SINGAPORE: President Halimah Yacob on Monday (Jun 15) urged podcast channel OKLETSGO to apologise to all women for the "humiliating and misogynistic remarks" made on its podcasts, saying that it is not alright for women to be treated like "punching bags".
The programme, which has topped local Spotify charts, has been criticised recently for objectifying women.
"Women are not objects to be made fun of, ridiculed and trampled upon, and no one has the right to do that to them. Women have the right to be respected, valued for their contributions in the family and in our society," Mdm Halimah wrote in a Facebook post on Monday.
Mdm Halimah said that many people have emailed her with concerns about the values that the podcasts promote, and added that those who perpetuate the image of women being inferior should "be held responsible for being one of the perpetrators of violence against women".
"The Podcast OKLETSGO should sincerely and humbly apologise to all women for their offensive, humiliating and misogynistic remarks on their podcasts about women," said Mdm Halimah.
"It's not ok to treat women like dirtbags and punching bags," she added.
The podcast, helmed by former radio DJs Dzar Ismail, Dyn Norahim and Raja Razie, attracts tens of thousands of listeners per episode. Topics discussed include religion, sexuality, drugs and prison life.
It has in the past also hosted guests such as comedian Kumar and politicians including Senior Minister of State for Defence Maliki Osman and Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli.
The podcast prides itself on its relatable and unfiltered style, with the hosts once likening it to eavesdropping on a conversation between three friends.
"For us, it’s all about telling stories about the man on the street," Dzar told TODAY in an interview last October. "Our style is raw and unapologetic."
But critics say the conversations include sexist references.
In one episode on sexually attractive older women, one of the hosts joked about his preference for “bums and legs”, sparking laughter from the rest.
"Taking cheap pot shots at women to boost ratings or to make some people laugh no matter how offensive, cannot be justified under any label be it freedom of speech or encouraging conversations," Mdm Halimah said.
"How do you encourage healthy conversations about the role of women and families, when your starting point is to degrade women."
In a Facebook post on Saturday, Dzar acknowledged that their "style and stage personas" have upset women.
"We recognise that there has been a diversity of opinions on the issue and seen the feedback from all sides of the topic," he wrote.
"We appreciate the constructive feedback that leaves us space to improve and grow as we have been over our short year-long journey thus far."
Dzar said the podcast has achieved success through the support of its community, which includes women, and pledged to improve the content and work together to "build bridges".
"We remain committed to our open-minded approach and will not shy away from tough issues affecting our community," he added.
Dzar also addressed the criticism in the podcast's latest episode aired before Mdm Halimah's post was published, stating it was never their intention to degrade women.
While he acknowledged the language used in the podcast is "out of the ordinary", he maintained that it is consistent with their "flavour" that he said has attracted so many listeners.
In a rebuttal to claims of misogyny, Dzar pointed out that the hosts had used their own money to buy diapers and milk powder for single mothers during Ramadan.
"It is in our interactions with women as guests and as listeners who come to our live show (and) who listen to us ... that actually in a sense empower them, and has made all of us more appreciative (of) the women we have in our lives," he added.
VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
In her Facebook post, Mdm Halimah highlighted an increasing trend of violence against women, saying the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about "terrible consequences" for them.
She said that educating a community on respect for women is "a lifetime process" that begins "when children, especially boys, see how their mothers are treated by their fathers," she said.
"That influences them and contributes to how they will treat the women in their lives later on."
Aside from the family, society has a responsibility as well to teach the young to develop healthy and respectful relationships with women, said Mdm Halimah.
"It resides with every one of us, and particularly those who have great influence over people through social media," she added.
"Our women in Singapore have worked very hard to raise their status through education, employment and in raising healthy families. They are important in building healthy communities which will be undermined by such podcasts.
"They don’t deserve this treatment by OkLetsGo or any other group."
Several hours after Mdm Halimah's post, the hosts took to Facebook to apologise to listeners "we have hurt with our words and content".
"We reflected on this more, and we are truly sorry it took us this long to realise the extent of hurt that we have caused," they said on the podcast's Facebook page.
"Thank you, Madam President and respected individuals/groups for amplifying the voices of those who have been hurting, and we take this opportunity to sincerely apologise to all our listeners who we have hurt with our words and content."
They added: "We will reflect and tweak our approach to not cause offence to any particular group within and beyond our community."