Is fulfilling the role of our gender a necessity?
February 24, 2010, 12:32 am
Filed under: By Rachel Zeng, Gender

From the day we were born and probably a few months before that, when parents become aware of the gender of their unborn child, gender upbringing starts to take place. Clothes will be bought according to the colours ‘appropriate’ for each gender (e.g., pink for girls and blue for boys) and parents begin to imagine how they should bring each child up – according to the gender.

Well that is mostly what happens, as far as I have gathered by observing people I know and strangers shopping for toys and clothes for their children when I am out and about. There exists a certain level of expectation on how a child should be brought up, what a child should grow to become and largely according to the role of each gender in society (e.g., “Sit properly, you’re a girl!” or “Boys don’t play with dolls!”).

Indeed it is true that there are certain biological functions that helps to map out a fraction of our gender role in society, namely the family unit of marriage and reproduction, there also seems to be little room for considerations should one grow up to choose otherwise. That is what has been troubling me of late.

While the government has been encouraging citizens to get married and have children, I have been standing on my ground of non marriage and being voluntarily childless much to the dismay of some of the elder folks, my parents being one of them although they hardly express it anymore. Being hounded with questions and people enforcing their ‘traditions’ and reminding me of my ‘appropriate role’ as a women lately has put me to much distress.

Many men might wonder why I feel so distress over the questionings and patronising reminders, but most will never fully understand because they have always been allowed to be the ones to harbour non-committal stance towards marriage as they are generally viewed as the ones with ‘nothing to lose’. It is with the view that the woman has all to loose if she is not in a marriage because the question of chastity comes in, for example,

“The man might make a scandal of you and then leave you. Then how do you face everyone in the family? That has a lot to do with general moral rules that our society abides by. Get married, at least it legalises everything and you won’t lose face.”

That was said to me during a conversation with a friend I have known since my school days a few years back when we were discussing upon the issue of marriage.

Indeed I am human and like many others, I fall in love too. However I do not believe that love should be subjected to legalisation (going through the Registry of Marriage) or be expanded further to create a family unit. A relationship between a couple in love, in my opinion, can be purely kept in such a way that both are equal individuals who care, respect and love each other to form a companionship or a partnership. It does not necessarily have to involve the establishment (e.g., Registry of Marriage) or to go through further family unions (marriage, in-laws etc).

As a woman, I have chosen to do without such formalities because I have seen many other women around me giving up their dreams and equal treatment of individuals to become a good wife, mother and daughter-in-law in order to fulfil the ‘natural’ instinct to form a union, to pro-create and to be part of a larger family. Most of the married women whom I know, have lamented many times that they have no time for themselves because of obligations towards the husband, children, parents and parent-in-laws. I strongly hold the belief that love between a man and a woman can still exist deeply without such formalities of legalisation and recognition which will in turn involve all sorts of obligations in exchange of personal freedom (for both parties involved).

I was recently met with the comment that I am not being fair to mothers because all mothers hope to see their sons and daughters finding a good partner for marriage. I have also been told recently by a different person that my biological role in society is to bear children and that I cannot run away from that. It was also said to me that marriage on paper will help me keep the man I love from straying away. As irritated as I was by the remarks, I do not deny that the first two have no validity but the third is purely absurd.

First of all, the first remark was made totally from the perspective of someone who is a mother and I respect that perspective. However despite that, all of us have a choice and our choices should be respected, especially one that concerns a lifelong commitment because at the end of the day, it is the life of individuals we are talking about. If one wants to be in a marriage, by all means go ahead but if one chooses not to, then the person should not be subjected to remarks made with a rather patronising tone.

Secondly, as much as the biological role of a woman is to bear children, it is her body and she has the right to reject the function of childbearing if she feels that she is not mentally and physically up for the task. That at least, has been agreed upon my friend who had said that to me in a recent chat on Facebook and I thank him for the agreement.

As for the last remark, I have to say that men and women ‘stray’ for many reasons and a marriage certificate will not help keep a man or a woman. Also, the idea of ‘keeping’ a man or woman is unacceptable to me. If someone wants to go, he or she should be allowed to do so. Why do we seek to ‘keep’ people we love in our possession if he or she is happier in the arms of another? From personal experiences and observations, I think it is better to let go than hang on in situations like that.

Having said all that, I do understand that in the past, the question of choice is not one that is freely available to most men and women. Marriage was an obligation and to choose otherwise was highly frowned upon. However one needs to recognise that with the opening up of society, men and women are now presented with choices. Those choices should be respected, whether or not they choose to be in a marriage or otherwise and to be applied to both men and women. Laughing off a man’s decision not to enter marriage by calling him a ‘commitment phobe’ and frowing upon a woman’s decision not to enter marriage by calling her ‘an irresponsible woman’ is simply double standards in terms of attitude. And it is worse when the labellers are women themselves.

Choices should be respected and nobody (especially another woman) should patronise a woman, by imposing degrading comments on gender roles and responsibilities fixed in society by men since ancient times for it does not make one a better man or woman by telling another to obey the ‘rules of society’ and the ‘roles of the gender’.

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Great article.. cannot agree more with you.

“Being hounded with questions and people enforcing their ‘traditions’ and reminding me of my ‘appropriate role’ as a women lately has put me to much distress.”

– the sad thing is that it is usually the women themselves who are the problem. Wtf are they to tell anyone the “role of women” in society. Are they the experts or another feminist mentor?

” It is with the view that the woman has all to loose if she is not in a marriage because the question of chastity comes in, for example”

– this is ancient history. Tell the woman who is citing this, to try to convince you a “woman’s role” in her society, that she is living int he past century.

“Indeed I am human and like many others, I fall in love too. However I do not believe that love should be subjected to legalisation (going through the Registry of Marriage) or be expanded further to create a family unit. ”

How accurate. The ROM is just a legal document. However, if one is planning to have offsprings then for the sake of the child, it would be probably better to consider legalising the relationship in order not to crate potential problems for the child, living in the society that it is.

“I was recently met with the comment that I am not being fair to mothers because all mothers hope to see their sons and daughters finding a good partner for marriage.”

How about being fair to oneself. If one is not prepared emotionally or physically to be involved is such a legal relationship, it is more irresponsible to have an offspring and then be unable to care for the child and have his/her best interests at heart. Look at how children are being cared for these day? by filipio maids? In HK, the child ends up speaking English more like his caregiver than the parents who brought him into this world.

” I have also been told recently by a different person that my biological role in society is to bear children and that I cannot run away from that.”

Says who.. Is this person an authority on such things? Then what about the nuns, monks and what have you. Are these people who also chose to remain single irresponsible?

” It was also said to me that marriage on paper will help me keep the man I love from straying away. As irritated as I was by the remarks, I do not deny that the first two have no validity but the third is purely absurd.”Nothing can be further away from this. What is yours will e yours. What is the pont to keeping any person physically if the heart and soul is not with you.

“Choices should be respected and nobody (especially another woman) should patronise a woman, by imposing degrading comments on gender roles and responsibilities fixed in society by men since ancient times for it does not make one a better man or woman by telling another to obey the ‘rules of society’ and the ‘roles of the gender’.”

You should send this article to the patronising woman who appear to be from the dark ages, not in tune with the current society and the rights of individuals, and women for that matter.

Comment by soojenn

Hi Soojenn,

Thanks for your reply! Good to know that there are people who finds my opinions agreeable and acceptable. ;)

Ever since I have started expressing my stand on marriage, I have been the target of ‘prep talk’ and ‘urgings’. I wrote this in January, after the last ‘prep talk’ session at a New Years’ Eve thing. It was terrible and I have never felt so disgusted and violated, especially when the lady told me that my role was to make babies.

LOL… I like children, not that I don’t but I prefer a nomadic lifestyle, not a rooted to a place kind so why would I want to drag children all over the globe with me? Not good for them, not good for me, and honestly, which man will be so willing to put down their ambitions, dreams and goals to spend a year or two fulfilling the dreams of the woman they so claimed to love? In truth, I have to say that I have not met one who is generous enough to compromise even a little on that. Sad isn’t it?
:)

Comment by rachelabsinthe

Dear Rachel,

Your thoughts and concepts are typical of those who create self-justification excues for your current state in life.

On one hand, you dislike people who “enforce their traditions” onto you,
but in the same breath,
you enforce YOUR perception on men “harbour(ing) non-committal stance towards marriage”

You claim that you “do not believe that love should be subjected to legalisation” throwing out the fact that marriage is much, much more than that. And no, I am not talking about that stupid HDB requirement either.

Failure to see beyond the legal standpoint of marriage is a terrible shortfall in life. Well, if such legality issue on love gets to you so much, then why do you conform yourself on other legal standards in this society?!?

Why did you pass that driving test?
Why did you take that O level exam?
Why did you even pass Pr 6? No! Stop confirming yourself to such standards too!

Like you said, there are some TRUTH in the biological function on our gender, but yet “grow up and choose to be otherwise”. Well, you can’t have the best of both worlds. Either you chnage or learn to live with it…..WITHOUT excuses, please.

Comment by Biologically unchallenged

Hi Biologically unchallenged,

I am sorry that you have seen these as excuses. My mind was made up by the time I was 19, about 8 years ago. Watching my mother going about her ‘duties’ as a mother, wife and daughter in law, together with much reading on literature related to gender studies, I have decided that I CAN CHOOSE not to play those roles because I don’t like and want to.

Why should I change to conform with the rest in society? All of us deserve the right to choose and I have made my choice, WITH REASONS, not excuses.

By the way, I totally disagree with what you said here,

“On one hand, you dislike people who “enforce their traditions” onto you,
but in the same breath,
you enforce YOUR perception on men “harbour(ing) non-committal stance towards marriage”

It wasn’t my perception and I wasn’t enforcing it. This very perception has been repeatedly used on men, even by my male friends themselves. Don’t tell me you have not heard such a line/ perception in the papers, tv shows, magazines and books? Anyway, I was just saying that men have been permitted to express a non-commital stance and then getting away with it more so than women. On the other hand, I think the tone that you have used in your reply can come into the category of ‘forcing your opinions down my throat”. Perhaps you have not noticed it but I am just putting out an opinion here, not trying to offend you by talking about the tone you have used in your reply.

Just wondering though (not enforcing any views), if this has been written by a man, would it have generated a similar response from you?

By the way, IMO, life is not about marriage. It is not about driving tests, O levels, and passing all the social standards of society. Our lives are in our very own hands and we have the right to choose how we want to live, before we rest as dust and ashes forever.

Indeed I have seen friends who are in happy marriages, I have also seen friends with failed marriages. I feel happy for those who are married because they want to but for all those who have done so because they have been pressurised to (both male and female), I feel nothing but sympathy. No doubt I accept the fact that my opinions might not be popular and generally accepted by most people in general, I think that my decision should be respected in the very least. :)

Comment by rachelabsinthe

Hey There. Love this post unabashedly. I’m so amazed sometimes by people’s inability to see beyond socially constructed views of gender, gender roles and man-made institutions in general. Looking forward to more of your writing. :)

Comment by Tania De Rozario

Thanks for the encouragement Tania! :)

I guess one of the reason why people have not been able to see beyond socially constructed views of gender, gender roles and man-made institutions because of the ‘happy ever after’ concept fed to us at a very young age via fairy tales and tv shows. Such a concept have led to many girls and women dreaming of their perfect wedding dress, perfect prince charming and perfect wedding ceremony etc. No one really thought about the fact that in the past, women were used as ‘sacrifices’ to unite powerful families, to get their families off debts, to appease the ‘Gods’, to be ‘tamed’ and deem respectable etc. All of these have been overlooked because people are too busy making money and envisioning romantic possibilities that will help recreate the last ending lines of fairy tales in their own lives.

Another is perhaps the continuous reinforcement of the ‘necessary’ role of a human being from one generation to the other, which is a never ending cycle. While there is nothing wrong with this, I feel that it is rather one sided. Few parents will say “If you choose to get married and have children one day…” instead of “When you get married and have children one day…”. The former introduces a choice whereas the latter doesn’t. As subtle as it is, such use of language can actually shape how we perceive issues in a subconscious manner as time goes by. Many people have not actually thought about the fact that they do have the right to say no to things, they just do because it seems to be the ‘natural’ thing to do.

I find this rather sad but it is sadder when people do not respect the choices of another but discriminate against them even when presented with the reasons that have led to such ‘unpopular’ and ‘unconventional’ choices.

Comment by rachelabsinthe

I suggest Rachel join the SAFVC as a volunteer.In this way, she don’t have to be confined to a female role.

Comment by sensibleguy




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