Let's talk about masculinity

March 29, 2017

The Chinese Communist Party can find its roots in the New Culture Movement of the 1910s and 20s, an attempt by students to eradicate traditional Chinese culture. Young people saw traditional Chinese values as a barrier to the growth of the new China. These young people would the first members of the future Communist party.

One of the ideas to be eradicated was the role of women in the family. Infamously, women in the late Qing dynasty were treated poorly: bound feet, the expectation of utmost loyalty to the husband, and subservience to the male gender all contributed to the condition.

Fast forward to today. We hear about some things on the news, or in commentaries about China. Infanticide as a result of the one child policy, the subsequent search for wives in South Korea, the gender gap in the workplace.

I’d argue that women in China today are better off than the women with bound feet in the 19th century.

But even while the proportion of women in Chinese universities is rising, women are not on the same level as men in social settings. Take, for example, dinner. At a table of twenty people, five of whom are women, rice wine is silently distributed to exactly fifteen people before dinner is served. In fact, teenage boys get to drink wine before their mothers. It’s an unspoken contract with the waitress: yes, only the men will be drinking tonight, thank you very much.

When the annual Spring Festival dumpling wrapping party comes around, all of the male colleagues bring their wives. Men watch as the dumplings appear in front of them, handiwork of their wives and female coworkers at the other table busily working away at a mound of ground pork. Indirectly, it’s a result of the patriarchal system built over thousands of years of Confucianism and female subservience. While all the women are at least adequate at wrapping the dumplings, about half of the men, born and raised in China, are as hopeless than the average American. The sad-looking, deformed dumplings wrapped by the men are a subtle reminder of women’s place in Chinese society.

The point is, China has not yet managed cast away the remnants of a patriarchal traditional culture. This is at least one indication that Mao’s word is not law: Mao expressed in the Little Red Book his hope that the New China “ensure freedom of marriage and equality as between men and women”.

Let’s hope things change.

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