Why Feminism is Never Overrated
When I was living in Shanghai about two years ago, there was this video about the phenomenon of “leftover women” that went absolutely viral in China, and during that time it was probably one of the hottest topics of discussion amongst many of my girlfriends.
If you don’t know what I mean by “leftover women”, it is a derogatory term coined by the All-China Women’s Federation (ACWF), the government body dealing with women’s issues. Yes, our government decided to label women over the age of twenty-seven and beyond who are not married as “leftover women”, like “leftover food”. In 2007, ACWF called on the leftover women to get married as soon as possible (WTF!). Thankfully for feminist activities in China, in 2017, the ACWF’s newspaper China Women’s News urged the media to stop referring to women as the leftover.
This term was so wide-spreading that you could almost hear it everywhere, in the TV dramas, commercials, on the streets and daily conversations. A few of my girlfriends often teased themselves as “leftover women” (most of them were professional women in their late twenties or early thirties and remained unmarried). I was definitely a “leftover woman” according to the Chinese government and the Chinese society.
When I first watched this “leftover women” video, it literally brought tears to my eyes. As more and more well-educated Chinese women start to wake up and to think independently and choosing their own happiness over conventions, more women prefer not to get married until much later or not to get married at all.
Unfortunately, the parents and the Chinese society are not very sympathetic at all. To say the social pressure for unmarried Chinese women is immense is simply an understatement. The tradition runs deep as China is an ancient country with over five thousand years of history, and patriarchy has existed predominantly throughout the entire history, there was only ever one female emperor in China’s five thousand years of history, whose name was Wu Zetian (the story of Wu Zetian was extremely intriguing, she started off as the concubine of Emperor Taizong, who did not get much attention from the emperor at all, and was going to be abandoned as a nun. However, after his death, she married his successor and came to power).
In the history of Chinese patriarchal society, the practice of female foot-binding persisted for a millennium, and according to the Confucian, women were at the bottom of the Confucian hierarchy. Mencius, who was regarded as the second Sage, after Confucius himself, outlined three subordinations for women - a woman was to be “subordinate to her father in youth, her husband in maturity, and her son in old age." Oh, and if you gave birth to a daughter, both you and the daughter were no use. (Confucius is fucked! – I should totally write a book with this title!)
I still remembered when I was eighteen, I visited my grandfather's hometown in Southern China, a rich village in Guangdong province. Although it was a village, people there were relatively wealthy and they all lived in big mansions with large blocks of land. But guess what, women had zero right in that village.
We were not allowed to be seated at the same table as men, only the very corner table in the room. Women were not allowed to eat until all men had started eating (I didn't know and started eating and then was told not to - I was furious and suppressed as a little girl but couldn't do anything). Women were all supposed to be obedient, doing all the housework and serving all the men in the village. And women's names were not to be allowed on the family tree (so my name was not on the family tree simply because of my gender), as a woman, your identity was almost equivalent to non-existent. I don't really care to have my name on the family tree, but you get my point.
Even in the twenty-first century of modern Chinese society, the gap of gender inequality is still huge, and it permeates every aspect of our life, whether it is in your career, family life, economics, politics. Gender inequality is everywhere. And Chinese popular (and absolutely brainless) TV dramas often portrayed the sorrow and frustration of “leftover women” and how they burden the family. Many parents and grandparents still prefer to have a son over daughter (I know my grandparent was such a case), this preference for sons stretches back for centuries. China’s one-child policy led to millions of female infanticides. And feminist activists were being put in jail for simply handing out feminist stickers in China. (female activists are being put in jail in different countries for various reasons, such as the Saudi activist being jailed for driving)
Although women today have enjoyed many rights and much more freedom compared to women in the past, there is still a long way to go for achieving gender equality on a global scale. Even in the West where women seem to enjoy much more rights and freedom, gender inequality still persists, particularly in the areas of gender pay gap, the corporate world, the political system et cetera.
However, the issue of gender inequality is clearly much more devastating in developing countries and underdeveloped countries. The progress towards gender parity is still slow and even sliding backwards in some instances. I believe it is paramount for more women to speak out about these issues on a global scale while we can, to speak out loud about gender inequality, to speak out loud about female empowerment.
I feel incredibly grateful to be born in an age that women have much more freedom than ever (I could not imagine myself being born in ancient China or even during the time of cultural revolution)! I will not for a moment take the privilege I have for granted. That is why I want to be a writer, to write about all the injustices that persist in the society, to write about all the things I care deeply.
Also, there should be no fear to be labelled as a feminist. Feminism is not anti-male nor a threat to male, contrary to how the stereotype might have mischaracterised. Feminism is simply asking for equal rights for women. And I believe for the feminist movement to march forward more effectively on a global scale, we also need the support of men. Men of quality should support women equality. Women and men should join together in the feminist movement, to break down barriers and to achieve a more egalitarian, a more peaceful and better world.
Below is the original video that got viral when I was living in Shanghai. Watching it again brought tears to my eyes. BRAVO to all the beautiful, courageous and independent Chinese "leftover" women. Interestingly, the term "leftover woman" when pronounced in Chinese – shèngnǚ, can equally be translated into "blossoming or flourishing woman" (homograph). So to all the blossoming and flourishing women, you are really the world changers, you are the hope of closing China's growing gender inequality, the driving force towards a more egalitarian society. You are all incredible and amazing!! The world needs you! China needs you! And I kudos to all of you and proud to join forces with you.
Dear Divine Women,
you deserve the best of the world.
Whoever told you otherwise,
do not believe it.
And whoever told you he cannot love you
because you are a strong woman,
walk away as soon as possible.
Know your worth.
You deserve to be loved
and embraced for
exactly who you are.
And one day when you
meet your warrior,
you know there is
no need for you
to change a thing.
Awaken to your true power,
dance to your truth,
know that you deserve the world.
You are priceless,
sacred and divine.