February 13, 2005
Insight Down South By Seah Chiang Nee
DUCATED and financially independent, the new Singaporean woman is running into a wall of male traditions that is leaving some holes in their relationship, including marriage.
The trend had been building up over a couple of decades. In few other countries have women made larger strides in education and careers than in Singapore.
During the past few decades they have caught up with, and even overtaken, men in fields they had once dominated.
In university, women still outnumber men 55-45 with many moving strongly into subjects like media, mathematics, law and engineering, among others.
Recently girls won seven of the top 11 awards for A-level Physics, which had long been a boys’ domain.
Island-wide, women have moved into the highest ranks of the corporate world and commanded artillery units or police divisions, as well as trained jetfighter pilots. Ten women, aged 20-40, are planning to climb Mount Everest.
In short, the new female is able, confident and more than holding up half the heavens, but not getting equal success in their relationship with men.
This is running smack into a traditional male value of wanting to be seen wearing the pants, causing a growing “incompatibility”.
Better education has also led to the woman being perceived as too ambitious, self-centred and materialistic, not qualities that promote romance.
As a consequence, more men are choosing their brides from abroad, especially from China, Vietnam and most of all Malaysia, where historical links remain strong.
I attended five weddings in the last eight months that reflected the trend.
Four of the brides were from Malaysia and China and only one was local. I was told this was becoming a trend that government matchmakers have failed to correct.
One groom with a Johor bride said he had found Singaporean girls too materialistic and demanding. “One specifically set a condition: no living with my parents. She wasn’t happy dating on public buses.”
The women’s relentless pursuit of a career had come at the expense of learning to do simple household chores like cooking, ironing or looking after babies.
“If you want to marry a Singapore girl you must be prepared to eat at hawker centres for life,” one male cynic said.
A marriage agency owner told a radio interviewer how some of the girls had, on the first date, plied the men with questions like: What is your degree and earnings? Do you own a condo? “And they’re surprised when they didn’t get a second date,” she said.
Others find them picky, untrusting and calculative towards love and marriage.
Results of recently released research have found that one in five Singaporean wives is hiding her assets from her husband for fear that he will squander them or in case the marriage fails.
This 20% here compares with France (7.2%), USA (7.6%), Brazil (9%), Romania (12%) and Britain (16.8%).
But there are more hoarders in Japan (38%), Saudi Arabia (32%) and China (21%).
It doesn’t inspire trust. Another sign is the increasing number of cases when a private detective is hired to check on the spouse.
Pre-marital contracts are also becoming more common among people who want to keep their assets out of their spouse’s reach in any divorce. Almost six out of 10 women say in a survey that they are not submissive, while two-thirds believe they could live without men.
The changing female attitude is, of course, only half the cause.
The other is the man sticking to a traditional view that it is his right as head to leave the babies and household work to his working wife. One in two women here have a job.
The social impact is a growing number of single women, especially university graduates.
A growing minority is marrying Westerners.
This has prompted a newspaper reader to urge her well-educated peers to revisit some the traditional feminine traits.
Her letter followed reports that more Singaporeans, including young professional males, were turning abroad for brides.
She said she had worked in Vietnam and found the girls there feminine, their speech melodious.
“They work hard without complaining, carrying loads of cloth and vegetables in the market stalls and food places. Simple, gentle and hardworking, it's hard not to fall in love with them,” she added.
As for the Malaysian ladies, she finds them “neither loud nor argumentative, (but) pander to the boys' needs. Not as doormats, but as cheerful assistants, who see it as their obligation to help their men without expecting anything in return.
“Not that they are stupid - oh, no, the Malaysian girls I know are smart and hardworking, with careers of their own.
“But when it comes to matters of the heart, they play the docile, giggly girlfriend with as much aplomb as their Vietnamese counterparts. Again, it's easy to see where their attraction lies.”
In contrast, the Singapore girl is twice as likely as her Malaysian or Vietnamese counterpart to stride away in a huff or throw water in the male's face or hold a public screaming or crying fit.
“The Singapore girl debates and argues impassionedly. She wants to win at all costs and treats her love conquests like those fought in the office arena. She may be pretty, yes, smart, yes, but, oh, so demanding.”
The Singapore girl, in short, is a challenge to love, she added.
Although she may, at the end of the day, be a supportive and faithful spouse, the barbs hiding her soft interior are daunting to the suitor.
“She is materialistic, and loves being so. Shopping is a major hobby, and looking good is absolutely essential. The man is but another accessory, a helper, chauffeur, bag carrier.”
There are, however, some 200,000 men who have a poor education and a low salary. Their prospect of marrying a Singapore girl is slim.
One emotional man said online: “I’m fed up with life. Can’t even find a date let alone a wife.” For him and the rest, salvation lies in Vietnam or China.
o Seah Chiang Nee is a veteran journalist and editor of the information website littlespeck.com