Li Yinhe: “Criticizing the Sex Double Standard”

The following is a translation of this post by Li Yinhe.


In this thousands-of-years-old patriarchal society, double standards about sex are the norm. This double standard can be expressed in common language: the more sexual a man is, the better; the less sexual a woman is, the better.

For men, people always appraise things positively: if a man has lots of sexual experience, it proves he has money, power, is free, is charming, and even that he’s in good health. But for women, people appraise it negatively: if a woman has lots of sexual experience, it proves she is worthless, unconventional, shameless, and people will ruthlessly toss her aside just like they did to Mu Zimei.

In something that both sides obviously benefit from, enjoy, and voluntarily engage in, traditional thinking conversely holds that one side benefits from [sex] while the other loses something, this is the ‘logic of gain/loss’ about sex. This thousand-year-old patriarchal logic of gain and loss firmly holds that in sexual intercourse, the man gains and the woman pays. If a man ‘does’ a woman, he has profited, if a woman ‘does’ a man, she has lost. Because everyone things this way, and has been thinking this way for too long a time, this has already become perfectly justified, a fact that no one argues over.

The origins of this gain/loss logic lie in the fact that women were once considered the property of men, and weren’t independent human beings. The buying and selling of marriage is basically just men buying women, and something that has been paid for in money is obviously the purchaser’s property, to be looked after and protected from theft. So women don’t suffer losses/get tricked until they have lost their virginity.

This gain/loss logic was strengthened through thousands of years of “remaining a widow forever” education [i.e., education instructing girls that they must only ever have sex with their first husband, and even if the husband dies young, they themselves should sooner die than have sex with another man] , which was directly implemented by the government. If a woman lost her virginity before marriage and killed herself, or a woman refused to remarry after her husband died, the government would hold them up as examples of chaste women, and not only erect stone arches in their honor but also commemorate them in the annals of history. In the histories of the 24 dynasties, whole books are dedicated to the achievements of men, and women are rarely mentioned. Of the women who are mentioned, “chaste women” make up the vast majority […]

After this kind of education has persisted and strengthened for thousands of years, in our society today women are lower than men in every kind of “sexual norm”, which isn’t surprising。 Whether we’re talking about the ratio of premarital sex, extramarital sex, one night stands, sex work, consumption of sex-related products, women are always below men. Nearly 100% of men have experienced the pleasure [of sex], but 26% of Chinese women have never experienced this pleasure. I heard that some colleges have initiated “remaining a woman forever” education for girls, but I haven’t heard of anywhere that does this for boys. [I have heard of] girls pledging to remain virgins, but I have never heard of a “Flawless Youth Boys Group”, or of boys taking similar pledges. In a survey a few years ago by the Women’s Federation on ideas of chastity, over 80% of rural women responded to a question about whether life or remaining chaste was more important by saying that remaining chaste was more important. No one has ever asked men this question. This just proves that the ideas about chastity in our society are one-sided, it’s just a footnote in the double standards between men and women.

The sex double standard oppresses women, forcing them to inhibit themselves and hate their bodies. Even worse, it makes women lose [the pleasure of] feeling free and independent in their actions, they don’t dare to pursue happiness, and can only live numb and inhibited.

I have a belief: a reasonable society is one in which every member suffers the least amount of being inhibited by others (because it’s impossible to be completely uninhibited), it is a society where everyone can pursue happiness and self-realization. This “everyone” of course includes women, and in fact refers primarily to women, because the oppression women suffer is always much worse than men.

My Thoughts

Having spent four years at one of the most liberal schools in America, I’m tempted to say that this article is obvious and boring; everything in it goes without saying. But of course it doesn’t; as obvious as this may seem to some of us, these issues still dominate the lives of many people in China. Virginity, especially, is a big deal, often for men who themselves are not virgins but expect premarital chastity from their wives-to-be. The hypocrisy and stupidity of that mindset notwithstanding, it’s still not difficult to see why Li Yinhe is frustrated. This is ground that many other countries decades ago, and more to the point, women are suffering because of it.

Of course, similar double standards exist in Western countries, but the degree to which these standards are enforced in China is decidedly more extreme. Whether they are entirely correct or not, many girls — intelligent ones in good colleges as that — believe their future rests primarily on the shoulders of the man they marry, and who that man is depends primarily on their premarital behavior, e.g., whether or not they have premarital sex.

It’s my own personal opinion that sex and marriage are two very different things. Cultural differences be damned, any culture that restricts the rights of women is poisonous and needs to be stomped out. I fear that in China’s case, the “stomping out” of these feudal attitudes about sex and virginity will not occur quietly, and girls will suffer as a result. In the end, though, the power is theirs. There are going to be around twenty million men from this generation without Chinese wives, and that’s assuming that every Chinese girl marries a Chinese man. Even if they do, they’ll have their pick.

So what do you think? Are the days of hypocritical virgin-chasers numbered? How do you feel about attitudes toward sex in China?