Lee Kuan Yew: “Do you have a boyfriend?”

Posted on September 14, 2011 by


Written by Kirsten Han

A PhD? A boyfriend? Which is more satisfying? And is this really the reason behind our ageing population?

#thatawkwardmoment when Lee Kuan Yew ask if you have a boyfriend.
September 7, 2011

At a dialogue with ex-Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) on 5th September, 27-year-old PhD student Ms Joan Sim stood up to ask him a question on social cohesiveness in the light of the large-scale influx of foreign workers.

Mr Lee’s answer to her question appeared to veer off in a different direction. (Ms Sim asks her question at 4:14.)

His remarks on Ms Sim’s personal life were quickly posted on online, and received plenty of reactions in the following days.

Its official girls! “You’re 27 years old. In 2 years time, you’ll be 29 years old. Get a boyfriend, I assure you it’s better and more satisfying than your PhD.” “If you don’t get started now, soon, you’ll be 35, and pass prime childbearing age.” – Lee Kuan Yew
Lydia Marie Ng
September 7, 2011
Are all of LKY kids married? @SGNetter: NTU PhD student Joan Sim should have asked Lee Kuan Yew if he was proposing to marry her #sgelection
September 12, 2011
Why my mother is like Lee Kuan Yew: Both make you awfully uncomfortable asking when you are going to have a boyfriend. Pointedly. :S
September 10, 2011
On 13 September 2011, a letter from women’s NGO AWARE was published in the Straits Times forum, responding to Mr Lee’s comments.
“A PhD”s fine, but what about love and babies?” | AWARE Singapore

AWARE’s Letter to the Straits Times Forum Page, published September 13, 2011 The stark choice between motherhood and professional advancement presented in Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s comments to Ms Joan Sim is not new (“A PhD’s fine, but what about love and babies?’, Straits Times, Sept 6, 2011).
AWARE quarreling with Mr Lee Kuan Yew… this can only be fun to watch
Jerry Foo
September 12, 2011

Many Singaporeans did not think that Mr Lee’s comments were such a big deal, and was ultimately meant in good faith (since he ended by wishing Ms Sim well with both her PhD and a boyfriend).

But others felt that the incident betrayed an ignorance of sexism and sexual discrimination in Singaporean society.

NTU, are you sexist?

Last Monday, at the much-anticipated Dialogue with Mr Lee Kuan Yew, the following exchange occurred between the former prime minister and Joan Sim, a 27-year-old female PhD student: Mr Lee: how old are you now? Ms Sim: I’m 27 this year. Mr Lee: Are you married? [audience laughs] You’re doing a PhD?

“The demeaning reduction of a woman to her reproductive status is a classic technique of disempowerment, one that has frequently been used to socialize women into believing that ability to reproduce constitutes her most important function for society.”

–  NTU Assistant Professor Emma Jane

As a young single Singaporean female with a university degree, I have no particular fancy or intention to settle down and have children any time soon. I suppose this means that Lee Kuan Yew will now see me as part of the problem, but it would also be overly simplistic to just point the finger at single women.

After all, there are plenty of Singaporean couples out there who aren’t getting married and having kids either — which just shows that the issue goes beyond highly-educated, high-achieving single ladies.