Saturday, 7 December 2013

AWARE of the purple light

The perplexing case of Purple Light

It started simply. Several men at a workshop on violence against women told us of these lyrics in an NS marching song. They were disturbed by the attitude expressed toward sexual violence. In their view, such lyrics should not be part of the National Service experience.

We agreed and raised the matter in a letter to MINDEF and SAF. MINDEF and SAF agreed and said that they would take steps to “immediately halt” the singing of these lyrics.

So far, so agreed. Yet our brief Facebook update on this generated an explosive reaction and spawned a thread of more than 700 comments. Criticism of us quickly spiralled into extremely abusive language. We (and others who welcome MINDEF’s move) are, among other things, “sensitive little bitches” and a “useless bunch of morons” who run a “feminazi group” which is “pushing for female supremacy” through “nitpicking”. We should “get f*cked”.

related: Facebook update

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“Purple Light”: Why You’re The Problem

Now that the dust has settled, we can sit ourselves down in a nice big happy circle and figure out what AWARE was really trying to say. There’s a big-picture behind “Purple Light”, and the message splashed on it is that attitudes, not just lyrics, need changing.

The question is, who sees it?

Operation Ban “Purple Light” was poorly executed. Whoever decided that they way to win the hearts and minds of post-pubescent army recruits was to police their marching songs needs to take a class in human management. AWARE has been busying themselves getting things banned left and right lately, it seems. Maybe AWARE has been picking the wrong battles because strategy isn’t their thing. Maybe that’s because they never had to play with the big boys in NS. Eh. Who knows? Either way, the Misses Popular Awards aren’t going to AWARE this year.

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AWARE’s intervention to ban Purple Light has been a double edge sword, including widespread criticisms.

Last week Women Rights organization AWARE had reported that a popular army song Purple Light has been banned after writing a letter to MINDEF. The matter was eventually clarified by MINDEF that the song has not been banned but the original lyrics have been restored.

The move was met with much positivity and support from a notable lot. However what was revolting was the flood of misogynistic and sexist comments against AWARE for interfering in the internal affairs of MINDEF. AWARE is a non-profit organization, a member of civil society who actively engages with the government. Since the 1980s, AWARE has published books, reports and held discussions with statutory bodies to elevate and strive for gender equality. In 2003 the restriction on female intakes in NUS’s medical faculty was lifted after AWARE made the efforts for it. Either the public is oblivious of AWARE’s long-term efforts to empower women or sexism is still deeply embedded in Singapore’s culture.

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Banning Purple Light? Superficial AWARE you are!

Purple light song banned by MINDEF because of their "concerns"? (Stratis Times, Yahoo News)

First of all, I will like to say that it is not that I'm against what AWARE stands by, I respect their work to protect women. In the latest issue regarding the military song purple light, here was their response to the whole saga.

They were concerned about the degradation of women in the song through the word rape. But still they have left some points unanswered.

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SAF stopping the singing of ‘misogynist’ lyrics from marching song: AWARE

Singapore National Service recruits in training. (Yahoo file photo)

The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) have confirmed that they are taking steps to stop the singing of “misogynist” lyrics used in a marching song sung by full-time National Servicemen (NSFs), according to Aware Singapore. Aware posted this on a Facebook post on Friday.

The local advocacy group said that they had raised concerns over the lyrics from a marching song called “Purple Light” after coming across the lyrics earlier this year.

The lyrics of the song include this portion, which was reproduced on Aware's Facebook page.

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Aware looks at more songs sung blue

PURPLE Light may not be the only army song to have offensive lyrics scrubbed out, if a women's organisation has its way.

The Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) confirmed with MyPaper yesterday that it is looking into other army songs which "take a cavalier attitude towards sexual violence against (both) women and men"

Executive director Corinna Lim said that initially the group was only aware of Purple Light containing an offensive verse.

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9 other songs that the SAF should ban

9 other songs that the SAF should ban

The SAF has stopped the singing of the song “Purple Light”, and AWARE is proud to announce it on their FB page. They say “We were troubled that NSmen were bonding over misogynist lyrics about committing sexual violence against women. So we raised our concerns with MINDEF and SAF.” 

Oh yes, stop the song…stop it because Singapore has been raising generations of men who beat their women, rape them, mistreat them, suppress their rights and make them serve us like slaves. Oh no, we’ve never treat our women like princesses, never wanted the best for them and never placed them first in our lives. Surely it must be because of this terrible, terrible song AWARE.

But while you’re at it, why not stop the singing of these other songs also?

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AWARE Examines Other Army Songs: A word of caution

In "Verse of Army Song "Purple Light" Banned: The importance of shaping culture", I explained that such lyrics are intrinsically wrong and deeply unbecoming of our young men. Indeed, as noted on Mindef's Cyberpioneer Facebook page, "the offensive verse... runs contrary to the values of our organisation and should not be condoned". Mindef and AWARE have taken a positive step by banning the lyrics of the song.

While I emphasise the importance of shaping culture, I caution that attitudes like these do not change overnight. Like John said in the report, "Each batch tends to change the words so they have their own version. It will be tough to keep track of who is singing what."

Misogynistic attitudes must be addressed at their root. A collective effort must be taken by the whole of society, and not just a select few, to combat certain deeply-rooted attitudes in our culture.

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Wrapping up the Purple Light fiasco

Last week, it was reported that the women’s advocacy group AWARE complained to MINDEF about sexist and offensive lyrics in a popular army song, Purple Light. It was initially reported that MINDEF subsequently banned the song, but it was later clarified that MINDEF had not axed the song entirely, but merely ordered that the offending lyrics be removed that the original verses be restored, which are not offensive or misogynistic.

This created a furore in cyberspace, and netizens fell quickly into two dividing camps. One camp claimed that AWARE had done the right thing, and that sexism and misogyny should not be tolerated in this day and age. The other camp claimed that AWARE had no right to interfere in men’s affairs — in effect, perpetuating the very same sexism that AWARE has been trying to root out all these years.

It is highly ironical that while many male netizens regularly bitch about how NS sucks and how the government has reserved “Jobs For Foreigners, and NS for Singaporeans”, these same netizens now turn around and claim to be proud and passionate about National Service, and express dismay that a women’s rights group has chosen to “nitpick on them” when “the women themselves do not serve NS” and therefore have no right to comment on what they sing.

Purple Light: Good riddance to bad ditties

When I heard that a verse in a military song with a line about rape had been banned from the approved list that national servicemen have to sing, I thought it was a great start. Ban the whole song and another two dozen or so terrible songs, and we would be on to something

There are a lot of things I had to become aware of when I entered national service. The main thing I learnt was how important it was to look busy all the time, especially when not doing anything at all, and how to stretch out a simple easy job because it prevented you being assigned more difficult jobs

The other thing I was not aware of was how much singing there was going to be, and just how terrible the lyrics were.

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Big Sister need not watch us… if we watched ourselves
aware army

So AWARE is looking at other army songs for its sexual and sexist references, after MINDEF banned an offending stanza of Purple Light, which was modified by groups over the ages. MyPaper reports that the women’s rights group is looking into other army songs which “take a cavalier attitude towards sexual violence against (both) women and men”.

A step too far? I don’t really think so.

As a full-time National Serviceman, I have encountered misogynistic talk amongst the people whom I work with everyday. We treat it as normal banter, something which men do normally in a high-stress environment – so it is not unimaginable that men sing songs which trivialise rape and murder

Big Sister is watching you
Banning “Purple Light”: The laziest way to change the world
When women talk about NS

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Does it make sense for women to speak out against AWARE S’pore?

Long story short: AWARE Singapore, a gender equality advocacy group, was both praised and slammed this past week for her role in getting a modified version of an army marching song, Purple Light, banned.

This caused some men to feel outraged as they cannot sing about rape anymore. At the same time, there were many others — men and women alike — who are glad that singing about rape has gone the way of other antediluvian practices, such as being broken at the wheel.

But what happens in the event when women themselves denounce the women’s advocacy group who is supposedly standing up for their interests?

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Banning of “Purple Light” reflects how screwed-up MINDEF & SAF is


The banning of the song “Purple Light” in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) could possibly have set a new precedent. I say this because the SAF has been typically quite slow and stubborn to react to feedback, and thus the banning of this song because a women’s right group has protested may be seen as a positive one. However, if we look into the bigger picture, it may also be argued that this is another instance where SAF is again repressing its servicemen while trying to give the illusion that it is objective and a dynamic organization.

What went ‘wrong’ along the way? Typical of military tradition, songs have evolved and are sung so as to reflect the feelings of the servicemen in a light-hearted manner.

In its original form, the lyrics went along the lines of “Booking out, see my girlfriend, Saw her with another man, Broken heart back to army, With my rifle and my buddy and me.” While there are no concrete statistics to support this, there are no doubt many instances of Singaporean males sacrificing their relationships due to the unjustifiable commitments of national service to a country whose government has been repressing us Singaporeans.

SAF stopping the singing of ‘misogynist’ lyrics from marching song

2 straits times

“We were troubled that NSmen were bonding over misogynist lyrics about committing sexual violence against women. So we raised our concerns with MINDEF [Ministry of Defence] and SAF,” Aware said in its post.  Yahoo Singapore understands that marching songs are commonly sung by NSFs as a way to boost morale.

AWARE Singapore then quoted from what appears to be a statement they have received from the two bodies, “MINDEF and SAF have confirmed that they took steps to investigate. They will ‘immediately halt’ the singing of these lyrics, which they describe as ‘contrary to the values of [their] organisation'

Reactions online have been mixed, with some netizens saying Aware has over-dramatised the issue.

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“Purple Light”: The Rape Ballad of Prince Charming

I do get why the men of Singapore are annoyed at AWARE. The lyrics to the marching song aren’t at issue here, not really. People, many men included, are reasonably willing to accept that they are offensive, and that there may be stirrings of rape culture behind the lines of “Purple Light”. The backlash to AWARE’s initiative has raised different questions – the ones concerned with the troublesome matter of gender equality.

A lot of people hate AWARE right now. We’re looking at a group of women hell-bent on opposing gender inequality, which they do by sitting in cushioned air-conditioned comfort, pounding tables and yelling about how much women’s lives suck. Meanwhile, our men are bundled off for two years of their prime, most of them involuntarily, into the mud and sun just so they can learn how to kill things and people for the glory of our nation.

To add insult to injury, some of their girlfriends leave them for less preoccupied men. And now they’re being told that they can’t even nurse their wounded hearts with rousing song because a flock of hens charged at MINDEF squawking that its techniques of defending them are flawed, insulting, and of course, sexist.

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AWARE-ness in an Age of Doublethink

AWARE's consequentialist reasoning ignores the fundamental basis upon which parental consent laws are justified. Young people are unable to give valid informed consent in the first place, and it is unethical for a doctor to go ahead with any surgical procedure without obtaining consent from a parent or guardian where a minor is concerned. AWARE's philosophy is based on an inversion of the original loci of rights and responsibilities.

Realities of abuse are far more complex and circumstances exist along a wide spectrum. It may not even accord with objective reality. Therefore, concerns of abuse can better be accommodated by a judicial bypass which leaves the matter in the hands of an objective third party judge. The claim that "[legal] inquiry into abuse allegations would be time-consuming, creating difficulties for patients already facing a 24-week time limit" is wholly unfounded in light of Singapore's court processes and the statistical reality of abortion in Singapore.

Finally, abortions carry a far higher risk of maternal mortality as well as long-term implications than normal or even extraordinary childbirths. Abortion is not safer than childbirth. Rather, the reverse is true. Childbirth is safe.

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AWARE the liberal women's organisation alienates Singaporeans again

Once again, AWARE, the foremost Singaporean women's organisation has done well to alienate Singaporeans with what they presume to be progressive and liberal. AWARE produced a video along these lines: From Yahoo

Along different stretches of Orchard Road, including outside Takashimaya and Ion Orchard, the man was seen scolding her, using vulgarities and physical aggression, drawing a lot of stares from bystanders.

Three kind-hearted people – a Caucasian man, a Caucasian woman and a Malay man – then stepped in during the filming to warn the ‘boyfriend’ to stop his aggression towards his ‘girlfriend’. They also offered to call the police for the ‘girlfriend’.

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8 Reasons Why It’s Okay For National Service Men To Sing About Rape

Singapore NS Men

NS sucks, so NS men deserve the right to sing about anything they want – including rape.

Not only does military training suck, but NS men also run the risk of losing the girlfriends while they’re stuck in camp – which happens a lot. So they deserve the right to vent against these evil girlfriends – even if it means singing about raping them.

Most of the time, it’s foreigners’ faults that they’re losing their girlfriends – life is horribly unfair to these NS men. So they should be able to vent and sing about anything they want, which includes rape.

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Purple Light: Myths, Misinformation & Misogyny

The misogyny of “Purple Light” has been brought to well, light, and clearly this marks the end times for men and masculinity and everything that patriarchy holds dear. WHAT ABOUT THE MENZ, they cry. But what about the menz. I wasn’t going to comment on this at first because it really didn’t strike me as a big deal but whoa, people are angry, aren’t they?

Hats off to every single person who has been slogging it out on the AWARE FB page and elsewhere since yesterday – I just read through most of it because I hate myself, but I sincerely admire those who’ve had the patience to engage with the ugly, ugly vitriol that’s been spewed all over the place since then, especially since so much of it has come in the form of personal attacks. Here I’m going to do a quick sketch of the main arguments (“arguments,” some of them) that have been put forth by those who oppose the ban, and why they’re problematic or misinformed. Because the initial move might not have been a big deal, but the backlash definitely is.

I do not speak on behalf of AWARE or “feminism.” I believe in a plurality of feminisms, and I’m speaking as a feminist who happens to be sometimes an AWARE volunteer. These are also not all original points – a lot of it is skimmed from the online discussion threads, and in putting this together I’m working to (a) help those who don’t want to go through all of that (and I strongly recommend against it) get a sense of what’s going on, and (b) put into words what people might identify as problematic but don’t know how to respond to.

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AWARE and Purple Light's "rape"

First, I believe AWARE should be applauded and supported for raising this. It has been a blindside to many folks when it comes to partaking in seemingly silly or trivial singalongs that in the process normalises sexual violence.

I do have my gripe against advocates who border on "feminazi" when it comes to policing the word "rape" such that even the boundaries of commentary and satire with the most self-aware and conscientious intent get controlled. I feel it is important that everyone gets involved in the discourse on rape, including the most offensive. But any way, I don't intend to discuss that in this post.

The abovementioned army singalong talks about revenge on infidelity using sexual assault or rape. It is mentioned in the context of serving in the military and losing your girlfriend, and coping with the perpetual sense of loneliness in the midst of service. But (as some have still yet to understand...) the context still does not justify sexual assault, or "she deserves it" kind of rape (in layman speak).

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Two Years of Our Time: "With my rifle and my buddy and me"

It is, on the whole, a positive move against misogyny. AWARE has also (as seen in the post above) declared a political/moral victory following the ban.

What is interesting, however, is how the ban sparked a series of very intense discussions about the desirability, practicality and significance of the ban.

Participants in the MyCarForum thread mostly expressed opposition to the ban, but also pointed out that there were several versions of the offensive verse, with varying degrees of political incorrectness.

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Beyond Purple Light

I remember quite clearly the discomfort I felt when we were ordered to stop singing one particular verse of a marching song. I am not referring to the recent controversy sparked by AWARE, this actually happened back in 2011, and the song was not Purple Light. A senior commander heard some of my soldiers singing that offensive verse and orders swiftly came down to halt the singing

 The episode stuck quite strongly in my own memory because it prompted quite a bit of soul-searching. As a Christian, I also found that verse offensive, but I had done nothing. As a commander, had I betrayed my own values by letting the song carry on, until a senior officer put a stop to it? The dilemma I faced then was where do you draw the line between following your own moral code and imposing it on others? I do not use the work fuck and I don't smoke, should I also impose these beliefs on others around me? I suspect other commanders have been placed in the same situation, and allowing others the freedom of speech is certainly different from condoning their songs. However, the recent Purple Light saga has made me realise this is not about my personal moral code - it is about upholding the organisation's values.

There has been a great deal of anger at AWARE among servicemen over this whole Purple Light issue. But let's not confuse the message with the messenger, whatever you may think their agenda to be. I believe that if we put AWARE aside for a moment and consider this issue, most men would agree that we have become desensitised over time, and that rape is really not a laughing matter to sing about. We should thank AWARE for bringing this issue into focus because when you actually think about it, we need to re-examine some of the lyrics that we have been singing.

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Purple Light: Myths, Misinformation & Misogyny


Is singing about rape ok?

Apparently, some men who have served or are serving their National Service think that “good old chauvinistic humour” (quoting Jacob Anand, a commenter on The Real Singapore) is perfectly fine

The issue of marching song Purple Light came into the spotlight recently when female rights advocacy group AWARE Singapore was informed by some full-time National Servicemen at a group meeting that lyrics about rape were added to the marching song

What was AWARE going to do? Sit back and ignore its role in maintaining female equality? It had to step in to ensure females are not debased, even in a song that contains rape lyrics. AWARE did what it was supposed to do. (Why they took this long to know that such lyrics existed remains a mystery, though.)

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SAF halts all training, deems war misogynistic, offensive


The Singapore Armed Forcecs has halted all training exercises and might be winding the organisation down soon.

This after feminist association AWARE Singapore pointed out that war is misogynistic and the penis is a tool of oppression.

Supreme General of the Army, Jin Seow Onn, said he is heartened to hear that war will cease because some women said so: “It is great that I can get paid without training so hard now.”
“I hope there is no more IPPT also, because IPPT is also misogynistic and oppressive.”

related: AMARE petitions to stop violence against men’s wallets

Let’s Not Sing About Raping Girlfriends

Image credit: Mindef

Yeah, I served National Service (NS) too, I remember singing along to “kill the man, rape my girlfriend.” 

To be honest, I didn’t think very much of it then. I was in a happy, healthy relationship, and rape just seemed too “far out” to possibly matter. Army boys joking about raping unfaithful girlfriends - it’s like girls joking about castrating unfaithful boyfriends, right? Harmless fun? Nobody gets hurt? Not quite.

You see, Singaporean women do get raped. This happens way, way, WAY more regularly than most of us realise. We don’t often hear about this, because rape victims are silent and silenced. Many of us actually blame them for getting raped. “What was she wearing? She must have been asking for it! Oh, like she didn’t know what was going to happen?” The list goes on.

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On Singapore’s Purple Light saga

I don’t feel the need to defend AWARE, because I don’t really subscribe to their feminist ideas, but I think what is potentially conflicting and open to interpretation is the issue on the banning of a song and its insidious misogynistic representation of women. It reduces women into a sexual object that can be violated and mistreated to the whims of the perpetrator

The problem with singing this narrative causes these ideas to be legitimatized. There are a conflation of undercurrent issues that might be going on such as the trend of NS men losing their girlfriends, murder and the abuse of masculinity in the name of revenge, where none of the characters should be evaded from blame and are innocent of misdeeds. Netizen’s criticisms on AWARE’s uncalled move is supported by the belief that the song functions as a form of male-bonding. This male bonding argument is pretty stale and redundant because it only seems to serve and perpetuate the argument on masculine sexuality (which is really the crux issue of the debate). Why do you need to sing a narrative about the raping of female or the killing of the other guy? It only seems to boil down to the notion that the persona is insecure over the loss of his perceived power. He compares his own masculinity in competition to another man, where patriarchy tells him that the ideal masculinity is built on brute strength and violence. It is a debased, primitive form of masculinity, cavemen in its origins. Permeated by this belief, and in trying to reclaim any ounce of dignity, he resorts to rape as end logic.

The problem is not solely on the song’s reflection of the possible and underlining mentality which rape culture defenders have already been attacking. It is not a feminist ‘men’ vs ‘women’ debate.  It is not a feminist’s cry wolf, it is really a problem that affects man, as much as it affects woman. It strips the perpetrator, the men who sings and subconsciously legitimatizes them, from their humanity and turns them into a man whom clings desperately to their own warped form of masculinity.

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MINDEF-modified and AWARE-approved

Image credit: stcommunities.straitstimes
What else will they ban next?

CT and I met when we were in our late teens. We were both serving National Service in the army. Those were the days when recruits were literally tortured and abused with no way to seek recourse. In the army we were put through rigorous physical torture and even harsher, dehumanizing psychological and verbal abuse.

It gotten so out of hand that after our batch, the government issued a booklet intended to identify what was legal and what was not. If you were told to do star-jumps, or do duck-walks, you could legally decline.

That’s the theory. Thinking back, those Ministry of Defence guys were really naïve to think that recruits could do that. Imagine some officer from hell demanding that you do star-jumps and you push back or decline and throw the book at him. Sure, sure.

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AWARE for Benefits or Equality?

I have been annoyed by AWARE/ Feminists for a while now. They put up a front of fighting for gender equality but, in reality, all they do is to fight for benefits for women. They are not interested in achieving ‘gender equality’ as boasted on their web page.

‘A society where there is true gender equality – where women and men are valued as individuals free to make informed and responsible choices about their lives.’ - AWARE Vision

This is apparent on many layers of the way they function (which I will go through in a while). While I usually shrug off this group’s pursuit for ‘women benefits’, a recent development really pissed me off- the banning of the purple light song.

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Offensive verse of popular army marching song banned

Graduating recruits from Pulau Tekong's Basic Military Training Centre (BMTC) set off from the Singapore Armed Forces Ferry Terminal along Changi Coast Road on Oct 1, 2010, for the seven-hour march along the eastern coastline and will arrive at the floating platform at Marina Bay. A vulgar verse of a popular army marching song, Purple Light, has been banned, in an unprecedented move by the Singapore Armed Forces to curb the use of offensive language in camps. -- ST FILE PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

A vulgar verse of a popular army marching song, Purple Light, has been banned, in an unprecedented move by the Singapore Armed Forces to curb the use of offensive language in camps.

This followed a complaint by the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) three months ago that the offensive lyrics condoned violence against women.

In a letter to the Ministry of Defence (Mindef), the gender equality advocacy group objected to the verse: "Booking out, see my girlfriend/Saw her with another man/Kill the man, rape my girlfriend/With my rifle and my buddy and me."

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Aware of the Purple Light

Credit: Nini and Polah Cartoon
– Breakfast Network: Big Sister is watching you

– Yahoo!: SAF stopping singing of ‘misogynist’ lyrics from marching song: AWARE
– Words of the Cze: Game Time
– DKSG: Purple Light song banned in the army
– Musings From the Lion City: Is The SAF For Real?
– Loh and Behold: MINDEF-modified and AWARE-approved
– Natalie-Kay-Es-El: 8 Reasons Why It’s Ok For NS Men To Sing About Rape
– Typical, Really: Purple Light: Myths, Misinformation & Misogyny
– Wise Mental King: With my rifle and my buddy and me
– I on Spore: Army Song “Purple Light” Banned: The importance of shaping culture
– Sam’s thoughts: AWARE and Purple Light’s “rape”
– Mr Miyagi: Purple Light
– Yamizi: Purple Light….?
– Chinaporean: Banning of “Purple Light” reflects how screwed-up MINDEF & SAF
– New Nation: SAF halts all training, deems war misogynistic, offensive

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