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Start Gender Education from the Beginning

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 “Remove the feminine”, 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.



ikirimat's picture

You are right

Hi Redbird

I have enjoyed reading your journal and learned from your land.

You have clearly highlighted the challenges of gender equality. Indeed having gender issues tackled right form the family level will go along way in gender equality in the future generation.

Keep on writing, you are already creating the awareness.

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."

redsbird's picture

Yes, I think it is important

Yes, I think it is important and more feasiblity for every women to do it in their family first.

Jensine's picture

LOVE your article

Dear Redbird
It was an honor to read your piece. I could feel your longing and insight shining throughout. You wove your personal story, history and personal perspective brilliantly through the piece and I was compelled by every word. If only mainstream society would heed your vision - it would transform all of China, and be a more loving healthy place for every boy and girl. There is a beautiful saying that "The liberation of boys is tied up in the empowerment of girls." When both girls and boys are released from the boxes they will be free to be their full selves and reach their full potential - and it must start at the youngest age. Your son is a very lucky boy. Brava!!


Jensine Larsen
World Pulse

redsbird's picture

Thank you Jensine, I like the

Thank you Jensine, I like the saying"The liberation of boys is tied up in the empowerment of girls".

noreens's picture

You gave a good picture of

You gave a good picture of Chinese society. I enjoyed reading your article.


redsbird's picture

Thank you, I wondered that

Thank you, I wondered that how is the situation in your countury?

I imagine all the thoughts that you had to do to find your own way there.

The values ​​we acquired in childhood, the culture of our home, state and country, but throughout life we ​​learn a lot.

Education should come before marriage was born, so that children can enjoy all the processes required to increase cognitive development, physical and emotional.

When a family is formed based on love and respect, the percalsos that appear throughout its existence are seen as natural, you have to overcome the problems.

For many years I heard my father say he did not know why I was not born a man. I searched through adolescence to be a man to please my father, I could not of course. I got really thinking I was doing the right thing and found myself a woman.

Your text shows how much you have is a strong woman and female, only a woman and her sensitivity to such property could describe the difficulties imposed by social status and culture and gender differences. You're breaking paradigms.

With amor.

redsbird's picture

Thank you. you said

Thank you. you said "Education should come before marriage was born."Yes ,but in China,the gender education only sairt in a few universities.It sill a long way to walk.
you also said" For many years I heard my father say he did not know why I was not born a man…….", I find that many women start to think about from the wrong expect.

Celine's picture

Hi Redsbird, You made my

Hi Redsbird,
You made my evening, I enjoyed reading your piece. Very articulate and filled with important issues on gender identity. The importance of inculcating a sense of equality of men and women right from early age is well highlighted. With women / mothers like you doing the underground work, gender equality will start from family and spread to higher level.


redsbird's picture

Yes, women / mothers maybe

Yes, women / mothers maybe like my doing the underground work,but not all the men/fathers.

Lisa T's picture

Redsbird, Your message is so

Your message is so important and it's such a pleasure to read your piece. Your voice shines through and I'm looking forward to reading your next assignment for VOF. I really like the photos you included with this piece. Keep up all your hard work and wonderful writing!
Best wishes,

redsbird's picture

Thank you Lisa, you are the

Thank you Lisa, you are the first one I want to say thanks.

jbaljko's picture

Things I didn't know

Hi Redsbird,
Thanks for sharing your story. Definitely learned a few things I didn't know about the Cultural Revolution and some of the issues currently facing Chinese women. Love the photos and the statistics. Good reporting!

I applaud your work in raising your son without gender bias. I hope you can convince your husband to do the same... sounds like he may need some convincing as well =).


"The secret of happiness is freedom,
and the secret of freedom, courage."
-Thucydides, ancient Greek historian & author

redsbird's picture

. Sure, It is a hard work to

. Sure, It is a hard work to convince my husband to do the same...but I will keep doing and I believe times will change everything.:).

Paulina Lawsin's picture

Hi Redbird.. you are on the

Hi Redbird.. you are on the right track. Change always starts with ME. I will be interested to know how you are undertaking gender education in your family. How your husband and mother in law react to your sons being asked to do the housework.

You are right in saying that gender education should be part of family education because the latter will be useless if the traditional arrangement of women doing all the work and children getting punished severely will still continue.

Good luck Redbird. Btw, when I was in China, I visited the office of the China Women Daily News and met the editor.

Let's keep in touch.

Love from the Philippines,


redsbird's picture

When I ask my son to do some

When I ask my son to do some things that he could also he is still one year and seven months, my husband didnot say anything ,but my mother in law always said he was too young to do this.However, I still keep asking my son to do this and that.
Btw, welcome to China again.

Pushpa Achanta's picture

Tremendous courage

Dear friend,

Thanks for sharing your invigorating story. I admire your determination.

Continue the great writing!


mrbeckbeck's picture

Very interesting

Thank you for this wonderful piece. I loved how you blended your personal story, your family's history, and a lot of background information about China. It felt really comprehensive, but still very much a vision from your heart.

Gender is so complex, but I love how you lay out your ideas for raising your very lucky son... it's wonderful to think that he will not endure abuse, and will know how to cook his family a nice meal.

Great work Redsbird!

Scott Beck
World Pulse Online Community Manager

MaDube's picture

Hi Redsbird

The points you raise are so true and I could not agree with you more. The perceptions that we are fed with when we are young follow us through our adulthood. When you defy the expected norm, then you become an outcast and people will only get to fully respect you when you become a BIG personality and you are famous. It is a shame that these things continue to happen in our societies and I am glad women such as you, can stand and say, I refused to conform and look where that got me; VERY VERY FAR!



jadefrank's picture

Caught between two worlds

Dearest Redsbird,

I found your article so fascinating and it really resonated with me and what I observed during my own time living in China. I was so fortunate to meet several women who expressed similar frustrations as you, though not as emboldened as you to take a public stand and speak out on gender inequalities and double-standards. However, I also met many women who, like your mother-in-law, had a very scripted definition of a woman's role that left little room for individual dreams, interests, or style of dress.

I recognize that speaking out on this subject is very taboo and I admire your courage. Tell me, are there many other women in China who think like you, who you could turn to for solidarity in taking a public stand on the inequities placed on women to be so many ideals that are nearly impossible to live up to? In your work on the Vagina Monologues, was there public opposition or threat? How were your plays received by women vs. men? Or by elderly vs. youth?

I feel that women in China are in such a unique position, and while you do face similar issues in the fight for equality as your sisters around the world, your situation may require a different type of solution. As you describe, the Cultural Revolution created such a radical shift in gender norms. And now as pieces of Chinese culture revert back to the patriarchal system, women are caught between two worlds. While enjoying some advances brought on by the Cultural Revolution - like finding success in careers formally held only by men, or the end of foot binding - as society reverts back to tradition, women seem to be caught somewhere between two worlds and expected to shoulder a male-determined, unobtainable perfection that combines both - to be "iron women" and also "weak women" at the same time.

When will women define who they want to be, and celebrated for their individualistic traits - whether it's hard, soft, quiet, loud, or somewhere in between? Your feature story so beautifully poses this question and invites us into the harsh reality that you face each day. You also outline some wonderful solutions - in creating a new world for your children where boys are free to cry and girls can be whomever. I am intrigued by the family education approach and would love to learn more about how that is working. I agree, that education at a young age, and by modeling behaviors for your children are key to raising a new generation of China who can push beyond gender stereotypes. What else might it take?

Your writing is so clear, powerful, and moving. I look forward to reading your Op-Ed and am thrilled to know that you have found a way to be appreciated, to be beautiful, without having to wear make-up like the others, through your writing you are persuasive, you are bold, you are strong, you are vulnerable, you are perfect. Keep writing your truth and show us your world. We rarely hear such bold truths from women in China. I want to read more!

In friendship,

redsbird's picture

Yes, many other women in

Yes, many other women in China think like you, but they can only complain to their female friends. In China the government has a women union, but it is focus more on official request not common women. In my work on the Vagina Monologues, we was suffer a ban from a university, that time the school authorities close the playhouse and force us to leave. Many students enter across the washroom. There are many young women and men receive this play, not elderly.

You ask me, how is the family education work. Fortunately, some people have realized this problem; a kind of career like family education instructor appears. Also, some Chinese men notice the problem. In Shenzhen, a male journalist resigned and back to school to educate his daughter before she go to school. And his experience spread in Weibo( a kind of Chinese Twitter)and influence many fathers. More important, mothers are doing their best to change the reality. Is it right to teach girl not cry or teach boy to cry?

Odessa's picture

thank you for so many great insights

Hi Redsbird!
You touch upon many sensitive topics with such awareness, courage and honesty - it makes me curious and hungry for more! For example, you mention that your parents married not for love but for getting out of poverty - what would gender equality education teach about that? Being raised as a "fake boy" - did you feel that empowered or disempowered you, or both? Not inheriting femininity - "was it good or bad - who can tell?" Would love to know if you ever come to a conclusion about that!
Your big fan,

I believe we are all on a journey to understand ourselves and our destiny in the world.
May we walk together in beauty on that path!
- Odessa

redsbird's picture

Yes,this good questions ,I

Yes,this good questions ,I need to think carefully.

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