Yin-Yang: Comparing Gender Roles in China and the United States

Yin-Yang: Comparing Gender Roles in China and the United States

The issue of gender equality and women’s rights protection has been a central issue in China since the middle of the 20th century. The socio-economic realities of the fast-developing world put considerable pressure on Chinese society eager to move towards the globalization. Thus, to correspond to the global vision and tendencies, Chinese government was promoting the initiatives and laws enforcing women’s rights in all spheres of life, including social and economic ones. Females in China were proclaimed to have equal rights with men and, unlike American women, were highly encouraged to engage in employment beyond their work at home under the Communist rule. The following approach resulted in the extremely high level of employment in the 1970s (Angelloff, Lieber, & Jayaram, 2012). While China was featuring one of the world’s highest women employment rates, the USA were undergoing the waves of women’s liberation movement, fighting for the equal educational rights and professional recognition. However, in spite of the solid legal ground and governmental support, women in China have been experiencing gender-based stereotypes and discrimination in the workplace as well as in social life. The following problem partly developed from the economic reform and Chinese traditional vision of gender roles, but also from the imposition of the western countries’ ideology promoting the ideas of men’s dominance.

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First, an access to education is regarded as a primary requirement for women’s empowerment and economic emancipation. According to the statistics, the situation in China has improved significantly since the 1990s. For example, the percentage of uneducated women in 2010 was much lower comparing to the 1990s (Attane & Guill, 2012). Besides, the number of women with complete secondary education has increased in both urban and rural areas of the country. On the other hand, regardless of vivid progress in educational reform, the data reveals the lack of educational opportunities for females in rural section. Thus, only 18 percent of females from rural areas had completed secondary education comparing to 54 percent of women living in towns and cities (Attane & Guill, 2012). The following phenomenon is caused by the traditional belief that education is unnecessary for girls in villages. Consequently, the decision to leave school is more likely to be made by the parents of girls rather than boys. It should be noted that equal educational opportunities are also challenged by the geographical disparities, which are particularly vivid in rural areas. For example, the female locals from the rural areas around the major important economic centers Beijing and Tianjin generally showed higher level of education, which can be potentially explained by a relatively better and easier access to the educational institutions. That is why statistics in central and west zones of the country demonstrated a lower level of education (Attane & Guill, 2012). On the other hand, the one-child policy in China, aiming to control the population, had a positive effect on the educational prospects of girls (Liu, Li & Yang, 2015). In fact, daughters, being single children in the families, did not have to compete with a brother and, consequently, got a better investment in their education.

Meanwhile, female citizens of the USA made a huge progress in pursuing their educational opportunities. The raising popularity and stronger standing of feminism in the 20th century provoked great attention to the issue of gender studies. Media, sociologists, and academics aim to provide the in-depth research and investigation into the current position of women on job market and in education. Thus, the research demolishes the popular gender constructs by proving that modern American women are more likely to achieve higher academic results and demonstrate better learning abilities since childhood. The following tendency in the USA was provoked by the social changes such as women’s emancipation and increased demand for skilled workers across the country. By the end of the first decade of the 21st century, women dominated in medicine and law domains but stayed underrepresented in the fields linked to the physical sciences and engineering, which have been mostly regarded as exclusively male specializations (DiPrete & Buchmann, 2013). The following tendency of women’s active engagement in academic life is anticipated to remain strong due to various factors including openness and eagerness of institutions to enroll more female students in major man-dominated technical and science-specializing programs, stronger academic climate in the families and close surrounding of girls, and perpetually increasing value of highly qualified employees.

Interestingly, the employment rate of women in China is one of the highest in the world, according to which three out of four women have jobs. The following number is higher than in many developed western countries. However, unlike the education statistics, the rate of employment did not improve over time. Since the 1990s, the rate of employment in China has actually decreased among women as well as men. In particular, the market-oriented reform, including the vast privatization of the enterprises previously owned by the state, led to the tough competition and decrease of the number of female employees (Liu, Li & Yang, 2015). The reform was originally implemented to transform agricultural China into an industrial country while moving from the distributive system towards the market economy. Naturally, the fast development was supposed to bring new opportunities for both male and female workers and boost the social mobility. However, it significantly intensified the gender gap in labor market and limited the women’s job opportunities as their human capital was less valued (Xu, Yu, Zhu, & Lin, 2016). Therefore, despite the anticipated economic growth and newly evoked professional opportunities in China labor market, women had to fight to be a part of the progress.

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The gap in payment is one of the cornerstones of the inequality in the workplace. Before the implementation of the market economy in China, women and men were paid equally according to the national plan, which mostly did not differentiate between the male and female workforce. Along with the decreasing level of employment, the disparity in the wages of male and female workers was becoming more vivid between the 1990s and 2010. The women in the rural areas experienced even greater decline of their financial stability (Liu, Li & Yang, 2015). As a result, women have a limited access to the property ownership and their financial independence is seriously challenged. Interestingly, an access to the higher education provided women with better professional opportunities and higher potential income. After graduation, a greater number of women were able to apply for specialized jobs that require specific training and qualifications and also to receive better remuneration package. However, even the equal academic qualifications did not eliminate the wages disparity between men and women. In fact, many fully-employed women still have to rely on their husbands or other family members for financial support because of the insufficient wages.

The gender discrimination in the workplace remains a common issue regardless the laws aimed to eliminate it. Female workers have to tackle a so-called phenomenon of a “glass ceiling,” when particular jobs, often on the high management level, are unofficially reserved for male specialists. Other inadequate treatment of female employees includes dismissal due to the marriage or pregnancy, underpayment, and lack of prospects for promotion and career advancement (Attane & Guill, 2012). It should be said that working American women report that they experience similar problems in the workplace. The gender discrimination with frequent cases of sexual harassment is a burning issue for female employees despite the fact that any kind of discrimination is a criminal offence in the USA. Since the 1870s when a position as lower level office stuff was regarded as the most suitable for women, the professional discrimination has been significantly eliminated. The American society has recognized women’s abilities in most domains, which can be seen on the example of numerous female leaders playing key roles in big corporations or leading their own businesses. However, the discrete payments gap and underrepresentation in top management remain to be rather notable issues in the USA. Overall, the gender constructs are still widespread in both China and the USA and focus mainly on the women’s limited physical abilities, weaker personal qualities, and lack of ambitions.

The in-depth insight into the Chinese culture and its comparison to the Western culture reveals that the modern Chinese society struggles between the established traditions and the pressure of the Western world, which results in the controversies regarding the social and economic standing of women in China. Despite the prolonged Communism ruling followed by the regime of economic liberalism, Chinese have managed to conserve many of the traditional notions regarding family and gender roles. While internalization and following Western ideology are generally seen as a positive tendency, it does not benefit Chinese women. On one hand, they got an access to higher education and better professional opportunities. On the other hand, Western world remains man-dominant and promotes the ideas of a man being a major breadwinner in a family. The market economy adopted in China clashed with the traditional notions of a nuclear family based on the dualistic Yin Yang principle. According to it, a partnership is seen as equilibrium between a submissive woman and a dominant man. Thus, the gender inequality in China has been reinforced in the conditions of a highly competitive labor market, which is slowly but steadily dislodging women out of the job market (Kim, 2013). Moreover, Chinese authorities are redefining the policy regarding motherhood wage penalty by enforcing the traditional ideas of domesticity. At the same time, American women are fully embracing their equal opportunities in education and workplace, but the domesticity ideas are still strong. Thus, women are often expected to leave the job to take care of family or in case the schedules of both partners overlap.

In summary, during the last century the women in China and the USA are undergoing completely opposite processes. The political culture in the following countries seems to be the driving force that mostly influenced or even determined the social and economic standing of female citizens. While the Communism rule regarded women as an equally valuable workforce, the American women were seen as mainly homemakers strongly associated with the ideas of domesticity and man dominance. Even though the labor market situation in the USA has significantly improved, the adoption of its man-dominated ideology along with the economy plan has negatively influenced women workers in China. The issue of gender discrimination and wage inequality is exacerbating, while American society is making progress, embracing the ideas of gender equality.

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