A much younger cousin of mine was going to attend Melbourne University. To my surprise, she chose instead to study at a local college in Malaysia, even though her parents can well afford to send her to Melbourne University. Because this is the age of facebook and myspace, and because she was, quite literally, in diapers when I last saw her, I asked her publicly why the change of heart. She explained she’s still going to Melbourne University, except instead of going there directly, going to have her credits transferred over, which to my knowledge is impossible as Melbourne University does not admit transfer students into its programmes, unless the university transferred from belongs to the prestigious Group of 8.
An older cousin responded to my remark, saying, “Perhaps she’s being considerate of her parents.”
That may be true because for a Malaysian, it costs on average RM300 k for a 3 year arts or commerce degree, RM650 k for 4 year engineering degree and well over RM1 million for a 5 year medical degree in Australia. To many, that’s an amount saved over a lifetime.
“But she’s an only child,” came my reply. “Her parents can afford it.”
Besides, it’s not like we can take that money to see Gow Wong Yeh, Lord of the Underworld. We’ve got to spend it somehow and why not on our children’s education, if our own retirement is assured?
“Not everyone is so ambitious.” He cited one of his friends who became a housewife straight after earning her engineering degree, which to me implied her education was a waste.
As anyone of you will know, he might as well be referring to me. I make no bones about it: I’m an educated woman who stays home. I’m friends with other educated women who also stay home. In today’s very expensive world, most women have to work but we are a very fortunate exception. We are John Howard’s “Doctors’ Wives” – that demographic of EDUCATED, OPINIONATED women who swept Australia’s second longest serving Prime Minister into power and kept him there for 11 years 267 days.
I said, “Just because a woman goes on to become a housewife doesn’t mean her education’s wasted or is less ambitious than someone who works full time. Look at our Rosmah. Would you not say she’s a very ambitious woman? Yet her official designation is as the wife of our PM. Now that is surely a very powerful position, perhaps best appreciated by someone with a good education and plenty of ambition. On a less grandiose scale, there’s me, for example. My fellow surgeons and doctors wives are all university graduates. Some have multiple degrees to their name. Yet, most of us choose to be supportive spouses by putting our own careers on hold. Are we any less ambitious? Is our education wasted just because we don’t earn a wage? I don’t think so. Socially, when you are of a particular level, you’ll find that the wives of your peers also tend to be of that level. As a woman, if I were to be inadequately educated I’d feel very small beside the spouses of my husband’s counterparts.”
It isn’t just functions and outings you’ll be seeing your spouse’s colleagues’ wives at, members of the same profession, for some mysterious reason, all tend to live in the same area and send their children to the same schools. They visit the same supermarkets, dine at the same restaurants, go on the same type of holidays. Think of all these highly educated, very opinionated women talking to each other. One tries to engage me in talk about state and national politics every time I enter my local health food store. Another has just introduced the concept of volunteering to children in Amanda’s school.
Unconnected to this conversation between cousins, a friend of mine said, “In Malaysia, they see the raising of children as the work of Indonesian maids, babysitters and other family members. When I went to the market, people were surprised to see me tagging my children along. Many children there don’t know their mothers. Their mother is that Indonesian lady who swaddles them, wipes their runny noses…cares for them.”
This explains why Malaysians, indeed most Asians, are of the opinion that educating a girl just to be a housewife is a waste. It’s a waste because someone uneducated can do the same job. But ask yourself this: is the scope of housewife-ing limited to domestic drudgery? Why then do working mothers want to leave their children with maids who speak English or send them to childcare centres where they will receive appropriate developmental support?
When you educate a girl, future housewife or Prime Minister, you are educating an entire family. You are not just educating 1 generation, but many generations to come, for the effect of education is not just residual but cumulative. Take Wang Leehom’s paternal grandmother for example: a 90 something year old university graduate who helps her famous grandson pen those love songs I adore. Was her education a waste? To hint at a wasted education just because a woman has no career to show for it is to belittle our contribution to our families and the communities we live in and to underestimate the REAL value of women everywhere, doctors’ wives or not.