A man's right?

By Xuyang Jingjing Source:Global Times Published: 2013-12-24 21:23:01

Photo: IC

Niu Jun (pseudonym) hits his wife. But he believes wife beating is wrong.

"If she gets hurt in a fight, you'd have to take her to the hospital. If she breaks things, you'll have to buy new ones … so what's the point of fighting?" he explained to researchers in a study on masculinity and gender-based violence.

Stories from people like Niu and surveys on the public's perception of masculinity show that while most people support gender equality in principle and many believe that the two sexes are already equal in China, they apply double standards in everyday life, especially at home.

Traditional concepts of masculinity centered around power and control still persist in society and likely contribute to gender-based violence, according to a three-year study.

The prevailing stereotype is still that a man should be tough, make important decisions at home, and should be able to defend his honor with violence when necessary.

Double standards

The study, sponsored by the United Nations Population Fund, was the first in China that looks at gender-based violence from the perspective of masculinity and explores the link between male attitudes and violence.

Researchers conducted quantitative research in May 2011 with 1,103 women and 1,017 men aged between 18 and 49 in one county, whose name was not revealed for privacy reasons.

Almost 40 percent of women reported having been exposed to physical and/or sexual violence from a male partner, the research showed.

While over 98 percent of the men and women agree that both sexes should be treated equally, more than half of them believe that the most important job of a woman is to take care of her family.

Over 90 percent of the respondents say they are against gender-based violence, in stark contrast to the fact that over half of the men reported having used violence against a partner.

"Both men and women tend to adopt the patriarchal point of view," said Wang Xiangxian, an associate professor of sociology at Tianjin Normal University and lead author of the research paper. 

"While we reprimand the perpetrators, we should also see the social context behind them; these abusers are also victims of a patriarchal culture that promotes hegemonic masculinity," said Fang Gang, a sexologist at Beijing Forestry University.

Fake equality

"When asked about gender equality, abusive men often use the abstract, 'official rhetoric' about how men and women should be equal, and many say women today have a higher status than men. But the women interviewed have lots of stories to tell," said Wang Xiying, a professor at Beijing Normal University, who led the qualitative part of the study.

One of the abusive partner interviewed in the study considered men and women should be basically equal, but justified an incident as having been provoked by his wife. "Once I didn't do the chores because I was playing poker, she scolded me so bad that I got angry and I just threw this bowl, and it happened to hit her on the head and she was bleeding," he told researchers.

Another respondent, Xiu Li, stayed in an abusive marriage for 25 years. She believes domestic violence should be punished, but she also believes it is justifiable when the wife does something "wrong."

"On one hand, they are against domestic violence, but their attitudes are complicated; some agree with the traditional role of the 'good wife,'" said Wang Xiying.

The new study also suggests that people don't really understand what gender equality entails. "Men can say they support gender equality without actually having to behave differently, it's the easiest way," said Lü Pin, a feminist who is in charge of Women's Voice, Media Monitor for Women Network.

The study interviewed 10 men who work as advocators of gender equality, comparing them with 10 abusive partners. While many witnessed domestic violence growing up or noticed their parents' preference of sons, the two groups took a different approach to the issue.

Most of the men who now work to promote gender equality say they don't want to repeat the same mistakes as their parents, while the abusers tend to normalize what they saw.

Similar double standards also persist when it comes to sex. Over half of the men and over 70 percent of the women believe that men need sex more than women. While criticizing sexual harassment, some men blame women for dressing provocatively.

The most common motive was sexual entitlement. Over 86 percent of the 226 men who reported committing rape believe that they are entitled to demand sex, even by force.

This extends to even after the end of a relationship. Among women who reported having been raped or almost raped, the most likely perpetrators were ex-husbands or ex-boyfriends.

But 75 percent of these men faced no legal consequences, and about half of the men feel no guilt for their actions, the study shows.

Different types

Younger, more educated women, while at no less risk of domestic violence than women of an older generation, are more ready to call the police or file for divorce when encountering violence for the first time, indicating that education plays an important role in changing the situation.

Masculinity, like femininity, is a social construct, and the expectation and acceptance of a hegemonic, dominating type of masculinity justifies the use of violence on an intimate partner, said Wang Xiangxian.

Yet such masculinity can be changed and shaped, Fang said.

Educators in recent years have raised claims of "boy crisis," worried that boys are not doing as well as girls in school and that boys are becoming "too feminine."

China Central Television recently reported on a group of "feminine" boys, who were taking therapy to be "cured."

"While today's young people have shown a diverse variety of identities that contradicts traditional gender norms, the mainstream culture today, instead of encouraging diversity, fears and tries to suppress such diversity," said Lü.

"We should recognize the potential harm of such stereotypical gender norms and accept diverse types of masculinities," said Wang Xiangxian.

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