The rise of global feminism has sparked conversation at dinner tables everywhere. How about China? Are women still hovering over dumpling tables and deep pots of fish broth indulging in the culinary arts and sharpening their knives in preparation for the slay?
Coco Chanel in 1914 revolutionized the suit for those long, striding legs of modern day women, symbolizing their emancipation in both society and the corporate world.
“Women belong in the kitchen.” This one line in our American and European minds mocks the absurd rhetoric from days of old. Or so we thought. American women may have a different story now, but what about their Chinese contemporaries?
The rise of global feminism has sparked conversation, or debate if you will, amongst contemporary men and women sitting at the dinner table over one or, let’s get real here, three glasses of Malbec, swishing around the contradictions of gender roles in their homes, the workplace and society at large. This topic has been a part of the Western discourse for what seems like decades, no wait a minute, centuries! Sometimes revealing itself in creative ways… The puff of a shoulder pad, the drag of a cigarette pant and the squeak of a good ol’ loafer.
Fast-forward to the current day situation across the Pacific and slip on the heels of a Chinese woman, who is just starting her fight for the right. Believe it or not, but China anno 2017 carries the highest number of self-made women millionaires than anywhere else in the world. As Alanis Morisette once singingly asked us “ isn’t it ironic?”, this statement almost feels like “rain on your wedding day.” In a country that not only suffocated competitive wealth for numerous years on end, but also encouraged the birth of males rather than females, now acts as a home base to some of the world’s most successful and entrepreneurial young women. Can you imagine what the country would have looked like if it had forgone all those years of birth planning? I cannot even fathom. These women are educated, intelligent, well-traveled, driven and wealthy, yet many of them are also single. What is up with that? And furthermore, why does it matter?
Allow me to get to the bottom of this modern-day twist(ed) Cinderella tale.
Mediocrity And Multi-Tasking
Although weighed down by the looming pressures of marriage and procreation coming in from both family and friends, these new power women are unwilling to settle for a mediocre hubby just for the sake of putting a ring on that finger. They are searching for “candidates” who are handsome, successful, driven and can keep up with their hunger for success. Why should it be so difficult to find such a person? (An issue everywhere, but that’s neither here nor there right now.) The women are surpassing men in wealth and status — insert sarcastic smirk — and are therefore finding it more and more difficult to nail down that suitable someone. Note to my girls: Keep your smarts to yourself!
Feminists have gone global, which means there is an increased number of women in the workplace and higher expectations in the quality of life field. Granted, every achievement has its shortcomings, ergo the more time women spend in the work place, the less time they spend at home taking care of their families. Nevertheless, in practice, this logical deduction does not seem to add up. The truth of the matter is that women are natural-born multi-taskers and can handle the management of both realms, but the traditional train of thought is that women belong in the kitchen. And the kitchen alone. Okay, and maybe the living room too.
And China Created The Leftover Woman
Thirty is the new twenty, forty is the new thirty, but Chinese women who are over the budding age of 27 — and still single I might add — have been coined “leftover women” or “yellowed pearls.” Aside from the fact that this is beyond distasteful, the accompanying stress load from being stigmatized as a “spinster” at the very moment your life is taking flight simply because you chose to focus on your career before settling down, must be hard on anyone. Glancing over the the bench where their male counterparts are (tobacco)-spittingly seated, I wonder… Where’s their stigma?
Enter the problem. Due to the one-child policy previously enforced by Chinese authorities, there are now at least 20 million more boys than girls, creating a major gender discrepancy. This gender gap has since resulted in a marriage market gap with women using this to their advantage, knowing that an abundance of men means they can hold off on marriage a smidgen longer. Even so, everybody loves somebody sometimes and the fact that people are getting married later in life does not automatically imply that they want or need a touch of companionship any less. An increasing number of modern-day Chinese women are simply putting it on hold whilst working nine to five to stand on their own two feet without the need for male support.
About TanTan, Tinder And Torture
Fair be flair, we cannot attribute all these Chinese social hardships of the 2010s to the men altogether. The knife cuts both ways. Economic tribulations mixed with the pressures of providing for women, such as the traditional purchase of a home before marriage, complicate things. The men of today are progressing in their jobs at a slower rate, the cost of living is on the rise and they are feeling less secure about the prospect of marriage. Furthermore, young professionals work extensive hours and unlike in Western countries, hitting on someone at a bar is one much less popular convention. The crowds consist of couples and business groups rather than singles looking to date.
Conventional and online dating methods are not as easy for the Chinese millennial as it is for people in other countries, with only one dating app called TanTan — China’s Tinder equivalent — up for grabs. Summing things up, the odds are a lot less likely for you to find someone you can connect with without the assistance from the big F — Family. In Chinese culture, filial piety is crucial and not getting married is the biggest sign of disrespect. Circling back to our power women, then, one must add that in Chinese society, even in that of the socially and economically booming 2010s, an unmarried woman is more often than not considered “incomplete”. Unsurprisingly, many a young Chinese girl finds herself psychologically “tortured” by this theory. Many parents with a tendency to be very blunt, even at the expense of their child’s feelings, proclaim their daughters are “leftover” because of their looks. Mommy dearest, anyone?
The same country dressing these academically and professionally gifted women to the nines and to the top, is the very same country giving them a social dressing down.
The Sky As The Limit?
“Women hold up half the sky,” once said Mao Zedong — I guess he was referring to buckets, rather than wallets. The All-China Women’s Federation in March of 2011 posted a controversial article titled ‘Leftover Women Do Not Deserve Our Sympathy’ shortly after International Women’s Day. An excerpt states:
“Pretty girls do not need a lot of education to marry into a rich and powerful family. But girls with an average or ugly appearance will find it difficult” and “These girls hope to further their education in order to increase their competitiveness. The tragedy is, they don’t realize that as women age, they are worth less and less. So by the time they get their MA or PhD they are already old — like yellowed pearls.”
Yep. Someone actually wrote this.
And isn’t it ironic… The same country dressing these academically and professionally gifted women to the nines and to the top, is the very same country giving them a social dressing down. The Chinese government, in fact, manufactured these prophetic “leftover women” and “yellowed pearls” labels as a way to guilt trip (“bully”, even) women into leaving their jobs and returning to their traditional roles; deliberately frightening women into believing that if they wait too long, no one will want to marry them. Ever. The one-child policy left the country with such a large gender gap, that they are grasping at straws to fix the mess.
Feminism has actually dissolved the allure of such “demi-god” suits and encouraged women to embrace their femininity as a symbol of excellence and equality.
WWII And Working Girl
Dialing back to WWII, women in the United States were forced to put down those spatulas and enter corporate America to financially support their families whilst the men fought on the front lines. As descendants, the current day leading ladies — employees, managers, COOs and CEOs — are the MVPs of corporate America. The question is… Can the hierarchical and traditional ways of a society handle such a shift?
During the 1980s, power suits came to a head and Melanie Griffith turned into an iconic pioneer for women in the workplace. They were originally designed for men, but in 1914 it all changed with a stitch and a turn from a little someone you might know… Chanel, Coco Chanel. She revolutionized the suit for those long, striding legs of modern day women, symbolizing their emancipation in both society and the corporate world. Since that time, other designers such as Marcel Rochas, Yves Saint Laurent and Giorgio Armani made further strides through fashion — Marcel with the wide shouldered suit jackets, Laurent with the Le Smoking Pantsuit and Armani with the un-masculine masculine suit.
Nonetheless, do women really need to hide their curves and dress like men just to be taken seriously? It used to be that way, but today, is no longer the case. Feminism has actually dissolved the allure of such “demi-god” suits and encouraged women to embrace their femininity as a symbol of excellence and equality. I mean truthfully, should it be a woman’s concern if men lose focus over her pencil skirt and blouse? Then again, not everything is meant for the faint of heart.
From Shoulder Pads To Bachelorette Pads
Expectations are for the birds. Women are investing in styles they like and purchasing homes that speak to their rebellious livelihoods. If you see a woman rocking menswear style, don’t kid yourselves: It’s all about comfort — just you try focusing on a meeting sucked in by Spanx. No longer do we live in a time where men get to have all the fun. Girls just wanna have fun and these women are bringing home the bacon. Which is just fine.
The same thought applies to the good women of China. Why should they have to suffer under mounds of traditional pressures, not to mention run to the community’s immediate refuge as a band-aid for miscalculations in birth-planning years prior? Sounds like a very outdated form of progressivism — to me, at least.
Inequalities absolutely still exist in the United States, e.g. the equal pay debate, and many people would use this to define America as a regressive rather than progressive state. Yet women in the West have made it their mission to escape the male gaze and embrace a positive body image, promote self-confidence and adopt the recitation of superwoman mantras. Chinese women at this very same moment are still being suppressed, scoured for their unappealing looks, dragged down by their status as washed up old hags at 27 years young and embarrassed by their relatives persistence to post dating profiles at the local love market in hopes of aligning the stars.
In a 2016 interview with Vogue about the leftover women of China, one woman expressed that, “society makes you feel there’s something missing in your life, that you just haven’t completed certain programs. What most people do is go to school, get a good job, save money, buy property, get married and have kids. That’s your life program. So if you don’t get on with the program, then something’s missing.”
There are campaigns, such as the above 2016 SK-11 ad, encouraging women to be happy without the presence of a man by their side, using the brand as a powerful platform to reiterate that a man is not a necessity. Nor is beautified perfection — although a little skin cream never hurt nobody. China’s trailblazing women are killing it and are dressed for success, ready to conquer.
Despite the achievement of incredible figures such as Angelica Cheung (Editor in Chief of Vogue China), Su Mang (Editor in Chief of Harpers Bazaar China and CEO of Trends Media Group), Jennifer Woo (CEO of Lane Crawford Joyce Group), no matter how far they seem to supersede their male colleagues academically and professionally, not to mention in style, the only measurement of success continues to be the caliber of man they find, the number of children they produce and how well they can make jiaozi. Is there a reason why they can’t have their jiaozi and eat it too?
The world is still intimidated by the success of a woman, but only because their power is immeasurable. In ending my dissertation on a final musical note, all I can say is….. Who run the world? Yep, thought so.
Written by Jessica Laiter for Temper Magazine
Intro and editing by Elsbeth van Paridon
Featured Image: Copyright@Imke Walenberg for Stijlmeisje
Copyright@Temper Magazine 2017 All rights reserved
Laiter went on to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Chinese Studies and Communications Rhetoric at The University of Pittsburgh and a Master's Degree in Translation at NYU. Immediately after college, she moved to New York City and since then has worked in a number of different industries such as branding, manufacturing, fashion, public relations and real estate. China always acting as the common denominator.
Inspired by her career, Laiter launched a website called Chinese Graffiti, on which she features emerging Chinese designers, talks about the intersection of tradition and modernity in China, as well as the evolution of society and business culture. As time went on, she sought out like-minded businesses individuals who were interested in a similar market, which is how she became involved with Temper Magazine.
The China market is creating a whirlwind around the glob and it’s only just getting started.
The world can be a small place with a dash of mutual understanding and Laiter loves to be the storyteller who helps to bridge that gap.
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