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“Left-over women” in China—a misread story and gender oppression

Two years ago, I overheard a disturbing conversation in a barbecue restaurant in Beijing, China that made me realize how far people can go in playing the role of oppressors, even at a dinner table. It went like this:

Woman A: “Why haven’t you been married to someone? You have to hurry up, or no one will take you anymore. Men like young girls; especially those rich guys. “

Man B, who seemed to be the husband of woman A, kept nodding without saying anything.

Woman B looked down to her dish and said: “I don’t think I am that old.”

I agree with woman B that she didn’t look that old. First of all, woman A and woman B looked like they were at the same age, and I could not help but suspect that just because women A got married and regarded herself as part of the “mainstream”, woman A started to protect her interest by denying the value of her friend.

If you are still single at the age of 27 or older, and you are a female, congratulations! You will be labelled as a “left-over woman”(Sheng-nu) in China, a name coined by Beijing Women’s Federation, which is so obnoxious that it breaks down all the work you have done to be a better person in your whole life. Nowadays in China, in spite of the liberal signs such as education equality, women experience no less oppression than before the 1980 Chinese economic reform that opened the door to the world.

Yes, when the same-sex marriage movement marches across the land of western countries, women in China are educated to be prepared and get married as young as possible let alone what else they want as individuals. The stereotype of a left-over woman should look like a positive one here in the United States: college-educated, high-income, and liberal-minded individual who makes her own decision about life. Just imagine a girl growing up thinking she has done everything right and managed to climb up the socioeconomic ladder while all of a sudden, her parents, friends of her parents, co-workers, the media—simply the whole world, tells her that: “no, you are going the wrong direction. Go get married.” If you don’t listen to them, the constantly broadcasted stigma of a “left-over women” as well as the reputation that comes along would ruin your life and that of your parents. Thank God if you are economically independent and living a decent life, but if not, the economic as well as social pressure leads you one step closer to hell—since it is presumed that marriage entails children and children take care of their parents—how are you going to take care of your parents all by yourself and how are you going to support yourself when you get old without a child?

Indeed, one of the reasons why among “leftover women” are so many economically advantaged women is because only those women can afford to be left over. The financial disparity embedded in the social structure between women and men leaves women few choices. For self-preservation, most women cater to values dominated by elite men and managed to live a better life they otherwise wouldn’t have with ease. They try their best to be desirable to rich men with makeup and fake breasts, while a small number of women escaped from it by their outstanding skills at work, academic achievements, and hard work.

However, regardless of all these threats being imposed upon women, “leftover men” is the real problem. If you look at the table 1, you would notice that women in China aged from 30-34 constitute 3.4% of the never married female population, while the same number for the male population is 11.5%. It on one hand shows how powerful the “leftover women” stigma is that makes many potential “leftover women” surrender. On the other hand, a truth is unfolded: there are far more single men than single women in the “marriage market”, given the fact that in China, men outnumber women in general. In addition, if we look at the same numbers (age group 30-34) of Hong Kong, Singapore, and Japan for both men and women, it is striking how much people care about getting married as soon as possible in China(if you look at the overall numbers of both men and women). One of my speculations is that how early people get married and how much people eventually get married are related to how traditional values intertwine with economic development in a region, specifically, GDP per capita. It would be an interesting topic to look into for social scientists, but this is not the purpose of this blog.

table 1

(Table 1; source: http://www.statistics.gov.hk/pub/B1120017032012XXXXB0100.pdf)

So why does the society constantly remind people of the stigma a “leftover women”, rather than “leftover men”? Taken into account the “China’s Gender Gulf” described in Rob Brooks’ article “China’s biggest problem? Too many men.”, it’s easy for one to look at the graph and think:” Wow, there is an important agenda behind the whole “leftover women” shame thing, because the government might think since there are already fewer women than men, it would be worse if more and more women are unwilling to get married as soon as possible. Then the government has to worry about not having enough laborers in the market and the aging population.”

It is doubtful that this line of thought ever depicts the true story; however, it is certain that “leftover women” are the scapegoat of traditional values that give little weight to women’s rights, consumerism, and the problematic social structure at work. I am tired of seeing my female friends getting set up by their parents or relatives right after they step into college just because they are “at the right age of marriage”, as if this is the best thing they could ever obtain. I have also seen enough “leftover women” in my life that have to surrender to social pressures and go with whatever their parents arrange—blind dates, hanging up their photos in the park for other seniors that have sons to see, and so on. The most ridiculous (personal opinion) and the best illustrations of how media and consumerism are involved in the “leftover women” stigma is a TV game show in China called “If you are the one” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/If_You_Are_the_One_(game_show)) and thousands of newly founded dating websites and agencies. It once again confirms that the image of “leftover woman” is a product manufactured by the society as a whole that has more entertaining and economic values than any real social concern.

graph 1

(Graph 1; source: http://www.cnn.com/2012/11/14/opinion/china-challenges-one-child-brooks/)

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Bikini Season

It’s getting to be that time of year again. The birds are chirping, the flowers are blooming, and if I have to see another ad on getting ready for “bikini season,” my head will explode. On a quick Google search of the term, some of the first articles to appear had titles such as “7 things you can do now to get ready for bikini season,” “4 weeks to a bikini body,” and “How to Prepare for Bikini Season.”

When looking at pictures tagged with #bikini season on tumblr, I found a lot of disturbing pictures. There were the (unfortunately) common pictures of super skinny bathing suit models. There were some memes meant to be funny that showed larger animals, cartoons, and celebrities like Honey Boo Boo with the hashtag. There were also work-out pictures with captions about getting ready for bikini season. Finally, there were very disheartening posts that said things like “Keep Calm and Stop Eating” and “Need to Lose Weight.”

To me, this “season” is more depressing than the four months of frigid winter we had this year. One of the aspects I find most disturbing is the idea of a “bikini body.” This term implies that you have to have a certain body shape or BMI in order to wear a bikini. If you want to rock a one-piece or a tankini, that’s totally cool. The same goes for a bikini. In my opinion, if you have a body and you want to wear a bikini, then you have a bikini body. Those should be the only two qualifying aspects of having a bikini body. As a society, if we continue fat shaming and obsessing over thigh gaps, we are going to have even more of a problem with eating disorders, and from experience, I know that dealing with an eating disorder is difficult and heartbreaking.

Please respect everyone’s discussions regarding what they wear, and feel free to wear whatever makes you happy. So, get ready for the upcoming “bikini season” by appreciating your body. Get excited for warm, sunny weather. See you on the beach!

bikini

 

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Why I HATE myself for loving GIRLS?

The popular HBO show GIRLS is about four best friends who navigate their life as they try to resolve their issues with family, lovers, work, and school. The main characters are: Hannah, Marnie, Jessa, and Shoshanna.

 

Hannah is the main character. She is a young, talented writer who seeks success quickly. Her often narcissistic behavior causes her to have complicated relationships with individuals.

Marnie is a talented musician who struggles to find a balance between the work she enjoys and work she is expected to perform. Her life is often focused on her unstable and unhealthy romantic relationships.

Shoshanna is a stylish, college girl, who is very innocent compared to the rest of the women. She is seen as being naïve and quirky.

Jessa is a bohemian, do it yourself kind of girl that rebels against society in order to find her own happiness.

 

I personally enjoy watching this show because it touches on serious and realistic life events that many individuals experience during their young adult life. The 30 minute episodes specifically focus on topics about friendships, sex, drugs, loss, and love. The characters themselves have different relationships with one another.

Unfortunately, every time I watch an episode I can’t help but think about myself in relation to the characters and their stories.  The four main characters are all able, white, and financially stable individuals. This creates a very narrow set of characteristics, making the characters and their stories exclusive to viewers who share their same qualities. The truth is that I cannot relate to them and it makes me angry because I like the show and some of the messages it provides.  Why is it that all four women must represent a very narrow representation of women in America? Why can’t there be women of color? Why are there no women of color especially when the women live in Brooklyn, New York!? Will it damage the show or create low ratings? Why do I still have to watch popular shows that have NO WOMEN OF COLOR as the main characters? NONE!

There is a lot of speculation in the feminist community about the show and whether or not it is feminist or has feminist characters. Even though the characters possess a range of dynamic traits and experience real issues, I feel that it lacks a strong feminist message. Most importantly the show lacks diversity, diversity of women from different cultures, religions, social economic backgrounds, and abilities. I personally believe that GIRLS has strong female characters, but it does not make it a feminist show. As a fan of the show, I will continue to watch it but I will not accept their narrow representation of women. Will you?

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Women Inspire

Women Inspire

For March’s Women’s History Month, there was a global blog carnival using the #womeninspire to allow people to share who inspire them.  I think this is an effective way to show that all women, and all people, can make a difference in the lives of others even if they’re not nationally recognized.  For example, I am constantly inspired by three of my professors in particular.  These women have shown me that compassion and care can make a difference.  They are each dedicated to issues of justice and humanity, and incorporate their passions into their classes.  Spending time with them and taking their classes has not only increased my knowledge of their respective topics and ideologies, but I have been able to self-reflect on issues I am passionate about with their support and guidance.  The growth I have experienced is more valuable to me than anything in the world, and I am constantly grateful for their influence and presence in my life.

I believe that the little things that brighten someone’s day can make more of a difference than the grand gestures that are more commonly rewarded.  What these women do every day, what they represent, and how they conduct themselves has proven to be bigger than the grandest of gestures in terms of inspiring myself and others.  As a woman I have found it crucial to have other women to look up to.  While I respect many men and am grateful for their influence in my life as well, I have found that I can connect with other women and feel supported in a different way that works better for me.  Taking the time to recognize these women and how they inspire you has been another great way for me to look at my own life and reflect on the kind of woman I am turning out to be.

Even though the women who inspire me most are directly in the same zip code, that does not mean I do not think having celebrity or politician or well-known role models is not as valuable.  I think women having female role models, regardless of the relationship, can be extremely rewarding.  I believe it can shape our own lives so we aspire to be women that in turn inspire others.  I know a goal of mine is to inspire others to be their best and truest selves, just as the multitude of inspiring women in my life have done for me.  I also believe that inspiration has no age limit.  I am constantly inspired by my peers, and even people years younger than me.  It is when I see a woman who embodies many of my own values that I am inspired to “walk the walk”, as they say.  And so I pose the question, what women inspire you?

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Let’s Party

Last Saturday night, I returned to Ohio from a week long spring break trip with some friends to Cancun, Mexico. We were all aware of the stereotypes surrounding spring break, and spring break in Mexico specifically, however we were desperate to take a trip and get away from Ohio for a week so we embarked on the journey anyway. Throughout my week in Cancun, after traveling to numerous bars/clubs (because what else does a college student do when on spring break in Cancun?) I became aware of one huge element of spring break: Anything Goes. Aspects of life that would normally be considered unacceptable by most go out the window while on spring break.

I started to wonder if I was too aware. Too aware of our patriarchal society or too aware of the dangerous rape culture that many aren’t even knowledgeable about. I found myself constantly fighting the urge to knock out a guy who grabbed me in a crowded bar, or tried to secretly cop a feel on the packed strip of Cancun. “It’s just spring break, calm down sweetheart,” I was told by one man in a bar, after I’d yelled at him for grabbing me and not letting go when I told him to. Some nights, I found myself at a loss of enjoyment for sweaty packed bars with overly drunk people slobbering and touching all over each other and trying to do the same to you. By Wednesday of that week, I began chastising myself. “Calm down. It’s not that serious, this is what people do on spring break,” was just one of the thoughts circulating in my head. I tried hard to convince myself that what was happening was just a part of being young and having fun, however, I knew that it wasn’t.

My job here at the CWGA (Center for Women and Gender Action) has undoubtedly changed the way I view the party scene. Coming to the realization at 19 years old, that it actually is not okay for people to all  but force themselves on you on a dance floor, or in a crowded bar was a necessary occurrence in my life, one that I wish all people would have. Partying can still be fun, and I still have fun doing so (I’m only 20 and still in college for crying out loud), however, I do believe that people can party with respect. I’m not against grinding on the dance floor (do your thing), but if you are going to do so at least make sure she wants to grind with you, and not by grabbing her and pushing her in front of you. Don’t walk past a female you don’t know and smack her behind and laugh, or get mad when she yells at you for doing so. Don’t assume that because a female has on a short skirt or a crop top that she’s open for your wandering, uninviting hands.

Let’s keep partying, but let’s have a little more respect while doing so.

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We Won’t Go Back!

Wednesday is supposed to be 82 degrees and mostly sunny; could you think of a better day to fight paternalistic, patriarchal politics? No? Me neither!

Ohio politics have once again made national news with the reintroduction of the “Heartbeat Bill.” This bill comes after a string of anti-abortion measures, seen as some of the most restrictive in the country, have popped up in state legislation this summer. In response, Ohioans are protesting at the statehouse this Wednesday, October 2 at 11:30 am. We need to show our representatives that the women (and allied men) of Ohio will not sit idly by as they limit our reproductive choices. Be part of this movement, and join some fellow Denisonians at Wednesday’s “We Won’t Go Back” rally! Get more information from the event’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/events/169114606612957/), and get in touch with Katie Buescher (buesch_k1@denison.edu) if you would like to ride to the event with other DU students.

Here is a look at what we are fighting against by protesting in Columbus:

House Bill 200

The bill mandates a 48-hour wait period, which is double the current wait, for women to think about their decision. They can also think about the following “misinformation”:

1. Doctors have to inform patients of the recent study linking abortion to breast cancer, even though many medical professionals and groups, such as the American Cancer Society, have disputed these claims.

2. Ultrasounds must be performed prior to an abortion, including if the pregnancy is the result of a rape. The ultrasound must include a description of “all relevant features,” such as “an audible heartbeat, if present.”

3. Doctors must provide women with a “conflict-of-interest” disclaimer noting the amount of money the doctor would make from the procedure.

4. Doctors must also “describe the development of nerve endings of the embryo or fetus and the ability of the embryo or fetus to feel pain at each stage of development,” even though the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists claim fetuses do not feel pain until the third trimester.

5. Finally, in order to waive any of these steps, a woman must have a medical emergency, which now only includes risks that would result in the woman’s death.

(http://www.theatlanticwire.com/politics/2013/06/ohio-anti-abortion-bill/66442/)

Soon after the introduction of House Bill 200, Governor Kasich signed House Bill 59, which outlines the new budget. This budget:

1. Requires women seeking an abortion to have a trans-abdominal ultrasound.

2. Cuts Planned Parenthood funding by placing them last on the list of family-planning organizations.

3. Cuts funding from rape crisis centers if they counsel victims of assault about abortion.

4. Increase funding to “crisis pregnancy centers,” which have come under fire for providing false medical information. They also refuse to refer women to abortion clinics.

5. Does not allow abortion clinics to transfer patients to public hospitals if complications arise because of the procedure. Abortion clinics must now have a transfer agreement with a private hospital in order to remain open.

The inclusion of these amendments was not open for public input before the Governor signed the bill.

(http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2013/09/24/Democrats-want-abortion-provisions-in-budget-repealed.html)

(http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/30/ohio-abortion-restrictions-budget-bill_n_3526844.html)

Finally, in August, legislators divulged their plan to reintroduce the “heartbeat bill.” This bill would ban abortions after a heartbeat can be detected. This can occur as early as six weeks into pregnancy, which could mean excluding abortion as an option for women before they even know that they are pregnant. Last year, this bill passed in the House but was buried by the Senate.

(http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/15/ohio-heartbeat-bill_n_3763671.html)

(http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/public/2013/08/15/heartbeat-bill-reintroduced.html)

Now, let’s show Ohio’s lawmakers that these bills won’t fly! See you at the rally!

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Ms. America, America’s standard of Beauty?

It was Sunday night, and I uncharacteristically found myself procrastinating and flipping through tv channels in my dorm room. I settled on the Ms. America pageant with a critical eye, simply to see if any diversity was finally added to the competition. As the hosts explained, Ms. America prides itself on being a contest for the intelligent, offering scholarships to its contestants and winners. All of the contestants were in fact very intelligent and college educated. However, the hosts failed to mention that the Ms. America pageant is for intelligent, skinny women without any ounce of fat on their body who are historically, for the most part, white women. When the pageant first began in 1920, only white women were permitted to participate, “contestants must be of good health and of the white race,” as explicitly stated in rule number seven. Up until 1940, contestants were forced to complete a test to trace their ancestry; black women did not begin competing until 1970. The first black woman to win Ms. America was not until 1984 (Vanessa Williams) and the first Asian-American woman to win was not until 2001 (Angela Perez Baraquio) and the first Indian-American woman this past pageant.

The pageant prides itself on being a “scholarship” competition, however much of the emphasis is placed on the “lifestyle and fitness” aka the swimsuit competition as well as the evening wear. The website claims that contestants are able to wear one or two pieces, however, when I watched there were only two pieces, accompanied with high heels. This part of the night is called “lifestyle and fitness” however; many of the contestants just appeared skinny. Are we now equating fit with skinny?

Throughout the night, both hosts continuously said, “young girls, you can grow up and be Ms. America as well,” this made me cringe. What are we teaching young girls to aspire to be/look like? Are we telling them that tall and skinny is the ultimate aesthetic goal? How many young girls actually look like that and how is this affecting the ones that don’t? This standard of beauty is extremely dangerous. In a society where so many young girls have low self esteem because they are trying to live up to the images of supermodels, did the hosts help by all but telling them to aspire to look like Ms. America?

What America does Ms. America represent? Yes, the crowning of the first Indian-American Ms. America shows great strides. However, I can’t help but wonder how little Black, Hispanic, Native American, Pacific Islander, Asian girls feel when watching the pageant. They do not have fair representation within the pageant. I also wonder how little girls who are not stick skinny feel when watching. How is this affecting them as they grow older? How does the continuous crowning of women who virtually all have the same body shape (skinny) affect the American standard of beauty, and ultimately those that do not fit into this standard?

Sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miss_America

Maya Washington-Zeigler

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Brenda’s Sunny Summer Reading List

When I think of summer, I think about swimming, traveling, SUPER hot weather, and reading books I did not get to read while in school. As a result I have compiled a small list of books that I recommend reading over the summer. Most of the books are about women but I encourage anyone to read them since the issues they discuss are very important. I created the list based on my personal interest. A topic that I have found meaningful is the feminist activist work that deals with violence and sexual abuse against women and children. So I included The Road of Lost Innocence, Forgotten Girls: Stories of Hope and Courage, and Yes Means Yes!: Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape. I also wanted to add a book that would help me improve my life perspective for my activist work so I included Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.  Another book that I included was A Thousand Splendid Suns because a good friend recommend it and said that it was a MUST read.  Lastly, I wanted to read a book that would make me LOL, so I decided to include Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns). Enjoy reading books over the summer in the many places that you go, or in bed.

1. The Road of Lost Innocence: As a girl she was sold into sexual slavery, but now she rescues others. The true story of a Cambodian heroine. By Somaly Mam, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Nicholas D. Kristof

2. Forgotten Girls: Stories of Hope and Courage. By Kay Strom and Michele Rickett