October 12, 2012
Written by Calvin N. Ho
My colleague Leta Hong Fincher published an op-ed in the New York Times yesterday about China’s “leftover women,” or shengnü (剩女). “Leftover women” is a very direct translation–the character 剩 is the same as in shengcai, or leftover food.
The confluence of a traditional preference for boys over girls and a strict one-child policy for urban families has led to a surplus of men. Changing social norms and greater educational and career opportunities for women mean that many women are delaying marriage; when they partner up, they have higher standards than ever before.
Worried that a glut of unmarried men and women will be detrimental to social stability, the state has begun to promote the stigmatization of unmarried women in their late 20s and beyond. They are particularly targeting educated women, since those are the least likely to marry:
In 2005 fully 7 percent of 45-year-old Shanghai women with college degrees had never married, according to Wang’s research. [...] “It’s a sharp departure from before, from near-universal female marriage.” Indeed, there’s a common joke that there are three genders in China: men, women, and women with Ph.D.s. Men marry women, and women with Ph.D.s don’t marry.
How exactly does the government scare educated women into marrying? By making the state feminist organization tell educated women that they are in school because they are ugly, and that their expiration date is fast approaching! For her article, Fincher translated some excerpts from the All-China Women’s Federation website. Among them was this gem:
Pretty girls don’t need a lot of education to marry into a rich and powerful family, but girls with an average or ugly appearance will find it difficult. These kinds of girls hope to further their education in order to increase their competitiveness. The tragedy is, they don’t realize that as women age, they are worth less and less, so by the time they get their M.A. or Ph.D., they are already old, like yellowed pearls.
How are Asian American women dealing with pressures to marry? The government might not be comparing them to cold pizza, but many have families with “old country” ideas about marriage and relationships. To boot, some Asian American groups have higher levels of educational attainment than the national average, meaning more years in school–years in which all genders might feel like they are off the marriage market.
Asian American women: what do you think of this shengnü business? Are your families pressuring you to get married? How do you deal with that? Please tell us in the comments.
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Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Leftover Women" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2012/10/leftover-women/> ().
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