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The Stalled Revolution in Singapore: the consequence of resisting gender roles

Updated: Feb 24, 2022

Introduction

The Department of Statistics reported that the percentage of dual-income families has risen from 47.1% in 2010 to 52.5% in 2020 (2021), with an increase in the labour force participation rate (LFPR) for women. Singapore is known to be a patriarchal nation, with traditional households generally being organised by gender-defined roles, where men are typically the provider and women are the caregivers. Therefore, the increase in LFPR for women seems to signify the eradication of gender roles, as Singapore’s patriarchal society allows women to be the provider as well. However, the same trend cannot be observed for men, as most still do not adopt the caregiving role. This phenomenon, termed the “Stalled Revolution” by Arlie Hochschild, is when women are quickly being integrated into the workforce while men are dawdling behind when shifting towards caregiving roles (Hoschild & Machung, 1989). This article will explore how the Stalled Revolution, as experienced by women in Singapore, is a result of the resistance and perpetuation of gender-defined roles in Singapore society and policies.


The Stalled Revolution


In 1989, Hochschild and Machung described western society to be trapped in a “Stalled Revolution”. While women were quickly adopting traditionally masculine roles, men were unable to adapt to traditionally feminine roles in the household. Women were defying their typical caregiver role by contributing income to the family, adopting the provider role. However, men persisted in lacking participation in household labour. This disproportionate distribution of house labour amongst couples who are both employed, leads to a dual workload for women. Women in dual-income households are burdened with a ‘second shift’, as the duty of managing the household and attending to the children typically befalls on them (Hoschild and Machung, 1989).


The basis of the “stalled revolution” is the entrenchment of traditional gender roles by society and the authentication of these roles by the state, perpetuating the contradictory roles between men and women (Hoschild and Machung, 1989). We can observe these same phenomena in Singapore. Women in Singapore are trapped in a stalled revolution as even though women are allowed to take on jobs now, traditional gender-defined roles persist in Singapore society. These gender-defined roles are further validated by the government as policies in Singapore reflect traditional gender roles through the way that the policies assume that women are the caregivers of the household. Such entrenchment of traditional gender-defined roles in society, leads to contradictory role-reversals between men and women, burdening women in dual-income households with more responsibilities than men (Myra, 2021).


Deeply Entrenched Gender Roles within society


A national survey conducted by Blackbox in 2020 reveals that more than 6 in 10 respondents perceive women as naturally fit for caregiving roles as compared to men (AWARE, 2021). Through interviews with Malay women in Singapore, Zainal et. al (2021) revealed how deep the entrenchment of gender role is in Singapore society. The Malay women who are burdened with dual-workload still defended the double responsibility, with claims that caregiving is their natural duty.


Validation of Gender Roles by the state


The nation’s policies reflect that the duties of caregiving and managing the household are womens’ domain. State policies presume that women are totally intertwined with their maternal and marital responsibilities as opposed to men, resulting in the disparity in policies related to the family for men and women (AWARE, 2021). For instance, while women are given 16 weeks of paid maternity absence, men are only given 2 weeks of paternity leave, where the employer shares the cost with the state. This blatant difference between the parental leave of women and men reflects that the state presumes caregiving and household duties to be womens’ responsibilities (Zainal et al., 2021). This authentication of gender roles by the state further entrenches traditional and outdated gender beliefs in society. Consequently, men are reluctant to take on the traditionally feminine caregiving role, leaving their wives with both work and caregiving duties.


Conclusion

In conclusion, the resistance and perpetuation of traditional gender-defined roles in Singapore’s society and its policies contribute to the issue of the “Stalled Revolution”. Though women’s shift into the provider role seems to reflect that women are finally overcoming the issue of gender-defined roles, the failure of men in adopting the caregiving role exposes the entrenchment of traditional gender roles in Singapore. The consequence is that women are burdened with the double role of working and managing the household. As Mr. Edwin Tong emphasised in his speech on changing mindsets for women’s progress, there is a need for a ‘whole-of-society effort’ to truly dismantle gender-defined roles (2021).



Food For Thought:

  • Which actor plays a bigger role in The Stalled Revolution?

  • To address this issue, should there be pressure towards the state to implement less sexist policies or towards society to educate each other and eradicate traditional mindsets?

Written by Hamizah Myra Bte Mohammad Hamdan, Year 2, Global Studies Major & Sociology Minor

 

References

Awang, N., & Lim, J. (2020). The Big Read: Gender equality in Singapore remains elusive amid entrenched attitudes about women’s roles. CNA. Retrieved January 20, 2022, from https://www.channelnewsasia.com/singapore/the-big-read-singapore-gender-equality-women-roles-1968061.


AWARE. (2021). An Omnibus on Gender Equality . Aware: Association of Women for Action and Research. Retrieved January 10, 2022, from https://www.aware.org.sg/wp-content/uploads/AWARE-Report-July-2021-An-Omnibus-on-Gender-Equality.pdf.


Francis, V. (2016). Maternity and Paternity Leave. Smart Parents. Retrieved 2016, from https://www.smartparents.sg/parenting/lifestyle/what-you-get-your-baby-bonus-2016.


Hochschild, A. R., & Machung, A. (1989). The Second Shift: Working Families and the Revolution at Home. Viking .


Myra, H. (2021). The Stalled Revolution of Malay-Muslim Women in Singapore : the contradictory role-reversals in dual-income Malay-Muslim families. Singapore.


Press Release - Singapore Census of Population 2020, Statistical Release 2. (2021).

Department of Statistics Singapore. Retrieved January 10, 2022, from https://www.singstat.gov.sg/-/media/files/news/press18062021.pdf.


Sakar, B. (2020). Five in ten women facing motivational challenges in work-from-home scenario: Survey . Five in ten women facing motivational challenges in work-from-home scenario: Survey. Retrieved January 19, 2022, from https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/jobs/five-in-ten-women-facing-motivational-challenges-in-work-from-home-scenario-survey/articleshow/77060437.cms.


Tong, E. (2021, March 26). "Macro" shifts and changing mindsets for women's development in Singapore. mccy. Retrieved November 11, 2021, from https://www.mccy.gov.sg/about-us/news-and-resources/speeches/2021/mar/women-development-in-singapore


Zainal, H., Masud, D. M., & Mohamed Nasir, K. (2021). Singaporean Malay-Muslim Women's Lifestyle Habits and Attitudes towards Health. Contemporary Islam, 15, 287–305. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1007/s11562-021-00472-4


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