Monday, January 4, 2010

Put a ring on it

Here is Lee Kuan Yew talking to Mark Jacobson of National Geographic, in an interview which showcases a wide array of Lee Kuan Yew's characteristically bizarre opinions. (Special mention must go to the persistent spectre of the "disloyal" Muslim Singaporean, and to the idea that citizens are workhorses who need "spurs" to be put to their "hides".) But what particularly caught my Magical eye is how Lee Kuan Yew channels Beyonce.
All the single ladies, all the single ladies...
If you liked it then you shoulda put a ring on it.
He really can't stand the fact that there are single women running around out there, doing their thing and living their lives without official state assignation to a man. It gets his goat something awful. The idea that a woman might have plans for her life that are more important to her is besides the point: indeed, it's a nuisance. She can't be trusted to know what's good for her.
I’m undergoing physiotherapy because I had a fall on the bicycle, so I’m stuck there for one hour talking to the physiotherapist [...] she was 32-years-old. I said are you married. She said no. I said you shouldn’t leave it too late. She said well, I haven’t found the right person. I said how is that? you are meeting fellow nurses, you better join, you have got a social development unit where you meet men above board, they are looking for spouses, you are looking for spouses and you meet in groups, unless you decide we are friends, and you want to cultivate a closer relation, and she said no, no, no, I'm a Christian, that limits my choice to 20 per cent of the population and we meet in Church.
If someone hasn't found the right person to marry, then they shouldn't be married. It's not a crime, it's not a failing, it's not a problem. It's just what happens. It's also none of your business.
Once the women are educated, they have equal job opportunities, some of them earning as much if not more than men, there is a certain independence of choice. I mean they say what’s the hurry? Singlehood is no burden, my daughter is 55, unmarried, mother has been nagging her when she was in her 30s, she's quite happy. [...] I've got two boys who have got grandchildren but I feel sad for her. Because when my wife is gone and I'm gone, this hotel which keeps her going. She will have to manage it.
She's independent. She's a hugely successful doctor! She's - in his own words - happy! But he has to "feel sad for her" because it's not her - the person - and what she wants out of life that matter: it's whether she fulfils Lee Kuan Yew's master plan for the destiny of female reproductive units.
We can't undo women's education, equal job opportunities. But the whole problem springs as I was talking to this physiotherapist, I said suppose you were not educated to a point where you are independent, your mother and father would have got you matched off. [...] Father and mother will look for another father and mother with an appropriate background, no inherited diseases and similar social affluence and then they marry them off, they get them together and meet and no objections and then you are married. Then you love the man, or you love the woman you marry. But she's educated and she's thinking of a degree in physiotherapy and upgrading herself and so...
As a matter of fact, women don't yet have equal opportunities for social and economic participation (see here and here for starters). But even to the extent we do: these opportunities are part of the basic requirements for humane society. They aren't optional and you shouldn't lament being unable to "undo" them.

You'll note, for example, that he doesn't for a moment speculate about denying all men education and career opportunities so that they might be required to stay at home and bring up the kids of their financially successful wives - even though that might also bring birth rates up. The suggestion that we should solve any problem by deliberately sequestering men at home is ludicrous and unacceptable on its face - and it should be equally so when it applies to women.

When you characterise women's education as some kind of unfortunate historical residue...

When you daydream wistfully about starting over again without it...

When you talk of putting women on conveyor belts heading into arranged marriage and complete financial dependence, and expect the woman you address (who has already stated her desire to choose her own partner and further her career) to respond to this with anything other than complete rejection...

When you do these things, your fantasies are grounded in seeing women as subhuman.

This fetishisation of marriage is degrading enough even before you consider that the state he exalts is one of permanent rapeability for women (to say nothing of society's failure to take seriously other forms of domestic abuse).

Single ladies don't like it. Put a sock in it.


  1. There's also that comment from Mrs Lee telling her grand daughter to quit collecting titles and just get the "Mrs"??

    I think this was the sort of thinking amongst our leadership that led to the gender qoutas in our medical school previously.

    Official Rationale:
    Women shouldn't be given too many places in school because women waste their education having kids and not working later.

  2. MM Lee would get along spectacularly with my parents, that's for sure.


    - Oh My Goat

  3. I also have it on good authority that it's twice as hard for a girl to get into GEP than it is for a boy. As in, if a boy has to be in the top 2% of his year to qualify, a girl has to be in the top 1%. Same rationale - that the girls would only squander the extra resources the program (itself problematic...) sucks.

  4. mathia, well spotted - I did intend to write about that when I started, but got lost in the thicket of the rest of the sexism!

  5. 'Wasting' their education by having children vs. Choosing not to get married so as to optimise all our professional educational opportunities.

    Don't see why these have to be seen/portrayed as mutually exclusive. At the end of the day it's just choice isn't it?

    He even acknowledges that previously, women inevitably were married off, regardless of their choice.

    Aiyo what's the big freakin' deal. And yes Goat, he's sounding like my mum too. AAH.

    - The Poultrygeist

  6. You dont ge it. Single persons become a financial burden to the state when they grow older. The children of married folk take care of their parents. So its the government's job to ensure that single people get married. Singapore is an economy more than a society.

  7. @Anonymous:

    No, we do get it.

    It's tired and embarassing that in a country as far along as we are, the idea that children are a retirement plan is still considered.

    How does the rest of it play out? Do married couples who try to have children but are unable to worthy of state support? Parents who have children with low-earning power (due to any confluence of reasons)? Widows/Widowers who were left childless by the early demise of their spouse?

    The other way to follow your logic - shouldn't we try and legalize as many forms of marriage as possible? LGBTQ families with adoption rights would then be a boon to the state.

    Inconsistencies are showing...

  8. Anonymous, I comprehend the argument. But I don't agree with it, and I don't agree that it's what's animating LKY's comments here. Aside from Cat's observations:

    - Why should the burden of this support for the elderly fall on women in particular? Why specifically the fantasy of "undoing" women's education?

    - Given that LKY's daughter in particular is almost certainly in a position to be financially independent all her life - since she is a successful doctor who doesn't have to bear the costs of childraising - how do you explain his attitude towards her?

    Singapore is an economy more than a society

    But the extent of the fiscal burden on the state of healthcare for older folks is not a straightforward measure of "the state of the economy". If "the economy" is taken to exist for its own sake - or more accurately, solely for the sake of the wealthy business classes alone - rather than for optimal social welfare then that is itself problematic; and if what LKY is doing is elaborating the logic of that assumption that remains worthy of critique. Particularly if it is deemed appropriate that this comes at the especial expense of the social welfare and social freedom of women.

  9. @Anonymous - While I get what you're saying, if children of married people always took care of their parents, we would have no need for the Maintenance of Parents Act, would we?

    At the end of the day, if we are to identify as citizens of a country, to a certain extend the state has a duty to take care of its citizens, when they are unable to take care of themselves. They have paid their taxes haven't they? It's a tired argument labelling singles and elderly as "fiscal burdens", as singles usually have earning power, and pay income tax amongst others. So why should they not get something back?

    I don't believe that Citizens ought to be considered economic units.

    - The Poultrygeist

  10. I'm really happy for you kuan yew and imma gonna let you finish, but Focus on the Family had the best Dark Ages Valuez OF ALL TIME!

  11. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  12. Who wants to get married when the state does not protect your rights as a woman? Read "Divorce and the attractive woman" I'm speechless!

  13. The women's charters is a white elephant. Women here are not given equal rights.

    They are told to just get the title "Mrs" but fail to protect them and give them rights they deserve. Their sacrifice and hard work bearing and nurturing children is often labeled as "child rearing" with little appreciation and credit. It is a big and important role raising kids as it's the country's future. If they cant even see that then then all i see is a grey future for Singapore. The state must give women their support and rights not baby bonus, which is an idiotic and useless solution. It is like giving a child some money to buy sweet but fail to provide dental treatment when the child has decay teeth. Rights, support and welfare are what women and children or family in general need.


Please avoid (1) victim-blaming, (2) justifying any particular instance of oppression/exploitation, (3) explaining that we live in a post-feminist/racist/ablist/enter-oppression-here world, or (4) Mansplaining at all. Barn writers are free to moderate their own posts how ever they deem fit, and not obligated to entertain any comment. If you suspect it might seem offensive, don't comment.

(See our note on comments.)