The Modern Man

By Yin Lu Source:Global Times Published: 2017/8/31 17:23:39

Young Chinese share thoughts on the anxiety and stress today’s society imposes on men

Young Chinese men are still faced with expectations traditionally associated with gender, such as being the bread winner and being manly. Photo: Li Hao/GT

When people learn that Fang, a 30-year-old English teacher, and his wife both teach on the same campus, some people might look down on him for working in education, which is usually considered lower paying, more suitable for women and not ambitious enough for men, and say, "As a man, you should get out there."

"Society imposes stereotypes such as being brave, determined, resolute and rough on men. And if one cannot live up to these ideals, they face stress and criticism. A gentle, sensitive boy might be disapproved of by his parents, and be labeled as 'sissy' when he grows up," said Fang.

In addition, it is still common for men to be expected to be the bread winner for the family, and in a modern society where the economic and psychological pressure is rising for many, there has been more discussion about the roles men are expected to have.

A 2016 American documentary The Red Pill about the men's rights movement has been discussed on Chinese social media. While some argue that men are also victims of paternalism and the issue should be brought to the public's attention, others say that it is only male supremacy in disguise.

Is there such a thing as "male disprivilege?"

Metropolitan interviewed several men and women on this topic. They share what kind of stress men in modern China face, gender roles and rights, the feminist movement, as well as whether a men's rights movement is in fact needed.

'Extra' expectations for men

Fang admitted that he feels anxiety and stress.

"I have expectations for myself, which come from society's expectations for men - [A man] at the prime age of 30, who is well educated and was at the top of his class, should have a certain kind of income and live a certain kind of life," explained Fang.

 According to the observation of He Daihan, 25, marketing manager in CITIC Press Group, there are some situations when there are expectations for men that are disadvantageous for them.

"For example, when a man and a woman are in a dispute, the mediator and the public opinions tell us that because we are men we should cave into women," He said. "But it's not about gender, it's about reasoning, and why should men cave in unconditionally?"

Other inequalities include high-risk professions such as working in construction, which are expected to be men's jobs. In addition, traditional parents will not let their daughters marry men without having a house and a car, and males who are victims of harassment are often neglected.

People look at the "extra" burdens on men differently, Fang said.

"Some of these actions are wrongly interpreted as male chauvinism," he said. "Men carry bags or other heavy things for their wives, girlfriends or female colleagues, open the doors for them and choose to do the heavier work. The reason behind these behaviors is not male privilege. These seemingly chauvinist actions are out of love, care and being thoughtful, and women return the sentiment in their own way too."

But some men do consider household chores to be a woman's job, and others think being inconsiderate in a marriage or relationship makes them look confident and independent, Fang said.

According to Fang, men should start to shoulder more of the family responsibilities - spending more time with the children and doing household work. "But the problem in modern China is that women are raising children as if they were 'widows' [without the husbands' support]."

As far as money is concerned, men should take on more responsibilities economically as well, he said. "Men have more opportunities compared to women, and men's incomes are higher than women's on average," he said. "It is what it is, not what it should be."

What men should be

As He is a hard-working, ambitious man, he studied hard to enter college and graduate school. He worked hard to get an opportunity to get into a competitive internship and received a promotion after only seven months at his job.

"These are all results of great effort. But many of my relatives in the older generations would consider these to be only right and proper, just because you are a man. And women [are expected to] just keep a job and earn a simple living," He explained. 

But when learning about the hard side of being a "Beijing drifter," people might jump to blame young men for being incapable. "If your starting salary is not high, you are considered not as capable as those who may not have even gone to college. They now are able to afford houses and cars and get married. They make 200,000 yuan ($30,307) every year but you can't. And that's proof of you not being man enough," He added.

"Because of my gender, I am blamed for 'not working hard enough,' because people have higher expectations for men," He said. "Why is a man's success only luck and talent, but a woman's success is always because of her hard work?"

He is not alone. Many young and middle-aged men share the same sentiments, which He thinks is related to how society is at the moment. The older generations benefited from China's reform and opening-up, while now, young people, regardless of their gender, are faced with challenges that are different from the past.

Recently, a dozen cities have introduced new policies regarding home purchasing and ownership to cool down the real estate market. Housing prices have been rising in the past decade in China greatly, and is associated to some extent with the traditional idea that the husband is required to buy an apartment for the new couple once married.

"There are stereotypes that men are more suitable to be leaders, men deal with things in silence and those who cry are not real men, and men should buy apartments and cars and be able to afford to raise the children after a divorce."

Some men interviewed by Metropolitan say they are feminists and that unfair treatment toward women is still more pressing than the pressure men face. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Misinterpretations of feminism

Working in the culture industry in Beijing and being well educated, He and the majority of similarly aged people around him show support for feminists. "We consider it true that in this society and in this age unfair treatment to women exists," He said.

He comes from a traditional family in a small city and finds it hard to communicate with many of his relatives in the older generations about this matter because they do not understand and even object to feminism. "They have distain for women who work hard for a higher social status, and call them 'female doctorates,' 'women who can't find husbands' or 'a waste for their parents.'"

Among the younger generations, many do not care about equal rights but when conflicts happen, men might demand being dominant and women might demand privileges such as presents and real estate.

"The feminist movement aims to liberate women from the gender stereotypes and prejudice forced upon them by society, culture and traditions, and to let them use their talents and be recognized and respected," Fangs said. "On a certain level, the feminist movement is after equal rights between both genders." 

Both men and women are victims of paternalism ideology, according to Fang.

"I am a feminist myself," Fang said. "I feel sorry for the unfair treatment that women receive. My wife is an enthusiastic feminist, and many of my ideas are influenced by her."

"Of course men are also suppressed," said Bai Meijiadai, media and gender studies scholar and lecturer at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province.

Bai pointed out that there are studies of masculinity, and that people often misunderstand, thinking masculinity studies and feminist studies are against each other.

"They are not supporting patriarchy, but supporting men to freely be themselves, rather than being cultivated to be 'like a man,' which indicates that they have to be strong, insensitive and aggressive," she said.  "Sometimes, mentioning men's rights creates an image of men and women fighting for limited resources and if one side wins, the other side would lose - a zero-sum game. This is not true."

A new era

Bai pointed out that today things have changed for both genders.

"The traditional gender role of men being the bread winner cannot sustain itself in a neoliberal capitalist reality. While the traditional gender hierarchy is reviving, such a system cannot hold itself because few families can afford only having the man go out and earn his salary and a housewife contributing unpaid labor at home," she said.

As for men like Fang and He, who are living in first-frontier cities, they are faced with the modern reality that lead to financial and psychological burdens,  and they might feel like they cannot meet the increasingly unattainable standard for being an "ideal" man.

However, Bai cautions people to not fight for men's "privilege" when supporting their free will to be themselves. Bai pointed out that while many men complain about the burdens of the male roles, they are not willing to give up their privileges. "They want a wife who attends to the family more than they do and cares for not only their children but also his parents."

He agrees. "For instance, in a relationship, protecting men's rights does not reflect chauvinism, and female rights do not mean women are being queens."

Just like women's rights, He thinks men's rights should also be protected. "They are both human rights. And rights for minors, the disabled and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community) [are worth fighting for too]."

"If the men's rights movement is also about gender equality and liberation, I won't say that it is a counterthrust against the feminist movement, but rather a sister movement," Fang said. But he also pointed out that the movement might make people feel uncomfortable, considering it a threat or an action without a good cause.

Fang said that he does not call himself a men's rights activist, nor would he attend a men's rights movement if there was one.

"A movement for men's rights might be considered reasonable and necessary, but women's rights are the more pressing issue here. First, we should solve problems like equal pay, sexual harassments against women, women belonging in the home and the concept of virginity and obedience," he said.

Zhou Ruxuan contributed to the story


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