Women in China Breaking Free from Stereotypes

Sherry Lee
12 June, 2020

If you’re ever scrolling around social media, you’ll probably notice how women in China are now breaking free from the mindset of taking on kinship roles and pleasing the men in the family into strong, independent, confident, and rational beings. Some even gained labels for not acting according to stereotypes and wear them proudly, regardless if it was positive or negative, like Iron Lady or Tomboy, because these names meant these women are powerful.

However, not everyone accepts this development as they’re still clinging onto the “tradition” that shaped said stereotypes, believing this is the only right way to act. With a mindset like this in a country that prefers keeping to themselves, this only caused such mentality to grow and spread out to the society for generations until the women of China just could not take it anymore.

Photo by Sajjad Hussain M on Burst

I, personally, have lived in Mainland China for over ten years, and witnessed how under the exterior of a hardworking woman might be someone struggling because of obsolete stereotypes and expectations of a female. So, two of the women I respect deeply have come out to reveal the backstories of what some modern Chinese women face.

Controlled Mindset By “Family Policy”

Wu, 27 years old

I have watched my father come back from work and rest while my mother tended to his every need since childhood. It’s been two decades, and nothing has changed in my family. Dad still tosses everything to the women in the family while he just sits around. So, I moved out of my family home to get away from the mindset of needing to act like the perfect wife and mother as a woman.

We’re all from the same village, and these views have been continuously shared within this community for decades. It ends up being comprehended as ‘the right way’ for how we act, according to what gender we are.

Photo by Alex Zeng on Unsplash

We don’t often have new visitors coming to our village often unless they’re getting married to someone away or someone else marrying into the village. Then they pass on these standards to their children, as well as anybody new who joins the village, making it so this is the social norm

For example, the whole village will know exactly which family’s son is getting married. Whoever he brings in as his wife, the village will expect that woman to follow the same rules they have set. If you’re the daughter getting married, however, everybody judges your husband. No matter how good or bad your husband is, they use the same command to send you away: “Just listen to your husband and mother-in-law.” I refuse to follow such a lifestyle where I have no choice in what I do.

Photo by Jackson Wong on Unsplash

They are rejecting new information from people who have different views, fixated on the mindset. They refuse to allow anything new to jeopardize their norms, so it becomes a vicious chain reaction where the child learns from the family and grows up to teach the same information to his or her own family. That’s why I needed to be free, and I’m glad I moved out.

Involuntary Duties of Being the Daughter

Rong, 32

When I was young, I had to help everything around the house with my mom, whether I liked it or not while my father and brother loitered around. I took on the role of being the ATM right when I was old enough to work, even if I’m supposed to be the younger sibling. Everything I earned would be given to my brother for whatever he wanted, to the point where he naturally expects me to pay for him.

Now, I am the manager of a small business company in Shanghai. But I was only recently able to take a breather from my mother storming up to my office to demand money for my older brother’s wedding and his house payment.

Photo by wocintechchat on Unsplash

As if that wasn’t enough, my parents have set numerous blind dates with well-off men for me. They kept telling me how it’s for my own good, and that a woman is no longer desired after the age of thirty, and that I should be grateful that some of these men even agreed to see me. The whole point of them doing this, though, is so that the man I will be married to will provide more money.

They only talked about how rich these men are, even if I saw how some of them had a bad history of relationships through their social media. It’s like they’re selling me off for my lifetime of extra money I can get from this man. My own accomplishments mean nothing to them but more money. What I have achieved now means something to me, and I intend to keep living as who I want to be.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

The favorable treatment of sons over daughters in Mainland China stretched back for centuries, with the stereotype of having sons mean more power as they carry the family name. It may not have been as intense as before, but at times I would still be a victim of gender discrimination as I worked in the office. People would speculate how I got the position of being the manager instead of taking in all the hard work I have done. It doesn’t bother me anymore. They can think however they want because I know how I got here, and that’s all it matters.

Living Life with Gratitude

Wu and Rong may dislike how they are treated, but they don’t hate their families.

“They did raise me,” Wu said. “I have nothing against them. I still go back and see them regardless of the nagging. I only know that right now, I am free because I moved out. I’ve seen and experienced so much more unlike those stuck within the village, and I intend to prove I’m doing better without those rules.”

Rong still sends money back to her family every year, only as an expression of gratitude for raising her. “What they do with the money is none of my business.” She said. “They can give it to my brother or use it for themselves, but I’m not giving them any more than that.” Rong chose to focus on herself instead of what her family wants out of her. “I’m not giving up what I have. It’s my life.”

Photo by Jude Beck on Unsplash

These women showed us the necessary improvements in society for modern Chinese women to thrive and break free from stereotypes. Not to mention the consequences of favoring sons over daughters has deemed this generation as “the loneliest generation” for the lack of women, hence the arranged blind dates. To me, I think men should improve just much as women are if they are to impress the modern Chinese women of today.

In the end, I just want all women out there to know that regardless of the stereotypes, as long as you live as the person you want to be, you have won. As Jolin Tsai once said, “Thank you to the people who used to belittle me.” They only make us stronger.

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