The most conspicuous evidence of China’s sexist culture is the ratio of boys born versus girls. Thanks to the one-child policy and a traditional preference for boys, the world’s most populous nation now has the world’s largest gender gap.
According to recent data, for every 100 girls, 118 boys were born. This can only be explained by elective abortions, in which girls are usually the ones terminated in pregnancy. It is estimated that by 2020, there will be 40 million Chinese men who will not be able to find brides – at least not Chinese ones.
Despite the recent improvement in womens’ social status, gender stereotypes are still deeply ingrained in the Chinese culture, says Xinhua, the government’s official news agency. “I don’t think women and men are equal. Living in a social circle dominated by men, I can feel the intangible pressure,” Cao Chenhong, a white-collar woman at a foreign firm in Beijing, told Xinhua. “One man told me, he couldn’t discuss anything serious with a woman. They just don’t take women as intellectual equals.”
A media scandal in Hong Kong highlights the double standard across the gender divide too. The scandal, which titillated locals shortly before the Lunar New Year in 2007, involved the leak of very explicit set of photos of entertainer Edison Chen and a number of famous Hong Kong starlets including Gillian Chung (see above photo).
The pictures spread like wildfire over the internet, tarnishing the reputations (and careers) of those involved. Interest in the case was recently renewed when Chen appeared in a Canadian court (he is a Canadian citizen) to give testimony against the man who stole the photos.
Netizens in general seem to sympathise more with Chen than his female co-stars, if comments posted on Sina.com, the mainland’s popular internet portal, are anything to go by. Some even show envy of him, or praise his manliness.
One netizen from Liaoning wrote: “If I was as good-looking and rich as Edison, I would have done the same!” Another netizen from Guangdong is even more supportive: “I commend you, Edison! You did what millions of men could only dream of doing. You are my personal hero!”
The female victims, however, are held to a higher moral standard. On the same message board, many contributors chastised the women for their depravity. One netizen from Guangdong said: “I don’t think it is Chen’s fault. The women are promiscuous; they can’t blame anyone but themselves for lacking self-discipline.” And that was one of the milder criticisms.
Indeed, throughout Chinese history, there has often been one rule for men and another for women. Raymond Zhou, a vocal columnist on the China Daily notes that when emperors kept harems of young women, it was a manifestation of the male rulers’ virility, but when Empress Wu Zetian kept a few gigolos, it was regarded as a sinful practice that cast a shadow over her political achievements.
“It seems to many that men have a right to be naughty but women are expected to be chaste and as pure as a white lily,” says Zhou.
Having said that, Chinese women have come a long way from the foot-binding days.
According to official figures, women now account for 45.4% of China’s total employed population; and in the political arena, women now make up more than 40% of those holding official positions.
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