Source: SupChina (10/28/20)
Are feminism and housewifery incompatible? Chinese internet debates comments by education activist
The controversy erupted earlier this week when a clip of the interview began circulating on Weibo. Speaking to a reporter from the Red Star News, Zhāng Guìméi 张桂梅, an outspoken activist for the rights of girls to receive an education, shared a story of how she rejected a sizable donation from a former student because she was a stay-at-home mom by choice.
By Jiayun Feng
A recent interview with Zhāng Guìméi 张桂梅, an outspoken activist for the rights of girls to receive an education, has led to a significant number of people across Chinese social media debating the economics and social implications of women being full-time housewives — a hot-button issue that has become increasingly contentious as feminism makes notable strides in the country.
The controversy erupted earlier this week when a clip of the interview (in Chinese) began circulating on Weibo. Speaking to a reporter from the Red Star News, a digital news platform created by the Chengdu Economic Daily, Zhang, who has been providing free education to low-income students in Yunnan as a high school principal for more than 40 years, shared a story of how she rejected a sizable donation from a former student because she was a stay-at-home mom by choice.
“She came [to my office] with her baby and husband, hoping to make a huge donation to the school,” Zhang said. “I told her to get out of my face, in front of her partner.”
She explained that she was disappointed by the woman’s decision to become a full-time housewife after sponsoring her education for years.
“Look how common it is for men to have extramarital affairs when their wives are out of the workforce. You’ve lost touch with society, unable to help your husband’s professional career. Your ability to offer valuable thoughts has greatly diminished,” Zhang said, stressing that female independence is not only key to a healthy marriage, but also vital to women’s empowerment and the battle for gender equality in China.
There has been a debate about work and family for years among Chinese feminists. To some, wives and mothers retreating to the home is basically conceding defeat to the patriarchal structures that expect women to be primary caretakers of their families, oftentimes at the expense of their professional lives. “Being bound to the home is not good for women and it’s not good for society. It’s a backward move detrimental to all the progress made by Chinese feminists through their hard work over the years,” a Weibo user commented (in Chinese).
Some of the supporters of Zhang’s remarks also commented on the difficulty of having two working parents with full-time jobs. Acknowledging that women are more likely to exit the workforce because of economic necessity, they called for paid maternity leave and subsidies for childcare. “Instead of starting a gender war or treating stay-at-home wives as a disgrace for the women’s rights movement, how about we urge the government to do something about the situation?” a Weibo user suggested (in Chinese).
However, others, including countless full-time housewives and a large number of men, argued that the lifestyle was a personal choice, and that housework should be considered as a “real job” in its own right. “Housewives get a bad rep, but I think the value they create for society is underestimated and they deserve more respect,” a Weibo user wrote (in Chinese).
But even some of those who didn’t agree with Zhang’s attitude said they understood where the activist was coming from given her devotion to girls’ education. “She definitely had a reason to be upset. Considering how much work she put into giving this woman all the resources she needed as a student, she must have had high hopes for the lady, and reasonably so. Even though I think some of her comments were too extreme, I understand it was a big letdown for her,” a Weibo user commented (in Chinese).
In China, as more and more women find empowerment in their integrity and independence, many of them have opted to delay or forgo marriage in favor of a career. The growing resistance to marriage and conforming to traditional gender roles in a family has gained considerable traction — to a point where the deregotary term marriage donkeys (婚驴 hūnlǘ) was coined to describe the collective of educated and able-bodied women who quit their jobs to perform domestic labor.
On the other hand, there seems to be a growing trend of Generation Z couples — those born after 1995 — who let wives run the home and men do the breadwinning. A 2018 survey conducted by BabyTree, China’s largest parenting website, found that the fastest-growing group among stay-at-home moms is women under 25. More shockingly, over 80% of Gen Z moms didn’t have jobs outside the home.