As one gets older, it is common for one to reflect and to assess how one has lived his or her life. It is therefore no surprise that Dr Lee Wei Ling has written a post entitled “Living a life with no regrets”.
In this self-musing, she gives little anecdotes on her life and on her father, Mr Lee Kuan Yew. In many ways, her post is but a filial tribute to the contributions of her father and perhaps we should not read too much into it.
Be that as it may, a statement she makes in her article greatly disturbs me.
“About 20 years ago, when I was still of marriageable age, my father, Lee Kuan Yew had a serious conversation with me one day. He told me that he and my mother would benefit if I remained single and took care of them in their old age. But I would be lonely if I remained unmarried.”
This statement, however well meaning is certainly misguided. Not only does it misunderstand the concept of marriage, it also dismisses the meaningful lives led by millions of single women worldwide.
Does the concept of “marriageable age” still hold relevance today?
Of course, I am not pretending that biological clocks for procreation do not exist but surely that is a separate issue to marriage? Marriage is a celebration of love and commitment between two consenting adults. There are many couples that may, for various reasons, not have offspring. In that regard, marriage can occur at any age.
Dr Lee’s remark on the idea of “marriageable age” therefore connotes some rather inaccurate assumptions. It typecasts the role of women in marriage and suggests that older women should not or cannot get married.
This type of generalisation is not only outdated but also damaging to Singapore’s development as a modern society. In Singapore, it is economic reality that women enter the workforce.
As women pursue their careers, they have more choices as to how they would like to live their lives. Women no longer need to depend on men for survival and so the notion that a woman needs to get married by a certain age for financial and social security goes out of the window!
Armed with the ability to choose, women have every right to decide not to get married by a certain age and start a family.
To think otherwise would be obsolete and out of touch to say the least.
It is a contradiction that while Dr Lee has exercised her choice not to get married, she still retains that antiquated ideal of “marriageable age”.
There is also that sweeping and stinging assertion that unmarried women would be lonely. I know many single women who lead highly fulfilling lives. They have successful careers, good friends and make meaningful contributions to society. It would be a travesty to assume that they are somewhat lacking in quality of life just because they are not married.
Perhaps Dr Lee’s point of view comes from days of yore when women needed to marry young for social acceptance and financial protection. Those days have thankfully passed and it is disappointing that a successful woman like Dr Lee would put such “backward” ideas on paper. As a well-educated woman with an illustrious career who chose not to marry, she could have been such a champion for feminism in Singapore. Alas!
Image credits: Cartoon Stock, Singapore Newspaper Clippings, Asia One News