I was at a company sesh last week. Some really senior folk at work were throwing a party for a certain project. I am always conscious of the sex-ratio at events like these. 5 of us women were among some 20 men.
It was all lovely and gay until someone started talking about the beer prices. One gentleman exclaimed how he hated that enjoying a drink in Singapore came at such a high cost - 'A good bottle of wine back home costs 3 pounds'. And we all aw-ed at how that was even possible. He goes on to wonder how men here can afford to have girlfriends.
I was one girl in a group of 6-7 men when this occurred. I looked around to find some empathy for what I just heard. No eye contact.
Another gentleman continues to explain how he has a list of all the cheapest bars in Singapore and that's where he takes his girlfriend.
I am by now looking physically uncomfortable. I want to say something, but I am not sure how to retort out of turn.
After a round of giggles, one of them turns to me and goes 'Dhanya, what do you think? How does your boyfriend manage to maintain you'. I am sure it was meant in good humor, but the golden opportunity to retort will not be lost. I will take one for my girls.
I loudly exclaimed, 'I don't need a man to pay for me. I can pay for myself. I surely make enough to buy myself a drink'. I tried to cushion the rage with a feeble mumble '..that way we can go out a lot more, without worrying about affordability'.
And a gentleman was honest when he replied 'I guess I am stuck in the 80s, its great to see women like you now. I wish I was in my 20s now.' Another added, 'Would you date me, Dhanya? ahahahha'.
And then I completely forgot about it.
Somewhere in the conversation one of them shares a story of a date gone rouge. My mental note came back to me. As she ended the melodramatic explanation of a weird encounter, a friend of ours goes 'Well did you atleast get him to foot the bill?'. To which the reply was 'Ofcourse I did'.
A little bird died inside of me.
I retorted against the argument, some agreed that both genders should be able to pay. Some denied this having to do anything at all with women's rights.
If you are are fundamentally fighting for women's equality in opportunity, fight for the right to pay. Stare down every waiter who takes the bill straight to the man. Grab the bill if you want. Go dutch. Or take turns to pay. Fight for equality everywhere.
And no, I am not that 'feminist type' that wants to run down the street naked. I want every woman to make a choice that empowers her individual; her soul. Be it housekeeping, be it Harvard Business School. Be it wearing tudong, be it going bald. I want every woman to dream her own dream, not her mom's, not her dad's, and certainly not her husband's. Take decisions, and own your life.