A course in China’s Zhenjiang City’s Zhenjiang College is in news for teaching young women how to be “perfect”. According to a report published in The Washington Post, Zhenjiang College and the All-China Women’s Federation have been teaching female students how to dress, pour tea all in the name of President Xi Jinping’s “new era”. As part of the course, young women are taught to sit only on the front two-thirds of the chair, hold their belly in, draw their legs together and to conduct a proper tea ceremony.
It stems from the age-old traditional notion that ideal women stay at home and be a role model for their children, while men become the primary breadwinners in a family.
It is no secret that China is facing a declining population due to its one-child policy (which has also lead to a surplus of men) and slowing economic growth. Hence modern, educated and working women are being seen as a threat by the patriarchal Chinese society. These women apparently keep jobs away from men. Plus, they avoid matrimony and household duties, which eventually may cause the extinction of the Chinese society. Thus these free-spirited women must be bound by tradition and rid of their individual identity.
Burdening the mistakes men and society make on women, yet again
Once again, it is the women who must bear the cost of mistakes made by politicians, industrialists, society and men themselves. China’s one-child policy, which led to surplus men in the society and slowing economic growth are not a woman’s doing. This is because Chines women seldom get the authority to make any changes in national policies or social practices. In the past few decades, women have struggled to climb up China’s socio-economic hierarchy, making life a bit easier.
However, in recent times, this evolution is now perceived as a threat, especially under the regime of the current leader. The result is not just aggressive advocacy of traditional way of Chinese life, but gender discrimination as well. China’s ranking in the World Economic Forum’s global gender pay gap index has dropped from 69 out of 144 countries in 2013 to the 100th-place in 2017. Not just this, the BBC reported last year that a company in northern China was operating a “traditional culture school” where women were told to “shut your mouths and do more housework” and practiced bowing to their husbands.
Also, as the Washington Post points out, self-improvement is strictly women’s work. There is no equivalent course for men.
It’s not as if China doesn’t want to educate its women. But it is encouraging the kind of education where “wisdom” is studying Chinese history and culture, oil painting and etiquette classes and acquiring perfection from the application of makeup. In short, women’s education in new age China is all about domestication of women. It is about tearing them away from financial freedom and individual identity.
Can a society achieve a progressive and sustainable future by embracing the regressive practices of the past?
In times when the entire world is encouraging gender equality, how far can China push the endorsement of its so-called traditional but harmonious practices? There will come a time when women will reject this dilution of their rights and individualism, and revolt. To what extent will China go then, to restrict these women to their households?
Instead of upholding regressive and misogynist traditions to correct its financial and surplus men problem, China must firstly admit where it went wrong.
It was its patriarchal mentality which led to such a surplus. Moreover, for a flourishing economy, jobs should go to those who are deserving, not for having a Y chromosome. If you take this right away from women, they will not go down quietly. They will either migrate to better prospects, taking their skills with them, or stay back and put up a fight. Sadly, neither scenario will lead China to prosperity.
Picture Credit: business insider
Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own