Once upon a time, a woman’s role was firmly rooted in wifely duties, child-rearing, and keeping house.

But thanks to generations of women fighting for gender equality and progress, we’ve since come a long way.

Today, women are empowered. We’re told that we can have it all – a perfect home and a thriving career – if we wish. And we’re encouraged to be strong and independent, free to chart our own course in life.

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But when we try to do so, it seems we usually end up being publicly scrutinised for our decisions, especially if it boils down to making a choice between family and career.

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Image Source: Facebook / The Straits Times

When news broke that more women in Singapore are choosing to put marriage on the backburner to take advantage of better education or career opportunities, my first thought was, “You go, ladies!”

My next thought was, why there was a need to spotlight female singlehood in particular, making it seem like such a glaring anomaly?

According to the article, more women in Singapore across all age groups are opting to remain single, as compared with 10 years ago. The proportion of single men has also risen, albeit at a slower rate, but that didn’t make its way into the headlines.

In another article, similar facts were pointed out, but with a further implication that our nation’s fertility rate is trending downwards mainly because there are now more single women in Singapore.

Arguably, it could just be the way the headline (“More single women in Singapore, key reason for low fertility rate”) is written, but that really bugged me.

single, ladies, choice, progressive, skm, pride, kindness
Image Source: Shutterstock / Dmytro Zinkevych

Because while we’re applauding bold, independent women for being go-getters who’re crushing their career and other life goals, we’re also calling them out for not meeting society’s expectations of them to get married and start a family.

It’s a ridiculous double standard where women just can’t win.

Despite the erosion of societal and gender stereotypes, plenty of women still face a certain stigma about being single for whatever reason. And they’ll always have to deal with pointed questions about why they’re not in a relationship – as if being alone somehow lessens their worth.

True story: I met some ex-colleagues recently. We had lost touch for a few years, so while catching up, the conversation naturally came around to our relationship statuses.

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Image Source: Shutterstock / imtmphoto

When one of them said that she was still single (everyone else is either attached or married with kids), the first thing someone else said was: “You too picky, right? Or your expectations too high? Did you try hard enough to find?”

Taken aback, I sat there silently bristling at the immediate assumption that if she’s single, she must be the problem. She simply laughed it off and said that for now, she just wants to focus on her job and enjoy being commitment-free until the right one comes along.

“You can have both career and family, too, you know. You better don’t wait too long; next time can’t have kids, how?” said the same person in an almost affronted tone.

The conversation veered away from the subject, but it did make me wonder: What if all she wants to do is excel in her career, and marriage and kids were never on the cards in the first place? That’s her decision to make, isn’t it?

Or are women only encouraged to aim high and exercise freedom of choice up to a point, before societal obligations kick in and they have to put aside the life they want, to fulfil those?

A casual poll among my male friends seems to suggest that men don’t exactly face the same problem as women.

Some of them are voluntarily (and happily) single, choosing to further their careers, travel the world, or simply have the freedom to do whatever they want. Though older than me, they’re viewed as eligible bachelors in their prime, with nary a to-do about their life choices and no question at all that they would eventually settle down and have kids.

The same can’t be said for single women.

For the first time at 34, I’m noticing just how much pressure we’re under to settle down by a certain age because our biological clock is ticking.

single, ladies, choice, progressive, skm, pride, kindness
Image Source: Shutterstock / GOLFX

We have a “sell-by” date and the older we get, the less desirable we become (notice how single women are never called “eligible spinsters”) – a not-so-subtle reminder we’ll often receive at family gatherings, special occasions like weddings and, of course, when it’s newsworthy.

The onus seems to be on women to find a suitable partner, get married, and start a family before it’s too late. But if that’s not what you want in life yet, then to hell with your expiry date.

You don’t have to put a ring on it if you don’t want to. You can play by your own rules and build an incredible, fulfilling life for yourself.

It’s 2018 – about time we recognise that there are still unfair expectations placed on women, particularly single women, when it comes to traditional social roles and responsibilities.

Getting married and having kids is a personal choice, not an obligation.

We need to stop making women feel bad just because that’s not the life they envision for themselves.

They really don’t need to justify their life decisions to anyone, and it would really be kinder of us to not impose our expectations on them to do so.

After all, isn’t that what it means to be an empowered woman today?