Teaching boys to become masculine but modern
Published: Nov 12, 2016 12:18 AM

There was a time when the term "straight man cancer" was trending in China. The word is used to criticize the male chauvinism which shows men's manliness and puts men's social status above that of women.

Obviously, being too "manly" is not a good thing in the eyes of Chinese women hopeful about the future of gender equality in the country. Then there came the phrase nuan nan, or warm and considerate man in English, who harbors warm emotions for women. They can be masculine in other aspects, but they behave in a tender way toward their beloved ones. This epitomizes the ideal sensitive man.

But what if they show no masculinity but behave effeminately all the time? That could be a problem in the eyes of some. So to teach boys to be "manly," the Shanghai Education Publishing House unveiled a book entitled Xiaoxiao Nanzihan, or Little Man in English, to equip primary school boys with the knowledge of how to be a "better" man. The book teaches sexual physiology, sexual psychology and men's responsibilities and roles in the modern world.

But when we ask a man to behave masculinely or a woman to act femininely, are we killing their free choices for diverse lifestyles and individual differences with social stereotypes on gender? Some people, no matter men or women, challenge traditional gender roles and try to be true to themselves.

Mainstream society has long accepted the hegemonic masculinity that legitimizes men's dominance in society and justifies the subordination of women. But as Fang Gang, a sexologist at Beijing Forestry University, once noted, firmness and bravery are positive features associated with this configuration, but there are also negative elements such as physical violence, the endless pursuit of money and power, chauvinism, and worship of patriarchy.

So this will be bound to meet objections from women who are increasingly aware of their positions in society. Even a United Nations report last year called for men to take a larger role in the family and share housework with their wives.

Therefore, having a somewhat feeble or less manly personality can contribute to harmony in a family, or the whole of society to a large extent. And after all, it is men's own choice to behave in an effeminate way.

There is no need to ask if it is wrong for men to be effeminate or for women to be masculine. As society evolves, it needs this trend to become a balanced and diverse one. And it is not a question of right or wrong but whether one has the freedom to choose the way they are. Schools should teach both boys and girls to embrace a diverse and ever-changing world.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times. wangwenwen@globaltimes.com.cn

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