My son knows how to split an infinitive

From ‘Mum’s the word on smarter children’, 21 Sept 2011, ST Forum

(DR Lee Siew Peng): THE announcement of my engagement to a Caucasian surprised many who had accepted my status of being ‘on the shelf’ (‘A PhD’s fine, but what about love and babies?’; Sept 6).

It is my PhD that is currently on the shelf as after more than 10 years as a full-time mother, it is almost impossible to return to academia. Many intelligent Singapore women will recognise this problem: most Singapore men are not inclined to marry women they consider to be cleverer.

This letter not only deserves to be reproduced in full, but given a piece of my Singaporean MALE non-ANGMOR, non PHD mind every couple of paragraphs. It’s baffling how such a piece of self-trumpeting, indulgent, I would dare say vulgar display of blinkered arrogance eluded the forum editor’s brainstem, an organ that Dr Lee herself probably left ‘on the shelf’ along with her PhD. The word ‘Caucasian’ appears only once in the entire article, the first line in fact, which pretty much sets an unnerving, emasculating tone for the remainder of the letter if you suffer the misfortune of being an egotistical Singaporean male who’s uncomfortable with smarter women. Coupled with the location where Dr Lee is based (London) in the sign-off, what we have right at the outset of this letter is an all too familiar scenario of an educated housewife married into a cushy foreign family, living in a foreign land, and telling Singaporeans,most of whom can’t afford to live comfortably off a sole breadwinner, how to choose their mates or raise smart children when she’s thousands of miles away and not adding her prodigious offspring to OUR gene pool instead.

I remember the look of one man who chatted me up after I had made a witty remark at a lecture. When I told him I was (then) a master’s degree student he – literally – turned away. Spot the difference: My husband (who holds a Bachelor of Science degree), tells people he is clever enough to have married me.

Here we are given another unwanted glimpse of the writer’s solid credentials through a rather useless anecdote. A pHD AND MASTERS holder. And she’s speaking on behalf of her husband, who ONLY has a BSc. Most people use emotional language when asked why we choose to spend the rest of our lives with someone, like ‘She makes me happy’, ‘She’s my soulmate, or the easy way out – ‘Because I love her’. When a man says he’s ‘clever enough’ to marry you, it suggests calculatedness and ulterior motive, especially if you’re a double degree holder and potential high earner. Evolutionary scientists have their own theories on our aversion towards smart women, that men are hardwired providers and are attracted to women who appear to need our protection, though that’s still debatable considering how rampant gender reversals has become in recent years. But why pick on guys only? How about women refusing to marry ‘downwards’? What if smarter women just happen to be ‘pickier’?

Studies have shown consistently that a child’s educational attainment correlates with that of his mother’s. My son’s IQ is significantly higher than that of either of his parents. (I am convinced that 11 months of breast-feeding also helped.)

I might have opted out of a career where I could inspire many young people on to their own doctorates, but my son has also benefited much from our discussions on the scientific method, statistics in research, Descartes, splitting an infinitive (and atom), and so on. He is so far ahead of his cohort that he has skipped one year in Maths and is being ‘extended’ in other subjects within his normal classes.

There’s no mention of how old Dr Lee’s son is and he could well be a amateur professor of Nuclear Physics who splits atoms as a hobby for all we know, though what’s suggested here is that forsaking her career and focussing on bringing up a Megamind at home is well worth the sacrifice. What’s totally missing, besides all the motherly nurturing, reading scientific journals instead of bedtime stories and 11 months of breastmilk, is the role of the FATHER in raising an intelligent child. That aside, more bragging here not just of her son’s achievements and the fact that he knows what an infinitive is (What the hell is this, Forum editor, a letter or a grammar thesis?), but also the IQ-boosting powers of her breast milk. Trust a pHD to summon the  ‘Studies have shown’ fallacy as nonchalantly as saying ‘The sun has been known to rise from the east’.Does this apply across the board in societies where men are still predominantly the bread-winners i.e better educated ones? Have these studies factored in median income as a possible determinant? Perhaps the writer means ‘1 STUDY has shown’, the one that she has conducted on her own son.

My points are:

  • First, Singapore men who wish to have clever children should consider marrying women who are better educated or cleverer (remember, one does not always imply the other), just as short men should marry taller wives if they want taller sons because sons are rarely shorter than their mothers.
  • Second, it is all right for well-educated mothers to stay at home to care for their children. Their education will not be wasted in the instruction of their own children.
  • Third, Mr Lee Kuan Yew first alerted us to our limited gene pool in 1984.
  • Fourth, what has been done since to preserve and enhance this gene pool? Has the foreign talent initiative superseded this urgency?

Finally, a lack of support for well-educated mothers who wish to take career breaks – which can only benefit their offspring, with or without breast-feeding – is myopic.

If a genetic defect suddenly struck the Y chromosome and all men went extinct, Dr Lee here stands a good chance of being Empress and Queen Mother of the world. She doesn’t need the male phenotype, the brawn, the musk, the low voice and hairy chest. She just needs a cupful of sperm of minimum BSc calibre to manufacture her little baby geniuses.  Though there may be some truth in  smart housewives raising smart children, this may not correlate so much with intelligence or educational status as much as the greater time housewives spend IN GENERAL on their own children compared to men. Who’s to say that a pHD househusband wouldn’t raise a genius as well?  Dr Lee has completely ignored the roles of society, nutrition (other than breast milk) and even luck in determining successful offspring, which is in line with LKY’s ideas on social engineering and why he urges pHD female students to get boyfriends. In fact, she has one-upped LKY’s call to propagate, by saying that not only should pHD women marry, but they should be stay at home moms/tutors as well. The fact is, you don’t need a damn pHD to teach your kids who Descartes was. Google nanny can jolly well (split infinitive) do that just fine.

Short men don’t marry tall women just to have children taller than them, nor do they marry smarter, more successful women just so they can have precocious kids to brag about in the ST forum page.  Men marry the woman they love, probably  just as often the woman they most want to have sex with, not just for her tall or smart genes but rather those that signal a state of physical health (i.e looks good, or at least looking like a human female) or a personality trait like kindness, though LKY’s daughter Lee Wei Ling would beg to differ, having deduced that men value intelligence more than looks. And it’s rather disappointing for all of the writer’s theories on breast milk and split infinitives, she’s hasn’t the slightest clue of how we men tick at all.

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8 Responses

  1. ‘Men marry the woman they love, probably just as often the woman they most want to have sex with, not just for her tall or smart genes but rather those that signal a state of physical health (i.e looks good, or at least looking like a human female)…’

    well the women most men are attracted to are usually curvy right? and then…

    http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,310636,00.html

    i think that that wanting to have superior offspring might be a subconscious desire…

    • interesting theory on fats and smarts, though most mothers are already supplementing with omega 3s during pregnancy anyway, skinny or curvy

  2. Looks like some of us have really came up with our own version of eugenics!
    Interesting

  3. I don’t know Dr Lee but I have read both the ST forum letter and her blog post on the same subject. I agree that the ST letter sounds boastful and arrogant; however if you read her blog post, the tone is rather different. She was trying to argue that parents who make the decision to stay at home to look after their kids should be given support. This point did not come through in the ST letter at all.

    It’s clear that from the first paragraph, Dr Lee’s choice of words inadvertently pushed a number of strong emotional triggers for a certain demographic, i.e., male Singaporeans. That’s pretty clear from the first paragraph of your own post above.

    I can understand how her remarks triggered a strong emotional reaction from you. However, it might be useful to fill in some context.

    I do not know anything about Dr Lee’s family circumstances other than what she mentions on her blog. But I think it is unfair of you to paint her as a spoilt taitai, because you don’t actually have any evidence of that. The fact that she is a stay-at-home mother does not necessarily mean that her husband has a cushy job. Childcare costs in Britain are one of the most expensive in Europe (i.e., the world). Depending on where you live, sending your child to daycare can cost half to three quarters of the average wage. And childcare is only 8-6, with punitive fines if you are late picking up your child.

    Unless the mother has an extremely well-paid job, the sums just don’t add up. The new mother would be working just to pay for the childcare, or maybe only have a few pounds left over at the end of the day. BTW, academic salaries are much lower in the UK compared to Singapore. Some academic positions are even non-stipendiary, with a total salary of zero. A full-time university lecturer’s starting pay is about £30K a year, which is the same as a London tube driver. Some sought-after London nannies also make about £30K a year.

    You say that most Singaporeans ‘can’t afford to live comfortably off a sole breadwinner’. It isn’t as simple as that. In the UK, if parents want two salaries, they also have to find enough to pay for childcare – and childcare can easily wipe out most of one salary. It’s more a case of ‘can’t afford to have the mother work as the mother’s salary would go straight back out to pay for childcare’.

    The situation in Singapore is very different. Don’t forget that most Singapore mothers have two luxuries available to them which are not available to women like Dr Lee. The first is that living in a small place like Singapore, one has the support of grandparents and other relatives to help out with the childcare, whether part-time or full-time. In contrast, the UK is a big country and people don’t always live near to their parents/relatives. The second luxury is the easy availability of cheap foreign maids. The difference between the maid’s salary+government levy and average working woman’s pay is so huge that you’d be crazy not to get a foreign maid. As a result, 100% of my working mother friends in Singapore have a foreign maid.

    Why am I bothering to write this long reply? It’s because I am in a similar position, as a Singaporean woman living in the UK, and would like people like you to realize that life choices are more complicated than you would think. My baby is arriving at the end of the year and I don’t have access to grandparents/relatives or a foreign maid. I will be the only one among all my Singaporean friends ‘crazy’ enough to try to manage with help from neither grandparents nor maid. And yes, that means we will be dependent on one income. It is not cushy by any means; in fact we both took huge pay cuts moving from Singapore to the UK. In comparison to our friends still living in Singapore, we live very modest lives. We do not have a car, our last holiday was a ‘staycation’ spent working on our garden and vegetable allotment, and we even gave up the television to save on the TV licence fee. But in the absence of free/cheap childcare (choices freely available to most women in Singapore), it just doesn’t make sense to go out to work just to make enough to pay for expensive childcare.

    • Thanks for sharing, and I can’t relate to your experience making a living in UK to dispute the issue of who’s cushier than who. Whatever drove Dr Lee to be a stay at home mum doesn’t concern me so much as her beliefs in what sorts of unions make smart children. The rest of my post, I admit, is an overreaction. The circumstances leading to her giving up her job were obscured by a tone of effortless self-righteousness which led to the impression that she must be comfortable, to say the least. But like you said, I could be wrong and in fact I hope I’m wrong so that there’s at least something worthy of respect from what’s depicted in the letter.

      Bravo for pulling through despite the unavailability of options there which we Singaporeans have but take for granted. But even if we have the ‘luxury’ of parents or cheap domestic helpers it is a trade-off for quality time actually spent with the child, not to mention struggle with exorbitant housing and vehicle finances let alone childcare. Having a baby in the hospital alone will set us back a few months worth of salary in spite of government subsidies. Paternity leave is virtually non-existent and we have to save up for an expensive, gruelling education, enrichment classes and tuition included, which we’re not even sure our kids have the stamina to endure. Then again, we could argue forever about relative standards of living but that wasn’t the intention of my initial posting.

      Thanks again for the solid insight and I wish you all the best in your pregnancy.

  4. Hi- coincidentally, an article appeared in today’s British papers with some solid figures related to my earlier comment on the crippling cost of childcare in the UK, and why mothers might be better off staying at home.

    Here are the figures.

    Cost of sending one child to nursery for 35 hours a week : £1,540 a month
    Average take home pay : £1,680 a month

    Cost of nanny : £32,000 a year
    Average salary before tax : about £25,000 a year

    Full article: http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/bills/article-2042571/Soaring-childcare-costs-crippling-tax-cuts-force-women-stay-home.html#ixzz1ZEr4Klvp

    Sure makes you look at the Singapore government maid levy in a different light!

  5. i dont mind marrying a smarter woman so long as she respects me for who i am.i always give credit when it’s due,but only to those who are truly deserving of it.

  6. […] Sept. 2011, she wrote to the forum page about — you guessed it — her engagement to a Caucasian […]

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