PARLIAMENT

Superhero versus princess divide aids gender bias

Nominated MP Kok Heng Leun yesterday cited an anecdote in Parliament to illustrate how gender stereotypes are still present, and begin at a young age.
Nominated MP Kok Heng Leun yesterday cited an anecdote in Parliament to illustrate how gender stereotypes are still present, and begin at a young age.

At the end of term, a teacher at a pre-school here brought presents to the children in her classes.

"The boys received books about superheroes. The girls received presents too - books on how to become a princess," Nominated MP Kok Heng Leun said yesterday.

He cited this anecdote in Parliament to illustrate how gender stereotypes are still present, and begin at a young age.

"Little boys are told how strong they are and little girls are told how sweet they are," he said, adding that children, whatever their gender, should be allowed to develop in whatever way is best for them.

Mr Kok was one of 14 members who spoke on the second day of the debate on a proposal to support the aspirations of women in Singapore.

They noted that despite growing opportunities for women, women continue to be constrained by discriminatory attitudes.

Gender stereotypes can lead to the expectation that women, not men, should take charge of caregiving and housekeeping.

Mr Kok and Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) cited a survey by the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) in 2012 and 2013.

The survey of 1,300 people found that 58 per cent of men aged 18 to 29 believe that women should take care of household chores and caregiving, compared to 38 per cent of women in the same age group.

"Because many families engage foreign female domestic help, men are further excused from doing household chores or tending to their children or elderly parents," said Mr Kok.

Policies - for example, significantly more maternity leave than paternity leave - may also reinforce the mindset that women are in charge of caregiving, added Mr Ng.

These stereotypes reinforce the idea that women should choose to focus on families as opposed to furthering their careers, said Mr Kok.

Responding, Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin called on men to step up to play their part at home, and take on more parenting responsibilities and household chores.

"If the women around us continue to bear the disproportionate burden of family and caregiving responsibilities, it is less likely that they can achieve all that they are capable of," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 05, 2017, with the headline 'Superhero versus princess divide aids gender bias'. Print Edition | Subscribe