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April 24

Leftover Women

By Ella Miista
Did you know during holiday seasons a rent-a-boyfriend industry blossoms in China? While some fake BFs might offer sex or cuddling, the purpose isn't always this. Chinese women rent boyfriends to take home for the holidays as to avoid being scrutinised by their families. Surely that's a bit dramatic? Apparently not. No doubt most women nearing 30 have at one point had to dodge questions about prospective partners and planned babies. But, in most cases these are just that - questions. They don’t become what is essentially state propaganda pressuring all women above a certain age to get married. That would be weird, right? The Chinese government won't let that stop them. In 2007 they voiced concerns for the quality of their citizens dropping - they see it as a threat to social stability - and so they officially defined the term "sheng nu" or "leftover women" and got busy making successful intelligent women feeling bad about not churning out babies. After implementing its infamous one-child policy in 1979, about 20 million more men have born in China than women. The policy is totally lenient though! For instance if you live in a rural area and give birth to a girl or a disabled child you’re allowed to have another one. How kind! Anyway, with there being 120 men for every 100 women, it seems impossible for there to be any women left over. This happens because of the Chinese tradition of hypergamy which sees women marry up. While in the West most people marry close to their socioeconomic backgrounds, it’s not exactly unseen here either. There are plenty of young attractive women marrying older rich men – just it’s not the expected thing. If anything, it’s frowned upon. But, not in China. In China a woman marries someone with more money and a better education. This means when some women decide to study harder and further their careers, they reach a glass ceiling of a kind with no room to marry up. Meanwhile men equal to them are already married to those less educated and marrying down doesn’t work for a multitude of reasons. There are men intimidated by women’s success or just expecting for them to become housewives. No doubt there are also women that don’t want to marry someone less educated than themselves. That's how they end up being leftovers. Leta Hong Fincher recently published a book on the subject. In an interview for Open Democracy she points out how in reality China faces a shortage of marriage-age woman. The social stability the government is so concerned for is essentially a huge number of single young men. They can't find jobs due to too many women working. As a result they're no longer dreamy successful bachelors and so they end up staying single. Hong Fincher says government sees pressuring women to marry young as solving the problem. Phew. We were getting so worried. In 2012 she wrote an article for the New York Times where she quotes columns written by the All China Women’s Federation. Founded by – drums please – the Chinese Communist Party in 1949, it's allegedly a feminist organisation. They read a lot like what we imagine Cosmo magazine would’ve sounded like had it been published in the 1950s. In their opinion only ugly women study because otherwise they'd find plenty of potential suitors. They speak of the difficulties girls "with an average of ugly appearance" will have in finding a husband. They mention how the ageing process will eventually render them worthless. They've phrased it in such a poetic way you could almost forgive them – "by the time they get their M.A. or Ph.D., they are already old, like yellowed pearls." Sometimes those yellowed pearls manage to find a fool to marry them. The highlight of those columns is guidance for when said fool cheats on them. "When you find out that he is having an affair, you may be in a towering rage, but you must know that if you make a fuss, you are denying the man “face” … No man is capable of spending a lifetime being loyal to an outmoded wife who never changes … Try changing your hairstyle or your fashion. Women must constantly change for the better." It’s silly to assume all men are like animals, led by their genitalia as they struggle to keep their trousers on. It’s a two-way street – there might actually be something wrong with the relationship if cheating occurs. Assuming a trip to the hair salon can fix that is somewhere between outrageously offensive and deluded. After getting married - but before an outdated wardrobe causes marital issues - they normally buy a home together. But, Hong Fincher says in an interview with the BBC that all data indicates most residential property is registered only in men's names. She also says parents would rather support their male cousin than their only daughter in buying a house. “Urban home ownership has become such a defining feature of masculinity that well-educated men who cannot afford to buy a home may feel a sense of shame or failure," she adds. Because of Chinese law, in case of a divorce, the person whose name the house is registered in gets to keep it. For instance, a woman with no financial independence could be stuck in an abusive relationship due to this. The law isn't there to protect the weakest. The woman ends up in a hostage situation of a kind. In the Open Democracy interview Hong Fincher says, “The shengnu campaign is part and parcel of the privatisation of housing, market reform and the march towards capitalism.” The Chinese aren't saying women can't take care of themselves. Rather, they're concerned for what the men will do without anyone to look after. They force women to give up their ambitions for the sake of keeping their male counterparts happy but why is that? By doing so they imply the men are useless. Not a marketing pro here, but it seems like a terrible angle if their goal is to get all the ladies to queue up at their local wedding chapels. [caption id="attachment_24230" align="aligncenter" width="800"]Traditional Chinese wedding dress Traditional Chinese wedding dress[/caption] [caption id="attachment_24221" align="aligncenter" width="1000"]Sheng nu social club gathering in China. Picture by Deborah Jian Lee Sheng nu social club gathering in China. Picture by Deborah Jian Lee[/caption] [caption id="attachment_24224" align="aligncenter" width="850"]Luziajui business district in Shanghai. Photo by Lucas Schifres Luziajui business district in Shanghai. Photo by Lucas Schifres[/caption] [caption id="attachment_24199" align="aligncenter" width="1600"]Author Leta Hong Fincher Author Leta Hong Fincher[/caption]

Leta Hong Fincher discussing her book on BBC World News.

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