"Strong women" and "weak men": Gender paradoxes in urban Yunnan, China
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractThis dissertation documents the valorization of gender differences in urban Yunnan, particularly as it affects women in their twenties and thirties. Urban women of this generation are expected to appear feminine and family-oriented in order to be considered normal/moral. Such expectations are underscored by popular commentary on the "strong woman." The strong woman, or nu qiang ren, is admired for her success in the business world or in academia, but is reviled as unfeminine, negligent of her family, and cold-hearted. Despite pressures to appear feminine and family-oriented, many urban Yunnanese women achieve financial independence. I found that women outwardly embody "gentleness" and other norms of femininity, while practically subverting such norms by focusing on their careers, or by voicing criticism of the hypocrisies surrounding contemporary gender relations. Furthermore, most men appear to prefer that their wives work outside the home, regardless of economic need. Such contradictions reveal how dominant ideologies are never reproduced completely. Nor are dominant ideologies applied evenly across social classes. I argue that the current valorization of a Confucian gender hierarchy is linked to the formation of middle-class subjectivity. Talk of "weak men" and the need for a men's movement in China reflects several different preoccupations, most prominently employment anxiety generated by the "market adjustments" associated with economic liberalization. Magazine articles about "weak men" also articulate a sense of urban anomie, the burdens of male emotional repression, and a variety of fears centered on women who are perceived as threatening in one way or another. Generally, however, the tone and content of the magazine articles analyzed suggest that talk about "weak men" is largely about male resistance to women's empowerment. Such articles, as well as popular commentary that ridicules strong, autonomous women, reveals that women have become scapegoats for men's anxieties. Popular gender commentary is linked in a dialogical relationship to notions of tradition, authenticity, modernity and progress. The tensions between change and stability provoke many paradoxes. Growing commercialization, generational differences and changes regarding marriage and sexuality are some of the other themes I explore as they enter into this network of referential meaning and practice.
Degree ProgramGraduate College