Does success come more easily to men than women?
Success arguably comes easier to men than women, especially in Singapore, where gender inequality still prevails in several societal domains. Beyond sectoral representation, there are ongoing concerns that while women are progressively more well-represented in the workforce, traditional gendered divisions of labor still occur in the household, making it harder for women to achieve success and progress.
There are many ways we can look at gender equality (or the lack thereof).
- From an economic point of view, we see how work done by women in Singapore is generally valued less than that of men.
- From a political point of view, there is a desire for more female representation in Singapore’s cabinet.
- Therefore, with the aforementioned arguments, it would be a fallacy to claim that success comes more or just as easily to women as men, especially since there is so much more progress that can be made to close the gender gap and allow for the attainment of success to be more equal.
The potential for greater women's participation in entrepreneurship and science and technology as well as the need to address common misconceptions that women do not do well in these fields’ (The Straits Times) were just 2 of the many points Singapore’s first female president, Halimah Yacob, brought up in the 2019 Women’s Forum Asia.
With Halimah being the first female president of a traditionally patriarchal society such as Singapore, we have seen a paradigm shift in the views towards women and their capabilities.
Success manifests in different aspects - wealth and prosperity, good academic achievements, deserved rights and representation as well as more intangible successes like having a better quality of life and happiness.
With efforts striving to close the prevalent gender gap in most areas of success, it would appear that women have finally been emancipated from the shackles of patriarchy and social standards and can progress and strive for the same successes men have enjoyed for centuries.
- Some, especially those who are oblivious to gender inequality, may even say that with the fourth feminist wave that the world is currently experiencing, women’s status in contemporary societies has been elevated in an unprecedented manner.
- And with this elevation of status, it is presumed to be that the gender gap is obsolete and that women are therefore able to achieve success just as easily as men.
While I do acknowledge that women have seen much progress from the past till now, and appear to be more able to attain the same successes as their male counterparts, I concord to a larger extent that success comes more easily to men than women.
Academic Success for Women Vs Men
In Singapore, education is largely seen as a leveled playing field where all students can achieve good results regardless of their social background, race, or religion, and much less their gender.
Hence, with a meritocratic education system, it would appear that both boys and girls start on the same foot and any achievement from then on is a product of their hard work and ability.
- It can then be argued that since the Ministry of Education (MOE) stated that girls do “slightly better” than boys in the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), statistically, girls achieve more academic success than boys.
Psychologist Daniel Koh from Insights Mind Centre says that girls tend to be better listeners and are more receptive to details - qualities that make for more effective learning.
- Boys, on the other hand, get bored and distracted easily, needing more stimulation and space to pay attention. With such innate qualities and disparities in learning attitudes, it can be said that girls achieve academic success more easily than boys.
Some may contend that in a meritocratic society like Singapore, one of the definitions of success is the attainment of good academic results. This emphasis on education as seen from a 110% increase in primary school funding over the last decade to almost $7000 per child, highlights the importance of education and by extension the significance of striving in the educational system.
Admittedly, there is some kernel of truth to the aforementioned argument - girls are seen to be more hardworking and do better than boys in examinations.
- However, to say that women can achieve success more easily than men just because of their academic achievements in their schooling years is far too sweeping of a statement as it fails to consider the other aspects of success where women face exceptional cases of gender inequality.
- Taking into consideration how women in Singapore still face gender disparities in the workplace and representation in the political sphere, as well as statistics proving that men are generally happier and have better quality of life as compared to women, it would be more appropriate to say that even though women do achieve success, for the most part, success comes more easily to men than women in most domains.
Workplace Success of Women Vs Men
Firstly, due to patriarchal values in traditional Singapore, the issue of gender inequality in the workplace continues to persist, resulting in disparities in the attainment of economic success.
- Singapore has seen the number of women in the workforce jump by 15% in the last 10 years according to the World Economic Forum, and women make up 15% of chief executives in Singapore.
- However, despite this progress, women still face gender discrimination elucidated by statistics showing that women make up just over 8% of boards in Singapore and that on average women are paid at least 10% less than men for doing the same job in most sectors, according to a study from the Ministry of Manpower.
Therein also lies the highly protested and widely known gender pay gap as well as the often talked about “glass ceiling” that prevents women from reaching leadership positions in their workplace. And if leadership positions and wealth are markers of success, these statistics highlight the difficulties women continue to face in the workforce which hinder their ability to achieve economic success.
- The entrenched “corporate culture” in Singapore penalizes women when they decide to take time off for their family issues, especially when it comes to married women who have children.
According to Professor Annie Koh of Singapore Management University (SMU), who has been working on the issue of gender equality for years, firms would say “oh you took two years off so you're not getting as much exposure as the man who didn't take the time off”.
This is further backed up by a Quora writer who mentioned how HR in companies would always ask female candidates whether they were married or have children before deeming their suitability for the job. This focus on a woman’s circumstance rather than her capabilities serves to further entrench “corporate culture” deeper into our society, making the attainment of economic success even more difficult for women than men.
Political Success of Women Vs Men
Moreover, the distinct lack of representation of female voices in the political realm can also be seen as an apparent indicator of women not achieving political success. Political success is defined as being elected to office.
- In Singapore, some sectors that have seen a lower representation of women included Parliament and corporate boards, but there has been steady progress in achieving greater representation in recent years.
And in terms of Singaporeans’ views on whether men make better political leaders than women, researchers noted that in 2002, 56.3% of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed with this statement, compared with 46.5% in 2012 and 31% now, which is indicative of greater acceptance towards female politicians over the years.
That being said, every society comes with its set of gender norms - a patriarchal one like Singapore usually means more status and power conferred to men, while women’s role is usually secondary to the former.
Ms. Corinna Lim, executive director of the Association of Women for Action and Research mentions that it became clear to her that gender equity was not a core value in the 1980s when founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew remarked that he regretted giving women education as they were not having babies.
Lim’s statement, along with questions as to whether Singapore is ready for a female prime minister, sheds light on the public’s dissent of women’s abilities on being good leaders as well as the dominant view and expectation at both the household and state level that the primary role of women is motherhood. This overt lack of faith in women as leaders is significant to how political success is not as easily achieved by women due to the conservative and deep-rooted stereotypes of women’s societal roles and the perpetual undermining of women’s competence as political leaders.
Success in Life for Women Vs Men
Furthermore, intangible success such as attaining happiness and having a better quality of life comes more easily to men than women.
- A Singapore study states that significantly more men are concerned about finding someone to be with than women (17% men vs 10% women),
- men place greater importance on their sex life (18% men vs 5% women) and their personal finances than women (41% men vs 32% women) which would lead to them being less happy.
However, ‘Reuters Life! Singapore mentions how young men are more dissatisfied than young women with their situations, not because they are worse off, but because they want more, as explained by researchers.
Moreover, according to a study by Anke Plagnol of the University of Cambridge, and University of Southern California economist Richard Easterlin, even though young women are happier than their male peers, as the years roll by, they become less able to achieve lasting love and financial goals, often ending up being the sadder sex.
Hence, when we consider the fact that the main reasons for men being dissatisfied stems from their high expectations and not their circumstances, women who face circumstantial difficulties due to systemic issues like the gender wage gap, societal expectations as well as diminished representation expound the disparity in the attainment of intangible success.