Standing behind the curtains are remarkable women whose roles in shaping the destinies of those in the spotlight are often overlooked. This month, we celebrate them and magnify their brilliance.
Men have gotten most of the glory since time immemorial. History isn’t short of anecdotes about male personalities, and there’s a reason for that. There’s Lillian Disney who served as a “sounding board” and evaluated Walt Disney’s ideas. You can thank her for naming today’s beloved cartoon, Mickey Mouse. Love Stevie Wonder’s songs? His mother, Lula Mae Hardaway, helped him write the lyrics of some of his hits including Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours.
“Behind every successful man, there is a woman” is a phrase that’s a cliche but still rings true. From rendering unpaid emotional labour to bearing the brunt of childcare and household work, a lot of vital yet underappreciated behind-the-scenes work are still assigned to women. We say enough of that. It’s time we celebrate these essential contributions.
Ahead, three Singaporean men — Aiken Chia of Night Owl Cinematics, award-winning composer Kok Jun Phang and Clozette’s Digital Imagery Creative Sufi Sufyan — tell us about their idols who propelled them to where they are today. More than a mother, a wife and a muse, these are women who inspired and influenced outstanding men to pursue their passions.
If not for his mum, Aiken wouldn’t be in the media industry
Rosalynn or “Mama Ros” as she’s lovingly referred to by Aiken is one of nine children and grew up in a low-income household. Because of this, she was able to harness her cooking and cleaning skills at a young age and grew up to be an amazing homemaker. On top of this, she also worked as a pharmacist, coordinator, and salesperson. “She is my hero because she single-handedly raised me and we have been through the best and worst times together,” Aiken shared.
Even in retirement, Rosalynn continues to do good work out of compassion and generosity — traits that Aiken admires the most about his mum and hope to emulate. Aside from volunteering at a local centre assisting the handicapped, Rosalynn has also been supporting a children’s home in Nepal since 2013 along with Aiken. “One of my best memories with my mum was going down to Kathmandu with her to visit the home and ‘our family’ there,” Aiken said.
As someone who came from a modest background, Rosalynn has passed down the value of uplifting others to his son. “My mother inspires me to always look beyond our own needs no matter how much or how little we have,” he said. Even when she was not making a lot of money, Rosalynn found ways to fulfil the needs of those around her. And it’s not just physical needs, Aiken’s mum also offers him unwavering emotional support whenever he needs it. “My mum is my safe place, having her in my life always reminds me that I have someone to come home to and that I am loved truly for who I am. The world and work demands a lot from me and its acceptance and approval is conditional, but my mum loves me unconditionally and that safe space allows me to go out to the world and conquer any challenges I face,” he said.
Asian parents are often stereotyped to have a tight rein around their children’s career and personal life but it’s the opposite in Rosalynn’s case. Aiken shares that without her support, he wouldn’t have been the successful content creator that he is today. “I think I would not even be in this industry. She has given me space and time to find out what I’m truly good at and capable of doing. She has never once criticised my choice for working in the media industry but has shown her support since I booked my first gig,” he said.
Even in her son’s personal life, Rosalynn has been supportive all the way and Aiken is thankful for her not putting any pressure on him to get married or have a child. “I know this sounds a bit strange but at this age, we always encounter a lot of people who like to prod at these expectations while my mum is always reassuring me of my role in this world and that who I am is not necessarily characterised by my relationship status,” he said. By being a good role model, Rosalynn was able to influence her son to be the outstanding man and content creator that he is today; someone who has inherited her compassionate, generous, and encouraging nature.
Kok Jun Phang’s wife is his best critic and closest confidant
“Being a musician in Singapore (and all around the world as a matter of fact) is tough,” Kok Jun Phang puts it plainly. That’s a lot coming from an esteemed, award-winning composer. “No matter how well one can do, there will always lurk a sense of insecurity of the future, as well as self-doubt about the point of art in today’s world,” he said. It’s a daily hurdle that he faces and yet able to overcome thanks to Zhiwen, his wife and his best critic and closest confidant.
Before Kok Jun was able to make a name for himself in Singapore, he was faced with a major conundrum. “I was finishing up my graduate studies in the United States and was deliberating whether to stay to complete my doctoral studies in Music Composition or to come back to Singapore to try my hand at being a full-time practising musician and composer. It was a tough call for me, as finishing my studies might open new doors, while on the other hand, there were many benefits to coming back to Singapore as well,” he shared.
Zhiwen, with her patience, analytical mind and perceptive character, was able to help Kok Jun to figure out what he really wanted, move forward and make a decision. If not for Zhiwen’s guidance, Kok Jun shared that he may not have had the courage to do what he’s doing today as he admits he’s someone who is inclined to pursue safer paths. “We were in a two-year long-distance relationship then, but not once in the process did I feel that she had selfish thoughts (for me) to come back so I could spend more time with her. It was all about what would be the best way forward for me to pursue my goals. I’m forever thankful to her for helping me through this decision,” Kok Jun said. “With Zhiwen’s drive and courage rubbing off me, coupled with her support and encouragement, I’m glad that I am pursuing what I can call a dream career today.”
However, being supportive doesn’t mean having blind admiration. Zhiwen is also a fierce critic who challenges Kok Jun and offers her honest feedback. After all, love isn’t a lie. “When I finally finish a draft, I’m usually all exhausted and my brain does not function well any more. That’s when I get Zhiwen to have a listen. I’m so thankful to have her feedback as her experiences and (musical) background mean that she can both listen from the perspective of a musician as well as get an idea of what the general public might think. It really helps me shape and edit the music better. Usually, when Zhiwen likes the music, others will enjoy it too,” Kok Jun said.
In more ways than one, Kok Jun regards Zhiwen as her better half and admires her tenacity, willingness to try new experiences and thirst for knowledge. Just recently, Zhiwen inspired Kok Jun to join her in a Japanese class. Aside from that, they also got a WSQ certification for sewing and drafting womenswear. “She is my better half and makes me laugh when I’m all gloomy; gives me ideas when I’m stuck; offers me support when I need them. I guess this is a bit of a selfish and personal kind of admiration, but it is one nonetheless,” Kok Jun said.
Sufi is a pro photographer thanks to his idol’s influence
It’s amazing how someone whom you never met and who lives miles away from you can influence your life in a big way. For Sufi, he’s able to live as a professional photographer all thanks to New York-based photographer Lindsay Adler. Her old Youtube video, an online tutorial on how to do a fashion shoot, was one of the essential building blocks of Sufi’s career. And to this day, he still looks to Lindsay’s works for inspiration and to challenge himself. “She inspires me to always be passionate and consistent.
That helped me bring out a style of work that people can recognise instantly,” he said, adding that what he admires the most about her is that her works always reflect passion, and has a certain uniqueness that makes them very memorable. “I honestly think that, if not for her, I won't challenge myself to do better and just go through the everyday motions. It's funny that I admire her, but at the same time she’s also a ‘competitor’ that drives me further to better myself,” he said. If Sufi ever gets the chance to meet her, he said he won’t pass up the chance to take a portrait shot of his inspiration and friendly competitor.
Outstanding women should not be “behind” outstanding men but should walk alongside them and get the rightful recognition they deserve. And so we should never forget to celebrate the stories of quiet yet indispensable forces behind the limelight.
Read more empowering stories of women here.