Elaborations based on sexual differences: Context of Singapore

Definition of ‘gender’ (according to lecture notes): Social-cultural elaborations based on biological sex differences.
Since the past, Singapore has been strongly grounded in the belief of a heterosexual nuclear family as the basic unit of family for functionalism in the society (Tan, 2003). It is this binary gender system that paves the ground for policies and institutions to reflect ideas of gendered roles through male/female initiation rituals and gendered division of labour.

Male/Female initiation rituals

National Service (NS) is a compulsory 2-year training that male Singaporean citizens and second-generation permanent residents have to undergo upon turning the age of 18. The rigorous training puts their mental and physical capabilities to test, turning them from “boys to men”, as they are equipped with skills to be incorporated into society upon completion of the military service.

As such, the nature of NS (toughness, ‘garang’, strenuosity, vigorousity…) has implicated many expectations upon the males that revolve around the ideas of masculinity, via the portrayal of characteristics or values such as strength, dependability, responsibility etc... For example, although there was no hard rule of NS men not supposed to sit on public transport, a group of indignant netizens voiced out their views when a photo of a NSF sitting on the MRT surfaced (STOMP, 2012). Recent deaths of NSFs have also received many criticisms of army boys not being ‘tough enough’ or ‘overly sheltered’ (although much different mentality about that has been on the rise); complaints about anything even if unrelated to NS training were also mocked for the same reasons. These examples reflect the mentality people have set upon males in army, who are ‘stronger’ than everyone else, not just in terms of physics but also the mental strength in shouldering the tiredness and whatever burdens they may have, to press on.

While the above examples highlight the underlying connotations carried by the physical sexual differences of how men are expected to behave as a ‘prove’ of being ‘manly’, females are also included in in this initiation ritual as well, although less conspicuously. Governmental videos and information often portray females as the main supporters when the NSFs are in camps, and the primary caregiver when the NSFs are out from camps. Although females can opt to undergo NS training as well, this is often not emphasized (as compared to their role of a supporter/caregiver). This parallels the gendered division of labour at home/work, where males goes out to work for the family (in this case, NS training for the country) while the women at home takes care of household chores; which brings us to the next point of discussion.

Gendered division of labour

Although there has been a recognition of women’s economic independence and equality in Singapore’s society, there is still much expectations of females (compared to males) playing a bigger role in aspects of the household regardless whether she holds a full time job or not.

For one, females receive up to four months paid maternity leave; while on the other hand, only 50% of the companies in Singapore give males paternity leaves up to 2 days (Singh, 2012). Even while PM Lee Hsien Loong acknowledge the need for increasing paternal leave, companies have expressed their concerns about the functioning of industries and voiced their desire to have paternity leaves capped at only one month (Tan, 2012). Although it has been shown how steps were taken to heighten involvement of the males in the household, females are still deemed as the primary caretaker and in-charge of the household, with their absence from the workforce contributing little or no disruptions to the functioning of the industry. In addition, males generally still prefer their wives to stay at home (with looking after the children as the main reason) (Kuo, 1990), and that demand for work can be promoted only with the availability of domestic helpers. Females in general also prefer to ‘marry up’, indicating their beliefs in males who typically should be the breadwinner and securing the financial status of the family.

As such, the division of labour according to gender in the household is constantly reinforced through policies and cultural ideas propagated through upbringing and traditions within each family. Such beliefs are integrated into daily lives through male/female initiation rituals and other institutional aspects (such as, education), allowing practices of such ideas by the people, who thereby develop and sustain such notions of gender in the society.


Department of Statistics Singapore. (2011) Key Demographic Indicators, 1970-2011. Retrieved from http://www.singstat.gov.sg/stats/themes/people/popnindicators.pdf

Kuo, E. C., Loh, C. M., & Raman, K. S. (1990). Information technology and Singapore society: trends, policies, and applications : symposium proceedings. Singapore: Singapore University Press, National University of Singapore.

STOMP - Singapore Seen - Woman asks on FB: 'Wear SAF uniform can sit down in crowded train?'. (n.d.). sgseen. Retrieved September 25, 2012, from http://singaporeseen.stomp.com.sg/stomp/sgseen/this_urban_jungle/922504/woman_asks_on_fb_wear_saf_uniform_can_sit_down_in_crowded_train.html

Singh, M. (n.d.). Paternity leave already prevalent. Asiaone. Retrieved September 25, 2012, from http://business.asiaone.com/Business/News/Story/A1Story20120830-368601.html

Tan, K. (2003). Sexing Up Singapore. International Journal of Cultural Studies, 6(4), 403-423.

Tan, W. (n.d.). Paternity leave 'should be capped at 1 month'. TODAYonline. Retrieved September 25, 2012, from www.todayonline.com/Singapore/EDC120828-

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