Start Gender Education from the Beginning ——reflection about family education in China

“Father and mother were fighting and quarrelling, I was kneeling on the ground and holding their calves and crying.” Closing my eyes, I recall my childhood and this scene often surfaces in front of me.

From “weak woman” to “iron girl” I was born in a common family. My father and my mother married not because of love,but the desire of changing the poor life.

In the Culture Revolution from 1966-1976, “Including who were involved, there were hundreds of millions of victims, accounting for one-ninth of the population,” a famous veteran of the Communist Party of China named Ye jianyin said. My maternal grandfather and my grandfather were both victims. Born in this kind family, my father and my mother as well as many other teenagers had a tough live. This generation of parents did not have a complete education, their culture and civilization, cultivation generally lacked.

People were changed especially women, who were encouraged to enter in heavy industry the men engaged before, such as “38 Women's Survey Team”,” Women live working class high-altitude”,” 38 woman handling classes”…… They had short hair,thick waists and broad shoulders, big voice. They were dressed in blue frocks,dark, firm and strong, lively and cheerful demeanor. They did not care about their appearance, and their personal feelings were taboo.

“Iron Girl” is the special name for those women. Gender scholars call it “degenderize”, this progress is the subversion of Chinese traditional image of “weak woman” who are hard-working, tender and obey their husbands. But the traditional gender identity can not substitute easy by political movement from up to down only for ten years.

Of course “Iron Girl” is a kind of revolution of women, but I believe it is also a new shackle of Chinese women. My mother was this kind of “Iron Girl”. In 1976, my 20 year old mother married my 37 years old father because she wanted to leave the poor home. She was a porter when she was young,transported the bag as heavy as men. Back at home, she still had to do the housework.

A marriage without love usually is a tragedy. My childhood was accompanied with unending fighting and quarrelling. Due to the birth control, my mother ligated after the birth of two girls, but my father wanted to have a son. Maybe that is the reason why I was raised as a “fake boy”. I was bareheaded three times because of louse. I climbed the trees and caught the fish with boys. I did not care about my clothes because I always wore my sister's.

At that time, hundreds and thousands of young girls married due to the same reason. They had no idea what love is and what family education is. They raised children by the traditional way and brought then up for heir or for pension. So, domestic violence against children often took place. Many boys were beaten by their parents when they were naughty.

Forced to livelihoods, my parents had to send me back to my hometown to my maternal grandmother when I was one year old. And that time many children grew up away from parents in China. Now the quantity is rising up: there are almost 58,000.000 “left-Behind” children, who live in villages but their parents work in cities,released in 2009 by China Women's Federation Ministry of Children's Work. Although the babies apart from parents in the early time will have mental problem more often, parents at that time and even now think the little babies know few things and do not think it is a big deal. Fortunately, because I was ill, my parents took me back soon.

Confusing of the gender identity When I went into middle school, my parents went to another city to do business, and I lived with my sister two years elder than me. We had to take care of ourselves. The theory of family education believes that children learn the gender identity from the daily life with their parents. Girls learn from their mothers, but as for me, apart from my mother for many years, I inherited little femininity from her. It is good or bad for me? Who can tell?

That is why I felt frustrated in the university. I do not know how to wear beautiful and make-up which skills many girls already grasped. “Like a boy” sometimes looks like a positive valuation sometimes not. I thought about how girls should be like ,why there exist the difference between girls and boys and is the reality reasonable?I can not involve when my classmates talk about cosmetic and fashion, so I have to find something to build my self-respect, I joined the school female football team which few girls like this sport. I have to make myself different then I can comfort myself I was special. The second way is read books. I wanted to find the answer in them. From 《The Second Sex》 to 《The Feminine Mystique》, I read a lot books about feminism in my college and was called by classmates as “feminist”! I started to know feminism!This was the prescription that I found. After four years, I walked a big step to the “Iron Girl”. But it seems not the right way for me to adapt to society.

I found a job after I graduated. I worked hard and got promotion soon, but I was not happy by being laughed at because of what I wore by my colleagues. After two years work, I went back to the university to find an answer: what should the female be like.

I want to make my effort. I thought it is important to speak out about the situation of women and make people reflect reality at the first. In graduate school, I took part in the drama performance “The Vagina Monologues” and was a producer for one year.

I finally found a job which is suitable for me: a journalist. Only if you can write the true news and wonderful reports, you need not to wear pretty clothes. People know you from your writing, not what you are wearing.

However I am still facing the gender confusion. Now I became a mother, and live with my mother-in-law. I realized just like many other women, even though I can earn money, I was still expected to be a “weak woman” who is hard-working, tender and obey my husband.

Start Gender Education from the Beginning As a mother who needs to accompany the child everyday, I realize that no matter good or bad, unconscious family education shapes gender identities of female and male and it will still influence the future of gender equality.

Firstly, domestic violence is inherited by Chinese men. This year, a father became famous because his child entered into Peking University, one of the best universities in China. He claimed” beating a child every three days, he will enter the Peking University.” Many fathers agree with him. One of my male classmates told me: boys will be more accomplished if their parents beat him more often. A survey from China Law Society Network against Domestic Violence in 2009 showed that China's domestic violence incidence in the general population was 34.7%.In 2011, women account for 24.7% suffered different forms of domestic violence.

Secondly, women were exhausted by keeping the balance of career and family. In the past, mothers were in charge of raising babies and fathers earned money. The division of work was clear. Due to the family influence when they were young, a lot of men still think housework including raising babies is the duty of women even though the economic system of family has been changed today totally.

My husband was grown in a traditional family. My mother-in-law is a diligent housewife and often does the housework alone. During her whole life, she was a housewife. Now, when my husband comes back, he likes to watch TV or reads newspapers but not cook or do housework. It makes me very tired often because I have to go back to my career after I finished my maternity leave.

Women were not liberated from the families. In a sense, today’s women are more tired than traditional women, because they have to keep balance between career and family. A woman’s happiness is low after they have babies.

Thirdly, gender identity is inherited by family education. One day, my son cried because I did not meet his requirement. I blurted out:” Boys can not cry.” Suddenly, I realized that this answer is improper. I asked myself why men cannot cry. Does it mean that women can cry? These words that blurted out of my mouth are right or not? If I keep saying these words, what influence will it have on my son?

These kinds of words I can hear from Chinese parents often:” You must be hygiene because you are a girl.” Boy should be brave.” “Girl should not be so wild. “Girl should be diligent in housework”……These words make girls and boys different. For example, women are less tolerant of the mass and dirt, so they are always busy in house cleaning, because they were told from children.

So how can we make changes? It is hard to change the concept of adults, but it is easy to shape the children’s view of the world. When we repeat the education way just as our parents, then we strengthen gender identities of the old world. But the reality is not so optimistic.

In 1996, “China Women's News" newspaper and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Press Institute jointly conducted a public survey: there are nearly 60 million parents admitted that they were "the failure of their parents," and worried about family education.

“Now, almost all the careers in the world need appointment card,however, I was wondered that parents is the most hard and complex career,why it did not need any appointment card? That is not strange that many children have problems,the reason is their parents operating without a license.” Sun YunXiao,a famous family educator in China said.

Fortunately, in 2007, a new career named family education instructor was approved in China, more and more people want to pursue this career. Now there are only 20 thousands people who attend this training. Most of them are who involved in education career. As reported, in the developed countries, every five hundred families have a family instructor. According to this proportion, 600 thousands family education instructors will be needed in China.

Even though more and more people admit the importance of family education, few of them realize the importance of gender equality education in families.

In Taiwan, "Gender Equity Education White Paper” issued by Ministry of Education suggest that the government should Integrate “Gender Equity Law” and “Family Education Law” and give budget to the gender education of family education. The centre and local government should organize the lessons to empower the gender awareness and ability.

“In Dec 2. 2011, Education and gender equality in education and family teaching picture books.” This was a lecture advertising of Taiwan Yilan County mansion Elementary School in their website. These kinds of activities are common in Taiwan, but not common in mainland of China.

Obviously, today’s Taiwan is the direction we should advance: start gender education from the beginning.

For me, I will start with my son: I will never beat him, avoiding him looking at violence as a kind of solution; I will let him to do housework and learn how to cook; I will not use the words that”boy should or should do something”. I hope he will grow up to an independent man who has no gender bias.

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous new media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.

Take action! This post was submitted in response to Voices of Our Future 2012: Frontline Journals.

Comment on this Post


Redsbird,Congratulation! The revised work is splendid with good flow of ideas,from the past woven well into the present.Providing insight into the family education.Great work.

Lucia Buyanza Nurse-Midwife Clinical Instructor

I am touched for this story. I am glad to know things are changing and women are able to take the change in our hands, getting responsibility for the way the teach our children about gender roles. Thank you for sharing

One's life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion

Follow me @DivinaFeminista

Yes, I think mothers are more care about children's education ,as someone said: The level of mothers determines the level of the children.So, the gender equlity is also need the participating of mothers.

Dear Redsbird I watch a lot of cartoon on TV. Its my way to review what are we showing to our children. From my observations, I would say that a lot of them are giving wrong ideas to children. Take the Japanese animations series 'Doraemon' (which my Chinese friends say is popular in China also) for example: all the boys go to school, come home, eat their snacks and go to play baseball. The girl comes home, goes to kitchen, makes cookies (even though she is only 7-8 year old), cakes and sweeps the house .

I would highly suggest that mothers sit with their kids when they watch cartoons and explain that what they watch isn't a reality. And all the best for your plans. I am sure your child will grow up to be a good citizen, believer in equality.

Stella Paul Twitter: @stellasglobe

What a nice piece!! You are such an expressive writer - I was immediately drawn in by your descriptions of your parents and family life. Battling gender stereotypes is a challenge but I think you have the right idea - it all starts with how you treat your own children. Thanks for sharing your story and the hopeful message at the end about how you are raising your son. Because of your wisdom, I am sure he will grow up to be a good man who respects women and supports gender equality. Good job!