to be rebellious, she may go astray, and it will be partly the elder’s fault. This ends up manifesting in the form of intrusive questions and the bombardment of expectations upon young Malay-Muslim women that sometimes are directly against their own goals. This intrusivity and sense of entitlement in young women’s lives is dangerous, for it continues the patriarchal belief that women do not own their bodies and lives.

As I have mentioned in a previous post, the perception that women do not own their bodies and lives, that it all ultimately belongs to God – is patriarchal in nature and has absolutely no basis in the Prophet’s teachings or the Quran itself. This is undoubtedly a result of the lack of respect patriarchy has of women’s bodies, and is a mindset that we need to unlearn.

Fortunately, this is easy to do. All it takes is to understand that young women are people with very unique goals and ambitions of their own. Sometimes it may include a strong sense of filial piety or a desire to find a life partner, other times it may include a strong desire to be closer to God. Ultimately, it is her own personal choice, and above everything else, it is something we should learn to respect.

 


 

This post first appeared on Beyond The Hijab as part of the ‘Questions Muslim women get asked‘ blog series.

My Body Is Not Mine – A Muslim woman’s commentary on body autonomy

When I was two weeks old, my mother handed me over to her bidan(traditional midwife), my grand-aunt, to be circumcised. She did not witness the procedure, and did not know exactly what was done to me. To her, the sunat was an act that all Muslims, regardless of gender, had to go through. It wasn’t up for discussion or debate. It was a non-issue to her, and it should be a non-issue to me too.

I didn’t know I had been circumcised until more than twenty-three years later, when a colleague asked me if I had gone through the procedure. I answered, very confidently, that I would know if I had. I knew my body. Years of struggling with my own body shape, skin colour and facial features had taken a toll on me, but at the end of the day, I knew my body.

“You should ask your mother,” she told me.

I did, and there is a part of me that regrets asking, because I now know just how much my body is not mine. From birth, or perhaps even before that, it was never mine. It belongs to God, the Creator.

Or at least, that is what religious leaders and my parents tell me. I, however, call bullshit.

My body does not belong to God. My body belongs to their perception of God. My body, and their mutilation and policing of it, is part and parcel of their desire to control the female body.

They hide this under many guises, all in the name of God: sunat will make you cleaner, purer, less susceptible to sin, more able to be His servant. When you cover your skin from the eyes of men, you will appear more beautiful in the eyes of God. Lower your gaze and your voice, that way you will be His humble follower.

When you read deeper into the meaning of these messages, it translates into: you are a woman, this is how you will look, this is how you will behave. You will listen and follow because centuries of male leadership has made our community know nothing else but patriarchy and the control of women to feed the male need to dominate and have power.

God doesn’t tell women to be less. Islam doesn’t tell women to be less. Prophet Muhammad himself was surrounded by many strong, assertive women. It is patriarchy and the men who uphold it to this day that tell women to be less, so that they will be familiar with being nothing more than second to men; so that they will not question the norms that have been forced upon them.

I don’t know what was taken from me when I was two weeks old, but I do know that it was without my consent. What would a two-week old infant know, much less understand, about the world around her? An infant that age is barely even able to lift her own head.

“Did I cry?” I asked my mother when she told me that I had undergone the sunat at two weeks old. “Was I asleep? Did I wake up?”

My mother didn’t answer and instead told me that the conversation was over.

I refuse to accept that this conversation is over. Our community insists on owning the bodies of girls and women instead of allowing us to make our own decisions. Sunat marks the start of others deciding and policing what happens to our bodies. From then on some of us are forced into the hijab long before puberty, and we are judged and criticised based on what we choose to wear. Our autonomy over our bodies is restricted, at times even taken away from us.

I want to keep talking about what was taken away from me more than twenty-three years ago. Physically, I will never know what exactly it was, but symbolically it is my ownership over my body, and I will not stop fighting for it.

 


 

This post first appeared on Beyond The Hijab, as part of the Sunat Perempuan blog series.

Reflections on Uni + Creative Writing FYP (WANDER LUST)

Whoa, it’s been one heck of a ride.

A little more than four years ago I got back my shitty A Level results and thought, well, this could’ve been worse. All things considered, I thought I did a lot better than I’d anticipated. But then again it wasn’t enough to land me a spot in Linguistics. I had to make do with my second choice, English Literature, instead. But then I thought, hey, it was okay. I loved lit, and NTU’s lit came with a creative writing minor and an option to do creative writing for my FYP, so I stayed on through these four years.

I grew to really dislike lit. I hated having to analyse every little thing that I read. It sucked out all the fun out of stories and narratives. Even movies and TV shows were not exempt. I was programmed to analyse every little detail, from the context to the characters to the relationships forged between them and the author’s intentions behind it all. I found it hard to really enjoy a narrative without finding all the nitty gritty things that made it wrong. More than anything else I found it hard to enjoy a field that has been, and still is, dominated by white men who are only obsessed with writing about themselves, with women’s works being tossed under the label of ‘women’s writing’ and ‘feminism’ and expected to read as such. I found it harder and harder to sympathise with struggles faced by white characters in the novels I’d had to read for classes, because I’d take one look at it and think: not another one. Eventually everything seemed to blend into a sea of whiteness and blandness, and it bored me to death.

I was an angry brown girl, still am, really, and I found it very hard to express my anger at the status quo. I wrote essay after essay on feminism and race for classes, and sometimes when I read through them again I can feel that anger, buzzing under the carefully constructed academic tone and MLA formatting.

Prof Jen Crawford was the first to really help me channel this anger into something more concrete and less teen angst-y. I had no intention to take poetry when I first decided to minor in creative writing, because, eh, poetry. Not for me. Too flowery and not enough filling. But she really did open my eyes to what poetry actually is, instead of the blah sonnets and whatnot that I’d been forced to read in Secondary school and JC and the earlier days of lit in NTU, that I could barely understand because it was so removed from me.

I didn’t continue writing much poetry after I was done with her course, but I did find a better way to really express my voice. I’d always been afraid to write about myself, because I was terrified everything would just seem pretentious and wishy washy and incredibly shallow, with no real sense of purpose, but Prof Barrie Sherwood and his non-fiction class had changed that. I wrote about some struggles my brother and I faced with regards to image, self-worth and racism. It had been terribly difficult to write, but at the same time, incredibly cathartic.

Empowered by the success of that piece, I went on to plan something equally personal for my FYP. I wanted to talk about gender, race and sexuality, and started writing about things that really mattered to me. But it was really, really difficult to find the right voice and the right presentation, and I was so frustrated and disappointed in myself.

But I guess, we should never really try to do difficult things by ourselves. I never really did write anything by myself, because I’ve always had help from friends and profs, who have inspired me in so many ways, most of the time unconsciously. The first strings of WANDER LUST, my final FYP piece, were woven together during my trip with my friend Hazwani to Kuala Lumpur during the recess week, after which old strings of trips, adventures and little knick-knacks with my friends (Raudah to Seoul, Wenzhen and Nicholas in hall) were dug out and tied together. I’m so thankful to all of them for lending me so much support and a helping hand. It would have been so much harder, unbearably so, without them.

To say that this piece isn’t about me wouldn’t be the truth, but to say that it is only about me would be a complete lie.

This piece was written for those who find one foot in one world, and the other foot in another. For Malay girls who get mistaken as everything else on a regular basis, who find it so hard to fit into the majority but at the same time, so hard to fit into the community that is deemed as yours too. For every single time you find yourself overcompensating with exaggerated Singlish, insertions of Mandarin into your speech and finding something vegetarian to eat in a non-halal restaurant with your Chinese friends. And for all those other times when you attempt minahspeak around your relatives and cousins just so you wouldn’t feel left out in your own family.

I understand that this piece will be a little controversial, both within the Malay community and in the larger racial context of Singapore. I really do want to engage a conversation with this piece, and if you feel like you are butting heads with me, please let me know why.

 


WANDER LUST

or: things that happen when you cannot find a home

All you know is that everyone around you is doing it – with their airport photos on Instagram and albums of holidays to faraway countries on Facebook – and you can’t simply sit back and press on the like button or nonchalantly scroll through. You have to go too.

It’s almost like an itch you cannot scratch, because it’s at that point on your back that you can’t reach. At times there’s also a strange voice, one that likes to whisper, very softly, don’t you want to know what’s out there too?

So you travel. A quarter of it due to the fear of losing out and the other parts due to curiosity and fascination and all those other things that drive people into discovering new things and advancing society into what it is today. You don’t admit it to anyone, but you’re also trying to find somewhere that fits you, one that you can truly call your own.

So you wander, and you wonder when it will ever stop.

Read the exegesis and the rest of this piece on Google docs here.