Mention a female Singaporean blogger, and Jeraldine Phneah is not likely to be the first to come to mind. In a blogosphere where lifestyle, beauty, and fashion are the most celebrated topics amongst the demographic, Jeraldine’s choice of topics are far removed from what you’d expect: she covers sociopolitical topics, and her articles are often shared for their interesting perspectives and local flavour.
But add on a pretty face, and all hell breaks loose.
Jeraldine first made headlines back in 2013 at the beginning of her blogging career, when she was still an undergraduate. While attending an NTU course on evolution, she was inspired to write a blogpost on species survival and resource partitioning, and applying those theories to explain how immigration issues in Singapore could be solved. A fellow NTU student shared it on his Facebook page, and he and many netizens began making sexist, racist, and personal attacks.
Since then, Jeraldine has learnt from that experience, and has grown a tougher hide. She’s gained a reputation for her sharp opinions, and for not being afraid to share them despite the consequences. More recently, she wrote a post on why she didn’t feel “that sad” about Lee Kuan Yew’s death, gaining the ire of Singaporeans mourning their ex-PM.
“When you write about a sensitive topic, it acts as a double-edged sword. One is that it spreads very fast, the other is that people will become very angry. So far, I haven’t had anything out of the norm, no death threats or anything. I know some bloggers get that.”
“You met Jeraldine Phneah? Is she a Bimbo?”
Meeting Jeraldine in person is a whole other experience. Without any knowledge of her blog — which she hosts on JeraldinePhneah.com — you might assume that she’s just another sweet and demure Singaporean girl. She slips into easy conversation, favouring the Singlish slang when speaking informally. Her blog, after all, is about making sociopolitical topics easy and more digestible for the Singaporean layman; something even the ordinary auntie will be able to understand.
In recognition of what she has done, she was featured in an SG50 exhibition called We The Citizens for her contribution to public discourse and helping young adults become more informed voters.
“When sociopolitical bloggers write, they like to use very cheem (complicated) words, but it’s often not understood by the layman, like normal people who may not care about politics. The way I write, I think, is very simple, phrased sentence by sentence, so people get it much faster.”
But in a world where people struggle to understand others on a deeper level — especially those in the limelight — Jeraldine’s confidence in her looks (which translated to her attending several pageant contests) aren’t easily reconciled with her strong opinions. A friend, upon knowing that I had met Jeraldine, first asked if she was a “bimbo”. But when I asked Jeraldine about her haters, she was quick to dismiss them. “I just block them lorh,” she jokes.
The fact that she has created her own niché in sociopolitical blogging in Singapore — not an easy task, considering the highly sensitive social and political climate in the country — probably contributed to the number of nasty comments she gets. But while those comments come from time to time, Jeraldine has also received argumentative but well thought-out comments, which she welcomes. Her readers, she says, consist of a pretty even number of men and women, though men tend to dominate the comments section.
“Sometimes, I do get comments that say: ‘Go and study lah, see more of the world’,” she shares. “But the barrier I had then was that I was also in pageants, so people would stereotype. What’s sadder is that some female sociopolitical bloggers will find you a threat to their viewership because they would think that you’re using your face to attract readers. That’s not the case.”
Blogging As A Job
But why sociopolitical content? According to Jeraldine, looking for topics to write about comes naturally to a curious person. She often finds herself thinking about current affairs, or things that she comes across in her daily life or on social media, and questions them.
A recent blogpost on why locals find Singaporeans who speak with fake accents annoying was inspired by her own experiences, and later bolstered by further research and discussions with friends. The moment inspiration hits, she says — whether she’s on the public transport heading home, or it’s in the middle of the night — she jots it down on her Notes app on her iPhone, and grows the topic from there.
“Human beings don’t do things for no reason. There’s always a deep-set subconscious reason — you don’t know why you don’t like what you don’t like,” she shares, bringing up the topic of social media envy that she’s currently hooked on. “Sometimes you see someone on Facebook just got a scholarship, and you would go, “eee”. But why “eee?” Is it because you feel inferior? Yes, but you’ll never admit it. Or someone says they can speak 10 languages — okay, why do you have to tell the whole world? It’s all deep-seated.”
Despite the popularity of her blog, which averages 3-5K pageviews a day, blogging isn’t Jeraldine’s full time gig. Since graduating from NTU Wee Kim Wee School of communications, Jeraldine currently works as a regional business development executive at a strategic market intelligence firm, providing data and analysis to agencies and management consultancies. (Editor’s Note: Changes have been made to clarify her job scope.)
But being a part-time blogger doesn’t mean she doesn’t take it seriously. In fact, she was more than excited to share her experience with running her blog as a business with me. Just this month, she received her HubSpot Inbound Certification, a course covering effective methods in digital marketing. She also reads blogs by digital marketers to stay on top of digital trends.
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“A lot of people see blogging as just writing; actually, there are a lot of elements to blogging,” says Jeraldine. “Digital marketing is a big part. For instance, how to get people to know your website, SEO, stuff like that. Also things like Facebook, what kinds of titles work, meta description, pictures, and how to encourage sharing. Social media widgets make it easier for people to share content — digital marketing is also about design and interface: making it easy to read, suitable for mobile and desktop and so on — that would convert readers to followers.”
“It’s like running a digital magazine. Ultimately, it also has elements of psychology — not really like how people’s brains work, but more like what they like and what would they share. People only respond to content they relate to.”
A secret that she did share? Put the more unpopular points lower in the article — that way, people are more likely to digest them.
With a large majority of female bloggers sticking to more light-hearted topics like beauty and fashion, Jeraldine remains an unlikely blogger in Singapore. She prefers talking about sociopolitical matters and building career capital, and shys away from writing about beauty and fashion, though she has touched on relationship and lifestyle issues when it strikes her fancy.
“I have nothing much to say to critique the stuff. To me it’s nice or not nice. What can you say about a dress? Nice or not nice. It’s all up to personal preference, right? Okay, if I were to cover makeup, maybe I’ll search for the ingredients, like arbutin,” she said, recommending a website called Beautypedia which breaks beauty products down to their chemical makeup and reviews their effectiveness from there.
Jeraldine shares that she hopes more girls will take this opportunity to speak up and share their opinions with more confidence. The lifestyle blogging market, she warns, is too saturated, and to become successful you need to stand out.
“To be fair, there are many pretty girls out there that are smart. They just don’t have a platform, they’re not as brave. They don’t dare to speak up and the feedback can be quite bad.”
“The thing about blogging is that if you talk about yourself, the effect won’t last so long; it’s not sustainable that every week you have an article that goes viral. [Your posts] must be about the people you are writing for. It won’t do to be like “look at me I’m so pretty” when everyone’s going to age one day. A new young girl will step up and take your place.”
“Not saying that fashion is bad; I think it’s good, but sometimes I think it encourages too much consumerism, contributing to the whole, “I’m not good enough” idea. The other way to look at it is that you inspire people, but then again inspiration comes from the recognition that you are better in some way.”
While I have read Jeraldine’s blogposts over the years, I wouldn’t say I agree with all of them. But I do respect her guts to share her perspective, because ultimately, that’s what blogging is all about. And while haters gonna hate and sexists are gonna stereotype, JeraldinePhneah.Me goes strong. There’s a brand of authenticity that goes with her choice of topics, of a Singaporean girl trying to make sense of local issues in an intelligent and informed manner. If anyone doesn’t like her as a blogger?
(Photo Credits: JeraldinePhneah.me, JeraldinePhneah Instagram)