Focus on the Family got into a bit of trouble recently after a student from my beloved alma mater Hwa Chong complained that the Christian organization’s “It’s Uncomplicated” workshop to promote ‘healthy relationships’ was bigoted and sexist, and worst of all ‘actively serve to promote rape culture in school’. It spurred a group of alumni and current students to start a petition calling on the school to end the workshop immediately.
In response, Focus on the Family replied that “It’s unfortunate that what was meant to be a light-hearted workshop to engage students was taken out of context and misinterpreted”. Even the researcher whose findings were used in the workshop came out to explain the part about the ‘ultra-visual brain wiring of men and boys’.
So what to make of all these? Let me first state that I am NOT a fan AT ALL of Focus on the Family, which has a pretty sucky reputation as a ‘conservative’ Christian organization. And of course, I didn’t attend the course so I can’t judge the tone of the workshop.
The thing that disturbs me is that I can imagine myself sharing some of these ‘jokes’, which exaggerate the different communications styles and emotional wirings between men and women, without realizing they could be offensive to some. And I like to think I am not a sexist person at all.
Read the likes of ‘Women are from Venus, Men are from Mars’ and ‘The Five Love Languages’ etc, add some empirical evidence from one’s personal experience and you’ll probably find that there’s some amount of truth to the conclusions that (generally) men and women communicate in different ‘languages’ and have different emotional needs.
In public relations, we often advise our spokespeople in media training that they need to ensure whatever they say can stand in isolation when broken into bits and parts without be misinterpreted. Give a 30 second response to the media and they may just pick the 5 seconds they find most interesting and delete the rest. This is partly why you always hear of people complaining that they were ‘misquoted’ or ‘taken out of context’.
So what have we seen/read here? 5 out of the god-knows-how-many-page curriculum, especially highlighted by the student probably because these were the pages that offended her most. Examples cited by the student, probably also because they were the parts that offended her most.
I am not saying Focus on the Family is blame-free. Some of the points it tried to make were not articulated appropriately. But if there’s one thing they were guilty of, it was less about them being sexist, than not making their points in the right context.
I just want to remind us media consumers that often times when we read the news we are seeing the world through edited lenses, just like watching a five minute highlight reel of a 90 minute football match. The full match is probably a lot less dramatic.