Domestic Affairs

Women's work

By Linda Gibson (
Updated: 2010-05-12 10:46
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Imagine caring for sick, helpless and dependent people who despise you.

That's reality for nurses in China. They describe society's judgment of their work as "menial" and "degrading."

Given the low opinion Chinese hold for nurses, it's a wonder that hospital patients aren't neglected or mauled, and a testament to the dedication of nurses.

"People despise nurses because they believe the work is of a low status," said a male nurse in a China Daily article about the "plight" of men who choose this profession.

The culprit here is Chinese people's insulting opinions of women. People from First World countries who live here see it everywhere, and it never fails to shock, perplex or amuse.

In reality, many Chinese women work as hard as men in fields and factories. Those in offices or professions work harder than men for fewer rewards. All women who work go home to second shifts of household labor, child care and husband-coddling.

No wonder so many young Chinese women aspire only to marry the richest men they can snag. If the only abundance workplaces offer women is denigration, it makes sense to avoid them. One result, however, is that adult Chinese women become infantilized, stunted in their development and dependent on husbands who are likely to view them as burdens instead of enjoy them as companions.

It took American women some 120 years of organizing, protesting, lobbying and demanding before they even began to achieve their current status. Even now, they still run into artificial, gender-bias based barriers to educations, professions and opportunities.

But their achievements so far have released enough energy and talent previously trapped within stereotyped limits to help propel the country into First World leadership.

Chinese women will have to find their own way to gender justice. Simply emulating Western methods probably won't work.

It would be instructive for Chinese couples to try trading places, with each assuming the other's duties. After one week, men would probably beg to return to the easy life of their old, privileged status.

After a month, they might have learned to respect the countless skills and tremendous stamina required to shoulder women's work. Women might even learn to value themselves more. That must happen before anything else changes.

Until it does, China will be condemning itself to remaining a poor, backward Third World country, always lagging behind more powerful nations.

Change of such magnitude is a huge task. But if Chinese women can find the will, they certainly will find the way.