Overseas Chinese Democracy Coalition News and Article Release Issue Number: A204-O49



Release Date: May 13, 2006



Topic: Talking to the Chinese Women About "Women Returning Home" From a Human Rights Point of View -- Ciping Huang (original article published at "Beijing Spring" Magazine's Issue 2006/5)

标题:从人权意识谈“妇女回归家庭”-- 黄慈萍 (文章发表于《北京之春》2006年5月号)


Original Language Version: Chinese (Chinese version at the end)



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Note by the editor: "Beijing Spring" is the best-known Chinese magazine advocating democracy and human rights. However, it has long been criticized by the author for not publish articles about women's rights.  But this time, it did.



Talking to the Chinese Women About "Women Returning Home" From a Human Rights Point of View

-- Ciping Huang





Not long ago, I was invited by "Voice of America" to participate in a TV program debate with a professor on the subject "Should Women Return Home".  It was quite well received.  Now, I am going to publish my article from "Beijing Spring", a magazine for which the overwhelming majority of writers and readers are male.  It indeed makes me "proud".


Because I was born a woman in China, fate had me face numerous instances of unfairness and disrespect to women from the Chinese society.  This unfairness was well displayed right after I graduated from college.  At that time I thought that, with excellent grades and performance, I could get a better job in competition with male candidates.  However, the boss who knew my resume well delivered the deathblow: "But you are a female".


In the 1980's, I got a job in an American company, and hoped that the situation would be different.  However, a female colleague immediately advised: "If you want to achieve more than men, you must put in 10 times more effort."  Her words served well as an alarm to work hard.  Eventually, I was able to grow step by step, until I become a senior optical engineering consultant.  I probably ended up putting in 12 times the effort.


Toward the end of 1980's, I started to devote more time and energy in the field of human rights and democracy.  This work often made me forget my "weakness for being a women", yet I was often reminded in a less desirable way.  Over the years, I have been the only female President of IFCSS (Independent Federation of Chinese Students and Scholars), the President of the Global Chinese Student Union, and until this day the Executive Director of the Wei Jingsheng Foundation and the Secretary-General of the Overseas Chinese Democracy Coalition.  Regardless of the titles, however, of all the storms, none could compete with the implication of "women who lack talent and ability are the ones with best morals" and the attitude of "it is a grave mistake to let a woman take the lead". I have even been publicly questioned and personally attacked due to the reality that I am a woman.  Not only do the attacks occur, rarely do people stand up for me when they are happening.  It does make me wonder that if I were a man, what would it be like?  It is not surprising to find we human rights defenders and democracy advocators to be under attack, but to the least, most men probably would not have to endure what I have to take as a woman.


Usually, people do not understand why I have different scores for people in our circle.  That is because I have a different grading system than others do.  To me, one's attitude to females counts about 50% -- after all, the world is about 50% women.  Thus, many people get a failing grade on human rights.  If one fails on the conscience of human rights, how can one earn the qualification to talk about human rights?


In the past two decades, I have visited many countries.  I have also talked and given speeches on Chinese women's issues that received a lot of sympathy and support.  As this world that is still dominated by men, this kind of support makes me thankful.  Yet what I feel ashamed is that many of Chinese men seem to be weak on this issue.  I am even not so sure that my opinions on women published in "Beijing Spring" will even receive a basic understanding from these "friends who love democracy and human rights".  Frankly speaking, I expect not, and I am also worried.


However, women's rights are part of human rights.  Regardless what happens, the equality between men and women is a social trend of progress that cannot be blocked, I expect, and I am full of confidence.


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Part 1: Should Mothers Work or Stay at home? 


Recently, there has been a lot of discussion regarding whether mothers should work or stay home.  Many people think that due to sexual differences, men and women have their own roles in the society.  In particular, raising the children is primarily the duty of the woman.


On the issue of whether mothers with children should work or stay at home, I believe that is the individual's choice.  A woman should be able to decide for herself, instead of being urged on or even forced upon by a society.  I say this mainly for these reasons:


1.  The allocation of work in the past when men worked and women stayed at home was because society was undeveloped, and technology was not advanced.  In the early stages of mankind, men's physiques were suited to hunting, whereas women's physiques and skills suited housework and needlework; this allocation of work was fair and reasonable.  Even in societies with limited development, male physical strength made men the best choice for labor.  But now things are different.  Heavy labor has mainly been replaced by machines and computers, and housework has, to a great extent, been replaced by semi-finished products and specialized processing machines.  Therefore, outside of the irreplaceable duty of childbirth, the unique female role in raising children is weakening too.  The issue of who should work at home for years to focus on raising children and managing the home is not particularly determined by gender.  Work outside the home is the same; its skills rely less and less on gender.


2.  Every household and the situation with every female is very different, and they can't be forced to follow a single pattern.  For example, some women particularly enjoy and are skilled at taking care of children, and some men also have this love and talent.  On the other hand, some women particularly like to work outside the home, and have little interest in home management.  If the latter type of woman is forced to stay at home for ten years to assist her husband and educate her children, not only might she not perform household chores well, she also might feel psychologically unbalanced.  Recently, a mother of four children in the award-winning drama "Desperate Housewives" eventually switched roles with her husband.  She was more successful than her husband at work outside the home, while the husband became an excellent "stay-at-home dad".  


3.  Women have equal natural gifts and abilities as men in fields outside raising and educating children.  In working outside the home, women can utilize their latent abilities, and strengthen women's confidence, self-esteem, and self-sufficiency.  It will strengthen the democratization of the family and spur forward gender equality in society.  This is a key point in dispelling discrimination toward women and protecting women's interests.  Many reports have said that the ratio of women in American universities outstrips that of men, and the ratio of women to men with advanced degrees is even more disparate, especially in some fields.  Similar reports have come out of China: girls' grades in middle school are generally better than boys'; there are more female graduate students than male graduate students, and so on.  Nowadays, exceptionally talented women have appeared in all manner of professions, showing women's considerable potential and abilities.  Allowing and encouraging women to choose for themselves whether or not to work outside the home will not only improve women's status, it will also benefit society.   


On this issue, "the women's interest" as I understand it does not mean people advocating for them to work outside the home, but instead to give them the right to choose for themselves and to truly respect their many choices.  I believe that they ought to have their own choice and be able to fully manifest the value and status of women, as well as obtain their deserved living space and social identity.

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Part 2: What a Full Time Mother Might Have Paid For


If women choose to stay at home as mothers, they will have to pay something, including the price of financial independence, as well as perhaps a lowering of self-consciousness.  These prices sometimes are not necessarily consciously realized by the individuals.


For a long period of time, being a "housewife" was not seen as having specialized talents, and also had a considerably low status.  At times the word "housewife" is used to signify ignorance, pettiness, or inferior quality.  Haven't you heard people say, "This person doesn't do this right; just like a housewife"?  If a woman in such a position doesn't have an income, not only may her husband fail to use normal standards to measure her contributions and sacrifices - as they see themselves as elite "providers," - but the woman herself may feel inferior, believing that she relies on others to live, and may involuntarily develop a submissive attitude.  If women want to buy things for themselves or want to give financial assistance to their parents' home, they may have misgivings and worries about it without their own income.  I heard many housewives express similar feelings: "Using others' money is truly difficult.  It's not as free as using one's own money."  So as soon as they have an opportunity, such women will actively strive to find short-term work.  I also know that when some women often buy household goods, they quietly save one or two dollars for their own private hoards so as to satisfy their own tiny bit of financial sovereignty.  This mentality is not one that a man or woman that makes an income every month needs consider.


Women who stay at home for long periods of time will become true dependents, both economically and emotionally.  This will lower their status in the home, and possibly do great damage to the mutual respect that should exist in a marriage.  As soon as breakdowns appear in the marriage, women will often be put in a difficult position both mentally and in their living conditions.  Starting afresh in finding work is also difficult.

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Part 3: How might a Mother do Her Best to Foster a Healthy, Able, and Moral Next Generation"


Many people who think that women should stay home argue that mothers are the best to carry out the duties of raising and educating their children.  This opinion had a realistic meaning before society reached to today's stage, when stay-at-home moms took care of their children and provided the family a stable and warm environment, which contributed to a stable society.


One sign of social progress is the distribution of work in society.  The important meaning of this work distribution is specialization.  As I understand it, specialization is letting people with knowledge and talents perform tasks that they are familiar with, understand, and excel in.  Doesn't educating children need a lot of specialized knowledge?  Why do we accept specialization in other industries but not in this key area?  My understanding is that raising children itself is a science that touches upon the fields of psychology, anthropology, sociology, and medicine.  Who has the most qualifications to raise and educate children?  It requires people from different fields to educate, to contribute. Love alone is insufficient.  If we can accept a society divided into many fields, why not in the area of children's education; although education cannot replace love from the parents.  So I believe that kindergarten, grade school, short-term interest classes, and after-school activities are all especially important.  The most important things that parents can give to their children are their love and patience, as well as influence from their own moral character that includes their respectful attitude toward work and their striving forward in any undertaking.  The parents' role in these areas is very important.  A mother's image and role is not only manifest in enduring hard work and criticism while performing household duties, maternal love is multi-faceted.  However, if "fostering an able and moral next generation" were something a mother at home could be qualified to take on and could complete, wouldn't children's education be such an easy task?  


Today's work distribution far exceeds the gender-based work distribution that occurred in primitive society.  Kindergartens, pre-school classes, schools, summer camps, and other such things are all products of this work distribution.  Although this specialized work distribution cannot replace a mothers' love, kindergartens provide broader recreational activities, as well as opportunities to socialize with other children.  Isn't this activity more rich and colorful than having children alone, hanging around their mother and listening to one person tell stories?  I don't know what kind of behavioral differences or bad trends such environments will produce.  While they grow up, children need not only milk and bread or even the meticulous love and care of a mother, they also need to study, participate in activities, and come to understand the world.  In the current one-child-policy China, the single child needs even more experience outside the house in order to learn normal ways of socializing and cooperating with others.


In my own experiences and observation of those people around me, I haven't seen an instance of a child of a mother at home being more outstanding than the child of a mother who works outside the home, nor have I seen reliable investigation data to convince me so.  There is also no data that shows that children of working couples will definitely have more problems than children of mothers who stay at home.  Of course, in raising children, working couples have their particular difficulties and challenges, just like mothers at home will have their own particular difficulties and shortcomings. 


Also, as for the children that I've seen that have had accomplishments in school and that act relatively upright - the children that we say "have good prospects" - the majority were educated by both their father and mother.  And in most cases, the mother had outstanding credentials, was well read, and had good sense, self-confidence and self-sufficiency. Oftentimes they were very successful women outside the home.


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Part 4: The Possibility for Chinese Women to Return Home


On the surface, the Chinese government says that they support the equality of men and women.  "Women Hold Half of Sky" is a well-known slogan.  Yet in reality women's status is really low.


China's bad situations are not limited to just a few.  At the very least, America stipulates in its laws that men and women have equal rights, and give work opportunities, welfare, divorce compensation, and other benefits to look after women's rights.  But in China it's much different.


First, there is gender discrimination when companies recruit new people.  Employers are usually willing to recruit men.  If the applicant is a young woman, the employer will worry that she will soon get married and have children, thus affecting her work.  If she is a middle-aged woman, the employer will resent the fact that she has so many family burdens.  If she is even older or is an elderly woman, she basically will be left as trash.  This situation is even more obvious in the fields with fewer requirements for non-professional skills.  China doesn't have rigid government rules for job searches, so everywhere you can see advertisements like this: "Recruiting for such-and-such job; required: a woman under 26 years old", and so on.  It's even to the point that a newspaper will restrict new hires for editors to be younger than 35 years old.  Women live longer than men, but they often have to retire earlier than men.  Normally women have to retire at 45, whereas more specialized personnel retire at 50.


Second, in equal positions that require equal skills, women often receive less money than men, and they have fewer opportunities for promotion.  In the last few years, their surviving environment has continually worsened, and the competition in the work market has become more and more fierce.  Young women with higher education have a hard time finding an honorable occupation.  In seeking a job, they often feel helpless and bitter.  Some have no choice but to send a picture of their pretty face along with their resume to employers in hopes that their beauty will win them the position.  Government ministries also do not value the character of intellectual women.  In the physical examination forms used when recruiting government employees in Hunan Province, it requires of women: "Needs to be sexually developed normally, with symmetrical breasts that have no lumps."


Many factories in China recruit women from the countryside on a large scale; under the blood-and-sweat wage system they act as oxen and horses.  They work for over ten hours a day, but receive scant rewards for their work.  They lack the required labor protections and medical insurance, and often face sexual harassment. 


In today's Chinese society, there have emerged concubines, escorts, prostitution, and other such phenomena, showing evidence of how low the status of women is in society.  Personally, I believe that many of the nations in Scandinavian countries, such as Denmark and Norway, have done better than America in this area, although America is much better than China.  I have a friend in Sweden who is currently taking leave as a father of a newborn.  This is a regulation throughout the country, not something that differs depending on the company.  This country is also quite good in terms of gender equality.  For example, there are basically an equal number of men and women in their parliament, and female bosses outnumber male bosses.  You could say that it is true "gender equality and socialism". 


China has a long way to catch up.  In America, at least women's equality is written in the laws that especially protect women in defined areas such as employment opportunities, social benefits, and divorce settlement.  China's divorce policies don't give enough protections to women.  The American divorce system, to a large extent, assists stay-at-home-moms.  For instance, if the husband calls for divorce, he has to give the child sufficient child-support, as well as alimony to the mother, who temporarily cannot work.  In some states it even stipulates that if the mother wants to go to school, the divorced husband has to pay for her education fees.  Some states have similar "youth compensation" fees to pay for education fees.  The reasoning is that by staying at home, women have lost the opportunity to get further education and to increase their skills.  In China it's not at all like this.  The situation women without skills are placed in after going through divorce is extremely tragic.


Should Chinese women return home?  I am afraid that other than pretty women who will remain youthful forever, no woman can guarantee that as a "mother at home" she will have a surefire future.  Especially, the "one-child policy" reduces a mother's contributions significantly, as she can only have one child.  Even today, the divorce rate in China continues to rise.  When someone completely loses her financial independence and ability to make a living how can she ensure her future if her husband discards her?  Furthermore, the status of mothers at home almost completely depends on their relationship with their husbands.


So, the idea of women returning home in China may not be that rosy.  Of course, for a few members of the wealthy class, it may be doable.  But those women who return home may not be truly 'housewives'.  They may be mainly directing housemaids to do things, writing checks, and playing the role of director of the home.  For the major portion of common women, all they are trying their utmost to do is to protect their own jobs, their own rice bowls.  Modern society is very harsh towards Chinese women, so no one dares and should not to casually take the step of "returning home".

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Related web page link:http://beijingspring.com/bj2/2006/420/2006429130213.htm



(Original article published at "Beijing Spring" Magazine's Issue 2006/5.  The Wei Jingsheng Foundation is responsible for this version of the English translation.)



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Overseas Chinese Democracy Coalition News and Article Release Issue Number: A204-O49



Release Date: May 13, 2006



Topic: Talking to the Chinese Women About "Women Returning Home" From a Human Rights Point of View -- Ciping Huang (original article published at "Beijing Spring" Magazine's Issue 2006/5)

标题:从人权意识谈“妇女回归家庭”-- 黄慈萍 (文章发表于《北京之春》2006年5月号)


Original Language Version: Chinese (Chinese version at the end)









-- 黄慈萍











    80年末进入人权民主的圈子以后,我常忘了自己是个女的,却时时被人提醒我有着这顶“桂冠”。这些年来,我当过全美学自联唯一的女性主席、全球学联主席,以及今天的魏京生基金会执行主任。但头衔再大,风浪再猛,都大不过猛不过无数次 "女子无才便是德"的影射,以及"让女人挑头是错误"的态度。到后来,当我被公然质疑甚至人身攻击的谩骂所包围的时候,当我看到这种包围得不到人们的打抱不平的时候,我不得不推想:如果我生为男儿郎,是不是情形有所不同?民运人士难免受到各类攻击,但是至少大多数人可以免去身为女性而受到的另一层羞辱吧?


    平时别人常常不解我对民运人士“人权意识”分数的打分方法。我和常人的打分方式不同,在我这里,对女人的态度算做总分的 50%——世界上毕竟有50%的女人么! 这么一来,很多人就“不及格”了。人权意识不及格,还有多少资格来谈人权搞民主呢?


    近20年来,我游历各国,在很多场合演讲谈论妇女问题,得到了许多人的同情与支持。在这个依然是男人主宰的世界里,这种声援让我感激。但遗憾的是,我的中国男同胞们在这个问题上却常常比较微弱。我甚至不那么确定,如今我在《北京之春》里发表一部分有关妇女问题的见解,是否能得到 “热爱民主与自由的朋友们”的最起码的理解?坦率地说,我期待,我也担心。



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    首先是招募新人时的性歧视。雇佣单位多半愿意招聘男人。如果被招聘的是年轻女人,招募单位会担心她不久结婚生子,影响工作;如果被招聘的是中年女人,招募单位会嫌怨她们有太多的家累,如果招聘的是中老年女人,她们基本上就被处理成垃圾。这种情形在非专业领域更加明显。中国在找工方面没有政府的硬性规定,所以你到处可以看到这样的广告:招募某某工作,要求 26岁以下女性……等等。甚至报社的编辑职位都限制在年龄35 岁以下。女人本来寿命比男的长,但是退休年龄却通常比男人早。一般女工45岁就退休了,专业人员也是女性50岁退休。






    现在中国社会出现“包二奶”、“三陪女”、“卖淫”等现象,也是妇女地位低下的一个佐证。 要说妇女地位,北欧各国如丹麦与挪威在这方面都做得比较好,比美国好,虽然美国已经大大超过中国了。在瑞典我有个朋友目前正在修当父亲的新生儿假,这是整个国家的规定,不因公司而异。而且这个国家在男女平等方面做的相当不错。比如说他们的国会里男女数目基本相等,整个国家里女老闆多於男老闆。可以说是“真正的男女平等与社会主义”了。




    中国妇女会不会向往回归家庭呢?我看除了那些可以永葆青春的漂亮女人以外,哪个女人都不能保证自己做个 “在家妈妈”就有了万无一失的将来,更何况“独生子女”制度让她们的“功劳”减少了许多,她们最多祇能养育一个孩子。如今离婚率在中国持续上升,她们若是彻底失去经济独立和谋生能力,万一被丈夫抛弃,也就失去了保障。而倘若有自愿选择做 "在家妈妈"的,她们的地位几乎全靠自己和丈夫之间关系了,谈不上任何社会地位。


    所以女人回归家庭在中国的前途幷不那么美妙。当然对於一些有钱阶级来说是做得到的。但这些“回归”的女人,也未必就是真正的全职母亲。她们在家里不过就是指挥保姆做事情、开开支票而已,是管家的角色。对大部分普通妇女来说,她们极力想保住的,是她们自己的工作,她们自己的饭碗。现代社会对中国妇女是很严峻的,谁也不敢也不应该轻易跨出 “回归家庭”的步伐。

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