Despite decades of progress in education, women in Singapore are frequently stereotyped by the mass media as being highly dependent on men – inferior even. As much as this is unfortunate, Commonwealth Correspondent Aristle Tay, 18, wonders whether strict gender equality is even desirable?
The old shibboleth that “women are of a less superior sex” resonates even among today’s highly empowered and knowledgeable generation.
This is hardly bewildering. After all, age-old epithets and pre-conceived notions have made it clear that the role of women should be confined to breeding, the nurturing of the resultant offspring, and other domestic concerns.
In contrast, males are often perceived as the superior sex due to their greater aggressive tendencies and stronger build, enabling them to conquer obstacles in life that some consider futile to females.
Examples of the ‘superior’ man include Azman Abdullah, gold medalist of the World Games Bodybuilding Championships, and Chua Ling Fung Simon, two-time gold medalist at the Asian Games for bodybuilding.
As we venture further into the new millennium, radical changes in the education system and government policy in Singapore have helped women to gain a tactical advantage over their male counterparts. But taking a look at this question from a different perspective, should we even seek to achieve gender equality?
Given that there are basic differences in male and female physique and psyche, we should recognise that the genders are uniquely different and consider them as complementary rather than competitive. I feel that this would be a more ideal goal.
It might seem rather far fetched to claim that women could be liberated, given the current situation in Singapore, where the mass media in Singapore seem intent on shackling females in their traditional role by repeatedly portraying women as in charge of the welfare and maintenance of a family.
This can be seen in local family dramas like the “Little Nonya” and “Living with Lydia”, which create an impression that females are only capable of the upbringing of children and household chores. This in turn portrays females as weak and hopeless and results in the view that they are of the weaker gender.
Women are usually stereotyped in the mass media as creatures that are highly dependent on men, needing perpetual support and attention. Women are seen as “lost” without a highly capable man by their side. This is also seen in international drama series such as “Desperate Housewives” shown on local television.
“Desperate Housewives” paints a picture that males are an indispensable factor in providing security for females who would otherwise be unable to survive. Women are also often typecast as mere bodies used to serve men, only to be discarded afterward.
Both recent advertisements by beer company Guinness, featuring scantily-clad women, and US drama series “90210”, depicting women eager to intrude into the topic of sex, serves to prove this point. Clearly, the mass media often succeeds in making the public believe that women are highly dependent on men.
In Singapore, the survival of traditional practices and values has continued to shackle females. Despite being a post-modern society, the majority of us still worship the values of loyalty and filial piety. These values that we practise create a perception that females are supposed to be in charge of taking care of the well-being of all the family members, and that they should be responsible for all the household chores.
This has resulted in the handcuffing and the devaluing of women and created the image that females are of the weaker gender and that they cannot accomplish anything in great in magnitude next to their male counterparts. In turn, males are often seen as a more competent and adept due to their stronger build.
It has led society to question whether females are of any use to the country, given that they are physically weaker than males. All of this sums up a view that females are of the less superior sex and that females could not deserving of any equality in our Singaporean society.
In the past, most women were illiterate and uneducated, and they could only look forward to a gloomy future in the kitchen, if not tending to their children. However, with the increasingly affluence of today’s families in Singapore, women and girls can now enjoy the luxury of education, once denied to them, at a young age.
We now have a large number of highly educated women capable of competing with their male counterparts in the workforce, enabling them to earn their own living. With this newly acquired financial stability, today’s women are no longer dependent on men, who were once the sole breadwinner of the family. Females are now able to earn their keep and survive on their own.
With that, woman now have a large voice in decision-making in families, companies and society, as they are no longer dependent on anybody. This has resulted in the perception that females can be as highly capable and successful as their male counterparts, gaining them the right to have equal status with males.
Government policies introduced in Singapore have now paved the way for women to have equal opportunities, as can be seen by the increase in the number of women in traditionally male-dominated jobs – science research, architecture and fire-fighting.
An example of a successful female in Singapore is Lim Hwee Hua, the first full female cabinet minister. However important cabinet positions, such as Prime Minister, are still dominated by males (Of late: MM Lee Kuan Yew, SM Goh Chok Tong and PM Lee Hsien Loong). This creates the image that females are still not capable enough to take on challenging roles in society and that they are of the weaker sex.
As Roseanne Barr phrased it, “The thing women have yet to learn is nobody gives you power. You just take it.” With that, females like Dana Lam and Trina Liang have taken a stand against gender equality, chairing pro-female organizations like AWARE and UNIFEM Singapore. These organizations have gradually permeated into every corner of Singaporean life and have already started playing a consistent role in the empowerment of females in Singapore.
This has resulted in a significant increase in Singaporean females that are willing to take up the challenge to fight for their rights in society. However, women are still doubtful about whether they should pursue their rights in Singapore.
In conclusion, is it really realistic to challenge systemic gender inequality in Singapore?
Shouldn’t it be more realistic that we understand each sex’s differences and respect the two genders as uniquely different? I feel that we should consider them as complementary rather than competitive. Both genders should work hand in hand, covering up each other’s flaws and boosting each other’s strengths. This will in turn create an extraordinary team that is able to achieve maximum efficiency and adaptability which is highly valued in our society.
Examples are Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and his wife, Kwa Geok Choo, and US President Barrack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. Both couples show that by combining the strengths of both genders in tandem, more desirable results for society can be achieved. This is worth pursuing over gender equality.
As Henry Kissinger once stated, “Nobody will ever win the Battle of the Sexes. There’s just too much fraternising with the enemy.”
I’m an 18-year-old male Chinese who loves astronomy, adventurous challenges, running, and most of all, interacting with youths all around the world! Presently serving my two-year National Service in the Singapore Armed Forces.
I have always held the belief that arguments and debates, while meant to drive out flaws in our opinions, should serve to bind us together and not separate us. For united we stand, divided we fall.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
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