Inequality for the Greater Good

Gendered State Rule in Singapore

Author: Teo You Yenn


The Singapore state, in response to demographic trends of later marriage and lower fertility, has put in place numerous institutions aimed at “protecting” the family as a unit. In their effects, many of the policies place disproportionate burdens on women, particularly insofar as the policies reproduce “traditional” gendered divisions of labor within the household at the same time that they encourage women to participate in the formal workforce. We might expect the contradictory demands placed on women and the gender inequalities embedded within the state's policies to lead to resistance and/or expressions of displeasure — in ways that could undermine the state's legitimacy — but the policies seem instead to be integral to and enhancing of the state's capacity for rule. This article shows that gendered family policies reproduce state power through three interconnected mechanisms: they establish regular relationships between state and society; articulate particular identities and interests of Singaporeans as members of families, thereby undercutting gender and ethnic identities; and give content to notions of “tradition” and “modernity” that solidify the state's claim to being the only agent able to balance the twin tensions that are at the core of the nation's survival.
Countries: Singapore

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September 2007