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Overqualified for love

(Global Times)    11:20, February 17, 2014
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When Xie Yu realized that her date had brought her soup cooked with baby placenta, she broke off the relationship right away.

She had just turned 24 and wasn't in a hurry to date, let alone meet people set up by her advisor at medical school. But ever since she started her eight-year medical program, which would eventually earn her a PhD degree, her family has been urging her to meet someone, as they feared her advanced qualifications would scare away prospective suitors.

Xie's family isn't the first to question the ability of female PhD students to find a partner. Compared with most single women, this group has received more attention and become more closely associated with the label "leftover women," a term meant to signify women who are too old to find a husband.

In January, a member of the CPPCC Guangdong Provincicial Committee, Luo Biliang, angered the public by asserting that female PhD students "lack love" and should try to marry themselves off as soon as possible.

Although the backlash forced him to apologize a few weeks later, his words once again prompted a discussion on female PhD students, especially as Spring Festival brought another wave of setup dates.

Social pressure

Xie has been battling with her father ever since she started her medical program last year, but with little luck. Her father is worried that she could become a "third category person."

"He had been surfing the Internet and read a post that says there are three categories of people: men, women and female PhD students," Xie said. "He was so afraid that the degree might make me unsuitable for marriage."

Xie's cousin, who has a PhD degree and is unmarried at 34, has added to the worries plaguing Xie's father. Even though Xie just turned 24, her father has decided that she should marry by the age of 27, which leaves her little time to date, and little room to be picky.

Even though Xie's family lives in Ji'nan, Shandong Province, her father constantly called her on the telephone or chatted with her online, telling her about all the people from her childhood who had married or had children.

Next came waves of setup dates. Xie's father is determined that his daughter should meet the right guy, and is unrelenting in his efforts.

"He would drive four hours to Beijing just to drag me on dates," she said.

Xie thinks the men introduced by her father and the professor aren't suitable for her, but she has no way of stopping them from trying.

She deals with the pressure by keeping herself peaceful and calm, said Wen Xue, a PhD student at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. She began her program last year and hasn't been on a single setup date.

She doesn't agree with the assumption that the higher a woman's educational level, the more difficult it is for her to marry, nor does she associate her single status with her pursuit of an advanced degree.

"There might be many reasons why a woman is unmarried or marries late. It may be her job, her choice, money, many issues, not entirely because of her degree," she said.

Grain of truth

Society seems to have a stereotyped view of female PhD students - that they spend most of their time in labs, don't have a social life or are too boring for romantic relationships.

At the beginning of the year, a picture of an attractive female Chinese PhD student from the University of Leeds went viral on Weibo, as her beauty defies the said stereotypes.

The student, Wang Yunwei, told the Telegraph newspaper that even though she has drawn a great deal of interest on the Internet and won the hearts of many netizens, she still faces pressure to get married as a single woman in her late 20s. Her mother urges her to find a nice guy every time she calls, Wang said.

In the following month, Weibo launched an online poll asking whether men would marry "beautiful PhD students" such as Wang. Even though Wang was referred to as an "unconventional PhD," 30 percent of the men said they would not marry a PhD student.

Sally Ren, 31, who earned her PhD at the Chinese Science Academy in information technology, thinks there might be a grain of truth to Luo Bilang's words.

She is happily married to her high school classmate, who has a Master's degree. Even though she doesn't fit into the category of women who "lack love," Ren said she can understand why society has that type of perception of female PhD students.

"If they are only starting to date guys after starting their PhD program, they might face certain issues," she said.

One problem is that female PhD students are usually older, while traditionally in Chinese society, men like to find younger women.

According to a report co-authored by the dating website Baihe and the China Welfare Population Foundation, men and women define the phrase "leftover women" differently.

Out of 95,731 people polled online, 81.5 percent of men think women are "leftover" as soon as they reach 30, while 66.6 percent of the women don't see themselves as "leftover" until they are 35.

Furthermore, the group has certain characteristics that prevent them from finding boyfriends, Ren said. She finds that since becoming a PhD student, she has become less "romantic" compared with her college days, and she thinks it's mostly due to the type of thinking required by specialized PhD studies.

"I often find that when my husband makes a joke, I usually can't sense it and take it seriously, or keep questioning the logic behind his words, which can be a mood killer," she said.

Zheng Yi, a 23-year-old who just started her PhD program in management at Peking University, agrees. In her case though, not being able to find a boyfriend is the result of external limitations.

Since becoming a PhD, Zheng realized that her circle of friends has narrowed down to classmates and people associated with PhD programs, and she has little time to socialize and talk to people outside her circle.

"Besides, being a PhD requires you to focus your attention on one point and dig deeper, so you might not care that much about socializing," she said.

Root of the problem

On the day Luo expressed his opinion about female PhD students, Wang Hongwei, a professor from South China Normal University, organized a press release to respond to the remarks.

The participants, mostly PhD students, professors and feminists, expressed disbelief that this group of people should be seen as a product that devalues as time goes by.

In Wang's opinion, female PhD students have the most logical and structured lives. Besides obtaining a higher degree, they also know what plans they have for life, as well as for taking care of their families, according to Yangcheng Evening News.

The perception from the outside world proves it's becoming an issue, as the proportion of female PhD candidates has risen significantly, from 21.9 percent in 1998 to 35.7 percent in 2006, according to a 2010 report on the quality of PhD candidates released by Peking University.

Peng Xiaohui, a professor of sexology at the Central China Normal University, told the Global Times that social attitudes toward female PhD students are all built on one assumption - that all of them should marry.

"In a patriarchal society, the definition of a woman's happiness is attached to marriage and having a man who can provide for you," he said. "But in the modern world, women have independence and control over their lives, so they don't have to succumb to this theory anymore."

Wu Di, a Shanghai-based relationship consultant and psychologist, told the Global Times that even though women nowadays have higher social status than in the past, they are still tied down by traditional concepts.

"Many of my clients have advanced degrees and high salaries, but they are difficult in that they insist that 'the man has to be better than me,'" she said.

Peng believes this kind of thinking is engrained in the minds of Chinese people because of its society's patriarchal nature.

"Our society gives men too much responsibility and pressure, so there's the illusion that if they actively pursue social responsibility, that's considered 'manly,'" he said. "So if he sees a woman with a higher degree than him, it's easy for him to get intimidated. That might be the reason behind 'leftover women.'"

Peng suggests that in order to deal with societal prejudice and pressure, female PhD students have to be strong inside, believing that their own abilities can support them through life, instead of depending on men.

Zheng sees the prejudiced view against female PhD students as a joke; they don't affect her views on love or marriage. She thinks these biases are blown out of proportion because outsiders don't understand this group of people.

There are seven PhD students in her course. One has a baby, three have stable relationships, one is single, and the other two are picking boyfriends among suitors.

"People who truly know the inside of this circle don't care if you are a female PhD or not. They won't look at you like you are a different category of people," she said.

(Editor:WangXin、Gao Yinan)

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