Marriage vs. singlehood

Foo Yee Ping

Star Publications of Malaysia

January 7, 2005

It’s an issue that has been dissected so much that maybe it has gradually become an old girl’s tale – don’t single women living in the city want to settle down? 

An episode of Sex and The City screened three weeks ago perhaps was a disturbing reflection of what women want. 

Here’s a show which is supposed to be a toast to singlehood. Yet, in the end, it turned out to be a modern-day fairy tale with Carrie happily giving up her career for a man; and the other three ladies leading blissful lives with their partners. 

“When you are single in New York, there’s no way to go but down,” Carrie said. Just seconds earlier, the camera panned to a guest character cosying up with a short and balding man whom she spurned earlier. 

Does that mean women today, despite having more choices than ever compared with their grandmothers, will somehow still opt for a man instead of a career? 

Two young Thai professionals gave me delightfully frank answers. 

“I do think that’s still how the majority of women are. Why should we work? Let the men do the work and let them feel egoistic about it! We can play the role of stroking their ego,” said TV news anchor Veenarat Laohapakakul, tongue-in-cheek. 

On a more serious note, she said: “I think it’s partly societal, partly instinct, that contribute to my belief that women will still opt for men over career. No matter how strong a woman is, I believe that deep down, no one wants to be an old maid. It is a personal fulfillment that career advancement cannot replace.” 

Women, she said were pressured all the time with the question “are you married?” especially when they touched 30.  

“The view that men should be the breadwinner of the family is still true in most societies, so it is okay for a lady to give up her career and let her husband take full lead about income earning. And the word success for women is more burdensome than for men,” said Veenarat, a lovely, well-educated Thai who speaks flawless English.  

“But of course, in the end, it boils down to the individual. Most women try to find the middle path of compromising love and a career. However, if this cannot be done, I’d say that more often than not they just give up their job.” 

On the other hand, she said Sex and the City, did not entirely reflect the attitude of Thai women because “I don’t think Thai women discuss their sex lives as freely as the show’s characters.” 

As pointed out by feature editor Veena Thoopkrajae, Sex and the City was a totally imported series which many locals could not relate to although the friendship between the four women “certainly touches many people, including me.” 

“We can’t say we relate to their daring lifestyle especially their active sex lives and the way they openly talk about sex and men. But I think these factors are also what makes the show click with most modern Thai ladies: they watch the show to see what it would be like to live a life like Carrie Bradshaw’s and her friends. And of course, we Bangkok ladies don’t really wear clothes as fashionable as the characters but we’d love to do so.”  

The show, she said, was kind of a fairy tale if women’s ultimate goal was to get married.  

“But I’d rather say the story evolves around friendship. Friendship and true relations are the rare things in this modern age. And if the four women got the best of both worlds, then it can be considered a story with a ‘they live happily ever after’ ending,” she said.  

In the old days, Veena said, Thai ladies had no chance of getting formal education so they were not financially dependent. 

“Back then, if you had a good husband (preferably high-ranking officials), your life would be good. The culture of having a man taking care of your life also promotes polygamy and led many women leading miserable lives.”  

“I think as Thai families become more nuclear-based, everybody becomes more independent. Nevertheless, people will look for relationships because they are not so close to their parents, brothers, and sisters like the previous generations used.  

“But having said that, there are some exceptions as there are women who love their independence though they are not the majority. I’d say a very small percentage of Thai women want to stay alone.” 

So, career or man? Men, somehow, have clear ideas on what the Carries out there should do. Here’s a response from a 37-year-old single man in KL who is into wine, women and Zara. 

“I did not agree to what Carrie did. She abandoned herself and her writing and followed the Russian to Paris. I am sure his interest in her has a shelf life. She should invest in herself. 

“Men come and go, but Carrie will not. So, go to Paris, have sex with the Russian, drink French wine, have a swell time and then return to New York and be more famous as a writer.” 

An article in Daily Yomiuri recently noted three popular terms in Japan this year to describe 30-something women - makeinu (whipped dog), onibaba (ogre-like older women) and sonatian (fans of Winter Sonata).  

Whipped dogs refer to single and childless women who are over 30. 

Those phrases have evoked much debate in Japan where women face the dilemma of marriage versus individualism. It’s also a nation where the number of unmarried women in their early 30s has hit almost 27%. 

So whether they are in the Big Apple, the City of Angels, good old KL or Land of the Rising Sun, single women remains a subject of fascination.