Comment: Not mum about single mothers in Singapore

As we put aside our political ephebophilic obsession with the rather arbitrarily constructed yet sexist dichotomy that is Tin Pei Ling and Nicole Seah, I like to focus on one issue that the opposition parties have highlighted – the rights and recognition of single mums in Singapore.

I think it might be of a stretch, but I believe that before we can even begin to recognise the importance of equality regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity and move towards a queer liberation, we have to address the institutional (and to some extent, social) inequalities that confront unmarried single mums in Singapore.

Why the link? Is there even a linear progression starting from the acceptance and integration of single mums into policy and society, eventually leading to LGBT liberation? Well, I think so.

The paradigms which drive the social and institutional marginalisation of single mums, also happen to perpetuate continual and systematic discrimination against sexual minorities.

There is an insistence on form over function when it comes to defining what constitutes a “family”, and a staunchly heterosexist demand for a father, mother and offspring to form the “complete” family. Form determines structure. This is something we come to believe to be the natural order – that such a family structure characterised by heterosexual union is normal and thus right.

Policy thus favours the “natural orders” with which people have grown to be comfortable.

Single mums do not enjoy the benefits that married couples do. Here, there is the insistence on the institution of marriage to legitimise access to benefits and state help, and also to morally legitimise procreation, never mind the existence and daily realities of individuals who are victims of circumstance or agents of their own fates.

Marriage has its heap load of moral ascriptions, and it is very unfortunate that policy is only as good as its people. In Singapore, seldom does policy take the lead in effecting social change, but often appears to only effect change in the favour of retaining power and continuity for those who benefit from the system. This is best captured in the PAP government’s political rhetoric of “…when/if Singaporeans are ready” to justify the slightest effort of reevaluation of their own policies.

When we challenge these discriminatory policies, we create the opportunities to challenge the underlying and taken-for-granted assumptions that ‘inspire’ them. It is not an eye-opening awakening for anyone to fully and critically realise the existence of these assumptions, but rather small hints towards the awareness of the existence and implications of heterosexist norms, norms of marriage, gender norms, and how these norms inform policy and which in turn affect the lives of different Singaporeans.

There are people who fear the destabilizing effects that single mums bring, not to society, but to the ideologies and the bigotries that are in the first place harmful to single mums – not exactly the most selfless concern, eh?

Some of the norms we hold to our hearts so dearly and without question, have consequences on the lives and realities of other families and individuals. We uncritically insist that what is normal is right and should be implemented across the board for everyone. Because of that, policy captures this aspiration and follows the “will” of the people. And since we have ascribed morality to norms, we have made ourselves susceptible to demonising individuals, narratives and discourses that fall outside our “norms”.

At the least, single mums face similar challenges that married mums face. It takes a critical reflection of one’s beliefs to recognise the reality that single mums, like married mums, are still mums, and that they face similar issues in necessities, infant/childcare, healthcare, raising their child(ren), real bread and butter problems and so on. And the reasons why one holds back from allow equal treatment are due to ridiculous moralisation and rationalisation.

If people want to talk about progress in society, look not to freedom of expression, or equality of sexual identity and gender identity, but to the better treatment of single mums first, in my honest opinion. As much as I personally believe in sexual diversity, plurality and equality, there are baby steps to make to effect such a progress. I wish to say that I’m not using the issue of single mums as a leverage to forward LGBT liberation, as I recognise in its own the importance of the issue and what it brings to society and its betterment. A change in policy can play a small role in addressing the social stigma that single mums have faced.

Provided that change for the better (i.e. fairer and more equal) treatment of single mums is not rigidly enframed within heteronormative narratives, which is always possible, it can lead to progressive changes in attitudes towards people who don’t necessarily confirm to familial and heterosexist norms, or to norms that insist on marriage as a basis for procreation.

I think the issue on single mums might just be a mere footnote in the upcoming General Elections, buried beneath issues such as bread and butter, housing, foreign talents and the usual. But when it’s mentioned, do give it a ear.