September 13th, 2011

Our response to “A PhD’s fine, but what about love and babies?”

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AWARE’s Letter to the Straits Times Forum Page, published September 13, 2011

The stark choice between motherhood and professional advancement presented in Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s comments to Ms Joan Sim is not new (‘A PhD’s fine, but what about love and babies?’, Straits Times, Sept 6, 2011).

In 1983, he said: ‘We shouldn’t get our women into jobs where they cannot, at the same time, be mothers.’ In 1994, he said that ‘attractive and intelligent young ladies’ should go to finishing colleges so that they will be ‘marvellous helpers of their husband’s career’. And now, Ms Sim has been advised to stop wasting time on her doctorate and find a boyfriend instead.

These views contradict the recent statements by Minister of State for Community Development, Youth and Sports Halimah Yacob to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) that gender equality is central to Singapore’s socio-economic growth and that ‘maximising the full potential of every individual, male or female, is a priority’.

Under CEDAW, the Government is obliged to ‘take appropriate measures to modify the social and cultural patterns of the conduct of men and women based on the idea of stereotypical roles of men and women’. However, state policies have not kept pace with social developments and changing gender roles.

Fathers are not entitled to paid paternity leave, reinforcing the social expectation that mothers should bear most of the caregiving responsibilities. Flexible working arrangements attractive to mothers of young children are not widely available. Infant care facilities are inadequate for the country’s needs.

Such policies make raising children a daunting prospect for working women who want to continue their careers after becoming mothers. The State should take the lead in making family a more attractive option for these women, starting with a change of governmental attitude and the policies stated above.

The Scandinavian countries have shown that appropriate state policies that counter social norms can reverse declining fertility rates.

Public statements made by influential figures like Mr Lee are also important to shaping social attitudes.

Remarks that imply that women belong at home and men should be primarily providers undermine the efforts of men and women who struggle every day to meet the demands of family and working life.

Implying that marriage and motherhood are more important than education and work belittles the choices and contributions of women who prefer to be single or childless.

Such comments also perpetuate sexist stereotypes for a younger generation.

Nicole Tan
President, Association Of Women For Action & Research (AWARE)

Read the published letter here.

6 Comments ...

  1. [...] in a letter to the Straits Times Forum, AWARE president Nicole Tan stated: “Implying that marriage and motherhood are more important [...]

    #2787
  2. [...] “A PhD”s fine, but what about love and babies?” | AWARE Singapore AWARE’s Letter to the Straits Times Forum Page, published September 13, 2011 The stark choice between motherhood and professional advancement presented in Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s comments to Ms Joan Sim is not new (“A PhD’s fine, but what about love and babies?’, Straits Times, Sept 6, 2011). [...]

    #2789
  3. JKJ

    I don’t think LKY is being sexist or stereotyping. He is simply telling the woman something he feels strongly about from his real life experiences. He had experienced the joy of a wonderful marriage, children and now grandchildren which is an irreplaceable joy in life. It’s a pure fact that after 35, it is much more difficult for women to have children. It is also a hard fact that men are biologically made to be more physically attracted to women below 35. Sexist or stereotype? Don’t blame LKY for telling the hard truth, instead please blame nature for making it so. A PHD can be pursued at anytime but a woman should be wise and not put off relationships as she is pursuing her career.

    #2791
  4. Pauline

    I think AWARE has read too much into assuming LKY’s comment to the PHD student meant women should stay home while men stays at work. The reality of Spore needing its educated women in its workforce is as stark as the reality that flexible working arrangements for working mums with full benefits might not be as economical for employers as one idealise it to be. LKY was just asking her to speed it up!

    As a full time working mother myself & having known people around me who chose to be childless couples, or be single, or attached but not married, I feel the choice to have a child or not is not caused by lack of social support that I hear many lament about.

    Rather, married couples who chose to not have kids (assuming they can) probably have abounding career opportunities or are enjoying a double-income-no-kids lifestyle where they do not need to be tied down to kid-commitments. Or, perhaps both just do not like kids. I should highlight that kid-commitments are an inherent part of responsible parenthood, it’s just how humans are made.

    To have or have not is a life choice. I know of many women who went ahead to have children anyway because they want children. They just made the choice, made it happen & made do. Some manage careers & parenting beautifully (which does not equate perfectly), & these are the women who inspire me. The benefits or lack of did not close their hearts or wombs.

    But I can say one thing social support can influence, is how many children childbearing couples choose to have. Many probably stuck to 1 or 2 due to real or perceived limitations in resources required for quality upbringing.

    So to the PHD student, LKY could have assumed she would like to have kids someday – like the majority of Singaporen women still – & urged her to go into it faster. I watched the Q&A & I do not think he was condescending or meant to be sexist. He spoke to quite an extent in answer to her question, before asking her in jest. The exchange was as normal as everyday, something I prefer to see from a leader, rather than stiff & rehearsed & politically correct. In fact, I would say the same to the PhD student too, & having my first child only at 32 with a 2nd one on the way, I’ll definitely be speaking from experience.

    #2793
  5. Lee Kuan Yew: “Do you have a boyfriend?” | SEA Youth Say So

    [...] “A PhD”s fine, but what about love and babies?” | AWARE Singapore AWARE’s Letter to the Straits Times Forum Page, published September 13, 2011 The stark choice between motherhood and professional advancement presented in Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s comments to Ms Joan Sim is not new (“A PhD’s fine, but what about love and babies?’, Straits Times, Sept 6, 2011). [...]

    #2863
  6. Geo

    What is sexist about LKY comment?

    #2876

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