Published: Oct. 1, 2011 By

[1] Images of ideal masculinity in Singapore are, as in any society, unstable and subject to ongoing modification. Local imperatives have brought about adaptations to normative masculinities, but interaction with global dynamics and market forces has also introduced new possibilities for the reinscription of masculinity. The rise of the “New Man”, influenced in part by global consumer trends and transformations in gender relations, can be seen as an alternative to hegemonic and traditional forms of masculinity. This article will examine these forces, and the ways in which they have reconfigured dominant masculinities in Singapore.

[2] My focus is on the changing images of predominantly Chinese men in Singapore in the context of a series of related social and political phenomena. The discursive history of Singapore from independence in 1965 reveals the extent to which control of female fertility is understood to be a factor in the success of the nation. In the years after independence, the nation demanded that women restrict their fertility and keep families small to ensure that the labor of women would be available to the developing economy.  The “Stop at Two” campaign—designed to encourage appropriate fertility choices and limit family size to two children—was so successful, and the fertility rate so reduced, that the campaign was reversed in the early 1980s in the face of a population in decline. Since then the People’s Action Party (PAP, the ruling political party of Singapore and the only party ever to have held power)  has been preoccupied with measures to increase the population, including campaigns to encourage romance with a view to marriage (Hudson), and financial incentives for families who have two or more children. In this context, discourses emerged around two central sources of anxiety for the state: one is associated with Singapore’s chronically low fertility rates,—especially amongst educated Chinese women—and the state’s enduring fixation with increasing the number of babies born; the other is the related anxiety about Singapore women who are apparently all too often attracted to foreign men.

[3] For a theoretical understanding, this paper will engage primarily with the work of Robert Connell, Judith Butler and Demetrakis Demetriou. Connell asserts that hegemonic masculinity defines the gender order because it is “always constructed in relation to various subordinated masculinities as well as in relation to women” (Connell [1987], 183). Hegemonic masculinity encompasses less a sense of total domination, and more an understanding of ascendancy achieved within a balance of forces, that is, a state of play (Connell [1987], 184). Connell’s hegemonic masculinity has two key features of relevance to this study: firstly it is heterosexual, and is therefore connected to the institution of marriage (Connell [1987], 186); and second, it embodies what is at a given time a “currently accepted” strategy for the defence of patriarchy (Connell [1995], 77). Modes of masculinities, then, can be understood as strategic moves in the maintenance of the gender order, and in Singapore these are configured within a balance of socio-political forces—a culture-specific state of play.

[4] For Butler, gender is a stylized repetition of acts(Butler [1999], 179), a performance governed by a social and temporal reality (Butler [1999], 179).  Gender is not an immutable identity, but:  “… a constructed identity, a performative accomplishment which the mundane social audience, including the actors themselves, come to believe and to perform in the mode of belief” (Butler [1999], 179). Masculinity is, as Connell’s work also makes clear, an ideal and a cultural prescription. It requires repetition and public performance; it is also located in specific locations and changes from one social temporality to the next. This confounds any attempt to hegemonize a standard mode of masculinity, and allows the intervention of competing modes.

[5] The discourses of anxiety mentioned above might constitute examples of the crisis tendencies in the gender order that Connell ([1995], 84) argues may have the power to transform it. Butler argues that crises can be productive, and contingently constituted discursive and material constructions of gender can expose the “constitutive instabilities” that may precipitate change. She asserts that:

“…construction is neither a single act nor a causal process initiated by a subject and culminating in a set of fixed effects. Construction not only takes place intime, but is itself a temporal process which operates through the reiteration of norms; sex is both produced and destabilized in the course of this reiteration …yet it is also by virtue of this reiteration that gaps and fissures are opened up as the constitutive instabilities in such constructions … this instability is the deconstituting possibility in the very process of repetition … the possibility to put the consolidation of the norms of ‘sex’ into a potentially productive crisis” (Butler [1993], 10).

[6] If gendered inscriptions and discourses are temporal processes they are, then, inherently unstable. Variations in modes of masculinity in Singapore over time can be seen to have emerged out of productive crises. These may be more usefully understood, however, as crises of representation, rather than as genuine threats to gendered institutions such as the state or the family. As Donovan points out, hegemonic masculinity, despite its variables, forms a coherent structure because of the relatively stable collective interests of men (Donovan, 818). He also suggests that the diametrical desires of men and women, which precipitate these crises, should be considered when mapping gender conflict or realignment (Donovan, 818). This article will map the conflicting desires of men and women, and incidences of tensions arising from these, as they have appeared in the public discourses in Singapore. Such appearances might more accurately be termed moments of contestation, or disjuncture, rather than moments of crisis. Changed textual practices and increased possibilities for rescripting masculine performances have been the consequence, rather than any serious threat to patriarchy.

[7] While hegemonic masculinity reproduces the power relations between genders with dominant, highly visible forms of masculine performance, it can never be so dominant that it can exclude all other styles or performances. It has never been a simple model of cultural control (Connell and Messerschmidt, 831), nor has a unitary masculinity ever been possible (Connell and Messerschmidt, 832). Even in the post-independence nation-building era in Singapore, in which prescriptive discourses of anti-colonial modernization had a powerful presence in the public sphere, it was capable only of marginalizing non-normative masculinities, never completely excluding them. How much more susceptible to challenge and unsettling then is the masculinity which finds itself in competition with global images and in confrontation with market forces? Because of its embeddedness in a global economic system which purveys images, lifestyles and performance trends and fashions, hegemonic masculinity in Singapore is now, more than ever, a “masculine bloc” or  “hybrid bloc” (Demetriou, 348).  Demetriou argues that the hegemonic bloc, is not weakened by the existence of subordinate or alternative masculinities, rather:

“… it is precisely its internally diversified and hybrid nature that makes the hegemonic bloc dynamic and flexible. It is its constant hybridization, its constant appropriation of diverse elements from various masculinities that makes the hegemonic bloc capable of reconfiguring itself and adapting to the specificities of new historical junctures.” (Demetriou, 348

The masculine bloc, then, is formed by adapting to the range of available styles of masculine presentation and performance. Far from producing an oppositional challenge to normative masculinities, the masculine bloc may extend the range of the normative through negotiation, accommodation and adaptation of diverse modes. 

[8] Louie’s work on masculinity in China has demonstrated that the ideals of Chinese masculinity can no longer adhere strictly to its traditional defining features, centered on the cultural attainment/martial valour dyad (wen-wu) (Louie). Chinese masculinity has been both hybridized and globalised (Louie) influencing images of Western masculinity and being influenced by them in turn. The concept of hybridity, as Demetriou sees it, is a revision of Connell’s earlier works. He says: “Masculine bloc, unlike [Connell’s] hegemonic masculinity, implies a non-reified and non-dualistic understanding of masculine power and practice” (Demetriou, 348). Non-reified, non-dualistic—that is, constituted in multiple ways—masculinities should be located in their social temporality.  

[9] The remainder of the article will consider the social temporalities of the practice of masculine performance in Singapore and the moments of contestation. I will begin, therefore, by examining the images of men that began to emerge in the public discourses in 1966—the immediate post-independence period—as part of the agenda to promote a “national masculinity” for the new nation. This demanded a form of masculine dynamism characterized by “rugged individualism”, instrumental rationality and pragmatism. The section following that will consider the moments of crisis and disjuncture in the gender order and consider the points at which seemingly hegemonic masculinities are vulnerable to contestation, where the gaps and fissures are opened up as the constitutive instabilities (Butler [1993], 10). Finally, I will examine more recent attempts to reinscribe Singapore men in response to changing global and local conditions. From the immediate post-independence period to the present, the repertoire of possible masculine performances has changed in response to historical and culture specific conditions, and has been expanded to encompass increased possibilities for masculine performance. In Butler’s terms, the destabilization of gender norms has created a potentially productive crisis and it appears that a “new man” has arisen from the crisis of masculinity, one that is more appealing to women. The new man is also functional for the national agenda to increase fertility rates and bolster the bourgeois family as the normative social institution.

Masculinity as rugged individualism

[10] Many studies have demonstrated that the nation is a gendered political entity (Jolly and Ram; Kandiyoti; McClintock; McClintock, Mufti and Shohat; Mosse; Pheonix, Yuval Davis and Lutz; Yuval-Davis and Anthias; Yuval-Davis). While all nations are gendered, the forms of gendering are diverse, and culturally and historically specific. Modes of representation are also influenced by local and global political economies. Studies of Asian nations have pointed to the use of gender difference, and distinctions between conventionally understood images of masculinity and femininity, as part of the establishment of a national modernity. Krishna Sen and Maila Stivens’ volume, for example, shows that the modernizing and globalizing of Asia have been systematically gendered processes.

[11] Singapore is one such Asian nation in which the discourses of nation have had, from independence, a distinctly gendered, even masculinist flavour. Singapore’s expulsion from the union with Malaysia in 1965 provided the circumstances for the emergence of an ideology of survivalism. Since that period, the putatively fragile nature of the small nation-state has been a discursive feature of public life in Singapore, and one always available for deployment when an ideological need arises. Survival in what is seen as a hostile environment has depended on the populace maintaining high levels of discipline and commitment to the national interest, to the point of self-sacrifice.

[12] In 1966 the first Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, described the vulnerable position of the new nation, arguing that the development of masculine qualities would ensure its survival. A society dominated by characteristics understood as feminine, such as softness, would spell doom for the fledgling nation:

“… if we develop a ‘soft society’, then we cannot survive … What is required is a rugged, resolute, highly trained, highly-disciplined community. This is the lesson which other nations have learnt, and which I hope we will learn in time” (Lee  Kuan Yew).

He was also clear about the sort of person needed to carry out this development. He imagined the production of a national subject embodying a hegemonic masculinity. He prescribed the appropriate style of masculine performance, placing the male body, masculine discipline and the nation in the same discursive frame:

“What is the ideal product? The ideal product is the student, the university graduate who is strong, robust, rugged, and with tremendous qualities of stamina, endurance and, at the same time, with great intellectual discipline and, most important of all, humility and love for his community; a readiness to serve whether God or king or country or, if you like, just his community…That is your ideal…

We should try to do that. Not every boy is equal in his endowments in either physical stamina or mental capacity or character. But you want to try and get all those with the potential to blossom forth. That is your spearhead in your society. On them depends the pace of progress” (Lee Kuan Yew, speech to a meeting of school principles, Victoria Theatre, Singapore, 29 August, 1966 cited in Han, Fernandez and Tan, 393-394).

[13] Masculine dynamism has been one of the defining features of the narrative of gendered nation in Singapore. One of the most telling comments came from Goh Keng Swee, appointed Minister of Finance by Lee Kuan Yew in 1959, and well known as “the architect of Singapore’s economic success”. In a forum on “Qualities Required for the 1970s” he described the Singapore citizen:

“The Singaporean … is a busy and active person. He is happiest when he is engaged in doing something. Not being of a philosophical bent, he seldom pauses for a moment to reflect whether there is any point in doing it. Instead, he applies himself with zest and energy, hoping to improve his skill or knowledge or to make money or whatever may be the purpose.

It is this trait that makes the Singaporean a highly competitive and individualistic person. This is at once a source of strength and weakness. On the one hand, he is a sturdy, resourceful and self-reliant person, excellent material for promoting economic growth. It is only necessary to give him opportunities to find employment or do business, and he can look after himself … In inculcating group loyalties or group consciousness, we have avoided trying to stifle or inhibit the sturdy individualism which is so strong a part of the Singaporean’s character” (Goh).

The Singaporean’s masculine agency extends to a role in the determination of history. Lee saw himself as an agent in the unfolding of the historical:

“We must not go against what is historically inevitable. This does not mean that we passively wait for history to unfold itself. We must actively strive to accelerate the process of history” (Lee Kuan Yew [1960], cited in Barr, 49).

A political philosophy of extreme pragmatism and an instrumental rationality that, according to SelvarajVelayutham,  precludes the notion of affect or emotional attachment to the nation, have been key ideological tools in the management of Singapore. The nation was conceptualised ideologically from the beginning on the grounds of common material interests (Chua, 6), rather than on a sense of primordial loyalty to a pre-existing cultural form. External factors, imagined as threats to the integrity and wellbeing of the nation, are on-going features of the meta-narrative of the state. These have been systematically deployed as part of the rhetoric of fear that is so much a part of the national narrative of Singapore.

[14] Geraldine Heng and Janadas Devan argue that the predominantly male Chinese polity is represented as a form of “state fatherhood.” They point out that Singapore is never imagined by its government or its citizens as a “mother land” or “mother country”, but appears discursively more like a father-daughter dyad (Heng and Devan, 209), a feminized and infantilised populace in need of protection from a paternalistic state. What Heng and Devan call “the phallic Confucian narrative” also has the effect of locating the Chinese family at the centre of the national narrative. The family figures prominently as a central plank in the government’s manifesto on values for Singapore. The national ideology is articulated in the Shared Values document, which was first tabled in parliament 1991. It is also known as theWhite Paper on Singapore values. The shared values are: Nation before community and society above self; family as the basic unit of society; community support and respect for the individual; consensus, not conflict; racial and religious harmony. Protecting the family/nation can then be inscribed as a dominant characteristic of hegemonic masculinity. Tan describes the ideal of the Singaporean man who will fulfil his masculine destiny:

“He is primordially aggressive, and in modern life, motivated, daring and achievement oriented. He is analytical, avoids sentimentality, and approaches situations as problems requiring solutions derived from rationality and industry. He is also individualistic and independent” (S. Tan, 96).

The personal style and public person of this super-rational, no-nonsense male has been identified by Wee as “the dominant PAP masculinity”. The stereotype is the cadre wearing the traditional bureaucrat uniform of “masculinist, pure, and puritan white shirt and trousers of the 1960s and 1970s” (Wee, 117). This was Lee Kuan Yew’s “national masculinity” (Holden) which ideally manifested itself at the level of the individual as the self-disciplined and rational Enlightenment self. Its predominant style of masculinity owed much to the hegemonic masculinity which provided the gendered ideological underpinnings for the expansion of the British Empire. It was the defining gender style of colonial modernity, and was characterized by moral rectitude, rugged individualism, the celebration of the will, restraint and forbearance. 

[15] Since Singapore’s independence, cultural prescriptions of masculinity have also been articulated through the discourses surrounding compulsory military service. 
The male body has been a metaphor for social order located in a discourse of anxiety about national security. Singapore is a militarised society; masculinity and service to the nation is produced discursively and literally through compulsory national service (more commonly known in Singapore as NS) for young men. While the ruling government’s fixation on the female body has centred on fertility and motherhood, the male body has been hypermasculinised through the focus on the military defence of the nation. The National Service Act, passed by parliament in 1967, enforces mandatory national service for all young men for a minimum period of two years. NS is not only a means for inculcating the “national masculinity” but is also an important boundary marker between men and women. NS men are inscribed as defenders of the family/nation. It is not only rugged individualism that is demanded as a prerequisite for masculinity and which provides the script for masculine performance, but the rugged collectivism of the armed forces.

[16] In the paradigm of Chinese masculinity characterized by the idealized dyad wen-wu, wen can be understood as cultured behaviour, refinement, scholarly mastery of the literary canon and other important works; wu is martial prowess, strength, mastery of the physical (Louie). The demands of a modern capitalist economy in a globalised system leave little room to develop wen as a literary scholar, even though academic success is highly valued in Singapore. Now, the constitution of a Chinese masculine identity in Singapore probably lies somewhere along the continuum of economic success as a modern form of wen at one pole, and the wu of compulsory military training in National Service at the other. Kenneth Paul Tan has pointed out that NS is not merely about the defense of the nation, but is “the antidote to the effeteness and complacency that are commonly thought to accompany affluence, better education, and modern lifestyles” (K.P. Tan, 98). NS is a both a masculinizing exercise, and a means of regulating male aggressiveness and channeling political energies into the nation’s security, rather than political dissent (K. P. Tan, 98).  NS, according to Tan, is not only regarded as a male activity because it involves men undergoing tough discipline and training, and encourages aggressiveness and martial virtues; it is also a “masculine” exercise because it is seen as the rite of passage into male adulthood (through the exclusion of women), the essential feature of which is the requirement to act as protector of both the family and the nation (K.P. Tan, 98). Junmin Chee, Jun Da Tan and Wei Cheng The’s guide to basic military training (BMT) for the NS recruit articulates not only the masculine power afforded by weapons and violence, but its importance as a rite of passage into manhood:

“One of the most eye-opening experiences during BMT is the throwing of the hand grenade. Launching a grenade into the air for the first time and feeling the powerful impact of its explosion is exhilarating indeed, and another BMT rite of passage to boast about” (Chee, Tan and The, 76).

In a further valorization of a normative and hegemonic masculinity which leaves little room for subtlety or nuance, they advise the recruit:

“During BMT, you will be presented with an M-16 assault rifle during a special ceremony. From then on you will be told to treat your rifle as your wife and keep it safe, if not by your side, at all times. You will be taught how to strip (no pun intended) and assemble your rifle, how to clean your rifle, and of course, how to fire your rifle. Firing your rifle is definitely going to be one of the lasting memories you take away with you after NS. After all, how many of your friends from other countries can boast of having fired a real live M-16 rifle?” (Chee, Tan and The, 85).

In one discursive moment Chee,, have militarized and masculinized nationhood, valorized and sexualized violence, and essentialized women as the Other of the nation.

Moments of disjuncture in the gender order

[17] Attempts by the PAP to normalize a militarized, nationalized and normatively heterosexual masculinity in the face of proliferating global alternative masculinities have long since been unsettled. Conflicts in the gender order have been precipitated by two forms of recalcitrance amongst women, both of which appear in the discourses as threats to the nation and the family. One is the crisis of reproduction, arising from the decrease in the total fertility rate of Singapore women to below replacement levels; the other is the number of Singapore women who marry foreigners.

[18] One salient moment of national anxiety about challenges to the gender order occurred in 1983 when Lee Kuan Yew launched a public admonition of women. There were two related problems: university educated women were not marrying and having children, or were delaying their reproductive activities until too late. Women, in particular educated Chinese women, were inscribed as recalcitrant in their duty to breed superior offspring who would become the citizens of the nation. The imperative for women to reproduce the nation by having large families became a fixture of the public discourses for the next two decades, so much so that Heng and Devan dubbed Lee’s obsessive narrative of women and their duty to the nation, “uterine nationalism” (Heng and Devan, 201).

[19] The public focus on romance, marriage and childbearing could not suppress the crisis of representation of the masculine, and a counter-discourse about Singapore men emerged. Men began to be seen as sexist, unromantic and pragmatic—resembling too much Lee and Goh’s primordially aggressive alpha-male. Public anxieties were expressed over the apparent penchant of Singapore women for marrying foreign men which saw over 50 per cent more Chinese women marry foreigners in 1998 than in 1978. In 1994, journalist Geraldine Kan noted certain characteristics of Singapore men that were unattractive to women, educated women in particular:

“Right. The secret is out. A mysterious species of Singapore male called the Homo Dufferulus Foolus has just been identified on the island … A very senior minister [that is, Lee Kuan Yew] said last weekend that this creature, who can also be called a ‘duffer and a fool’ is the product of an outmoded set of values and can be identified by his choice of mate—women who ‘are seen to be his subordinates, or at least do not challenge him’ … A Straits Times straw poll found that some young men want wives who earn as much as they do or more —but will stay obedient. In other words, someone who not only brings home the bacon, but cooks it for him too, after asking how he wants his fried and getting his permission to turn on the stove …

The problem is, while most of us have not been brought up to be appendages to our husbands, many men were not weaned off the ‘king of the house’ idea either” (Kan).

[20] More recently, another series of descriptions of Singapore men began circulating in the discourses. Sumiko Tan writes that the Singapore Male is perceived as being too goal oriented:

“At lunch with colleagues the other day, the conversation drifted to the The Singapore Male … The Singapore Male clearly has drive and is goal-oriented. He lives in a tiny, urban, fast-paced society, and he measures his life — as his unforgiving society measures him — by material possessions. He wants the 5 Cs of cash, credit card, car, condo and club, and sets out to attain them, one by one, as quickly as possible. He is pragmatic to a fault, putting career before love. Even marriage and children are regarded as goals” (S. Tan 2001).

Nicholas Fang, writing in the Straits Times acknowledged that Singapore men have an “image problem” and posted this anxious response:

“We’ve flossed, we’ve worked hard, carried the groceries and even displayed our emotions. Yet, Singapore women say we are not up to the mark. What more can we do? … Judging by the number of dissatisfied women in Singapore, Singaporean men definitely still don’t get it. A recent feature in the The New Paper [a popular Singapore tabloid] highlighted the ‘bodoh-sexual’ [bodoh: stupid (Malay)] nature of Singapore men, quoting women who claimed that their men were insensitive, childish, chauvinistic and molly-coddled … Data from the Department of Statistics’ 2002 report on marriages and divorces also showed that more than 60 per cent of divorces in Singapore were initiated by wives … And anecdotal evidence from my friends doesn’t help the cause of Singapore men either. Most female friends I know have at one point or other bemoaned the lack of good Singaporean men. The bulk of the complaints have centred around us being too materialistic, too macho, not having a sense of humour …The list goes on” (Fang).

The dominant mode of masculinity of the achievement oriented and resolute modern man who avoids sentimentality and sees even marriage as a problem requiring a solution, far from maintaining the gender order through adherence to an unpopular style, has been forced to confront its own weaknesses. 

Reinventing Masculinity—The New Singapore Man

[21] A corollary of these public contestations of national masculinity, has been the reinscription, or “regendering” of men, a discursive intervention in gender relations which has been observed in other cultural locations. In Western societies such as Britain for example, as Rosalind Gill notes, “where men once represented the invisible, unmarked norm of human existence and experience, today they are hyper-visible as a gendered group” (Gill, 34). In Singapore it has generated attempts to reinscribe men to make them more attractive to women. This has precipitated the appearance of alternative styles of masculinity in the public discourse. Singapore men can now choose to be the rugged individual, the protector of the nation, and the pragmatic and driven corporate success-story. They can also be simultaneously metrosexuals, caring fathers, body builders, and consumers of “lifestyle.”  Specific historical circumstances can create a continuum of modes of masculinity, against which individual men must position themselves.

[22] Hing’s examination of the role of family relationships and expectations in Singapore shows that the emergence of the independent, educated Singapore woman is one specific historical circumstance that has encouraged the appearance of the “new man” (Hing). She points to studies carried out in Singapore which show that young fathers with children growing up today spend more time caring for their children than their own fathers did. This new man, a predominantly middle class phenomenon rather than a universal, actively seeks a relationship with his children. A father, an army officer, in one study stated:

“Since last May, I have made it a point to spend one afternoon a week with my children just one-to-one … I want [to be] not just a father to them but also confidant and friend” (cited in Hing, 68).

Some will also prioritize family above work. An airline pilot made a similar statement:

“Although money is needed which I get from my work, my company can always find another manager, but my kids need me more and I’m a family man first, and a company man second” (cited in Hing, 68).

[23] The phenomenon of reconstructed masculinity in Singapore parallels similar developments in other societies. Gill points to the emergence of the “new father” in Britain as a way of producing knowledge about masculinity that could render knowable the conflicting and contradictory domestic and emotional landscapes of heterosexual couples with children (Gill, 35).  Mort describes the extensive transformation of masculinity and the increasing availability of alternative styles of masculine presentation. These grew out of moments of crisis and the struggle over representation, but were also closely aligned with forms of commodification and consumer conduct, especially the marketing of “lifestyle” and the new scripts available to men through men’s magazines. The “new man” was a hybrid, not attributable to a single source or specific crisis, but a condensation of multiple concerns (Mort, 16). The crises in the gender order described in Singapore were also the result of multiple moments of gender disjuncture, coalescing into a generalized anxiety. They were similarly discursively produced in the popular media.

[24] In Singapore, as in Britain, “the new man” (Beynon, 98) was linked to the caring father, liberated from the gender constrictions of parenthood in an Asian society. In Britain he was previously epitomized by former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who made a public commitment to fatherhood by taking leave when his son was born, and by footballer David Beckham’s decision to take an active role in caring for his sons (Gill, 35).  More recently, Stephen Whitehead’s discussion of the “new masculinity” of British politics, illustrates the continuing existence of a “softer” side of masculinity. Gordon Brown (former Labour Prime Minister ) and David Cameron (current Prime Minister) are both metrosexuals according to Whitehead. Cameron is “sensitive, reflexive and expressive. He has emotional intelligence” (Whitehead, 238): this is the epitome of “modern masculinity” (Whitehead, 238). This mode of presentation or performance of masculinity is hybridized by appropriating elements of other, more traditional masculinities. As Whitehead puts it: “Brown and Cameron both present as heterosexual, so they are all square on that important variable. Furthermore, unlike some of their older colleagues, Brown and Cameron are clearly sexually active, virile, even; they have young families to prove it.” (237) Far from forming an oppositional binary through which competing elements can be polarized, the process of navigating styles and appropriating diverse elements reinforces some characteristics of the dominant form; the hybridized, metrosexual, “softer” form becomes evidence of their heterosexual virility.

[25] In Singapore, the “new father” also emerges from both politics and popular culture. In a moment where protector of the nation intersects with the protector of the family and devoted parent, the wenscholar combines with the wu of the rugged, militarized individual to produce a hybridized masculinity. The Straits Times Saturday Special Report announced this reinvention:

“These days, in addition to his work, Lieutenant-Colonel Kwek Ju-Hon finds himself worrying about Singapore's future. There's a precious reason. As a father of a seven-month-old daughter, he's concerned about what Singapore's future holds … The 30-year-old Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) scholar is now deputy-director of defence policy at the Ministry of Defence. In the next phase, he says every Singaporean has to ‘step forward and contribute’ in any field they excel in, ‘be it the arts, music, sports, not just politics’. So, for the sake of his daughter, he says he ‘may consider’ picking up the political gauntlet” (Asmani).

Appreciation of the arts, and other middle class pursuits is accommodated within a masculinity that valorizes military service and a pragmatic approach to the maintenance of the social order. As Robert Hanke points out, this “new view” of manhood is the expression of the cultural ascendancy of the professional/managerial class, that is to say, white, middle-class, men’s concerns, on the terrain of yuppie common sense (Hanke, 194). From the 1980s onward, there was a shift to a specifically metropolitan masculinity (Nixon) with representations appearing in popular culture, advertising, magazines, lifestyle sections of the broadsheet press and in the consumption of men’s fashions, men’s personal care products, leisure, fitness and diet regimes and the production of the middle class body generally. The production of the middle class body is closely linked to the spread of neo-liberal values of individualism and consumerism and their power to influence tastes, fashions and consumption patterns on a global scale.

[26] The global reach of neo-liberalism and its role in the production of self in the image of what is still commonly known as the “yuppie” is confirmed by the cultural ascendancy in Singapore of the local yuppie, the middle class Chinese. The articulation of “the new man” in his milieu of “yuppie common sense” can be observed in a series of articles which appeared in the Straits Times. In February 2005 theSunday Times published a feature in its Lifestyle section about “Heavenly Fathers” and “Dishy Dads”as part of its Valentine’s Day special:

“There's nothing fuddy-duddy about these Daddies. Check out these hot new Dads, who are as adorable as the cute babes in their arms. You've seen them in ads before: hot men with abs of steel cradling delicate babies in their bronzed arms. These poster boys and poster babies may not even be related, but who cares? Girls just go wild over Dishy Dads. Take freelance writer Jane Lee 34, who goes weak in the knees looking at bare-bodied pictures of actor Allan Wu, who is married to actress Wong Li-Lin, and their four-month-old girl Sage.

‘People always expect mothers to be close to their babies. But when a man showers love on his little child, it shows off his softer side and reinforces his masculinity as well’, she says. ‘Of course, it helps if the Dad’s a hunk’, she adds” (Seah).

[27] It seems that the appropriation of normatively feminine attributes, such as the desire to nurture children, far from diminishing a man’s masculinity, reinforce it. In the negotiation of alternative modes of representation, cradling a baby becomes a display of virility. Wu has navigated the traditional image of the strict father— epitomized by Lee Kuan Yew himself as father of the nation—to find his “softer side”. What results is a hybrid bloc in which “feminine” qualities have been translated and recontextualized. The new man is a hybrid, a combination of protector of nation and family, provider and nurturer.

The feature article continues:   

“With his handsome matinee idol looks and muscular 1.78m-tall frame, Aaron Aziz is, without a doubt, a Dishy Dad. But ask the 29-year-old Fly Entertainment artiste if his four-month-old son is his new weapon of mass seduction when it comes to women, and he demurs.
     … The actor takes to his paternal role with impressive ease. Oblivious to those present at the Singapore Press Holdings studio where the interview and photo session took place, he playfully coos, kisses and rocks the precious bundle in his toned arms … Short of breast-feeding, you get the feeling that there is nothing Aaron wouldn't do to please the little one. It is a sight that would probably make most women want to put all their eggs into his basket. He beams with pride when he tells you that he … [witnessed] the baby's delivery, and even washed the placenta off his newborn. And in what must be music to most women's ears, he claims he helps his wife change diapers and wash the baby … He also earns brownie points for taking his son for daily morning walks before he goes to work
     The protective Dad, who wants two more children, admits that he sometimes chastises his wife for not giving in to the baby's demands. ‘I get irritated when she doesn't do things the way I want them done, like how to treat the baby when he cries’ ” (Seah).

With the focus on his “toned arms”, singer and actor Aaron Aziz retains his masculine sexuality while simultaneously becoming a father who is more maternal than the mother. His public profile helps to promote the PAP’s policy of publicizing the joys of family life and encouraging bigger families. The Straits Times article inscribes a hybrid bloc by juxtaposing a series of opposites that can finally be reconciled to each other to achieve what Demetriou has conceptualized as a “hybrid moment”, an unprecedented combination of elements (348): muscular frame/coos and kisses; weapon/seduction; precious bundle/toned arms. Finally, in perhaps the ultimate appropriation of what might have once been an inferior mode of masculinity, Aziz effects a minor role reversal by chastising his wife for being too strict with the baby.  This representation of changing gender performance appears to confirm Demetriou’s argument when he stresses that: “ … the hegemonic bloc changes in a very deceptive and unrecognizable way. It changes through negotiation, appropriation and translation, through the transformation of what appears counter-hegemonic and progressive into an instrument of backwardness and patriarchal reproduction.” (355).

[28] It seems that the response to the disjuncture in the gender order brought about by the educated woman—focused on career and looking beyond the nation for her life choices—has precipitated an attempt to reinvent men as “metrosexual yuppies”. Public discourses, especially in the field of “lifestyle”, found in newspapers and men’s magazines can provide men with what Peter Jackson, Nick Stevenson and Kate Brooks have identified as a conceptual map with which to navigate safely through contemporary gender anxieties (14). The substantial array of men’s magazines on the shelves in bookstores in Singapore—including the popular local versions of the global men’s magazines, Men’s Health and FHMconfirm Hanke’s “cultural ascendancy of the professional/managerial” class, and also the ascendancy of a commodified global masculinity coupled with the promotion of market values. The conceptual map helps bring the rugged individual into negotiation with the available spectrum of alternative modes of masculinity.    

[29] One boundary marker between men and women—well known to Singapore women and a source of consternation—is that in Singapore men do not do housework. Masako Ishii-Kuntz’s study of the emergence of diverse masculinities in Japan illustrates the importance of the appropriation of a range of elements in reconfiguring masculinity.  While the salaryman image is still the source of a dominant masculinity in Japan, it is no longer the only source. Hybridized forms of masculinity now encompass active involvement in childcare and housework, partly precipitated by a government campaign in 1990 to encourage men to take more responsibility for childcare (Ishii-Kuntz). Japan has, like Singapore, one of the lowest fertility rates in the world. It is also interesting, in this context, to note that Ikujiren, a Tokyo-based association that aims to increase men’s involvement in childcare, delivered a letter to Tony Blair in 2000 urging him to set an example by taking parental leave on the birth of his child (Ishii-Kuntz, 201). 

[30] Connell and Messerschmidt have noted that negotiations around housework are gender strategies employed by men to legitimate models of masculinities in American families (839). It is not surprising then, to find that the hegemonic bloc in Singapore has also appropriated these elements from the diverse range of characteristics available for reconfiguration of masculinity. Alongside the sex tips, the global yuppie fashion, the body building advice, suggestions on how to get a promotion, recipes for healthy dishes, the stress busters, and other guidance designed to make professional man more attractive to women—all antidotes to the phallic Confucian narrative—one issue of Men’s Health in 2005 featured the latest for the discerning yuppie professional with a taste for quality: a Hitachi nano-titanium vacuum cleaner. The vacuum cleaner it seems is part of the conceptual map for navigating the changing gender landscape.

[31] Changes to the distribution of household tasks in Singapore remain to be seen, but Connell and Messerschmidt have argued that hegemonic masculinities can now be constructed that do not correspond closely to the lives of any actual men (838). While these may occur only at the level of ideals and fantasies, they do nevertheless provide models of relations with women and solutions to problems of gender relations. In Connell and Messerschmidt’s account they also “articulate loosely with practical constitution of masculinities as ways of living in everyday circumstances” (838). At the level of the quotidian, domestic skills have more practical application than the self-sufficient, sturdy individualism of Lee and Goh’s Singapore Man, who could, after all, constitute a direct challenge to the family and its deployment as a feature of Singapore’s national rhetoric. In the global terrain of reconstructed masculinity, men can be rehabilitated to become more acceptable as potential husbands and reclaim a sensitive New Age masculinity by associating housework with masculinity and global consumption patterns.


[32] In the last decade, seemingly monolithic and increasingly unacceptable modes of masculinity have acquiesced to a range of hybridized and diversified masculine performances. It appears that this is a response to an ensemble of social, political and economic forces: there is the global marketing of the middle class metrosexual; there is also the educated, sophisticated Singapore woman who demands a more sensitive, more romantic, less overtly patriarchal “New Singapore Man”; and there is the imperative for the state to accommodate a more acceptable mode of masculinity in a discursive terrain where marriage and fertility are politicized.

[33] The dominant mode of masculinity is capable of stylistic adaptability (Donovan, 837). It has been argued that the 1980s was the decade in which masculinity was extensively transformed and the “old industrial man” remodeled into “the new man”, a metropolitan, urbanized, metrosexual, postmodern consumer. The 1990s and into the twenty first century was the period that saw the new man commercialized, particularly through popular culture in the form of men’s magazines (Benwell; Nixon). Gill’s work outlines the ways in which producing knowledge about men and creating various forms of masculinity is big business. In Singapore, as elsewhere, this has resulted in the production of new subjects who self-monitor and self-construct in ways appropriate to the advancement of post-industrial consumer capitalism.

[34] Developments in Singapore in the last two decades lend support to Demetriou’s thesis that the formative process of hegemonic masculinity does not encompass a dualism, but rather, is a dialectic of appropriation/marginalization (346), a dynamic and ongoing process of strategic deployment of modes of presentation. More recent work by Connell and Messerschmidt has introduced an even more nuanced view of this. They now argue that what must be recognized is not only the layering, but the internal contradictions within all practices that construct masculinities (Connell and Messerschmidt , 852). These practices might also entail compromises between contradictions within the bloc. The masculine bloc that has emerged in the discursive domain in Singapore as a counter to the rugged individualism of the post-independence period, appears to be what Connell has identified in his studies as a “currently accepted” strategy for the defence of patriarchy (Connell, 77).

[35] Metrosexuals, stylish yuppies and dishy Daddies are more attractive than the rugged individual, but they still serve to reinforce the family as the normative social form. If the outward signs of masculinity may appear to be more enlightened and egalitarian, the underlying basis of male privilege and power remains fundamentally unchanged and the power of patriarchy barely diminished. Barr and Skrbiš’ study of elitism in the national building project in Singapore confirms that, while there have been many changes in the style of government of Singapore, one feature that endures is gender bias. “When we are talking about the Singapore elite”, they say, “we are overwhelmingly talking about men” (Barr and Skrbiš, 209). While men may have in recent years been forced to confront domestic tasks as a site of gender contestation, and have had to modify their gender performance in this regard, structural impediments to women gaining political power remain. One relevant example is that the SAF (Singapore Armed Forces) scholarships that smooth the path into powerful public service positions, are open only to men (Barr and Skrbiš, 210). The awarding of President’s Scholarships—the highest level of educational achievement in Singapore—shows that women are similarly disadvantaged: between 1966 and 2007, 30.7 per cent of these scholarships went to female candidates (Barr and Skrbiš, 210-111). Richard Hausman, Laura Tyson and Saadia Zahidi’s Global Gender Gap Report shows that the estimated income of men in Singapore is nearly twice that of women; there are more than double the number of male legislators, senior officials and managers to female ones; and there are currently twenty-five women in the Singapore parliament compared to seventy-five men.

[36] Donovan argues that “softer” forms of masculinity are not inherently emancipatory for women and can, in fact, mask usurpation of women’s rights. Indeed, as Connell and Messerschmidt  pointed out, hegemony does not mean violence, but can be achieved by some men enacting non-hegemonic forms of masculinity that are nevertheless complicit masculinities where ascendancy is still achieved through culture, institutions and persuasion (Connell and Messerschmidt, 832). Masculine style may now be a consumer choice, available from a historically and culturally specific spectrum of styles constantly under challenge and subject to ongoing modifications. Since significant forms of gender exclusion still exist in Singapore, a reinscription of Singapore men as caring, sensitive and considerate life partners, and less patriarachal in their attitude to family relationships than in previous eras, may be merely a strategic move in the defence of patriarchy.

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