China Bridge (神州橋樑)_2014/Apr

God created women and men in his own image

(Genesis 1:27)

Do all women look forward to Valentine’s Day? Many countries celebrate it and men of all ages like to buy flowers and candy for their girlfriends or wives.

Some couples even get engaged or married on this apt day. This is one day where women are held in high esteem, but it is also a day when young women feel pressure from families, friends and society if they aren’t married yet.

Many may want to pursue higher education before marriage, but are sometimes ridiculed for wanting or acquiring a higher education.

Professors should be proud of the young women in their classes, as education is so important in everyone’s life, but some have surprised us. Here’s what a few of them have to say.

Luo Bilian, a distinguished professor and a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in Guangdong, compared women to a commercial product with a limited shelf life. He claimed that studying for a doctorate degree would devalue a woman if she has failed to sell herself to a husband in a timely fashion.

Chen Riyuan, another Consultative Conference member, remarked that if a woman seeking to enter an advanced degree programme had no husband or boyfriend, he would advise her to get one before taking the entrance examination.

In a micro blog posting in 2013, Feng Gang, a male professor of sociology at Zhejiang University, noted that the three top graduate students seeking an advanced degree were female.

“However, according to my experience, female students seldom dedicate themselves to scholarship,” he wrote, “since they have taken three out of the five places for graduate students, there are only two slots left for students who really want to do scholarship, but have to take the examination. I am so worried about them.”

Roy Gu, a teacher at Shanghai International Studies University, said, “I suggest that female doctoral candidates should spend more time with their babies if they have one, even if they have to delay graduation.”

Women, especially educated ones, were incensed by these comments. Insertions of marriage into virtually any discussion involving women is common-place in China, where cultural expectations and assumptions run deep, so deep that many people don’t even notice the built-in patronising sexism that separates women from men.

For many of us who have taught doctoral students in China and even undergraduates, we have found the young women to be diligent, hard working and interested in the pursuit and love of education.

In China, it has long been a traditional concept to call a woman without talent virtuous. This is ingrained even among men with a fine education. They want to find a virtuous woman who will worship them and depend on them.

One female who has read a lot of books and mastered profound knowledge in a certain field may have a lot of thoughts beyond a man’s control. She said, “What they don’t get is that doing doctoral study is simply work.”

A 31-year-old woman, who is a doctoral candidate in Nanjing, said she that three of her male professors frankly urged her to find a boyfriend before it was too late.

She said, “I understand it is kind-hearted for them to say that to me, but I was disappointed and wonder whether I will ever see men and women having equal opportunities for higher education. I am starting to believe that maybe they were right: Being happy might be the most important thing for a woman.”

That attitude doesn’t sit well with many women. One female advocate explained that this sort of being happy means ingratiating oneself with a society that persistently describes a woman’s success in terms of marriage, as if that’s all there is to life.

Although marriage is equally important for both men and women, it is the women who seem to get saddled with the weight of responsibility for tying the knot and who risk societal scorn or pity if they do not, according to another women’s advocate, Li Sipan, who works with New Media Women Network, a Guangzhou-based non-government organisation.

That sort of social awareness, or social pressure, in defining the fundamental value of a woman has discouraged many from pursuing their dreams of excellence in academia and the workplace.

Female students often achieve better scores in qualifying examinations for advanced degree programmes, but are more likely to be rejected at the interview stage, because professors, employers or even schools want males.

The problem was illustrated in 2012 at Renmin University, which had reduced the college entrance test score standard for male students by 13 points in an effort to achieve equality of numbers with higher-scoring females.

After intense criticism, the school dumped the policy in favour of equality. In 2013, only three male students were admitted out of 14 students (China Daily, February 14).

Under the education law, Chinese citizens are supposed to enjoy equal opportunities, regardless of ethnicity, race, sex, profession, financial situation or religious belief and it demands that schools and related executive departments of the government guarantee equal opportunities for female students, both in enrollment and in progressing to higher schools.

From 2000 to 2012, female students represented 51.8 per cent of the 1,007 top scores in college entrance examinations around China and the gap continues to widen. Some universities continue to maintain a double standard favouring males.

A report released in 2013 by Women’s Media Network reveals that among the 112 top universities in China, 81 practiced gender discrimination and 34 broke the rules set by the Ministry of Education, including new regulations promulgated in May 2013.

The report added that the law also states that except for majors in military affairs, national defence and public security in some special schools, unequal female-male enrollment rates are not allowed in institutions of higher education.

The schools were in violation of the Chinese constitution and the Education Law, but nobody took any legal responsibility to push the matter.

Women also meet with discrimination when they look for a job. A student of mine told me that she had gone for an interview and was told she wasn’t pretty enough for the job!

We often read about young women in Beijing actually spending large amounts of money to go through plastic surgery.

They change the shape of their eyelids, eyebrows, nose and even their ears.

That kind of surgery can have devastating results if not done well.

Women of the world have many struggles even though most countries claim that men and women are equal in all matters.

For some good news, Forbes magazine’s annual rankings for the most powerful women of the world in 2013 chose nine Chinese women:

Margaret Chan, director general, World Health Organisation; Cher Wang, co-founder and chairperson, HTC (Taiwan); Wu Yajun, chairperson, Longfor Properties; Zhang Xin, co-founder, chief executive officer, Soho China; Sun Yafang, chairperson, Huawei Technologies; Solina Chau, director, Li Ka Shing Foundation (HK); Jennifer Li, chief financial officer, Baidu; Yang Lan, co-owner, Sun Media Group; Peng Liyuan, first lady of China.

There were six Chinese women on last year’s list as well. Forbes said on its website: “We’ve selected women that go beyond the traditional taxonomy of the power elite (political and economic might). These change-agents are actually shifting our very idea of clout and authority and, in the process, transforming the world in fresh and exhilarating ways.”

Zhang Yuqian, a researcher in international media studies at the Communication University of China, pointed out that Peng Liyuan’s appearance on the list stems partly from the world’s attention to China.

He added that the first lady’s outstanding personal charisma is also an important reason.

The nine Chinese women on the list “not only achieved huge success in their careers, but also undertook social responsibilities, such as for their families,” he said.

Businesswomen are booming, not just in China, but across Asia. “The whole region makes a strong showing, from China and Singapore to New Zealand and Thailand,” the magazine says.

In China everyone knows the sayings of Mao Zedong, one of which is, “Women hold up half the sky.”

His words have resonated across the decades, inspiring many Chinese women to aspire to greater heights of personal achievement, both at home and in the workplace, but lingering sexist attitudes, leftovers from a patriarchal past and outright gender discrimination in education, continue to impede their progress.

In most countries of the world women want an education and also aspire to greater heights of personal achievement, but they still face discrimination in their daily lives, in employment and even in their faith communities.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3: 28).

Support and encourage women striving for equal rights.