Apparently there are now three genders in China, with the third being a relatively recent addition. Can you guess who? The photo below is what I copied off the board when my teacher explained it.
Keep guessing. I’ll explain in a minute. (Hint: “男” means male and “女” means female.)
In North America, if one spouse looks like a supermodel and the other ‘has a nice personality,’ it looks a little odd and/or suspicious to us. We’ll at least take notice. I can’t think of any marriages off the top of my head that transcend economic class lines. We (North Americans) start practicing for this in the junior high dating scene and keep at it all the way through college; best-friends and boyfriends/girlfriends are sorted and paired according to their relative degree of (imagined) sex appeal. And unlike our professors’ generations, education levels are more even between spouses. It gets a little more complicated after the school years, but the system is set. Generally, we aim roughly for a spouse who’s more or less our social equal.
But in China – according to my teachers – this is decidedly not the way to go, particularly as far as the men are concerned. A man feels the need to be a little higher than his woman, socially speaking. And this brings us to the chart from class in the photo:
- “A”-class males (superior education and prospects, good-looking) prefer “B”-class women (decent education, not bad looks);
- “B”-males go for “C”-women;
- a “C”-male’s best shot is a “D”-class woman;
- “D”-males (poor, rural, no high school education, no prospects) are out of luck.
My teacher just arbitrarily created these particular categories to make a point; she’s not saying that Mainlanders divide their society into four sections. But Mainlanders do typically plot each other on a well-defined social hierarchy; knowing one another’s relative social position is a necessity. Everyone knows where they stand status-wise in relation to everyone around them. This also came out in one of Jessica’s dating discussions with some local university students.
This idea that the man ought to be of higher status than his wife and that his superiority should be routinely affirmed by the methods of social interaction is rooted in the traditional Chinese concept of manhood, which involves (as my teachers described it) him coming home from work, sitting in front of the T.V., and ordering his wife around, who brings him whatever he wants while she slaves away cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, and mothering. She should take orders and serve meekly, especially in front of her husband’s colleagues (when ‘face’ is at stake). They call Chinese-style chauvinism 大男子主义 – “Big-Man-ism” – and apparently Shandong province and Koreans are notorious for this. It’s part of the “feudal” pre-Liberation (1949) sexism that values men more than women (重男轻女; lit. “man heavy, light woman”).
Although my female teachers look down on this chauvinistic attitude, I seriously wonder who would generally be more attractive to the average Zhou Chinese female: a man of equal education and job prospects, or a man who’s a step up. I’m not talking about “gold-diggers” here; I want to know if a higher status male on average commands more genuine masculine attractiveness than an equal status male.
Now of course you ought to realize I don’t know anything about this myself; I’m just passing it along because it was interesting, a little funny, and a fascinating place to start asking culture questions, if you’re into that sort of thing.
The third gender? Women with Ph.Ds. These “A”-class women are so far outside the traditional definition of “woman” and have such trouble finding husbands and realizing the female roles of wife and mother that our teachers joke that they’re like a third gender.