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Pitting masculinity against femininity is a mistake

By Liu Minghui | China Daily | Updated: 2021-02-04 07:41

Chen Yilang and a student perform a kungfu pose at the China Welfare Institute Kindergarten. PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY

A recent post on the official website of the Ministry of Education saying that it would enhance physical education and psychological direction, in response to a proposal from a top policy advisor, to strengthen "masculinity" education among boys has triggered a fierce debate online.

During the two annual sessions in May, Si Zefu, a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference National Committee, said the "feminization" trend among teenagers, if not checked, will harm the development of China. Many Chinese teenage boys nowadays have the characteristics of weakness, low self-esteem and timidity, and they tend to follow the pretty-boy superstars, Si said.

Responding to Si's proposal, the ministry said more emphasis will be laid on "masculinity" education for boys, partly by increasing the number of physical education classes and teachers (most of them are men in China) in schools.

Those that support Si's view say the "feminization" trend among some male students has become a social problem, and without extraordinary intervention, it may harm the development of the country.

Opponents, on the other hand, claim that diverse and colorful is what the world is supposed to be. Why can't female soldiers be masculine and nan dan (men who play female roles in Chinese opera) be feminine? It's not a black or white issue.

Such kind of heated discussion, to be honest, is proof of social progress. And it's good to see voices are not concentrated on one side as before.

It's natural for masculinity to be associated with man and femininity with woman. Some people identified boys that exhibit tenderness, inferiority or timidity with niang, or sissies, and cautioned that these niang, or "pretty-boy superstars", may set a bad example for juveniles leading to their emasculation.

But while calls to guard against the "feminization" of boys are heard from time to time, why doesn't the opposite happen? To be precise, why aren't there calls to protect girls against "masculinization"? It's because masculinity is traditionally associated with superiority and femininity with inferiority. And almost all commendatory terms are used for men, while nearly all derogatory terms are reserved for women.

The traditional concept is that "man dominates the world outside home and woman dominates the world inside home". That's why fathers are not expected to share child-raising duties. That Si said some boys behave like sissies partly because they grow up in an atmosphere dominated by moms and grandmas points to the failure of society to appreciate the real value of women's domestic work.

Actually, gender stereotypes have made both men and women victims of discrimination. The increasing gender stereotype of stigmatizing women and effeminate men may rob women of confidence, a prerequisite for success. For men, too many of them are trapped in the same suffocating, outdated masculinity stereotype, which supposes being vulnerable means being emasculated. This model of masculinity has no room for fear, grief or tenderness.

It's a pity that some people didn't emphasize the role of women in raising children. It highlights his inherent gender bias. The attempt to distinguish boys from girls based on stereotypes is neither realistic nor scientific. As society progresses, there will be a growing number of people with certain common traits. So it's good to be strong, courageous, decisive and independent as a human being rather than as a man.

Not all juying, literally "giant infants", are boys. It's necessary to make efforts to raise children without any gender bias and let them grow up as adults with independent personalities, a sense of duty and all the other good human qualities. After all, who can guarantee that men with strong muscles are also men with responsibility and honesty?

It is also important to establish an evaluation mechanism to determine gender discrimination at the national level to ensure new policies and regulations issued in the future are gender bias-free.

The author is a professor at the School of Law, China Women's University.

The views don't necessarily represent those of China Daily.

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