In spite of the great achievement in the civilization, the human society is always under the negative influence of some old traditional concepts. Even now the “masculinity prefer” styles still very popular in most countries, especially in Asian ones such as China, Korea, Japan, Thailandâ€¦ the developed modernization of which cannot get rid of the deep marks left by the long history customs. Looking back in the history, in the feudal ages, whether the labor power or army force were dominated by men while women’s social function and status were limited in these countries. The ideology of gender inequality was spawned and grown in that environment, which seriously affected the marriage, kinship and family structure. Nowadays, the family problems caused by “son preference” are common occurrences in the small cities or villages of eastern countries. This article will quote an example from a Chinese family to analyze on the phenomenon of gender inequality working on the family life and structure. The example to some extent typically reflects the conventional mainstream social gender opinion in China, which proves that there is a long way to go for achieving the femininity in reality. And the analysis will be a help for deep understanding the sources and origin of inequality and the reasons for prevailing masculinity in ancient eastern states like China.
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I have a female friend M who lived in a small southwest city in China. In her hometown, the whole family was proud of the birth of a boy but felt depressed when a girl came into being because in China only the male is regarded as the formal inheritor of a family. Her father and even mother held the same point of view so M grew with the negative emotional feedbacks from her parents, especially her father. Her father often complained how useless a girl was and never paid attention on her and her mother blamed herself for not having a male baby, neglecting the existence of the girl. After failing to be pregnant again, her father began the extramarital love aiming to have a boy. Though her mother found it, she tacitly bore it because she thought that resulted from that she couldn’t give birth to a boy. 2 years later, her father took a male baby home. The relatives and the neighbors knew what happened but they considered it reasonable according to the son preference ideas there. Then her parents devoted themselves to the boy, her younger brother. And her mother seemed to be more careful to the boy just like her own son. And M was also required to take the responsibility of caring for the boy though she was also a child. Without the support from grandpa and grandma, M even couldn’t have the chance to join in the senior high school. After graduation from senior high school, her father asked her to work outside early as a girl shall not learn too more. With no economy sponsorship, M had to search for a job but she didn’t give up studying. 2 years later, she saved some money and passed the entrance exam for university. From then on, she moved from home to colleague dormitory and began an independent life. After 4 year hard study, she left the hometown and found the current career. Now M seldom came back as she said she just felt that home just belong to her younger brother, not her. In fact, all the fortune and the house would be transferred to her brother. She was just an outlander.
The theories can be applied into the case may be found in 3 main aspects. Firstly, the tradition and culture can explain causes the low status of the girls in the society. In Ridgeway and Correll’s (2004) article, they clearly summarize the role of the culture and tradition in generating the social system of gender stratification. In China, the history is always dominated by male. So Chinese culture is led by men and women were devalued because of the social and economic reasons. More importantly, argued by Sewell (1992), a social structure is generally constituted by the conventional ideas and cultural rules by which it is enacted. As one of the tradition concepts and cultural rule, gender belief shall experience a long term development and redefinition to become constructed as one of the distinct organizing principles of social relation (Ridgeway, 2000). The ideology that women are inferior to men in Chinese society is a result extracted from a 5,000 year process, forming the deep impression on the common people, directing their everyday life. Though the condition gradually changes, the inland areas are still under the control of the old social contexts. Masculinity still manages the social opinions there and even polygyny has the space to exist with the tacit permission.
Secondly, son preference is well known in China and a common fault in old and conservative nationalities. In most rural areas of China, sons represent the lineage of the family. For example, ethnographic studies and research during 1980s suggested that families retained beliefs that girls were less worthy or less capable than boys ( [Lo, 1984], [Rosen, 1984], [Honig and Hershatter, 1988] and [Wolf, 1985]). Just like Honig and Hershatter (1998) pointed out that girls walked out of the households through marriage but the boys remain with the origin of families. Of course, the son preference is also based on the economic consideration. Compared with the girl’s departure to marriage life, boys will stay in the household and become the main power for the living earning. The research in a rural county in Yunnan Province indicates that expectations of support from sons are more pronounced among mothers in poorer, more remote rural areas (Li and Lavely, 2003). The different expectation on girls and boys also facilitated the positive attitude and treatment of the parents to the sons. In addition, the perceptions in the labor market and adult lives also label the different social value between boys and girls in those rural areas.
The above two explanations focus on how the society and parents thinking about the gender difference. In fact, parents’ more investment on the boys also lies in the consideration for the traditional family structure co-residence with sons. Facing with this family existence mode, parents of course are willing to invest in sons as one kind of long-term insurance ( [Greenhalgh, 1994] and [Wolf, 1985]). Boys will take the responsibility of earning the whole family and caring for the old-ages in the future. Naturally, parents and other family members will focus more on the boys to cultivate a competent family leader. In the other hand, regarded as the follower of the husband family, girls lack the strong incentives to attract the attention from family members.
Therefore, colored by traditional norms and cultural rules, family structures and intergenerational co-residence patterns may create rational reasons that privilege investments in sons more than daughters ( [Jacka, 1997] and [Andors, 1990]).
Analysis on the Case
Origin of M’ Tragedy
Conclusion 1: M’s unhappy growing experience originated from the deeply rooted traditional masculinity oriented culture.
Explanation: From the birth till finishing university, M was living in a home without love to her and the environment discriminating to the female. Her tragedy seemed to be destined. Her father only wanted to have a son because the son was the sign for family inheritance. There was an old saying: having no male heir is the gravest. Influenced by this tradition, the birth of M was out of his expectation. In his eyes, M was just an extra one. Instead of taking care on M, father spent energy and time trying having a boy at his best in order to retrieve the reputation for the family. M’s mother felt it a shame as she couldn’t bring a formal successor to perpetuate the family. Moreover, the failure of a second pregnancy increased her despair, M was neglected by her mother, either. The source of M’s tragedy came from the rooted masculinity culture across that area. Though her parents shall be blamed for, they were also fooled by the historical decay concepts. In M’s city, boys enjoyed the privileges from the favors of the parents and elders while girls was looked down and took the household duties at early ages. M’s experience was not separate but a common phenomenon triggered by the Male superiority passed down from the history.
Reasons: The gender difference ideologies were formed mainly by social and economic factors. Since ancient times, male was always the leading roles promoting the advancement of history. With few exceptions, men kept playing the rulers in almost every aspect of the social lives: King of the nation, Prime minister in politics, General in the war, Great writer in literatureâ€¦.In the meantime, female appears to be the fortune belonging to the male in the long history and their activities were limited in the household. The different distribution to the society decided the social status of male and female. From the economic perspectives, the labor power in the old times was totally made of the men. And the man was automatically seen as the source of income for the family. The woman is responsible for the housework and man earns the life. This living style continues into the modern society, with which some rural cities and villages still comply. The history role in the social lives and economy activities determines the low status of women, where M’s tragedy originates.
Chaos in Family Life
Conclusion 2: Son preference violated the right marriage relationship and normal family structure.
Explanation: The strong desire of having a son finally drove M’s father to find the other woman outside to have a 2nd home. Though M’s father had no love with this woman and just wanted to use her as a surrogacy tool, he actually betrayed M’s mother and the marriage. In the view of ethical criteria, M’s father shall be criticized and condemned. However, whether the relatives or M’s mother knew the fact, they kept silence about it. The importance of having a son was superior to other family ethic traditions. The relatives thought M’s family must have a son so that they turned a blind eye on the father’s behavior and just requested he shouldn’t bring the woman back home. M’s mother was sorry for no son and the sense of guilt led her agreement with husband’s absurd behavior. Then it was strange that M’s father stayed one night at home and the other outside. The abnormal sex relationship continued till M’s father brought a male baby home. The son’s participation changed the family structure again. M’s mother even became less important than this imported baby. It was unimaginable that son preference overrode the ethical issues like monogyny and respect for seniority but it did exist in the undeveloped rural areas with a relatively enclosed environment.
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Reasons: Polygyny has the tight connection with son preference. In ancient time a man married several women to have many boys for a prosperous family. From the aspects of social, economic, and cultural circumstances, male has more practical meaning than female at that time. To achieve the goal of carrying on the family line, polygyny was taken as a measure and wives and concubines were seen as reproduction tools. To this extent, the meaning of son preference was beyond the polygyny itself. Nowadays, people receive the monogyny and are opposed to the polygyny in ethics. However, in rural areas, if the monogyny interfered with son preference, people will be inclined to follow the benefit of the family neglecting the rights of women. The permission on M father’s behavior was the typical example as people thought it was not the betrayal to the marriage but responsibility for the family. Son preference is endowed with Ideal and inheritance from a clan or a nationality in oriental countries for thousands of years, compared with the rise of feminism and gender equality. Affected by the revival of folk religion and the Confucian gender ideology, the family formation in rural cities emphasizes on women’s traditional roles as wives, mothers, and caretakers of the family. Under this circumstances, the value of male and male children have been increased, whose status in family are positioned as leaders. And the women like female children and wives are just the subordinates in the family structure.
Looking forward to the Future
Point 1: M’s running away home proved that the new generation dares say no to the gender inequality and the sex discrimination tradition will have no tomorrow among the young people. As a victim, M will form a total new family to avoid the gender inequality happening. The old son preference families will become less and less.
Point 2: The family tragedies like M will happen again and again. The individual cannot change anything. It is hard to reverse the traditional customs handed down for many years in short time, especially in the rural areas with little communication to the outside.
The two points above respectively represents the positive and negative development of the family form accompanied with gender inequality. A reasonable perspective shall contain these two points together to forecast the future.
Undoubtedly, the gender inequality has the strong foundation in the old generation and rural areas, which directly gave rise to the misfortune of M’s family life. M chose to fight with the discrimination and earn a new life outside. In the meantime, some girls like M may have no courage to resist the pressure from the family. Most girls there have little chance to receive high education, which restricted their cognition and judgment. They have to stay at home and are forced to accept the masculinity ideas and form the families just like M’s mother. In addition, M’s brother was benefited by son preference. It can be expected that he is a new defender for the masculinity. The departure is not the solution and the gender inequality will continue to happen in M’s hometown. It is better for M to go back to educate the other females and males about the harm of gender inequality to the family lives, which may launch a real change inside.
The world is getting more and more open. The rural areas also face the strike from the developed places, new products, services, and more importantly, new ideasâ€¦ The media and internet is broadening the eyes of the people looking at this world and themselves, which creates the chances to evolve the “traditional customs”. M’s leave was just an incident in a small scope. Spread by the media, it could be a cultural mark to correct the wrong thoughts about the gender. All in all, the advancement of the society eliminates the geographical limits and brings the changes to the people and their lives in the rural areas, which provides the possibility to improve the popularity of gender equality quickly and widely.
The leave of M doesn’t equal to all the young people in rural areas choose to fight against the inequality. But the enclosed environment was no longer the advantage for the existence of old-fashioned culture. The progress of times has brought about the chance to make some change. The improvement on the gender inequality can be expected in near future.
M’s experience tells us the sex discrimination will not only cause the individual tragedy but the unhappy life for a family, especially for the female members. The historical tradition, old ideologies, undeveloped environment jointly affected M’s family lives. With the development of the society, this family mode shall not have the space to exist. As the origin of the gender inequality has been widely acknowledged and understood, more energy shall be devoted to taking some action to stop the occurrence of this tragedy.
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