Mindef: Glamour pictures do not dilute soldiers' roles

It rebuts criticisms of objectification of women after two servicewomen react to online article

ME1 Gorgina Choo came under the spotlight after President Halimah Yacob chatted with her during the guard of honour inspection at the National Day Parade
ME1 Gorgina Choo came under the spotlight after President Halimah Yacob chatted with her during the guard of honour inspection at the National Day Parade . ST PHOTO: BENJAMIN SEETOR

Glamorous shots of military personnel do not dilute their contributions to the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), the Ministry of Defence said yesterday, after the issue of objectification of women in uniform was cast in the spotlight.

The matter was highlighted online after two SAF servicewomen spoke out against it last Wednesday.

Military Expert 1 Gorgina Choo, 24, and Captain Sengie Chong, 25, both from the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF), said more attention should be given to their military achievements than their looks.

The debate comes after ME1 Choo was featured during the National Day Parade on Aug 9 and had comments made about her appearance on the HardwareZone online forum.

A post on a blog, Alvinology, also had a poll asking readers to rate five servicewomen on their attractiveness, including ME1 Choo and Capt Chong.

Online media outfit Rice Media then published an opinion piece last Wednesday. It criticised the SAF for using the "cheap hiring tactic" of putting attractive young servicewomen on display.

In response to The Sunday Times' queries, Mindef said it regularly features its servicemen and servicewomen across various platforms and channels.

These pictorials may include glamorous shots of them in their civilian attire, taken with the approval of those featured, it said.

"This is standard commercial practice used by many organisations to highlight individuals in their multifaceted roles and attributes, and in no way dilutes their contributions in the SAF," added Mindef.

In the online article "Does the SAF only hire attractive women?", Rice Media described how the television broadcast of the National Day Parade zoomed in on ME1 Choo. She was one of the personnel in the RSAF guard of honour contingent who spoke with President Halimah Yacob during the parade inspection.

ME1 Choo and Capt Chong responded to the online article on the same day, saying more focus should instead be placed on what they have achieved in the military.

Capt Chong's criticism, which she made on her previously public Instagram account, extended to how she was featured on the back page of the monthly Pioneer magazine published by the SAF in April 2015. She said she found the article superficial and selective in how it was positioned.

Although Pioneer magazine's back page - which started in 2009 - features mostly women, other men and couples have also been interviewed before.

Capt Chong wrote: "We should nurture and strive for a culture where we are recognised for our potential and ability, not because we look better as a flower vase."

ME1 Choo shared Capt Chong's post on her Instagram Stories, adding: "If (all of you) are following me because I inspired you one way or another, I thank you with all my heart but please stop objectifying women."

As of last Friday, ME1 Choo's Instagram account could no longer be found, while Capt Chong's account is now private.

Tampines GRC MP Baey Yam Keng said: "For any organisation's publicity efforts, they would definitely look for people who are pleasant-looking as one of the key factors, because that generally appeals to readers."

Those who agree to be featured are also likely to be confident of themselves, or might have even volunteered for it, said Mr Baey, who was formerly managing director of public relations firm Hill+Knowlton Strategies.

"So, it's a confluence of various factors, which might lead to what we think are certain stereotypes of faces or looks being featured. However, beauty is after all in the eyes of the beholder," he said, adding that a poster boy or girl can only do so much to attract attention.

"One needs an appreciative employer, conducive working environment, good career prospects and fulfilling work to have a sustainable human resource practice," he added.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 19, 2018, with the headline Mindef: Glamour pictures do not dilute soldiers' roles. Subscribe