Sexism Watch #4: The Singapore government thinks mothers just need to "adjust to lower jobs with lower pay"

Tomorrow is Labour Day, for which we get a public holiday in Singapore. Laughably incongruous, I know, that Singapore, bastion of mature capitalism, retains after all these years a socialist holiday meant for celebrating workers' rights --- particularly given Singapore's "uniquely Singapore" history with its trade unions and protection of employee rights. But I digress.

The government typically takes the opportunity at Labour Day to make all sorts of pronouncements about "the workers". One of this year's speeches was reported by Channel NewsAsia (CNA) under the headline, "Govt to help raise employment rate of women". Which doesn't in itself sound that unprogressive until, as usual, you get to the fine print.

Buried in CNA's report on the speech by the Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Lim Boon Heng:
... But, Mr Lim said, the employment rate of women would soon hit a ceiling if the problems they face are not resolved.

"Many find the demands of work and nurturing a child, too difficult to cope with," he said.

"Many females today are better educated. Without children, they are high-performing individuals. Their employers expect the same level of performance, after the children come along. They themselves are unprepared to lower performance and adjust to lower jobs with lower pay. If fathers take their share of the duty, it will help," added Mr Lim. [emphasis mine]
Ah, those pesky women-with-children (aka mothers, by the way). Having kids and then being unable to "perform" at the same high levels that they used to. And how silly of them to expect that they would be able to do as well as they did before they had children. Why can't they just get over themselves and take on poorer-paying jobs with lower expectations that would be more suitable for their motherhood-addled brains?

Bear in mind: this is the same government that has for the last 5-10 years been desperately exhorting all married women with Singaporean citizenship (especially those with university degrees) to have children, lest the birth rate dip even more egregiously below its 2006 level of 1.24. This is the same country where the birth rate has been lower than the replacement rate (i.e. the number of babies needed to maintain its population) for 28 consecutive years.

Admittedly, within the context of the quote above, the minister didn't forget to spread the blame around: employers, stop having unrealistic expectations of working mothers; fathers, start doing your share of the care-giving for your children and household. But that doesn't detract from the extremely simplistic statement about the priorities and abilities of a working mother. A working mother is not innately unable (as the above statement would suggest) to do her job at the same level as she used to. Having gone through one or more pregnancies has not damaged her brain or intellect or skills in any way. Does she have new priorities? Hell, yeah. Fathers do, too --- and they would feel it more if society was as quick to judge them for being "bad fathers who spend too much time at work" as it is to judge mothers in a similar situation.

The solution to keeping mothers in the workforce is not to condescendingly and conveniently have them accept "lower jobs with lower pay". The solution, at least in terms of what the government can do, is to facilitate a re-ordering of social priorities that provides more support for family life overall, in terms of what both mothers and fathers can get. It is to create a situation in which a working mother can be "high-performing" at her job because, like the working father who is her colleague, she enjoys the assurance that the kids are doing alright at home without her.

Stop blaming women for having children and then having different priorities as a result. The last time I checked, it takes a man and a woman to make procreation successful, and it's having children born within "lawful marriages" that the government is interested in, after all.


Related posts: Sexism Watch #3: I'm sure it's the guy that's paying, Sexism Watch #2: What the news forgot to say, Sexism Watch #1: The bank says women still need men to buy them stuff

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At 4/30/2007 9:38 pm , Blogger trisha said...

Bravo! Can't agree more. We still have too many MCPs in government and that's why they go around spouting nonsense like that.

At 5/01/2007 9:52 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I totally agree. But at this point in time, I don't think women get much support because in my honest opinion, I don't think men feel the burden that women do. And I do feel that the poorer educated women are actually in agreement of their 'lower' status in society and will not applaud the efforts of the efforts of the more enlightened men and women.

Even if women in Singapore have actually achieved equality in name, in reality, we are a long way from getting it, women's charter and what not.

At 5/02/2007 1:59 am , Blogger Anthony said...


Men don't feel the burden as much as women do because the burden isn't on them. Societal expecations are a very powerful force. The implicit condemnation on a woman that doesn't "have it all" here is horrendous.

By comparison, a man isn't expected to have anything to do with childraising. If he does, it's a bonus.

This is a crappy situation.

At 5/01/2008 1:35 pm , Blogger His Thoughts said...

dun care la...just get the same pay & sneak out whenever needed to attend to the kids or take lots of MCs ourselfs to take the kids to the doctors. No choice, we need the money to attend to the high cost of having children. There is no other way. If I have a choice, I am one of those mothers who just want to stay home watching my kids grow up , I take care of my own kids instead of brainless maids, I sign my name under the "Primary Care Giver" questionaires instead of my stupid maids' name . Resentful, yes I am !


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