Being a woman in Singapore: you have more options, but that does not eliminate the challenges

As a child, I was taught about choice – or the illusion of it.

My grandfather had come across a particular printed cartoon of a factory production line and quickly became obsessed with its message. He made several copies for me and my cousins, taking every opportunity to educate us on what he had learned from the cartoon.

This was not just any factory. The conveyor belt carried humans, who were sorted into different boxes, each representing different career paths. Humans wearing a mortarboard landed in the boxes of doctors and lawyers, looking suspiciously happy, while those without a mortarboard ended up being grumpy street sweepers.

The lesson was simple, according to my grandfather’s repeated teachings: if I studied hard, I would end up successful and happy, with a well-paying job, which would then help me find a good husband and start a good family. And didn’t you want to be successful and happy?

But of course, I could only choose from the selected paths that I was supposed to want.

As much as my grandfather probably thought he was being progressive by forcing me into careers that girls wouldn’t have been encouraged to pursue during his time, I only internalized one thing: my decisions were wrong if they didn’t align with his.


For the next two decades, I would suppress the same frustration every time I was given the message that a specific type of life would bring me success and happiness. But by becoming comfortable with my own decisions in my thirties, I had built a regret-free life in which another woman’s decisions didn’t feel like an accusation of mine.

I assumed I was already desensitized to anyone’s opposing beliefs.

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