Relative Status of Men and Women

Men formally occupy a higher social position in rural China. In the cities, men informally occupy more leadership positions (e.g., government and business corporations) than women. Within the domestic sphere there is an enormous difference between rural and urban women's ability to command influence. Prior to and after marriage, a rural woman is instructed to obey her mother-in-law and husband. The emphasis is on obedience and deference. A newly married woman is reminded that, in time, she will become a mother-in-law and thus gain authority and independence over the incoming wife. Before this time, a woman must rely on deception and guile, whereas men, secure within their natal family, do not hesitate in openly expressing their opinions and demands. In effect, the prevailing view in the countryside is that women can only gradually, over the course of a lifetime, expand their authority in the family.

In urban China the theme of a powerful woman and the henpecked husband is a source of much joking. Chinese men believe that, in the past, husbands had an easier time controlling their wives than they do today. One man remarked that, "In the past the mother-in-law was fearsome, now the wife is fearsome". The frequency with which this expression is invoked suggests that males are more ambivalent and less secure than in the past with their position within the family and society.

The idea that relations between spouses should be based on equality and parity is increasing among rural and urban youths. However, marriage still places greater restrictions on women's behavior. On the other hand, men also regard marriage as restrictive. Whenever a man leaves or enters his home, for example, his wife will customarily ask him where he is going or has come from. This is not, by any means, a polite ritualistic expression but is motivated by an unspoken but palpable concern that their husband might be seeing someone else.

Because women are saddled with the double burden of working and handling domestic chores and childcare, they often feel overworked, exhausted, and numbed by their duties. Men, on the other hand, believe that it is more their responsibility, and not that of their wives, to gain promotion, increase household income, and expand personal connections. It is a responsibility, an expectation, that they find demanding and take seriously. Failure to perform satisfactorily often results in their wives complaining that their husbands "let the family down." It is a complaint that men do not want to hear because it is perceived as a stigma attacking the core of their gender identity.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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