This is more of a social commentary on the two worlds I currently know: The United States and Singapore. It also may, or may not, go off on a tangent but bear with me. Having just moved from the U.S., where we are a young, immature society slowly coming to grips with our past, I know just how fortunate I am to be a white woman in an upper-middle class family. That said, I am still a woman and have plenty of stories from my youth of managers rubbing my shoulders or strange men brushing their hand against my derriere. Despite that, I’ve always felt very lucky as I have definitely made some very dubious decisions and managed to escape unscathed (we’ll just leave it at that for the sake of my parents).
Anyway, apparently there was a recent Tik-Tok where a woman went step-by-step on how she gets ready for maintenance men to enter her apartment, e.g. putting out a pair of men’s work boots to imply her husband is around, not dressing in a manner that may be too revealing, etc. and all of this caused a bit of a stir. People were upset and saddened because she felt, as a woman, that it was necessary to protect herself in such a way. On the other hand, some people thought she was going a bit overboard. It definitely got me thinking about the differences in our American culture and the Singaporean culture.
But first, a story! This is the tangent part…
Before we moved to Singapore we renovated a 130 year old Victorian home (Sligo, check her out!). As I have been on maternity leave for the past 9 years I was frequently the one meeting contractors and discussing work at the house. Even before that, given I was the one home, I would be the one inviting random strangers into our house for various jobs. Never did I ever consider the harm that might come my way. Call me naïve or call me privileged but it never occurred to me that I might want to stash a can of pepper spray in case one of the accredited and on someone’s payroll men would attack me in my own home. This isn’t to say that this could never happen but I do question the odds of it happening.
There has only been one instance, while renovating Sligo, that I felt wholly unease with a stranger. I was meeting a man to go over some of the historic attributes of the house. At some point I had to walk away and when I went back to meet him he was urinating, right there, not concealed at all, at the edge of the driveway. To be fair, when you gotta go, you gotta go, but most people make an attempt to hide themselves away, that was what was so weird about the whole thing. This is probably where the story should have stopped because I should have said something but (I guess you can call me naïve after all) I kept up with our meeting. Thankfully, at just the right time, another man who I knew well showed up to mow the lawn.
I continued to show the house to the stranger and eventually we made our way to the basement which, at the time, had every window boarded up, the exterior “door” was a piece of plywood drilled into the frame, and my only other escape route was through a door that was currently being blocked by a stranger who stood head and shoulders taller than me and certainly weighed more than me as well. It was at that exact moment, as I was assessing my situation, that I decided I would never meet a strange man at the property by myself. I truly feel that if it hadn’t been for our friend showing up, well…I won’t go so far as to say something bad would have happened but they always say “follow your gut” and my gut was telling me I was in a bad situation. Eventually, I maneuvered us out of the basement and all was fine but the heebie-jeebies feeling didn’t leave me for long after and I can still recall it today.
Now, here we are, living in Singapore which, according to Statista, is the “third safest country in the world.” Already, Marcus and I have given our children more freedom, though we have yet to send them off on the bus or in a taxi by themselves. Statista quotes that in 2021 there were 89 crimes against a person which range from “hurt to…murder” and 1,480 cases of “outrage of modesty” which includes unwanted physical touching (I’m not clear on where sexual assault falls). The highest crime rate in Singapore are Internet scams and fraud which I think is an insightful comment on the culture.
Singapore also has one of the highest rates of Closed Circuit TVs (CCTVs) in the world with 108,981 cameras for 281 square miles. Couple that with a culture that seems to always have their phones recording or taking pictures and the chances of being caught doing something even as mundane as jaywalking are high. So, honestly, our biggest concern for our children living in Singapore is that they follow the rules and not find themselves being recorded doing something unbefitting (such as jaywalking) because they are Americans and they need to set an example (and at least give the illusion that most of us Americans aren’t hooligans).
This isn’t to say that nothing bad can happen in Singapore but, again, we’re from the U.S. We come from the country where you can be shot for being a black person out for a jog. We’ve raised our children in schools that have fire drills, tornado drills, and active shooter drills. If a lost wallet is returned with money still inside it makes the front-page news. We come from a culture where women feel compelled to pretend their husband is home in order to feel safe in their own home. So, yes, I do think Singapore is safe. Now, the conundrum lies in teaching my girls “street smarts” in a world where those don’t apply.