The Dilemma of Chinese Single Women: Understanding Oppression and Discrimination from an Intersectional Perspective
Gong Wanqi1, Guo Qin2, Jiang Crystal Li2
1.School of Journalism and Communication, Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, Guangzhou 510420, China;
2.Department of Media and Communication, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong 999077, China
Similar to many other countries, the populations of singles in China have been rapidly increasing. The rise of single population is mainly driven by the advanced education and economic empowerment-singles intentionally postpone their marriage or even choose to stay unmarried because marriage seems to offer few incentives for personal development. This effect is particularly strong for single women, especially professional women. The proportion of never-married women aged between 25 and 29 in China has risen by 13% whereas the proportion of singles aged above 25 only increases by 1% from 2000 to 2010. Despite such significant changes, marriage norms remain strong in China. Confucian values consider settling down as a prerequisite of better career development and family welfare. The accelerating aging process also calls for more marriages, which presumably would booster the already low fertility rate. It has been widely documented that Chinese single women face significantly more pressure than Chinese single men, mainly for failing to fulfill the traditional gender role. While acknowledging the oppressive reality, most studies use a dichotomization perspective that considers gender as the most defining factor in creating the dilemma of Chinese single women. In this paper, we argue that there is a more significant complexity in the production of oppressive reality. Indeed, single women in different age groups, with different education levels or in different social classes have different experiences when they negotiate for their single identity. We instead introduce the intersectionality framework, which argues that gender interacts with other social identity/divisions (e.g., class, age, education, religion) to create multi-layered oppression and discrimination. Such intersectional oppression occurs on multiple and often simultaneous levels, and is deeply embedded in various interpersonal processes (e.g., social exclusion for single women), bureaucratic practices (e.g., single enjoy less rights and welfare), hierarchical structures (e.g., single women with higher socioeconomic status have more negotiation power), and hegemonic ideologies (e.g., women need to respect masculinity and patriarchy in marriage or family). The paper later extensively discusses how the intersectional oppression is manifested on macro-, meso- and micro- levels in the context of mainland China. On the macro-level, the intersecting influences mostly operate via ideological forces, policy-making and institutional acts. Confucianism continuously defines a set of subordinate controlling images for Chinese women. Young women are expected to pursue certain life events in a given sequence. State power is a critical agent in creating institutional oppression for single women. In general, there is little recognition of this population in terms of social policy and legislation. On the contrary, the aging process even motivates Chinese government to privilege marriage and cultivate hostile public opinions towards single women. On the meso-level, controlling images are vividly manifested in public agenda. Media is one of the critical agents that negatively depict single womanhood. The gender media portrayals have been widely documented in terms of professional images, domestic roles, interpersonal power, etc. When it comes to single women, Chinese media are devoted to stereotype single women as picky, lonely, deviant, as well as having unrealistic expectation for love and marriage. On the other hand, anxious parents have also rendered single womanhood a salient issue on public agenda. One-child Policy leaves Chinese parents no choice other than intervening their daughter’s mate selection. On the micro-level, Chinese single women face multiple and intersecting oppressions rooted in sexism, marriage norm, ageism and social class. On the Chinese marriage market, youth, beauty, fertility, and marriage record are all pricing factors that determine a lady’s mating value. Such interlocking discrimination is further complicated by social class. Single women in middle- and upper-classes have more negotiation power to downplay the importance of relationship and frame their single status as positive and self-enhancing.
龚婉祺 郭沁 蒋莉. 中国单身女性的困境: 多元交叉的社会压力和歧视[J]. 浙江大学学报(人文社会科学版), 2018, 4(2): 117-128.
Gong Wanqi, Guo Qin, Jiang Crystal Li. The Dilemma of Chinese Single Women: Understanding Oppression and Discrimination from an Intersectional Perspective. JOURNAL OF ZHEJIANG UNIVERSITY, 2018, 4(2): 117-128.