A straight white guy.
Not the usual person to stand up for feminism or gay rights. Not even the kind of person wanted in such movements, it often seems.
They are some of those strange observations the foreigner makes in China:
Guy and girl sit next to each other in the park. They coddle each other, obviously very much in love.
Same people, same place, half an hour later: she has her back turned to him, sullenly plucks on some leaves, obviously irritated. He stands there, dumbfounded, obviously not quite knowing what to do.
Guy and girl walk down the road. She suddenly stops, pouts, “huhn”-s at him; he has to scramble for words to convince her that she’s the best and prettiest, and worth everything and anything, before she even takes another step.
Oftentimes, many such behaviors found widely among East Asian girls, along with a deep-seated fondness for everything cute and girly (not least in clothes and accessories), make their foreign observer incredulous.
“What are *they* like?” oftentimes turns into a question of men and women. Thus, one of those things one often rubs up against, whether observing China or being involved in an intercultural relationship, whether being in-country or hearing about it from afar, are issues of gender.
How you are, as a man or woman, seems to have become largely a matter of choice in “Western” countries. Nobody in their right mind would suggest that women are naturally less capable of something – take mathematics, for example, at this time when girls typically outperform boys in education. …
Chinese shake their heads, say that bodies are different, and therefore people are, too.
Fewer daughters will raise women’s value
The Chinese countryside is scattered with posters urging people to remember that “Girls are just as good as boys,” but the surplus of men keeps rising.
According to a study released in April 2009 by the British Medical Journal, currently, 117 boys are born in China for every 100 girls, a rise from earlier figures of 108 to 100.
Gender screening during pregnancy, and follow up abortions, may be illegal, but they’re still common. Traditional thinking has combined with modern tools to create a gender gulf. But what impact will the imbalance have on Chinese culture?
Traditional Chinese society placed higher value on men, and thus sons. It was the sons who would continue the family name, go on working with their parents and support them. This is not just an aspect of Chinese culture, but is common in other societies as well. In fact, when my brother married and took his wife’s family name, some people asked me if I now had to keep mine – at which my mother immediately shook her head.
Women still face the “glass ceiling” in many careers too. Even in school, it is common to assume that men have more aptitude for the “important” subjects such as mathematics and sciences, whereas woman are better in the “soft” subjects such as languages. Often, this even goes to the point where it is thought that men were simply more talented and intelligent.
From actual data, however, we increasingly see that it is, in fact, the girls who study better at school, let alone at university.
Yet, there are still more boys than girls being born, because education isn’t the only value here. The one-child policy is clearly having an effect; families may only value boys a little more than girls, but if they only have one chance, they don’t want to waste it.
Another quality of Chinese social thought is the high value placed on family. A life is seen as incomplete without marriage and children. Typically, parents are also looking for a great match for their child. A potential husband has to be able to care for his wife, while a wife has to be cultivated, a good mother, and preferably pretty.
A part of that traditional thought is also that love takes second stage, at best, after practical considerations. The two potential partners have to be seen as fitting together. Character plays its part in that, but so do material, social status, and ethnic background.
Where does that leave the millions of Chinese men who, by 2020, will not be able to find a Chinese wife? What effect will this have on the culture?
Clearly, something has to give. Most analysts writing about this issue have been somewhat pessimistic, predicting a rise in human trafficking and prostitution, especially the import of foreign women from poorer countries and regions, such as Southeast Asia and eastern Russia, into China. Increasing numbers of young men may also make society more aggressive.
But let’s take a more positive approach. Regard for daughters will probably rise as well, as people recognize that daughters are usually easier than sons to raise into good adults who will learn well, work hard, and not forget about their parents. Most importantly, as the rarer of the sexes, they will have a better shot on the marriage market.
For the men things will get harder: The chances that the woman will have to be a foreigner will be better as there are simply too few Chinese women. The men will have to work particularly hard to attract and keep their partner, whether Chinese or foreign, since the women will have more choice.
The sooner it is realized that it is increasingly better to have a girl than to have a boy, and the sooner the old prejudices against women being educated too highly or reaching too powerful positions are abolished, the better it will be for China.
Women can’t be seen just as producers of the next generation of sons. Culture may change slowly, but the regions of Hong Kong and Taiwan, with similar cultures and traditions, both have low birth-rates and balanced gender ratios. The Chinese mainland clearly has the potential to change fast.
“Cultures are often more alike than they seem, ” Global Times, Sep. 24, 2009
Recently, the opinion pages of the Global Times have seen a lot of debate over such thorny issues as the relationships between older Western men and young Chinese women, and the tricky subject of living together before marriage.
Relationships, especially families, form the basis of society, and so it’s no wonder that they draw a lot of attention, especially in a rapidly changing society like China’s.