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Chinese women willing to take lead in courtship

(Global Times)    11:46, February 03, 2015

Chinese women are more willing than ever before to take the lead when it comes to courtship

In a survey of more than 20,000 men and women registered to a Chinese dating website, 65 percent of respondents said they were enthusiastic about the idea of women taking the lead when it comes to courtship. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Ma Hailu, a 24-year-old television news director in Beijing, said that when she first laid eyes on their new anchorman, her heart literally skipped a beat.

"He was so handsome, and very polite," said Ma. "More importantly, he really knew how to dress. He was totally my type."

Ma struggled with herself over the next few months about what she should do. Traditional Chinese social mores concerning gender roles dictated that she do nothing: Women should be shy, demure and passive in courtship. It was the man's role to take the lead in pursuing a romantic relationship; for her to make the first move would be considered improper.

But two months ago, when she found out that her news anchor crush would soon be returning to France, Ma decided to throw caution to the wind and confess her feelings to him.

She invited him to go out to have dinner together.

"My heart was beating so hard when I told him 'I like you,'" said Ma. To her disappointment, the anchorman did not reciprocate her feelings. "He told me that I was a sweet girl, but that he liked being a bachelor, and that he would be leaving China soon, so we couldn't be together."

"It was frustrating, but I have no regrets about trying."

Women's traditionally submissive role in matters of courtship is changing in China. Photo: Li Hao/ GT

Changing social attitudes

While women in Chinese society have traditionally been expected to take a submissive role in courtship, there are signs that things are changing.

In 2011, Singapore-based newspaper Lianhe Zaobao reported that a survey of more than 20,000 men and women registered to Chinese dating website jiayuan.com showed that 65 percent of respondents were in support of the idea of women taking the lead in pursuing romantic relationships.

In another poll, conducted by Chinese news portal Sohu in 2012, 38 percent out of around 2,000 women surveyed said that they had tried being the "pursuer" rather than the pursued in courtship.

Chen Zhilin, a psychologist and relationship counselor based in Chongqing, said that the shifting social attitudes regarding courtship were a reflection of the greater social equality women enjoy in contemporary China compared to in times past.

In feudal Chinese society, said Chen, women were entirely dependent on men for economic and material security. It was only men who could get an education and pursue careers, whereas the role of women was to stay home and tend to domestic duties. It was such social arrangements that defined ideas about traditional gender roles, including in courtship, said Chen.

"It was as Marx said: 'The [economic] base determines the [political, social and cultural] superstructure,'" said Chen. "It was impossible for women back then to be economically independent, so they didn't have the ability to make their own choices in matters of love. Their marriages and fates were mainly determined by other people."

"[However], as more and more women have been able to receive higher education and achieve material independence in modern China, a lot of them now have the freedom to follow their own desires."

According to a 2013 Xi'an Evening News report, 40.7 percent of married women in China's cities now earn a higher salary than their husbands. A Yangcheng Evening News article published last month showed that since 2009, women have outnumbered men in China's university enrolments.

Non-economic factors

Chen further explained the changing social landscape of courtship in China by drawing an analogy to US psychologist Abraham Maslow's "hierarchy of needs." Maslow theorizes that humans must first fulfill their most basic needs for survival, before being able to pursue more abstract ideals like "love" and "self-actualization."

"Today's women are able to independently fulfill their fundamental physiological and safety needs [without a man], so when it comes to choosing a romantic partner, they're able to think about higher level needs like love and belonging [rather than just survival]," said Chen.

"I've had my fair share of suitors," said Ma. "Some of them have been really wealthy, but [I just haven't been that into them]."

Chen suggested other reasons that women in China were now taking a more active role in courtships were the phenomenon of "leftover women" and the widespread influence of Western culture.

"Leftover women" is a term derisively applied to women in their late-twenties or thirties who remain unmarried, whether by choice or by circumstance. According to a Xinhua News Agency report last month, there are currently more than 500,000 "leftover women" in Beijing.

"The panic of being labeled a 'leftover woman' can cause [some women] to take a more active role in courtship," Chen said.

Other women, he said, may be encouraged by representations of strong women as portrayed in Western television shows and movies.

"The portrayal of women in Western society, where women are frequently depicted as having a more equal social status in relation to men, has also influenced the way that Chinese women think," Chen said.

What do boys think?

Han Bing, a 27-year-old financial analyst, said that numerous girls have made romantic overtures toward him since he was a middle school student, and that this number has only increased since he started working in Beijing.

"I think everyone has the right to confess their feelings for someone, regardless of their gender," said Han. "I think the reason why more girls are making the first move these days is because society has become more open-minded. Also, we are all adults now, so we know what we want and are willing to fight for it."

Nevertheless, Han said that he had never dated a girl who openly declared her interest in him.

"It's not that I have a problem with girls taking the initiative. It just so happened that the girls [who told me they liked me] were not my type," Han said. He said he disagreed with the old Chinese saying that "A man chasing a woman is like traversing a mountain, a woman chasing a man is like traversing a thread of silk," meaning that women had it much easier.

"It just depends on whether you like that girl or not," Han said.

Rao Jun, a 28-year-old man who works at a television production company in Beijing, said that he had only ever dated women who made the first move. He said that he liked girls who had the courage to declare their love.

"It's easier to date girls like this," said Rao. "They are less demanding and easier to get along with."

Conflicting opinions

Sun Hao, a relationship counselor based in Beijing, said that some Chinese men would still be threatened by the idea of a woman taking the initiative in a courtship, and that women who made the first move risked coming across as desperate.

She suggested that women who wanted to let a man know that they liked him should use a more subtle approach.

"I wouldn't advise a woman to just go out there and confess her feelings to a man," said Sun. "Girls can adopt a passive-aggressive approach to lure a man with her charms."

"A woman needs to give the man a sense of having conquered her in a relationship," Sun said.

However, both Han and Rao said that they appreciated girls who were honest and straightforward with their feelings, and despised the kind of cat-and-mouse tactics advised by Sun.

"We are all very busy every day. Who has the time to play games with each other? I hate when girls play games with me," Han said.

Ma said that although she felt a little embarrassed to be rejected, she had no regrets about sharing her feelings with the man she liked.

"Going after the man I liked gave me a feeling of empowerment," said Ma. "It made me feel that I'm in control of my own life in every possible way."

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Editor:Gao Yinan,Bianji)

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