Male Discrimination by the Patriarchal State?

August 26, 2008

The PAP government’s recent efforts to boost Singapore’s fertility rate, or at least, reward Singaporeans who have answered the nation’s call to have kids, have been generally lauded by the public. The extension of maternity leave from the current 3 months to 4 months; subsidies for IVF treatment, baby bonuses for 5th and subsequent babies, and so on, are nimble policy responses to real ground concerns.


However, one area that is lacking ground sensitivity is the move to extend childcare leave from a paltry 2 days to a not-much-better 6 days. The reason for the miserly increase of this childcare leave – popularly understood to be for working fathers (since working mothers already have 4 months leave) – is 3-fold.


One: in theory mothers can also use this ‘childcare leave’ but its not called ‘maternity leave’ because these extra few days may cause a working mother to be resented by her colleagues who may have to cover her duties when she goes on a 4 month ‘break’. Two: there is a prevailing belief (and this is borne out from the experiences in Western [hence supposedly more “enlightened”] societies) that fathers are not likely to use them. Three: and if they do, they are more likely to go play a round of golf instead of reporting for baby duty. According to The Straits Times (22 August 2008):

The deputy prime minister [Wong Kan Seng], who is also the minister in charge of population issues, cited 2004 figures provided by the National Population Secretariat:

In France, only 1 per cent of men too it.

In Britain, 10 per cent did so.

Even in Sweden, where gender roles are more neutral, it was less than half, at 48 per cent.

But the question is: who suffers the most from this? Not working mothers who got themselves an extra month; not employers who are paid by the government for 2 of the 4 months of leave taken by women; and certainly not armchair-hands-off fathers who rather be slaving away at the office (or the golf course) than playing with their children.

No, its younger, more enlightened fathers who believe in spending more time with their children. Such fathers tend to be better-educated, more knowledgeable about the importance of parenting, and are willing to sacrifice the time for their children. They are the ones that are being punished by a deeply sexist policy that reinforces patriarchal assumptions.

All this brings up another question: Are patriarchal assumptions turning round to bite men in the bums?

We have come to an awkward stage in the gender evolution where feminists have, rightly, made their arguments heard and are seeing the policy rewards of their struggle without necessarily witnessing such rewards for enlightened men. After all, men have not remained ideologically static during the feminist movement – they have evolved as well. But the system has not been able to keep up with the twin evolution of men and women; its barely keeping up with the women.

As such, the patriarchal state makes concessions for women (and thus demonstrates flashes of enlightenment) but continues to reward the patriarchal attitudes and habits of men, leaving enlightened men to shoulder the double burden of being a “nurturing” father but also a “competitive economic unit”; a “hunter” but also a “care-giver”.

And the irony of this is that such men would be much better rewarded by being Neanderthals.  


One Response to “Male Discrimination by the Patriarchal State?”

  1. For more detailed discussions on these important topics, see:
    Singapore Kopitiam

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