THE sad existence of 300,000 white-collar workers in Singapore who can’t find wives was headlined in a recent report: “No money, no looks, no education”.
This has emerged as a national crisis because of the numbers involved. It is the cumulative impact of Singapore’s rapid economic changes, especially the fast emergence of the educated woman.
Over the years, female undergraduates have outnumbered males and also matched or outperformed them in many professions as part of a global trend.
Few of these women are prepared to marry men who are below their educational or economic status.
The prospects of this small army of blue-collar men ever getting local wives range from slim to near impossible.
Girls who hold degrees averagely earn S$2,500 to S$6,000 a month, while the men’s earnings are no more than S$1,200 to S$2,500.
The impact of this mismatch has become patently evident. Men in their 40s live with their parents or siblings, and some related in interviews that they had not gone on a date for more than 10 years. This is dealing a severe blow to the institution of marriage and the family.
In recent years, an increasing number of them are seeking their brides in Vietnam, China, Kalimantan and other regional countries.
The reason is, of course, not entirely economical. Even some educated men are convinced foreigners make better wives, because they are perceived as more domesticated, less arrogant or materialistic.
One common complaint against Singaporean women is their demand for the 5Cs – condo, car, credit card, country club and cash. Others blame the Women’s Charter, which they say is over-protective of women, loaded against men and may even encourage marriage break-up in some cases.
Others say the 30-month (now reduced to 24) national service for men has sharpened gender rivalry.
In recent months, Internet forums are full of comparisons between Singaporean and foreign women as wives.
“Some Singaporean females are simply arrogant, especially those with high education levels,” read one message. “They always think that Singaporean men are good for nothing while they themselves are perfect.”
Others complain that many women here don’t know how to cook or do household chores and are too dependent on maids since very young.
In a recent popular TV documentary Get Real, one Singaporean lady agreed that her peers are “hard to love because they don’t need anyone; they're too independent”.
Not all the men who marry foreigners are hawkers, taxi drivers or low-skilled workers. Some are professionals, earning S$5,000 to S$7,000 a month.
For every Singaporean man looking for a Vietnamese bride, there are 2,000 women seeking Singaporean husbands. The demand is so great that it has spawned an active matchmaking business in Ho Chi Minh City.
“The cost of a marriage package is as low as S$6,000 to S$7,000 compared to S$15,000 in recent years,” said one bride-seeking Singaporean.
The ladies are hitting back. One has angrily denounced men who import brides as spineless and whiners.
“They believe in self-contradictory ideals when it comes to women and have no intention of working hard for their family,” she said.
“Singaporean women wish to see some backbone in you all. We do not care about what you earn or whatever. Just show us that you truly are a man and not some whining screwdriver. This is very, very disheartening.”
On charges of arrogance or being spoilt and demanding, they shoot back with: “Look at the mirror first, please!”
Not long ago, a woman wrote a letter to the press asking for the government to intervene to make it harder for foreign women to marry Singaporean men.
Singaporean women are increasingly measuring better and better against their regional sisters in education and earning capacity, but are not too highly valued as wives.
“They are more career-minded, not domesticated and have high expectations” is one verdict. Vietnamese and Malaysian women, for example, are more gentle, less demanding or opinionated.
“I am a simple man looking for a simple girl,” said a 30-plus ethnic Chinese on television who recently married in Ho Chi Minh City.
One newspaper reader suggests the government makes it mandatory for a new wife – and husband – to undergo minimum training in cooking and various domestic chores.
“It’s appalling – many Singaporeans over 30 can’t cook, wash or iron their clothes or do simple household chores. Many live with their parents and are looked after by maids,” said a returnee from abroad.
He had learned to do all these while living abroad.
“I think most Singapore girls can't make it. Those who really make good wives are rare,” he said. “It seems our society has changed for the worse due to external influence. Some of them like to flirt around.”
A Singaporean woman penned an articulate letter to the press recently, in which she said the Singapore girl is a challenge to love.
“Although she may, at the end of the day, be a supportive and faithful spouse, the barbs hiding her soft interior are daunting to the suitor,” she said.
“She is materialistic, and loves being so. Shopping is a major hobby, and looking good is absolutely essential. The man is but another accessory, a helper, chauffeur, bag carrier.”
The writer said she had been to Vietnam.
“The girls, true to form, are slim, tall and soft-spoken. Every word is punctuated with a smile, even when you are driving a hard bargain with them,” she said.
“Their speech is melodious, and they work hard without complaining, carrying loads of cloth and vegetables in the market stalls and food places. Simple, gentle and hardworking, it's hard not to fall in love with them.”
By comparison, the women here have assimilated Western role models of strong women “without taking into account the men alongside us”.
They tell themselves: “We are not going to be one of those docile wives who nod their heads and cook for you at the slightest command.
“We are not going to have wool pulled over our eyes by your romantic nonsense. No way! We are women of the new age.”
She concluded: “Somehow the whole idea of women’s liberation in Singapore seems to have come at the expense of our love lives.”
Seah Chiang Nee is a veteran journalist and editor of the information website littlespeck.com