A Gathering of Women with Renée Ting

A Gathering of Women 
is SAND Magazine's first International Women's Day series in collaboration with four creatives. We find out how each of us can step up to create and contribute to change, a very pertinent act in the world we live in today. 

We met up with Renée Ting, one half of the duo who runs independent bookstore BooksActually. She also actively captures her travels and the everyday on film. More recently, she started to explore the digital side of photography, hoping to build more opportunities with her works.

This year, Renée takes on the role of Festival Director of the annual Singapore Art Book Fair and will be introducing her solo project, Women by Woman, a digital publication that focuses on the lives, achievements and perspectives of women from various industries.

This year's Women's Day theme is #BeBoldForChange
What can any individual do to contribute to that?
First and foremost, we need to educate. We need to tell people when there is a problem—not just with women but primarily men as well. If they don’t realise that there’s a problem, you can’t even begin to solve it.
Even if it’s seemingly simple things like calling people out and letting them know that they can’t get away with ignorance. We just can’t have people using all these derogatory terms and think it’s okay or treat it as a joke.
It's an issue that requires a ton of air time. With social media, people can now understand different views around the world in the comfort of their couch.

Another aspect of gender equality and empowerment is the act of being ordinary and powerful all at once. What's ordinary to you? 
You don’t need to be of a certain status to bring about change. You can be a student or hold an office job but realise change can happen in these places too. You don’t have to be a celebrity or politician to influence people. It’s making the best out of what you do and the people you meet.
We don’t have to wait for ourselves to “become someone” or “have tons of money” to contribute to change. It matters that you start where you are with what you have.
Why do you think people used the term 'working women' how do you think that term has evolved? 
Well, as early as the 50s, you have women staying at home doing things and working for their husbands—cleaning the house, taking care of their kids, cooking meals. They did most to every thing for their husbands and that was the norm then. Even though more than 60 years have passed, we still have to remind people that women are not made to do just that.
We are not born to serve someone else. It will only take a much longer time for people to recognise that women deserve an equal standing in society.
Do you think that’s tougher in an Asian setting?
I don’t think it’s an Asian thing—expecting girls to study, grow up and get married to someone... We have parents telling their daughters to do this and that, that she needs to know how to cook and present herself well enough just to get a “good husband”. You get people telling you, don’t do that. If not you will never find a good husband and nobody will want you.

It’s a classic statement with so much weight to it, not just in Asia but a lot of other places and cultures as well. We don’t see it because we are not in it but I believe women around the world face the same issues, if not worst.

What are some major challenges you have faced?
For a long time, I struggled with comments like, oh, she’s Kenny’s girlfriend. That was how I was identified for a good four to five years since I was 19 years old. People would introduce me as Renée, Kenny’s girlfriend. I was always placed beside someone else. People’s perspectives only started to shift in the last two years.
Personally, I had to put myself out there rather than stay in the bookstore, do my own work and expect to be recognised for what I do. I had to socialise, which isn’t a bad thing. But I had to do it more for people to see that I’m my own person.
I’m trying to put myself into the shoes of a woman running her own business. I am not entirely sure but I feel like she would have to work just as hard for people to not walk in and question, which man did this?

And what would you say to 19-year-old Renée?
Don’t be foolish and don’t trust blindly. Having trust in people is good. Just don’t forsake everything that is important. Of course, there will be instances where you’d think those things aren’t important for the sake of putting blind trust in someone or something. But in looking out for other people, you have to look out for yourself too. We cross paths and spend our lives with other people but at the end of the day, it’s our lives to hold and we’ve got to own our shit.

And in the midst of all of that, where would an inclusive world fit in?
I’d say being your own person is very different from your life in relation to other people. It’s me believing that I am what I am, I love what I love and I do what I do, in spite of everyone else. This might be an extreme analogy but if everyone else around me were to disappear one day, would I still know who I am? That’s the question we should be asking ourselves.

To be able to stand on my two feet is what it means to be my own person. For a very long time, my entire body was tilted. I had one foot on the ground but the rest of me was depending on support from another person.
These days, I find myself finding my way back into standing position. Bit by bit I’m landing the other foot down. Eventually, I’d like to find myself standing steadily on the ground on my own.
On the other hand, being part of an inclusive world is realising that you’re responsible for your words and actions towards the people around you. A lot of people don’t realise that their actions and voices have power. They see themselves as this single, unimportant person. The fact is, consciously living your life and being aware enough to not bring harm to or hurt other people makes a lot of difference. That passing remark you make is extremely capable of spreading itself to the people around you, then to more people and eventually the rest of the world.

What is strength to you?
For me, I’d always known that I was a strong person. I just never knew to what extent even though I’ve been through a ton of crap in life. Strength doesn’t manifest itself until it is tested. Strength is how I react to anything that comes my way.
When things go down, I have to allow myself to go through the entire grieving process and bring out all the emotions before deciding what my next step would be. Bad experience in life will always come back to haunt you.
Strength is realising that when it comes back, dealing with it feels slightly easier. It no longer makes you feel like dying, or not want to do anything with your life.
What groundbreaking changes do you foresee in your life and spirit?
For a good six years, I thought I knew what it felt like to be me. Turns out I’d forgotten. Everything I did had to be for something or someone else. When I did something for myself, I felt so uncomfortable… like I was crawling out of my skin. 

I’ve started to realise that it’s perfectly normal and acceptable to do things for myself and live life on my own terms. I would like to reach the stage where I’m comfortable with that. I would like to be kinder to people.
For a long time, when people asked me if I would like to be loved or feared, I always picked the latter. These days, I would like for my answer to steer more towards being loved.
I want to be able to see things from other people’s perspectives better. I would like to be a better listening ear and have more compassion for people, even those who have hurt me. Your first emotion towards anything says a lot about yourself, and I’m glad to not let anger be my first.

Finally, what is Women's Day to you?
I think it’s just one more dent in a giant tapestry. It’s one more chance for change. The world is a brick wall and all of us are scratching, finding ways to do something.
Some scratch harder than the others but ultimately, we are all capable of making a difference as ordinary human beings.

Stay up to date with Renée here.

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