11.4.10

Could China's "Gendercide" end up changing it's gender roles?

So, there are a lot more boys than girls in China now. Everyone knows this. Though it's hit the news again recently. China's government is even concerned enough about the disparity to start trying to convince citizens to allow more girl children to be born alive. Though they're not likely to be successful in a culture where the idea of the value of sons is so deep seated and long standing.

I can't help wondering however if there is something that will change China in it's perception of gender roles after all. Let's think about this for a moment.

Yes, bad things are likely to happen. More women trafficked into China, higher prostitution rates, and the kidnapping of girls to be raised as child brides for those who can afford to do so. These are horrible and should not happen.

However, consider this. Assuming all things stay equal and the rule of "law" in China continues, in 20 years, those boys will all be men and looking for wives. Only, there will not be enough women for all of them to marry. Parents of girls may suddenly find themselves in a position of considerable influence. Suddenly, having a daughter, rather than a son may be a good thing. Each girl could have more than 10 men vying for her hand.

This could be competition considerable enough that the old ideas of a woman's parents paying a dowry no longer apply. The onus will be on the family of the man to prove him eligible for a change. Women will be able to choose, more than they ever have before in China, whom they would like to marry. Parents of women will be in the seat of power, with all the chips.

Consider what this could do, in a generation or less, to a culture that weighs everyone, especially girls, on their commercial value to the family.

I can't help wondering if the corner that China finds itself painted into may not be the exact kind of trap necessary to change a centuries old deep seated gender imbalance. It could happen in fewer than 40 years.

Could it be that, setting aside the tragic, evil past of gendercide, the current gender disparity in China could be a good thing in the long run?

I certainly pray it is so.

What do you think?

12 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  2. You raise an excellent question, but I suspect there's a slight of hand in there - you don't really have so much faith in market forces to correct the underlying problem, do you? I think, perhaps, you have a larger point to make. Your thought process reminds me of an essay by William Tucker "Monogamy and Its Discontents" which may be found in the compilation 'Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar,' in which he makes a purely sociobiological argument for monogamy (as opposed to moral or religious ones). He first examines the 'positives' of the alternatives, for instance that polygamy increases competition among males and provides mates for "low-status females". In this system the effect on high-status females is 'neutral', on low-status females it is positive. The clear losers are low-status males. "In some species, like elephants, the bachelor herd forms a dispirited gaggle living relatively meaningless lives at the edge of society. In others, like various monkeys, the subdominants form all-male gangs that combine their efforts to steal females from successful males. In a highly social species, such as baboons, the bachelor herd has been incorporated into the troop. Subdominant males form a 'centurian guard' that protects the dominant male and his harem from predators. Among themselves, meanwhile, they engage in endless status struggles, trying to move up the social ladder toward their own mating possibilities. Altogether, then, polygamy is a very natural and successful reproductive system..." Tucker goes on from here to explain why monogamy is even better, albeit with its own discontents. Monogamy is better for democracy - for human rights, etc. One could imagine a similar argument for the merits of a society in which there are many more men than women - as you have. But, like Tucker, you might want to explain why there might be something better. I therefore read your blog post like an introduction to a larger argument. Perhaps these conditions could be favorable for familes with girls in the long term, and perhaps they could have positive implications for the value of women within society, but this increase is of the commodity called "woman", not necesarilly women as human beings. But then again, the commoditization of women is a problem everywhere.

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  3. Graham-If it weren't CHina, maybe I wouldn't trust in market forces quite so much. But, IT'S CHINA. At the root of Chinese culture and society is Confucian pragmatism and the fundamental understanding that all people are commodities, first of the society , and then of the family. If market forces are to work in any culture, China would be the one in which it could.

    I am fully aware that I am discussing women as commodities. As such, I am speaking in terms no different from how most Chinese actually currently think about women.

    I'm simply speculating that if women become a prized enough commodity, they may have the power and influence in that society to change that perception in a way that has not been possible before now.

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  4. yeah, that was clear...sorry if I came across as misunderstanding your point...interesting point too about Confucian pragmatism. I suppose the political leverage of higher social standing would certainly help to change perceptions. Do you think this leverage would push Chinese society towards an equivalent to, "we hold these truths to be self evident, that all men [and women] are created equal"? Or would it be to some other thing - rooted, as you say, in Confucian pragmatism rather than the stuff of our own founding?

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  5. Graham-I definitely think it would be something of the latter. I doubt that women having more leverage in a Confucian society will lead toward the idea of the intrinsic worth of the individual. The Chinese have been Confucian a lot longer than the founding father's have been Christian, and the idea of the basic worth of humanity came from the Judeo-Christian idea that every person bears the image of God.

    I'm honestly not sure what would happen if women gained more power. I assume that matters such as forcible abortion, and reproductive rights would be amended. But women can be just as mercenary as men.

    I do think that such a fundamental societal shift could pave the way to reconsider other long held notions, which could lead to other shifts of significance. Political social and spiritual. But it wouldn't be because of the culture as it is, I don't think. Rather, the leaking in of other influences.

    ReplyDelete
  6. You seem to know much more about Chinese society than I do, so I will ask you - what about the'influences' of Communism, athiesm, repressed capitalism, the underground church, or others?...My question of what would emerge is an open ended one. How about this - what will heppen as we default on our debt to China and they refuse to adjust the currency? Will we, in an age of national destitution, offer up our women? Brave New World II perhaps. Or perhaps there could be a Chinese Awakening (perhaps that is already happening)? And if that is under the surface, then peraps the political leverage of 1 woman for every 10 men would, in fact, tap into this cultural shift for its deeper power. Perhaps China could become the new City on a Hill. Two extremes. All of this is to say that I think you make brilliant points and get me thinking.

    ReplyDelete
  7. If anything ethnic minorities, which actually account for large portions of the population in some places will be the ones to win. One child only policies don't apply to them, but I digress.

    The Chinese government is already trying to encourage people to have more girls. You can have more than one child in most places if your first one was a girl. You get access to special benefits if you have girls. All this to say, the policy makers realize they have a problem and are doing whatever they can think of to deal with it. They had better. The real problem with a huge gender gap is that it will raise male aggression. Fewer men having to worry about families will mean they worry about other things like making sure no one disrespects China. Chinese exchange student in Seoul South Korea shut down traffic as they protested the international criticism of Chinese behavior in Tibet leading up the the 2008 Olympics. If South Korean students did that in Beijing, they would be shot. All this to say, the rise of China is not benign. Some argue the CCP actually acts to restrain a lot of national aggression that would be turned loose if the state were more democratic. All this will get worse if there are more males without females to keep them occupied. It is noteworthy that the chinese word for peace is written with two components, one meaning house, the other woman. The idea is that a family means peace.

    I like the point about the market forces causing a revaluation of women. I would not be shocked if this did happen to an extent. However, I am convinced it won't make up for the exploitation of females across the region that will result from a shortage. We already see this happening. Internal trafficking of Chinese girls from the provinces to the cities is on the rise, as is trafficking from North Korea, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Tibet, Mongolia.......the list goes on. On the other hand, I remember in 2008 when I was in Thailand that a lot of women were learning Chinese, where before they only learned English or Japanese in the hope of getting a husband from a country that spoke one of those languages. Some of the making up for the gender gap won't have to be so exploitative.

    In the final analysis though, the real losers--like in many cultures--will be the guys who can't get laid. The only problem is that there will be a lot more of them than usual. We see a lot of people who fit this description in Japan these days. They are called the lost generation. "Otaku" or men who won't leave the house, won't get a job, and won't in any other way involve themselves with the greater society, are a growing population. The Japanese term for them, and I agree with it, is parasite. Think of millions of these and you will have China in a few decades. Now picture this along with higher levels of aggression in main stream society, pervasive prostitution, a lot of it forced, and Chinese parents competing to sell off their girls to rich and powerful men, and you have a nation reaping what it sowed when it thought it was a good idea to value men over women.

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  8. I think China's problem of aborting/killing/discouraging-families-from-having girls has been going on for a generation already. I only say that because the post made it sound like it was a more recent problem. I'm 33, and as long as I can remember, China has had this problem.

    I remember in a high school history class discussing this gender disparity. Our teacher made the point that with an over-abundance of males with no females to call their own, China may develop a giant "locker room" mentality. I wonder about how that will play out politically against the USA in the next generation, especially with the USA economy continuing to tank and budget deficits continuing to skyrocket -- and China holding so much of our debt.

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  9. Carrien,
    I read something related to this issue awhile back that was somewhat disturbing. Although I could see how it could work out in some women's favor, it seems that the opposite can be true in some instances. Apparently this is a huge problem in small villages, so much so, that there are men that are willing to go to larger areas and kidnap "brides"for themselves. I think this is really sad, and here is a link if you are interested in learning more:
    http://www.insightnewstv.com/d08/

    ReplyDelete
  10. THank-you everyone for chiming in and thinking about this.

    For the extra information as well as the added insight.

    As your link ecochickapprentice shows it has already had the effect of creating competition for wives, and placed the economic burden on the men. Sad and wrong that the result has been to kidnap woman.

    Perhaps in the end little will change. I know I will be watching to see how it all plays out over the next several years.

    I still hope for something redemptive.

    ReplyDelete
  11. You seem to know much more about Chinese society than I do, so I will ask you - what about the'influences' of Communism, athiesm, repressed capitalism, the underground church, or others?...My question of what would emerge is an open ended one. How about this - what will heppen as we default on our debt to China and they refuse to adjust the currency? Will we, in an age of national destitution, offer up our women? Brave New World II perhaps. Or perhaps there could be a Chinese Awakening (perhaps that is already happening)? And if that is under the surface, then peraps the political leverage of 1 woman for every 10 men would, in fact, tap into this cultural shift for its deeper power. Perhaps China could become the new City on a Hill. Two extremes. All of this is to say that I think you make brilliant points and get me thinking.

    ReplyDelete
  12. You raise an excellent question, but I suspect there's a slight of hand in there - you don't really have so much faith in market forces to correct the underlying problem, do you? I think, perhaps, you have a larger point to make. Your thought process reminds me of an essay by William Tucker "Monogamy and Its Discontents" which may be found in the compilation 'Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar,' in which he makes a purely sociobiological argument for monogamy (as opposed to moral or religious ones). He first examines the 'positives' of the alternatives, for instance that polygamy increases competition among males and provides mates for "low-status females". In this system the effect on high-status females is 'neutral', on low-status females it is positive. The clear losers are low-status males. "In some species, like elephants, the bachelor herd forms a dispirited gaggle living relatively meaningless lives at the edge of society. In others, like various monkeys, the subdominants form all-male gangs that combine their efforts to steal females from successful males. In a highly social species, such as baboons, the bachelor herd has been incorporated into the troop. Subdominant males form a 'centurian guard' that protects the dominant male and his harem from predators. Among themselves, meanwhile, they engage in endless status struggles, trying to move up the social ladder toward their own mating possibilities. Altogether, then, polygamy is a very natural and successful reproductive system..." Tucker goes on from here to explain why monogamy is even better, albeit with its own discontents. Monogamy is better for democracy - for human rights, etc. One could imagine a similar argument for the merits of a society in which there are many more men than women - as you have. But, like Tucker, you might want to explain why there might be something better. I therefore read your blog post like an introduction to a larger argument. Perhaps these conditions could be favorable for familes with girls in the long term, and perhaps they could have positive implications for the value of women within society, but this increase is of the commodity called "woman", not necesarilly women as human beings. But then again, the commoditization of women is a problem everywhere.

    ReplyDelete

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