Daughters of China

A recent ChinaHush post got us thinking about the place of women in Chinese society. Plenty has been said, on this site and elsewhere, about the question, but it’s one we keep coming back to because no one has answered it yet.

The gender imbalance caused by the One Child Policy in combination with traditional sexism is well documented. Amongst young people, especially, the difference is pronounced. There are, for example, almost twenty million more boys than girls under the age of 15. Those boys are going to grow up, and many of them are going to want to marry someone. We’ve covered this before, of course, but the ChinaHush makes me want to emphasize another aspect of this demographic situation.

The gender imbalance could, in theory, serve as an equalizing force for women. With twenty million extra guys to choose from (not counting foreign men), the pressure on women to marry young is going to be alleviated somewhat, freeing women up to pursue careers or their education more seriously (as of 2000, women lagged almost 10% behind men in literacy). Traditionally, the scare story has been that one must find a good husband while still young and pretty or risk permanent spinsterhood. With twenty million guys to spare, though, women concerned about getting married should be able to relax their timelines a bit — all the good ones are not going to be taken by the time they’re 25, 30, or ever. That relaxed timeline is likely to mean more serious female graduate students and career women, and one wonders if it might lead to its own little sexual revolution of sorts, too — with time and men to spare, why not spend a bit more time “looking”, as it were?

This gender imbalance might, by extension, also cut down on the alleged sexual abuse that goes on at institutions of higher learning — something we rather doubt is as widespread as that rumor implies anyway. Advisors will still hold power over their PhD candidates, yes, but in time (assuming, as above, that the imbalance could lead to more women pursuing graduate study), more of those advisors will be women, too. That’s a demographic shift that’s likely to happen anyway, but the gender imbalance could have the effect of increasing it. On the other hand, it could mean that twenty million depressed, wifeless bachelors turn to academia and drown their sorrows in a pile of books.

It is, of course, but a thought, one possible projection — still, a rather interesting one, is it not? It would be rather delicious if the One Child Policy, which has led to some pretty horrific abuse of women and girls (because of backwards traditional mindsets, not the policy itself), ended up serving as a tool for their further emancipation precisely because of those backwards traditional ideas.