What does it feel like to be a woman living in China?

Mudassir Ali
Feb 29, 2020 06:53 AM 0 Answers
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Mudassir Ali
- Feb 29, 2020 06:53 AM

China is extremely diverse, people from different places, from different social status, would have very different experience. I don’t think anyone can give a comprehensive answer about what it feels like to be a woman in China. You can write a book about it, still there’re more stories to tell.

That being said, I’ll try to explain what I think being a woman in China feels like. It based on my experience, what I know and heard. It’s by no means comprehensive, there’re a lot of things I don’t know. It’s just my perspective.

Being a woman in general is hard in China, regardless where you’re from, or what social classes you belong to (except perhaps the 0.1% of extremely rich and powerful). The entire society systematically discriminate against you. But if you’re born to a middle class family in a big city (like Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Guangzhou… etc.), at least you’ll have a better chance to live through infancy without being killed simply because you’re not a man. Things are getting a lot better than before, but due to 1 family 1 child policy, killing or abandoning infant girls so the family can have another child (hopefully a boy) isn’t all that rare. Girls from urban areas enjoy relatively carefree childhood as boys, probably being doted by grandparents and parents alike.

Because of the harsh competitive environment, many parents feel the need to prepare their children as early as possible. “让孩子赢在起跑线上”(make your children a winner before the race begin) as they say it. Boys and girls a like are forced to take classes at tender age of 3 or 4, remembering ancient poems, learn to read and write, do math, learn English, practice music instruments…

The difference between girls and boys start to show as early as elementary school. We’re still having this outdated idea about girls are good with literature and history, and boys are good with math and science. Many teachers (through out our education system) favor boys over girls. Many schools favor boys over girls. I remember when I was in high school, there’s a girl in my class, a quiet mediocre student. One day, our head teacher came and asked her to switch seats with a boy, so the boy can sit in the front of the class and she sits in the back. It’s a casual thing, the teacher said in front of the class: it’s not like you’re going anywhere, you’re a girl. it’s better to give the good seats to boys who can make it.

I remember that incident, I think she remembered it as well. It sucks, especially coming from a teacher.

Many Chinese universities set higher admission scores to girls, especially literature majors. In other words, a boy need have 500 score to be accepted in history major, while a girl would need 520 to be admitted. The school said it’s to keep gender balance, and since “girls are better at literature, we set a higher score so we can save some spots for boys”. Yet, the same “gender balance” police doesn’t apply science major, in which girls are minority. And the same misogyny goes on from middle school to universities. Many professors (male or female alike) don’t like female students. Many consider them less smart than male students, less focused (since girls are naturally more interested in make up and clothing, and they spend their college years having relationship dramas).

If a girl decides to pursue graduate degrees, she’s often ridiculed for being “not human”. We have endless jokes about “the third kind” (there’re 3 kinds of people: male, female and female PhDs). People doesn’t respect female scientists nearly as much as male scientists. One famous bad joke about our very first female astronaut saying: “why we need a female astronaut? so the male astronaut would have natural milk in space”. In any other country, a female astronaut should be treated with respect, should be role model of young girls who want to devoted to science, only in China, we make cruel jokes about their gender. Of course, there’re outrage against such jokes, but still, it could get so much popularity speak loudly about our misogyny in academy.

Career wise, girls have it harder than guys. Like schools, many companies make it very clear in their hiring ads, the position prefer male over female (yes they write this on their job postings). When hiring female employee, you’re judged not only by your ability, but also by your appearance, your height and weight (yes, they write requirements of height and weight on their job posting as well). Many companies would not hire women because they believe women won’t focus on their jobs. 2-3 years after graduation, girls would get married, and have kids. Not only the company would lose the employee over pregnancy and maternity leave, the employee won’t be focusing on her career afterwards. That also means promotions won’t goes to female employee because “she’d get married and have kids in couple of years, why waste our time?”

Then again, you can’t blame the hiring company for discriminating against female, since as a girl, you’re expected to get married before 25. We have the most insidious saying about girls are like Christmas gift, they go on sale after 25. Women are expected to have children before 30, since after 30, it’d be considered “advanced maternal age”, and it’s bad for the mother, and “quality” of the baby drops. Even in big cities like Beijing, there’re still tremendous pressure for women to get marry and have children before the age of 30, mostly because the 1 family 1 child policy. It’s like you only have one shot at extend your family lineage, better do it when you’re most healthy, and most likely to give birth to healthy babies. In other words, women are still largely considered reproductive machines, and it’s our responsibility and ultimate lifelong goal to pop out babies for the family.

Communists has been promoting gender equality, but only skin deep.The idea is: everything men can do, women can do; but traditionally female gender responsibilities, like housekeeping, child education remain female responsibilities. So, women are expected to do more and more, they are expected to maintain a job, and bring in income; they’re expected to clean the house, cook, and do laundry; they’re expected to raise children; and they’re still expected to obey their husbands.

My cousin was dating a girl a couple of years back. And I asked him: so what do you think about her? He said: she does whatever I told her to do. I’m sure my cousin loved the girl for her many good qualities, but the foremost quality he valued was still “obedience”. I’m not trying to make my cousin looks like a douche bag, but it kind of demonstrated how people think about such things.

And I’m not even going to spend time on the whole virgin thing. There’re still substantial amount of male prefer marrying a virgin. They admit it’s bad, but they just can’t get over it (and I think deep down, they’re quite proud of their ignorance and misogyny). They can sleep around with girls before getting married, but they want to marry virgins. The good thing is, these people are less and less, especially in big cities. But now and then, you still hear about girls talking about how her relationship soured after her boyfriend found out she’s not a virgin.

One thing I do want to mention, even when this answer gets ridiculously long, is domestic violence against women. The law on this front is unbelievably bad. Women are not protect against domestic violence. In fact, if husband beat up their wives, they would get lighter sentence than beating random people. (Abusing your wife for years causing serious physical damage even death will get you 2 – 7 years in jail, if wife can prove it; assault random people will get you 3-10 years in jail). There’s a famous case about a woman trying to escape from her abusive husband, she had suffered multiple broken bones, internal organ injuries… still can’t get the local police to interfere, because law doesn’t really want to get involved in “family conflict”. She tried to ran away from her husband, but was caught, imprisoned, and later killed. And her husband got 7 years in jail because this is qualified as “abuse”, because they are married couple. If the husband killed a stranger, he’d get murder, that’s death penalty, or at least life in prison. But because he abused his wife to death, he got 7 years.

Insane, isn’t it? I have many cases like this, many many more out there and no one knows about it. No one cares.

Overall, every time I think about this, I’m grateful that I’m an US citizen. Some Chinese people consider me as a traitor, not only betrayed my country but actually grateful about it. But seriously, I don’t need to do make up and maintain a 100 lbs weight to keep my job. I don’t need to get married and have kids just to be treated like a normal person. People won’t think I sleep around if I’m successful with my career. If people make cruel sexist jokes, I can report them as sexual harassment. If I get married, and my husband beat me, I know where to go for help.

I want to end this long and sad post with something a bit lighthearted. There’s a quite famous internet limerick about “next gen women”:

Mudassir Ali
- Feb 29, 2020 06:53 AM

It depends on your social, educational, and family background.

Life will be agonizing if you a 30 something, leading a celibate life and is at odds with people around you, in terms of your views pertaining to marriage, children, solitude, retirement and death.

At best, those people think you are overreaching yourself by setting your standard too high. For instance, the old massage therapist in my community deliberately repeated the same question about my “boyfriend” three times even though I tried very hard to be evasive about this question, who wound up making the self-complacent remark that, I think, has massaged his bruised ego deriving from the fact that his incompetent son’s wife had allegedly abandoned this family years ago: “your standard is way too high.”

At worst, some even go so far as to bash you as if you were leading a sordid life disconnected with the rest of the society. I once saw several Chinese female teachers in my office at the age of around 28 killing their time after class by searching their former supervisor’s microblog pictures with her newlywed husband, and poking fun at her flash marriage when she was 33 years old. The Chinese version of quora, Zhihu, is overflowing with people of their likes, whose favorite pastime is to write posts about the “headstrong” and “pathetic” “old woman” in their companies, even after they had had “a blast” in the dinner parties together. I hope that their colleagues will never find this persona of them out: the same person who showed “respect” or provide “kind” suggestions for her personal choice in the day is busy vilifying her on the Internet for having a distinct lifestyle.

That’s why I intentionally isolate myself from my colleagues in the workplaces by locking myself in the language lab alone or finding a classroom to nap at noon, and feigning illness when there are activities to attend. As a matter of fact, I was offered the chances to travel to nearby provinces for free by the college I used to work in, but I declined to travel with my colleagues for fear of the gossips this kind of intimacy might incur.

There are also people, ranging from the matchmaking companies to the artificial insemination agencies, who are eager to take advantage of the restive “leftover women” like me. So, I have narrated a real story of a Chinese female ph.D from the news I read 6 years ago many times to my mom to inform her of the dire consequences if she urges me to get married simply for the sake of a child on a weekly basis. (This is of little avail, but I trust the power of repetition.)

In the picture below, Yang Guo saw her dad for the first time, after she vanished for a year, during which her 70-year-old dad spent all his savings, a total of 100,000 RMB, traveling across the nation to inquire the passers-by of his daughter’s whereabouts with her pictures and uploading her personal information to various websites, after he was informed by the college his daughter worked in of her disappearance one day in 2012.

He called her by cell phone, but it was turned off. When he arrived at the college, the school showed him a printed resignation letter and told him that his daughter cut off all the links with the college after she submitted this letter to the personnel department. Afterwards, he went to the apartment she had bought, only to find it sold to a new owner.

After traveling around aimlessly for a year, he received a phone call from his nearby police station in Chongqing one day, when he was meant to look for his daughter in Beijing in June, 2013, which informed him of the location of a tramp who resembled his daughter.

The old father shed tears when narrating the story.

To his astonishment, a pregnant woman in a yellow T-shirt with unkempt hair was squatting at ground level and picking up dirty biscuits left by others. Ignoring her father’s presence, she didn’t even look up when he called her name. Overwhelmed by grief, he knelt down before her, shaking her shoulders, in the hope of awakening her, but she reacted with screaming and scratching him.

Mudassir Ali
- Feb 29, 2020 06:54 AM

Caveat: it’s a long answer. I hope you have the patience to read through.
I strongly disagree with Feifei’s answer that female students are discriminated in school. In my opinion, teachers usually favor students who perform well academically regardless of their gender. Female students usually work harder and obey the rules. “We’re still having this outdated idea about girls are good with literature and history, and boys are good with math and science.”I agree with Feifei in this regard but I don’t think it shows gender discrimination. It is a fact. Boys and girls are different. They are good in different areas. And I’m not sure about other places but when I went to high school, half of the students in my class (class for students studying science) were female. It’s easier for science students to be admitted into good schools so a lot of students opt for science regardless of their gender. “it’s not like you’re going anywhere, you’re a girl” that is really shocking! People in my hometown would never say this kind of thing. Usually we think female students could perform much better than male students because of their diligence.

I have yet to see any parents who trivialize their daughter’s education. Even those who favor sons over daughters think it is imperative that their daughters should receive proper education. Strangely many parents of female students put much more emphasis on education than parents of male students. And here’s the gender discrimination begins. You are a girl, you are not capable of taking care of yourself. You need a husband. How to find a good husband? You study your ass off, go to a good university, work in a good company and you will earn a good husband who is more educated and earns more money. The only way to find a good husband is to study hard. You have a college degree? Good. Master’s degree? Even better. You are a doctor? That’s awesome! You are a boy, you have a lot of ways to become successful. You don’t have to be good at academics. You are not a university material? It’s bad but you can always find other ways to be rich( being rich is tantamount to being successful in China). Maybe you can start a business on your own. You are a boy so you can always drag yourself up by your own bootstraps. You see, Chinese parents still think the ultimate goal of women is to find a suitable husband.

2. Career
I agree with everything Feifei mentioned. It’s no secret that female workers face sexual harassment in work place. Want a promotion? Sleep with the boss first! You are paid less than your male counterparts? You are a woman. Of course you are not going to earn as much as men no matter how hard you work.

Let’s give credit where it is due. I think Chinese government did a great job in women empowerment (in terms of education)

3. Relationship
Chinese women are still expected to be docile, submissive and feminine in relationships. No one likes opinionated women. That’s really bad, well, at least for me. I’m just not used to wearing makeup. I don’t have tendency to play coquetry. I can be really argumentative. A qualified girlfriend should be dressed up to the nines. A good girlfriend had better listen to the boyfriends- you want to save their face by being obedient. I’ve heard Korean and Japanese men are more male chauvinistic than Chinese men, is it an East Asian thing?

4. Marriage
There’s a huge pressure on women to get married before 30. An aunt of mine is pushing 40. She’s still single. Her parents worry themselves sick about her marriage. She has passed her marriageable age. There’s a slim chance for her of finding a husband. There’s an old saying in Chinese “男人四十一枝花,女人三十豆腐渣”. (Loosely translated a forty-year-old man is still in the prime of his time while a woman who is barely thirty is long past her prime).

5. Family life
Generally Chinese women have high status in families. Many Chinese men are hen-pecked. Since most Chinese women have jobs, they are financially independent. However, in backward areas where people still discriminate girl children, women will have hard time pleasing their parents in law if they don’t give birth to the so-called family inheritor (females can’t carry the family name). Take my mum for an example: no one took care of her after she gave birth to me- her second daughter. Basically she was discarded by the family. She had to cook, wash and take care of me on herself. For those initiated, in Chinese culture, it’s imperative that women who just give birth to baby be taken great care of. In most cases, women are advised to stay indoor and avoid any manual work or family chores. It was only when my aunt gave birth to my male cousin that my grandparents mellowed down. I am the first one in my family to go to a decent university. My achievement in education does help me win a little attention (or love?) from my grandparents. They now fondly refer me to smartest person in the family. Somehow I became the role model of my cousins. Lol. I don’t hold a grudge against grandparents. I don’t love them either. I can’t forget all the psychological mistreatment they inflicted upon my mum. The good thing is, all the ‘only boy can continue family blood’ ridiculous outdated idea is fading away. 20 years has passed since I was born. Great changes took place. Now couples happily accept a girl as their single child in my village. Then again, it’s just my hometown. I’m sure there are many places where gender discrimination is still rife.

6.Personal safety
Being a woman is generally very safe in China. There’s no catcall, no ogling, no blatant sexual harassment in public. I have yet to witness any domestic violence against women in my neighborhood. What Feifei said maybe true but it’s a rare case.

Recent studies have ranked China at NO.69 in terms of gender equality. Being a woman in China is already hard. I cannot think of what kind of life women are leading in countries like India(From what I read in Quora, India is getting better but it still has long way to go), Saudi Arabia, and many other places where women are perceived less of. Guys, women make up half of the world population. How can humanity progress when half of the world population is left behind, being abused, denied of education, deprived of opportunities like choose their own partners, go to work or even drive a car!

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