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Under Pressure: Chinese Full-Time Mothers Demand Time Off

With the number of stay-at-home mothers on the rise in China, so are the challenges that come with being a full-time mother.

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The story of a full-time mother who was slammed by her husband and mother-in-law for asking some ‘time off’ for traveling during the national holiday has gone viral on Chinese social media. Her account strucks a chord with other stay-at-home moms, who face difficulties in being a full-time mother in a society where family responsibilities are shifting.

Chinese netizen ‘@DoubleTrouble’ (@二捣蛋), a Guangzhou stay-at-home mother of two kids, recently posted about her desire to take “an absence of leave” (请假) from her life as a mum and travel by herself during the Chinese National Holiday.

The woman shared her grievances on WeChat about being severely criticized by her husband and mother-in-law for wanting some time for herself during an 8-day vacation after taking on the sole care of her two children non-stop for years.

The unhappy mother’s story, which was posted some days before the start of China’s national holiday, was picked up by Chinese media and went viral. It triggered heated discussions on the role of China’s stay-at-home mothers within the family.

 

A FULL-TIME MOTHER’S DILEMMA

“I raised the subject of wanting to go away for a while. But I couldn’t even finish speaking before my mother-in-law said: How dare you think of things like this as a mother?!”

 

The original text, which was posted by the woman on a WeChat forum for Guangzhou mothers (gzmama.com), is as follows:

“The past two days I’ve had a falling out with my family members. I wanted to use the National Holiday to travel somewhere, but my husband and mother-in-law strongly opposed. Now, there is all this turmoil because of this, with them criticizing me for being selfish. They also say I am irresponsible and that I am an unfit mother. I feel really low.

The situation is that I have two children, a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old, both raised by me. Although my parents-in-law are also in Guangzhou, they’ve never helped me out at all. Even when one child gets sick, it is me who has to take both the children to the hospital.

I’ve been married to my husband for six/seven years now. After we got married, I resigned from my job to become a full-time mother. We did not hire a nanny and I took on the care of the two kids by myself. My husband is very busy, and couldn’t help out either.

The last couple of years have tired me out. All mothers will know what I mean, even if they don’t say it. For this year’s [national] holiday, my husband also got a few days off, which is very rare, so I finally wanted to seize this opportunity to go out for a while, and let my mother-in-law help out for a bit to take care of the children.

A few days ago, we were all having dinner together, when I raised the subject of wanting to go away for a while. But I couldn’t even finish speaking when my mother-in-law said: “How dare you think of things like this as a mother?!” My husband also strongly opposed to me leaving the house. My father-in-law said nothing; he didn’t oppose nor approve.

My husband and my mother-in-law at the dinner table took turns in telling me how selfish I am, and how irresponsible I am, and I could not help but quarrel with them.

Now the family relations have gone sour, and my husband and I have not spoken for few days, I also haven’t gone to see my mother-in-law.

Am I really being selfish? The two children are already older now. The little one does not get breastfed anymore, and the kids get along great, they hardly ever fight.

Sigh, I do not know what to do now. Should I go anyway, regardless if they are against it or not? Or should I just forget about it it and just bitterly stay at home with the kids?”

 

The woman’s post received some 17,000 views and over 200 comments from other mothers on the Guangzhou forum before it was widely shared and discussed in Chinese media, receiving thousands of reactions on Weibo.

 

STAY-AT-HOME MOMS IN CHINA

“Once you have children, your time is no longer your own – your time must be dedicated to them.”

 

More than two-thirds of mothers in China work full-time. According to this report (video) by CGTN, China’s modern-day moms belong to a generation that attaches great importance on having a job – so much so that there is an alleged social stigma to staying at home full-time to raise the children.

“There are a lot of Chinese mothers who work, and this might not necessarily always be their choice,” says Roseann Lake, author of upcoming book Leftover in China: The Women Shaping the World’s Next Superpower.

Lake tells What’s on Weibo that the relatively high percentage of working mothers in China, on the one hand, can be explained through the historical background of the Cultural Revolution, which placed great importance on the full participation of women in the labor force. On the other hand, she notes, it also has a lot to do with today’s China.

“Giving the nature of China’s economy, there is a need for double-working households. And at the same time, there are also many grandparents with free time on their hands who are willing to take care of their grandchildren.”

Lake does not think there necessarily is a social stigma attached to being a full-time mom: “If the financial conditions allow it, women in China can certainly be stay-at-home moms. But then there is the expectation to take on the bulk of looking after the household.”

Nevertheless, Lake stresses, usually – despite expectations that the wife will then take on full care of the household and children – Chinese grandparents will pitch in to help take care of the children, whether the mothers like it or not.

About the case of Chinese netizen ‘@Doubletrouble’, Lake says: “There are plenty of in-laws in China who would pass judgment on something like this, saying that once you have children, your time is no longer your own and your time must be dedicated to them at all times.”

While there is pressure on both working and stay-at-home moms, there is a growing number of Chinese women who choose to fully dedicate themselves to their family life.

According to China Daily, more than 70% of post-90s young mothers are willing to be a full-time mom. By contrast, mothers from the post-80s would rather stay in the workforce; approximately 46% keep on working after becoming a mother.

 

ONLINE REACTIONS

“If women cannot even have this piece of freedom, then why do we get married at all?”

 

With the number of stay-at-home mothers on the rise in China, so are the challenges that come with being a full-time mother. The story of @DoubleTrouble shows that there are many other full-time mothers who have a similar story.

“Women have to think of themselves, they should not completely dedicate all of themselves to the family,” one woman (@潼潼囡妈咪) writes: “We need our own social space in order to have the capability to support ourselves and our children.”

“Just go!”, one person pleads: “If women cannot even have this piece of freedom, then why do we get married at all?”

Other people also point out that it is not the mom who is selfish: “If a woman becomes a mother, it doesn’t mean she has to give up on everything. There are 8 days in the National Holiday – why can’t she leave for 2 days? Can’t she have a break from working hard all year round? It’s not only her children, what’s wrong with the mother-in-law looking after them? They are the ones who are selfish and take her for a free labor force.”

There are also commenters who say that there is a big difference between being a stay-at-home mother and a ‘house slave’: “Just go and apply to be a nanny somewhere else,” one person suggests: “At least then you’ll have wages and get days off.”

“The one who has no sense of responsibility is not this mother, but her husband,” another woman writes.

“It’s not like she’s leaving for two months,” one commenter said: “If women cannot even enjoy this freedom and support after getting married and having babies, then what’s the point?”

“When I get married,” a male netizen writes: “I want my wife to take time for herself and go outside, I will watch the kids. I don’t want to see her depressed or restless.”

Despite all the support for @DoubleTrouble, and all the other mothers demanding that ‘time off’ should be normal for all stay-at-home moms, there are also some who disagree.

“When the child is 2 years old, they are too young. Wait until they go to school,” some say. Or: “Just take the children and go on a trip together with your husband, the four of you together as a family.”

 

THE “GREAT TRANSFORMATION”

“The grandmother does not have the duty to help out her daughter-in-law, but then she also shouldn’t expect her daughter-in-law to take care of her when she is old and sick.”

 

The recent account of ‘@Doubletrouble’ is not the only complaint from full-time mothers who feel the pressure of taking on the full care of their children and not getting any help nor personal time. An important recurring issue is the changing role of the in-laws, who traditionally lived with their son’s family and usually have an active role in raising their grandchildren.

One woman from Fujian (@林小夕的梦) cries out on Weibo: “I am so tired, I am on the verge of collapse. It’s unbearable being a full-time mother. Don’t ask me about my mother-in-law or why she doesn’t help me out – I’d be better off without her, she doesn’t understand.”

The transformations of Chinese traditional family structures in the modern-day era have not necessarily brought about equal gender divisions in the household.

As pointed out by Harriet Evans in The Gender of Communication (2010), the focus in Chinese society has gradually shifted over the past half-century, as there is “[a] shift away from a collectivist and family-oriented ethics of personal responsibilities to an individualistic ethics of rights and self-development” (981).

This “great transformation”1 manifests itself, amongst others, in the clashes between those younger mothers who seek self-fulfillment and personal satisfaction, and those older generations who still expect them to fulfill the traditional women’s role in the domestic sphere, while they, as grandparents, now also play a much less significant role in the upbringing of their grandchildren – not just because they are detached more from the family in social terms, but also often because there is a bigger spatial distance between families.

“The grandmother does not have the duty to help out her daughter-in-law, but then she shouldn’t expect her daughter-in-law to take care of her either when she is old and sick,” a popular comment said.

Since the post has gone viral, @DoubleTrouble has not given an update about whether or not she did go on that trip. If not, at least her story has triggered some relevant discussions online.

“I just hope this post will receive enough attention so that women who want to become a full-time mother will realize the difficulties they might face,” one woman writes.

By Manya Koetse

References

Evans, Harriet. 2010. “The Gender of Communication: Changing Expectations of Mothers and Daughters in Urban China.” The China Quarterly (204): 980-1000.

1 Evans (2010) quotes Yan Yuxiang here, author of The Individualization of Chinese Society (London: Berg, 2009).

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Bruce Humes

    October 7, 2017 at 9:32 am

    It’s quite revealing that — at least in the Weibo comments cited — all the potential “solutions” are limited to family members.

    There is no mention of hiring a baby-sitter, part-time amah or full-time nanny. How come?

    Obviously, many Chinese households couldn’t afford the latter, but in 1st- and 2nd-tier cities, they can. In Hong Kong and Taiwan, many middle-class families hire part- or full-time nannies to do housework and look after children. Hong Kongers in particular do so, and insist on a Filipina or Indonesian female who is both truly caring about children, and can teach them English to boot!

    Among the Chinese mothers I know in Shenzhen and Guangzhou, however, hiring someone from outside the family to look after one’s children is considered very problematic, and most refuse to do so. Why? Because they are afraid their hires will 1) Steal from them, 2) Mistreat their children if a relative is not present, and/or 3) Kidnap their children and sell them to traffickers.

    Tells you a lot about contemporary Chinese society, doesn’t it?

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China Arts & Entertainment

‘Call Me By Fire’ All-Male Variety Show Becomes Social Media Hit

‘Call Me By Fire’ is the male version of ‘Sister Who Make Waves’ and it’s an instant hit.

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A Chinese reality show starring 33 male celebrities titled Call Me By Fire (披荆斩棘的哥哥) has become an instant hit after its premiere on Mango TV last week.

The show is considered the male version of the hit variety show Sisters Who Make Waves (乘风破浪的姐姐, read more here) but with different rules. The contestants, ranging from age 27 to 57, are all in the entertainment industry; the group includes pianists, singers, dancers, actors, hosts, and rappers.

List of contestants, Mango TV.

They are required to perform individually and in a team for the first episode’s performances. Chinese viewers were surprised to see some of the high-quality performances, which then went viral on social media.

Li Chengxuan (@李承铉 a.k.a. Nathan Lee), who was previously mostly known for being the husband of Chinese actress Qi Wei (戚薇), rapped in a low voice and wowed the audience. The hashtag about his first stage performance on the show garnered more than 120 million views ( #李承铉天上飞舞台#). A video of his performance can be found here.

Li is a former member of the South Korean boy band TAKE. In 2014, the Korean-American pop star married Qi, who later gave birth to their first daughter Lucky. When Qi went back to focusing on her career, Li decided to be a stay-at-home dad.

Just like some of the other show contestants, Li also appeared on the talk show Definition (定义), where he spoke to the female journalist Yi Lijing about his life as a full-time father. In that show, he expressed how he used to think being a full-time parent would be easy. “It takes a lot of time and energy to take care of the baby and the family, but as a result, it always looks like you haven’t done anything all day.”

He describes how he experienced a time of depression during which he tried his best to be a good parent but sometimes just could not control his temper. Li explains how he would regret these moments of anger and then would cry at night when his daughter was asleep.  (Interview video here.)

Li’s experiences as a full-time parent struck a chord among Chinese netizens, especially among stay-at-home moms. The hashtag “Li Chengxuan Was Depressed for Over a Year As a Full-Time Dad” (#李承铉当全职爸爸抑郁了一年多#) received more than 600 million views on Weibo. Under the hashtag, commenters shared their experiences and struggles in being full-time parents.

One netizen wrote: “This is so true. We do so much when taking care of our children, but other people often feel like it’s nothing. When you lose your temper in front of the kid, you feel terrible inside and start to question yourself about why you failed to control yourself, and then you make another promise not to lose your temper anymore.”


Another Weibo user wrote: “See, when a mom looking after her kids feels depressed, it is not because she is weak and sensitive! It is because the job itself will make any human being depressed.”

Li later responded on his Weibo account, saying he just did his part as a parent, and this is what any new mom or new dad will face. That post also received thousands of comments and over 285,000 likes.

So far, the hashtag of the Call me By Fire TV show has received a staggering 4.4 billion views on Weibo (#披荆斩棘的哥哥#).

Image via Sina News.

The show’s performances and Li sharing his struggles as a stay-at-home dad are not the only reasons for the show’s massive success on Chinese social media. Some other related issues also made the show gain more attention.

Even before Call Me By Fire aired, the show already made headlines when the 55-year-old Taiwanese singer Terry Lin Zhixuan (林志炫) reportedly fell off the stage while filming.

Later, one of the contestants left the show after some social media drama. Chinese singer Huo Zun (霍尊) announced his withdrawal from the show after his ex-girlfriend accused him of being a cheater and leaking some WeChat conversation screenshots to prove that he actually disliked the show.

The remaining 32 contestants will enter the real ‘elimination stages’ in the following episodes. The show and highlight clips can be viewed on the Mango TV official site here.

 

By Wendy Huang

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©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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China Sex & Gender

Shouqi Ride-Hailing Incident: Hangzhou Female Passenger Jumps from Moving Car

‘Delusional’ or ‘vigilant’? Weibo discussions over the woman who jumped from a moving vehicle when her Shouqi driver deviated from the route.

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After the Didi murders and the Huolala case, the ‘Shouqi incident’ is now making headlines in China, showing that there is still a lot of distrust in car-hailing services among Chinese female passengers.

The story of a female passenger jumping from a moving taxi she had arranged via ride-hailing app Shouqi (首汽约车) has gone viral on Chinese social media.

The passenger, Ms. Gao, jumped from the moving vehicle in the late afternoon of June 12 because she feared for her personal safety after the driver had allegedly deviated from the intended route.

Ms. Gao was traveling from Hangzhou to Fuyang when the incident occurred. The woman states that once she got in the taxi, the driver attempted to make a pass at her and changed the route twice.

Gao eventually decided to jump from the moving car, resulting in a fractured left arm and extensive bruising.

Ms. Gao in hospital, photo via Sohu.com.

Shouqi is a state-backed online ride-hailing platform founded in 2015 that focuses on luxury & high-quality services.

Shouqi Responds

On June 19, Shouqi officially responded to the matter after carrying out an investigation.

According to the Shouqi report, their driver, Zhang, deviated from the navigation route because he opted to take a faster road that had been newly opened and was not recognized by the navigation app yet. Since he had taken this alternative route, the voice navigation kept reminding him that he was taking the wrong route. The female passenger jumped out of the car shortly afterward.

Part of Shouqi’s statement.

Shouqi states that according to protocol, there is an audio recording of the journey. Although the recording did capture the voice navigation indicating the car was deviating from the original route, there was no sign of an altercation or discussion between the driver and the passenger before she jumped out. The company also said it would release the recording to the media if Ms. Gao would give them permission to do so.

After Gao had jumped from the vehicle, driver Zhang allegedly pulled over to check on her and immediately called the emergency number for medical help. Meanwhile, Gao tried to alert other cars that were passing by to get help. Afterward, Zhang drove to the local police station to cooperate with the investigation.

The company’s statement further says that local authorities claim the incident was caused by a “misunderstanding” between the passenger and the driver.

In the statement, the car-hailing company does apologize for the incident. They also claim their driver has been reprimanded for not properly communicating with his passenger. Shouqi furthermore says they will cover the passenger’s medical expenses.

“Fabricated Facts”

On June 20, Ms. Gao wrote up a response to Shouqi’s statement, which she published on social media (@步步登高_乐). According to Gao, Shouqi’s statement contains many falsehoods and “fabricated facts.”

Ms. Gao talking to Chinese media about what really happened during the incident.

Gao says that the driver never told her anything about taking an alternative route. She also denies that Zhang called the emergency number after she had jumped out, and emphasizes that the local authorities have never issued any official statement nor made any conclusions about the matter. Shouqi has also never paid for her medical expenses, and have not released any recordings of the incident to Gao.

By Monday afternoon local time, Gao’s response was shared on Weibo over 23,000 times, receiving over 32,000 comments. The topic also reached the top trending topics on the social media platform.

The safety of female passengers making use of online car-hailing apps is a recurring topic of discussion in China, where several incidents involving Uber-like services triggered outrage among web users over the past few years.

The biggest case was the murder of a Chinese stewardess by a driver of the Didi Chuxing car-hailing app in 2018, which became one of the most discussed topics of that year. Shortly before going missing, the 21-year-old woman from Zhengzhou had texted her friend that the driver of the ride she had arranged was “acting strange.” Her body was found the next day. The driver’s body was retrieved from a river nearby.

The horrific case was followed by a second Didi murder of a 20-year-old woman in Wenzhou. The victim was on her way to a birthday party when she contacted a friend via text asking for help. She was later found to have been raped and killed in a mountainous area nearby. The 27-year-old driver was arrested. These two cases, which also brought other cases to light in which female passengers were abused by their drivers, sparked major public concerns about the safety of these online platforms.

In February of 2021, the Huolala case also made headlines in China: a 23-year-old woman named Che Shasha jumped out of the window of a moving van she rented via the ride-hailing firm Huolala when the driver, a man by the name of Zhou, had deviated from the intended route. Che, who was uncomfortable and scared, asked Zhou about the different routes multiple times, but he remained silent. When Che exited the vehicle via the passenger window, the driver reportedly did not do anything to stop her. The young woman died four days after the incident due to severe brain injury due to her fall.

These previous cases have heightened public awareness on the safety of female passengers, but some commenters also think it might have led to women being too scared when using ride-hailing apps.

Although most commenters support Ms. Gao and say that Shouqi should release the recordings to make the truth come out, there are also web users who say Gao is “delusional” and that her fears were ungrounded.

“If she really would’ve been murdered, people would say she wasn’t vigilant enough. Now, she was vigilant and people say she was being delusional. You just don’t have the empathy to understand the fear of female passengers,” one commenter writes.

Without any released recordings and no official police report, web users are still waiting for further developments in this case. If it would be up to Ms. Gao, it will soon be publicly revealed that she indeed was in danger. For now, she is seeking more media exposure so that “the bad guys will be punished for the injuries she suffered,” she told Chinese media reporters from her hospital bed.

We will update this story once more information comes out.

By Manya Koetse (@manyapan)

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