Single women over 26 years of age have been the target of more than one scathing state media report this week, as the Chinese regime ramps up its six year campaign on a social phenomenon resulting from a shift in gender roles.
Headlines like “Nine Bad Habits that Keep Leftover Women from Good Men” and “Chinese Leftover Women Refuse Marriage and Love a Sense of Freedom” have peppered state-run reports, using the derogatory term “leftover” women coined in 2007 by the state’s feminist group, All-China Women’s Federation.
Regime mouthpiece Xinhua reported disapprovingly that single women above age 26 consume more than married couples, spending lavishly on travel, social gatherings, and entertainment. Sohu, an Internet portal, dished on the “hot” industries that “leftover” women have poured money into.
The start of the campaign against “leftover” women in 2007 coincided with a tightening of the regime’s family planning program in the face of a large gender imbalance and a “low quality general population.”
“If leftover women have children, they will for sure pay attention to their children’s education and then the quality of the nation will improve,” said China’s State Council.
“Leftover” women are usually well-educated and many are deemed too “high quality” to settle down. Mercedes Benz, a luxury German car brand, has ran advertisements in China targeting the independent woman.
Eleven of the top 20 self-made female billionaires in the world are Chinese and the growing affluence of Chinese women is accompanied by an increasing average married age, from 23.5 in 2005 to 29.6 in 2008. A July 21 survey by Xinhua found that nearly 50 percent of women don’t worry about marriage until age 30, and almost 90 percent think it’s acceptable if they aren’t married before then.
Along with the state media reports, the All-China Women’s Federation has taken a strong stance against “leftover” women, writing in a column in March 2011 that “most leftover women don’t deserve our sympathy.” The piece described these single women in their late twenties, early thirties as “ugly or average girls” who get higher education degrees to better their marriage prospects.
The women’s group went on to compare the women to “yellowed pearls” because of their age and claimed these women went to nightclubs for one-night stands and had affairs with Party officials.
“The patriarchal culture lacks any positive concepts for describing independent career women who do not fit into traditional domestic roles,” says Sandy To, in a research paper for the University of Hong Kong.
To interviewed 50 independent women in Shanghai from ages 26 to 34 and asked them whether they wanted to get married. She found that many of them had sacrificed their relationships for their careers.
“Work is very exhausting, and because you’re a girl people have higher expectations of you. There’s already that much pressure from everyday life. If you don’t love yourself then who will?” said an anonymous 32-year-old senior accountant, given the pseudonym Erin for confidentiality. “Sometimes I’ll moan about not finding someone and not being married yet to my friends. But that feeling will only last for a moment, then I’ll be rational again. There’s bound to be a way to spend my days.”
“I used to date a guy who was much older. He preferred me not working and his idea was that I’d quit once we got married. But seriously, when I think about it, I think I really want to work, because it brings something different into you as well,” said Yvonne, a 33-year-old financial services manager.“I don’t think marriage should be based on any conditions at all.”
Others are simply not ready to get married, despite societal pressures around them to take on more conventional roles and give up their independence.
“Most of my friends are married already. From time to time, they would call me up and ask me about my “personal problem,” meaning my ‘single situation’ and if I’ve solved it yet,” said Greta, 30-year-old sales operation manager. “I would tell them that I’m getting there, will do so very soon. I feel that I will get married someday.”
“I personally think that I’m happy being by myself. I have a lot of friends and activities. I’m living a happy life,” said Vera, a 30-year-old technology analyst.
A netizen questioned on Baidu, a Chinese search engine, why single women in their late twenties and early thirties are well-educated, have strong careers and are attractive.
Another Baidu user replied, “Because high quality leftover women focus on their careers and often missed chances at romance. And they’ve got high standards: their men have to come from a good background and also behave like gentlemen.”
Lu Chen contributed translation and research.