The branding of Singapore International Airlines with the image of a beautiful, petite and servile ‘Oriental’ woman dressed in figure-hugging sarong-kebaya is one of the world’s longest running and most successful advertising campaigns. But this image does not simply advertise a service; it is part of a global and national regime of symbolic constructions of gender that today is seen as outdated and sexist, and bearing little relation to modern Singapore where women have good access to education and increased life choices resulting from engagement in the wage economy. The nation’s economic success has been a force for their liberation. One catastrophic consequence of women’s changed lives has been the plunge in fertility rates.
Singapore has one of the world’s lowest despite energetic government campaigns encouraging women to have more babies – and men to be more ‘masculine’. The failure of these campaigns and rethinking of the Singapore Girl highlight a key premise of this book: there are limits to the power of discursive constructions of gender in the national interest.