Monday, May 21, 2007

Meanwhile, in China

Two stories about Chinese women appeared in May. One was of yet another criminal caught killing young women to create "ghost brides", dead women that can be buried with a man who has died so that he can get the wifely services in afterlife. It's like those archeological digs where skeletons are found with tools and food for afterlife. The woman is a similar form of resources. Don't try this in reverse. It doesn't work.

The other story is about the high rate of suicides among the young rural women in China:

The suicide rate for women in China is 25 percent higher than for men, and the rural rate is three times the urban rate. In Western countries, men are at least twice as likely and sometimes four times as likely as women to commit suicide, studies show. But in China, being young, from the countryside and female is an especially lethal combination.

Because the women who commit suicide are almost exclusively poor, their desperation
is a reminder of the social inequalities that plague China and the difficulties hindering government efforts to raise rural standards of living. Despite the fast- paced modernization of cities, women in the countryside have been left to face what they consider insurmountable obstacles, often stemming from the traditional view that wives play a subservient role in the household.

Drinking pesticides is how this is done, this escape from an unbearable life. And why is it unbearable? Poverty, rapid social change and the great contempt the traditional Chinese culture has for women are all to blame. But this struck me as one of the obvious reasons:

Li Guiming, 49, a local community leader who came to help Wang and later sent her and others to Beijing for training, suggested that traditional gender roles in the countryside are powerful.

"Women are inferior from the time they're born," Li said. "When you give birth to a girl, people say you have a poyatou, a worthless servant girl. When it's a boy, they say you have a dapangxiaozi, a big fat boy."

Fish can't taste the water and women growing up under these beliefs will absorb them.

What I found saddest of all in the story about suicides was the resolution offered to one of the women whose suicide attempt is described at the beginning of the article, because there was no resolution, no real focus on her problems. She still didn't matter as a person.

Why delve on such sad stories? China probably has millions of happy women, too. Christina Hoff Sommers might argue that I should personally go to China and save all these women from societal oppression and self-hatred or I don't count as anything but a feckless feminist.

Perhaps I am writing about this because Hoff Sommers argued that the kind of feminism that is really needed in other countries will be family-based and faith-based, not the sort of selfish stuff we Western feminists spout.

Yet both the ghost brides and the subjugation of women within families are old religion-related traditions. So are honor killings in the Middle East. They are explicitly linked to the honor of the whole family. A feminist who can't address problems caused by certain ways of thinking about families will not do much good for women.