More on 三八女 (the social status of women in China)

11 March 2009

A few days ago, I wrote about International Women’s Day, celebrated on 8th of March each year.  The name of this festival is "San Ba Jie," or "Three Eight Festival" (for third month, 8th day).  It is a festival day in China to celebrate the equality of women in society, particularly in Communist societies.  Women in China, Chairman Mao said, "hold up half the sky."  The only problem is, that ordinary citizens in China don’t really see women that way.  Women may hold up half the sky, but they are not viewed as equal with men. 

Nor are women valued as highly, literally.  If they were, it would not have been necessary for the Chinese government to ban the storefront ultrasound businesses, which would tell people whether the baby they were expecting was a boy or girl, so they could selectively abort the baby if it were a girl.  It would not have been necessary for the government to institute a campaign in the countryside to convince parents that "Every child is precious." 

How well I remember the days in the USA when women who agitated for equal rights were viewed as abrasive.  Let’s put it bluntly.  They weren’t just viewed as pushy.  They were viewed as something akin to lesbian bitches.  Well, … in China, to refer to a woman as a "san ba nu" (three eight woman) has somewhat the same connotation.  It’s not a nice term. 

That’s why, when I recently referred to myself as a "san ba nu," one of my Chinese friends wrote to me:  "It is not a positive comment for you. Stop using that word. :)"  She didn’t realize that I knew it wasn’t a flattering way to refer to one’s self.  But, I’ve already been there, done that.  I’ve battled those barriers of sexism in the workplace.  You don’t make progress by being sweet and playing by the same rules that kept women in their "place" for centuries already. 

Thus, my reply to her?

"Wo zhidao [I know]. My point really is that, it just goes to show how far women still have to go in a society — how small our gains are — when the mere fact of seeking equality with men is equated with being an annoying, yacking, gossipy, complaining, bitch! I utterly disagree with the Chinese use of the term we westerners would call "liberated woman" as being the equivalent of what we would call "bitch", MOST ESPECIALLY when the term itself (directly translated "March 8th woman") is a direct reference to International Women’s Day, which is about nothing more than seeking equal rights for women! I PRAY that the future for you (and for all sisters) will be much better than this cultural stereotype indicates!!" 

Another of my friends wrote to me a really sweet note, which in part says:  "I don’t think we need a worldwide banner proclaiming how great we are. We already knew."

To which I reply, "zhende, zhende [truly, truly!]"!!! 

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