These Singaporean Fairy Tales Will Give You Fertility Nightmares

What Women Really Think
March 25 2013 2:37 PM

These Singaporean Fairy Tales Will Give You Fertility Nightmares

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Rapunzel had better be doing some serious baby-making in that tower

Screenshot via The Singaporean Fairytale

With an aging population and shrinking workforce, there’s little doubt Singapore takes population growth seriously—according to figures from the Atlantic, it spends around $1.3 billion annually trying to convince couples to do the deed.

Jennifer Lai Jennifer Lai

Jennifer Lai is an associate editor at Slate.

But the government has taken to patronizing young women with a series of reworked “fairytales” that warn them that their biological clock is ticking.

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Take, for example, the alarmist tale of the Golden Goose, accompanied by an illustration of an empty, forlorn nest. The goose’s story? She was “prized for her eggs,” but she waited too long and soon “she could make them no more / For her egg-making device was rusty and old.” The pop-up statistic below warns readers: “1 out of 3 women over 35 will have problems conceiving."

This story of the Golden Goose is highly problematic: It tells young women that their worth is based on their ability to bear children. Of course the Golden Goose would be sad—she's just a silly fictional character and her eggs are all she's got. But really, women aren't just pretty baby-making machines meant to mindlessly pump out future generations.

Or how about the tale of Alice, who just isn’t ready to leave Wonderland and settle down yet? That’s not OK, according to these tales. Jezebel’s Tracie Egan Morrissey sums it up:

"Alice" features a "wild and reckless" girl in a YOLO crop top inexplicitly [sic] steering a convertible from the passenger's seat while holding balloons, with a pop-up warning that an "extended adolescence for twentysomethings today has a biological cost for women." Everything Alice is doing seems way more dangerous than the threat of declining fertility. In fact, she really shouldn't be having children. She seems really irresponsible.

Even worse, the campaign goes out of its way to mock women who decide not to have children. The “Fairy Godmother” story describes an aunt past 40 “with a knack for keeping suitors at bay.” She’s got 10 cats in her apartment and everyone calls her crazy. The nursery rhyme pokes fun at the aunt’s lifestyle—she is so impoverished of real connections that she calls her fancy shoes “my babies.” Meanwhile, an annoying pop-up reminds us that in-vitro fertility treatments don’t always work.

Aside from being grossly condescending, these stories ignore the myriad valid reasons for young women to delay marriage and children—and the fact that some women might not want either of those things. Instead of encouraging women to learn about the risks of having children at a later age, they just make women feel bad for pursuing things other than motherhood.

And I doubt they will work. Tact is required to educate anyone properly; this project, which portrays women as immature, irresponsible, selfish and dumb, misses that mark completely. The only positive female character? Snow White. She has seven kids who “give her kisses every day,” which clearly makes her “richest of all.” There’s nothing wrong with the love of children or having a large family, of course, but childless women can live richly too.

Instead of forcing us to deal with the cognitive dissonance of a campaign that infantilizes women even as it encourages them to have sex and become mothers, maybe the people behind the Singaporean Fairy Tale should just get to the point. Which they do, on the “conversations” portion of their website. “The first question you should ask yourselves is: Do I want a child? If the answer is yes, you should have one as soon as possible,” it says.

Just follow the simple nursery rhymes and color illustrations.

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