Singapore—An interview with Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo was featured in The Straits Times (ST) on Sunday, September 8, after a lengthy lunch with ST’s Executive Editor Sumiko Tan (Lunch with Sumiko) just after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’sNational Day Rally.
One of the things that Ms Teo pointed out is that, as a public figure, what she says in private does not stay there.
The Manpower Minister famously said three years ago, “you need a very small space to have sex,” and since then has yet to live it down.
Apparently Ms Teo is well-known for speaking her mind, which on occasion has gotten her into trouble.
The quip about needing a small space for sex was made in another ST interview. Ms Teo was asked if young people are not getting apartments early enough to start having children.
The minister said that she should not have made the remark, which had originally been meant as a joke.
“It was meant as a private joke but, you know, when you are in public life, nothing is really private anymore. So lesson learnt.”
But she did admit that she is a straight shooter, someone who tells it like it is. ”Unfortunately, I think I talk a bit too straight, you know, and some people don’t take very well to that. My husband is used to it, my friends are used to it, the people in my work sphere they are very used to it. It’s like that, I say it.”
When asked why she posts about her private life on social media, she said it was all about connecting with people.
“Yah, up to a point. I realised that people do want to connect with public figures. They need to know that you are a real person… I’d be very uncomfortable if people sort of said, ‘Oh, she’s very up there’.”
However, she also acknowledged that she has bad days too.
“I’m flesh and blood like them. I fall sick too. I have down days, I have bad hair days just like everybody else, I have times where an issue confounds me and I haven’t figured it out.”
However, because of her involvement in the trade unions, she learned that if she needs to hear how people really think and feel, it’s necessary to stay close to the ground so that individuals know she’s able to connect with them.
“That comes from knowing that you are like them in many ways.”
Later in the interview, Ms Teo said that she has sought to be a role model to her twin daughters, who are now in university, and only in one aspect—driving.
“I realised when I was about 35 that I wasn’t being a very good role model to my daughters because I didn’t know how to drive. I never felt an urge to drive. So I had these two little girls running around, right, and I said, ‘Jo, you know, women these days drive but you don’t drive. So your daughters are going to grow up thinking that women don’t drive.’
It suddenly dawned on me that I better become a better role model for my daughters. So that’s why I made myself learn driving.”
There are only two other women ministers in the cabinet. Grace Fu, who is the Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, and Idranee Rajah, Minister, Prime Minister’s Office, Second Minister for Finance, and Second Minister for Education.
Aside from helming the Manpower Ministry, Ms Teo is also the Second Minister for Home Affairs./ TISG