Gender over the Life Cycle

Women and men move through various stages in life from the youngest to teenagers to youth to married and old age. People in the countryside readily acknowledge that girls mature faster than boys but that in the end boys surpass girls in talent and accomplishments. In China's larger cities this distinction, especially among young people, is no longer firmly held. Most young men believe that women are equal to men in most things. For males and females, marriage and motherhood are the primary markers signifying the transition from youth to adulthood. In the past, marriage was central to defining adulthood so that women in their late twenties were referred to as old maids, while unmarried males were not teased until their mid-thirties. However, both sexes were expected to marry and have a child. In old age women tend to have greater authority due to the emotional bonds they have developed and maintained with their children. On the other hand, once they retire, men tend to have less authority within the family. During ritual occasions they are treated with respect, and then all but ignored.

In the Chinese family the status of women varies with the different phases of their lives. For rural women, there are two phases that are most critical. The first is marriage and subsequent entrance into her husband's family. The next phase occurs during middle age when her son takes a wife. In both phases women, first as brides and then as mothers-in-law, perceive a loss of control over their lives. The fragility of these transitional periods is reflected in the high suicide rates for women in their early twenties and mid-forties.

Because a woman is an outsider and only gains status through bearing a son, there is a strong incentive for her to form a kind of "uterine family" (Wolf, 1972) that is organized around an intense emotional bond between mother and child. It serves as a kind of a private shelter from the structural restraints imposed by patriarchal ideology.

Men's change in status is more gradual. Marriage is an important identity marker as in obtaining a good job in the city. A man's responsibilities gradually increase as he gets older. The measure of a man is often determined by how well he fulfills his numerous family duties.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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