Nancy Tan

Routledge Focus Series: Rape Culture, Religion and the Bible

Nancy’s book Resisting Rape Culture: The Hebrew Bible and Hong Kong Sex Workers was first published in 2021. It focuses on Nancy’s experience of reading biblical texts (Genesis 38, 1 Kings 3 and Hosea 1–3) together with sex workers in Hong Kong. This book shatters harrowing rape myths – such as that sex workers can’t get raped or that sex workers are deserving of sexual violence. It also shows how the uncritical reading of biblical texts contributes to stigmatization of and discrimination against sex workers up to the present. 

How do you look back on your experience of writing and publishing this book?

I am still thankful, and I feel honoured for the opportunity to contribute to this series. I enjoyed the whole process of researching, interviewing, and writing out the chapters and would do it all again without regrets. But this experience could only be so positive because of all the wonderful persons who have encouraged and supported me, including those involved in the Shiloh Project and book series – so thank you! I am also thoroughly grateful for people who have emailed me and shown appreciation for my work.

Resisting Rape Culture book cover by Nancy Nam Hoon Tan.

[Nancy retired from her academic post in biblical studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. She is now living again in her home country of Singapore.]

What are you doing now?

I am working as Care Programme Coordinator at an Ageing Day Care Centre. My main duty is to plan and run programmes for seniors. The picture of me was taken while I was coordinating the dog therapy programme for seniors. 

Last month, on March 8th 2024, during the daily “News chat” session, a colleague announced in English that it was International Women’s Day. The local colleague who was translating into Mandarin, added – “well, we…” (she did not specify who) “…don’t like to celebrate 三八 …” [pronounced shanba]. This term can (and should in this case) refer to the date (namely, three/eight) but she used the intonation and emphasis in the Hokkien dialect for the phrase 山巴  – which is a derogative adjective referring to someone or to the state of being “from the mountains,” or being rural and therefore (by implication) “not civilized”. Unfortunately, this is how most of the locals like to make fun of this day, saying that it’s the day the dominant female or “women with iron fists” have their way! It’s demeaning and trivializing. 

But before she completed the sentence, I quickly ran to the front and asked my colleague politely if I might have the microphone to explain. Thankfully, she willingly passed the microphone to me. 

And so I explained: “Today is a special day to celebrate all women, commemorating the efforts of our foremothers who struggled so that we – us – all women today can have our rights to proper education, same as men; we can go to the same school as the boys; sit together in the same classroom and next to them; compete with them fairly, win our scholarships and attend universities and ask questions in classes without prejudice. We celebrate today’s women – our daughters and grand-daughters and great grand-daughters – who can now have the same rights to be doctors, lawyers, artists – to be anyone they aspire to be; and earn the same salaries as men are paid. We celebrate today because women in Singapore today have the same rights as men to healthcare services – that is, hospitals and clinics do not attend to men first but we women are treated fairly – regardless of our gender. We celebrate today because Singapore women have the right to cast their vote for whom they want to represent them in their districts and the country. Today women all over the world celebrate 三八 because many women in other countries have yet to live this day like we can in Singapore today.” 

A few of the female seniors started to shout “Yay!” and clapped, then the rest followed. My female colleague turned to me and said, “Oh my, thank you Nancy for all this. It is a worthy day to celebrate indeed!” 

Have you got any words for future contributors? And are there any topics you’d like a book in the series to focus on?

I only want to encourage – Your perspective is going to be of great significance to someone. Please don’t give up! 

I would like to see a book on therapy/ies for victims and perpetrators in rape cultures – in particular, a book that focuses on the ageing population. How do we envision gender justice for this demographic?

Do you have a shout-out for anyone?

Jessica Cho Hiu Tong – you have inspired me to think about therapies – so we are looking forward to your piece!  

[Jessica Cho Hiu Tong is Executive Secretary of the Hong Kong Christian Council. She endeavours to eliminate sexual harassment and other rape culture manifestations in church settings and beyond. Jessica is in the process of preparing a proposal for the series.]

See also the earlier Shiloh post, a Q&A with Nancy on the publication of her book. Nancy’s book is available from Routledge. The paperback and eBook versions cost £15.19.

Tags : Hong KongNancy Nam Hoon TanResisting Rape CultureSex Workers

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