重男轻女 (Men Are More Important Than Women)

Hello Beautiful Readers,

I hope everyone all around the world reading this today is having a great day. The sun has finally begun to shine over Shanghai, and I’ve been spending a lot less time wearing my giant wool pea coat (that I hate, simply because my wearing it would have to imply the presence of unfavorable weather).

Today’s topic is not poop, for once. In fact, it is something that has been revealing itself to me, little by little, during my stay here in Shanghai. Today’s topic is sexism.

Now, don’t roll your eyes just yet. I am not over here burning bras, growing out my armpit hair, or blaming all of my earthly problems on -gasp- MENFOLK but if you do know me at all, you must have known that this post was inevitable. And now that I know about it what I do, I cannot keep from you any longer this annoying, but not shocking truth.

My desire to write this started the other day when my teacher shared with us a 成语 (chéng yǔ). A chéngyǔ is basically an idiom – a set of four characters or more that involves either a metaphor or an implied message, many of which have close ties to the morals and ideals of Chinese culture. For example:

责无旁贷 (zé wú páng dài): This is a chéng yǔ (an idiom) that means “there is no shirking on responsibility; one’s life should be bound to duty.”

自强不息 (zì qiáng bù xī): This one means “strive to make oneself stronger; make unremitting efforts to improve oneself.”

Both of these are pretty basic ideas that could probably be applied to any person in any country. And then, on Monday, I learned this one.

重男轻女 (zhòng nán qīng nǚ): “Regard men as superior to women; preference of boys to girls, of sons to daughters.”

Okay. Now this really is not a surprise – China is sort of notorious for  binding women’s feet in ancient times for purposes of beauty and to have them house-bound,  for having that one-child rule, for parents aborting or abandoning daughters in preference of sons, for having a major gender skew in the population – 60 / 40 male to female. Wealthy Chinese men are expected to keep mistresses and put them up in apartments – and many of these men’s wives not only know about the mistresses but also know them personally; often times they are even friends. But there is more to it. As a human who happens to have female reproductive organs, I have some first hand stories, just for you!

Last semester, I was recruited to be a hair model for a Chinese brand of hairspray. Don’t get too excited – it wasn’t for my beautiful red locks but rather for my ability to appear as a Westerner. This is not the important part. The scout, a tall and well-dressed Chinese woman who spoke wonderful English, approached me while I was drinking some coffee at the Starbucks close to school and we began to have a conversation. At some point, I asked her how she began her career as a recruiter of Western models for hairspray ads. The conversation went a bit like this.

Me: So how did you end up with this job? Do you get to work with the models in the photo shoots, or do you simply go around town scouting for Western and Chinese models?

Scout: Well, first I worked in the television business. I wanted to be a news anchor, or on a game show, to be on the TV so my parents would be proud of me, but I wasn’t pretty enough and the TV station was looking for someone a bit more…humorous.

Me: Humorous? Seems like an odd request for a news station, but I suppose I can understand. What, do you not like jokes? (laughs)

Scout: No, I do like jokes. I just can’t really make them. Girls aren’t really funny, you know.

Me: Girls…? I don’t know, people tell me I am funny.

Scout: No. No, no. Only men are funny. Girls cannot be funny, so I was not awarded the job.

Me: … okay.


Obviously, the conversation happened many months ago and I cannot remember the exact words she used, but my friend Brian who happened to be there as well and who knows my feminist frustrations will not let me forget the contents of said conversation (i.e. “Haha, hey, remember that time that girl told you girls aren’t funny. It’s cause you aren’t funny. Ha, HA!”) Cool, Brian. After this, I sort of let the conversation die, as I was unsure of what a culturally acceptable response to such a claim would be, but in the time since then I have given the occasion some though. The serious tone in her voice led me to believe that this was something she truly believed to be true; women just are not funny. Do not try to be funny, because you can’t, because you are a girl. That type of thing. Her confused and concerned  expression when I told her I thought that I could be funny sometimes was proof enough that this concept was engrained in her head and could not be budged.

Since then, I had placed this concern with Chinese perspectives on sex on the back burner. I am here as a student, after all, not a revolutionary with a feminist agenda. But the thoughts were rekindled a few weeks ago when I had a similar experience.

During my Chinese class, my Chinese teacher was asking each one of us in the class if we preferred to travel individually (individually not necessarily meaning ‘by oneself,’ but rather ‘on one’s own time, with one’s family or friends, without an organized tour group) or with a pre-organized tourist group. When it was my turn, I naturally told her I would prefer to travel with friends than pay for a tour-guide and scheduled meal times.

Me: I prefer to travel with friends or family. I don’t like organized tour groups.

Teacher: Very good. Do you travel with just girl friends, or do you have any male friends you take with you?

Me: Um…that depends. I have girl friends and boy friends, so whoever, I guess.

Teacher: Good. This is interesting, though. I think girls usually prefer to travel in pre-paid tour groups, and boys like to travel with friends.

Me: Um, maybe. But I don’t like them.

Teacher: But what happens if you get lost? What happens if your money gets stolen, or you don’t know how to communicate with the native people of the country you are visiting?

Me: Well, those are all serious problems. But I’m positive I could figure it out.

Teacher: Oh, how interesting. You Americans are so amazing. Men usually travel this way because they can solve their own problems; women can travel in the groups so that they won’t have to get stuck in any situation they cannot handle without the men around.

Me: Um..I guess. But I can figure things out, too. I don’t think is a men and women type of problem…

Teacher: (laughs) Yes it is.


Again, a woman preaching to me about the supposed limitations of girlhood. Super weird. This is one of those situations where though existence is clear, you don’t necessarily lose sleep over it – but when the issue is brought up directly like in the examples above, always results in uncomfortable feelings. This is sexism, not male-dominated or ordained, but rather kept up by the women themselves. I have learned firsthand that for the women of China, this feeling of inferiority isn’t uncomfortable or unjust but rather just a cultural truth.

Now to get technical. This preference of males over females goes WAY back (as it does in the rest of the world), to the point where one could argue that a form of sexism is built into the characters of the chinese language.

This is the character for man, boy, or son: 男. This character is comprised of the character 田, the character for field over top of the character 力, which represents strength. The character represents strong men working in the fields.

This is the character for woman, girl, or daughter: 女. Based on the evolution of Chinese characters from ancient times, the character is supposed to represent a woman sitting with her legs crossed.

Now, unlike the character for man, many characters contain this character for woman within it, usually to denote the character as something that is (or was) considered a “woman’s affair.” For example:

好(hǎo): This character means “good,” “nice,” or “satisfactory.” The character is comprised of 女, the character for woman and 子, the character for son. The character is a depiction of a woman sitting with her son.

结婚 (jiéhūn): This character means “marriage.” You know, because every girl dreams of being a bride!

化妆 (huàzhuāng): This one means “makeup,” or to put on makeup. This is a bit more obvious as women are the predominant makeup-wearers, but notice the mini 女 at the end notifying the reader that this character involves women’s concerns. (I know some men who look GREAT in a emerald lined eye!)

My point is, ideas or thoughts that are generally considered to have some sort of connection with women, even if they don’t necessarily. This is more confusing to explain than I had thought – please post any questions you have any I will do my best to answer them!

This culture has remained a patriarchy since the ancient days of Confucius. A patriarchy isn’t a system upheld solely by men; it is a system in which men and women willingly contribute to. This is definitely the case in China. If there is a Chinese feminist out there – please stand up! (I know you’re out there). These examples that I have laid out for you are all real experiences that I have had, and have not been modified in any form. You thought we had patriarchy problems in America? Well, we’re about to if you vote Mitt barefoot-and-pregnant Romney. Ba boom boom ching! But really. Yes, the gender wage gap and this whole battle over whether women are responsible enough to make their own life choices are problems in the United States, but at least I’m allowed to be funny.

Rant over! Until next time,