gender roles


gender roles
While sharing similar traditions with many other cultures that generally designate man as the bread-earner and woman the family caretaker, the Chinese have also viewed femininity and virility in terms of the complementary but also hierarchical pair of yin (negative) and yang (positive). Men were strong and women weak, men smart and women unintelligent, and so forth. The long history of Confucian indoctrination and imperial endorsement reinforced this notion of women’s inferiority. Traditionally, a woman had to obey three men in her life: her father as a daughter, her husband as a wife, and her son when widowed.
Mao’s New China and his proclamation that men and women were the same greatly elevated Chinese women’s status. Women began to do what men traditionally did: piloting aircraft and participating in all levels of state affairs, while men, for their part, increasingly took housekeeping for granted as part of married life. With today’s booming economy and more open society, China has provided more opportunities for androgyny: men wearing long hair and women short; men dressed like women and women like men. The number of women smoking and drinking is also on the rise. However, traditional notions of gender roles persist. An overwhelming majority of women that appear in children’s literature, for example, assume the role of educators and caretakers, while the same percentage of men are portrayed as scientists. Similarly, in school, boys are engaged in more physically and mentally demanding tasks than their counterpart sex, whose activities tended to be of a more quiet and artistic nature.
China is a large country with diverse cultures, and notions of virility and femininity may differ. However, men’s prowess versus women’s gentleness are virtues of universal acceptance—a song that compares man to a mountain and woman to a river illustrates the point. Physically, girls view boys shorter than 1.70 metres as unattractive, while boys prefer girls with a good shape and fine complexion. Incidentally, young women in cities go to great lengths to avoid being tanned and many are obsessed with dieting. Generally, men and women in north China have a stouter and taller stature, while women in the lower Yangtze Delta and the Sichuan Basin are thought to best fit men’s stereotype of femininity. Psychologically, women look to men as a safe haven that can provide them with financial and emotional security. Honesty and financial success, therefore, are still considered more important in a male than a sinewy body and handsome face.
Interestingly, according to a recent study made by an advertisement company, Chinese men themselves resent such handsome sinewy male models. To a Chinese man, the power of control and the respect from others, what is known to them as ‘face’, are more important to virility than muscles.
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Louie, Kam and Low, Morris (eds) (2003). Asian Masculinities: The Meaning and Practice of Manhood in China and Japan. New York and London: RoutledgeCurzon.
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HU MINGRONG

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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