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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.

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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, Sino-Japanese relations and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  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 Sex & Gender

People’s Daily: How to Protect Your Child from Sexual Assault

Chinese state-run newspaper People’s Daily has launched a campaign against sexual violence towards children on its social media channels, telling parents to teach their children sexual education so they can protect themselves. Although the campaign receives praise, there are also many people saying that sexual education should be taught in schools instead of on social media.

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Chinese state-run newspaper People’s Daily has launched an online campaign against sexual violence towards children on its social media channels, telling parents to teach their children sexual education so they can protect themselves. Although the campaign receives praise, there are also many people saying that sexual education should be taught in schools instead of on social media.

In a Weibo post on July 28, Chinese state media outlet People’s Daily (@人民日报) warns parents to protect their children against sexual assault. The post was shared over 17.000 times on Weibo within a couple of hours. People’s Daily writes:

“Recently, the topic “sexual abuse of children” (儿童性侵) has again attracted people’s attention. From 2013 to 2016, the media have reported at least 1401 child sexual abuse cases, and in over 70% of these cases, it was an acquaintance who committing the crime. What is considered sexual abuse of children? What should parents do to protect their children from sexual harassment? Do not turn sex into a taboo [lit. “turn green at the mention of sex” 谈性色变]. The more they don’t know, the more dangerous it is for the children.”

The post comes with a series of images that instruct parents how to protect their children.

The first image says: “Parents should teach their children what is inappropriate behavior! Other people should not touch your intimate areas, even if seems fun.”

People’s Daily campaign against sexual abuse.

The infographics tell parents to be explicit to their children in what is considered inappropriate behavior, saying that other people should not show them images or films with naked people in them, and that it is not normal for people to take children into a separate room and touch their private parts.

Parents should also tell their children that it is not normal for other people to show them their private parts, or to kiss children against their will.

“Parents should let their children know: only mummy, daddy, or those who are very close to you can see your private parts; the nurses and doctors also can see – but only for helping you wash up, wipe your bottom, dress you, or check you at the doctor’s examining room when you are ill. As for other people, other times, or other places: IT IS NOT OKAY!”

The infographic also emphasizes that children should learn to say “NO!” in a loud voice against people who want to assault them.

People’s Daily tells parents to teach their children not to accept drinks from strangers, and not to let them go home by themselves if they are unable to pick them up. If someone tells their child not to tell something to their mummy and daddy, they should always tell their mummy or daddy about it.

Over 92% of reported child sexual abuse cases involved girls, the infographics say, and a little over 7% of cases involved boys. They warn parents not to disregard sexual abuse of boys, as it is often more taboo.

 

“This should be propagated in schools instead of on Weibo.”

 

Although many commenters on Weibo show their support for this campaign against sexual abuse, there are also many who point their finger to state media for propagating better sexual education for children, while often being conservative when it comes to sexual education textbooks in schools. “This should be propagated in schools instead of here,” some said.

Others also said the parents were to blame: “There’s just nothing to do about it when parents are unwilling to teach their children sexual education.”

Earlier this year, a sexual education textbook series for children drew controversy on Weibo for being too “explicit.”

The book, published by Beijing Normal University, shows pictures of reproductive organs and of two people having sex. It also teaches children about sexual abuse, homosexuality (both of gays and lesbians), and gender equality.

Some parents said they found the textbook “pornographic,” and called it “tasteless” and “vulgar.” Due to the rising controversy, the school that first used these books then withdrew them from their curriculum.

China’s first publication of a sexual education textbook for children came out in 2002, and in many parts of China it did not enter schools until 2003. According to China.org, however, most of these textbooks remained unused and/or unsold after their initial print. In 2007, schools in Shenzhen rejected the books.

From time to time, discussions on proper sexual education for children in China will flare up, usually with people on one side arguing it is inappropriate to teach young children about sex, while people on the other side saying that teaching children about sex at a young age can help them protect themselves against sexual abuse, HIV, and teen pregnancies.

“This is the whole reason why sexual education books should not be banned from primary schools,” one commenter responded to People’s Daily‘s campaign.

The Communist Youth League of Jilin also responded in the comment section saying: “We should reinforce sexual education for children to keep our children safe from harm.”

By Manya Koetse

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

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China Media

Communist Youth League: “Being Gay is No Disorder!”

Since Chinese online regulators listed homosexuality as an “abonormal sexual behavior,” discussions about gay rights and emancipation have been dominating Weibo. Now, for the first time this week, a branch of the Communist Youth League has spoken out on Weibo in support of China’s LGBT community.

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Since Chinese online regulators listed homosexuality as an “abnormal sexual behavior,” discussions about gay rights and emancipation have been dominating Weibo. Now, for the first time this week, a branch of the Communist Youth League has spoken out on Weibo in support of China’s LGBT community.

Over the past few days, discussions about homosexuality are all over Chinese social media. On Friday, the China Netcasting Services Association (CNSA, 中国网络视听节目服务协会) issued new criteria to strengthen regulations over online audio-visual content on Chinese platforms.

One of the new regulations regarded the removal of online content that “displays homosexuality” (“展示同性恋等内容”), grouping homosexuality together with incest and sexual perversity as an “abnormal sexual behavior.”

The new rules sparked outrage among Chinese netizens throughout Friday and Saturday. Thousands of people spoke out against the new rules on Weibo. LGBT account The Gay Voice (@同志之声) stressed that homosexuality is a normal sexual orientation, and that homosexual relationships and sexual behaviors should not be treated differently from heterosexual relationships.

China’s famous sexologist and respected sociologist Li Yinhe (@李银河) also attacked the new rules on her Weibo account.

The fact that Germany legislated gay marriage on the same day as the new criteria only added fuel to the fire.

 

Fujian Communist Youth League: “Remove your prejudice, you can do it!”

 

Late Saturday evening, the official account of the Communist Youth League of Fujian (@共青团福建省委) posted the following message:

“Homosexuality is not a mental illness. In 1990, the World Health Organization (WHO) removed homosexuality from their list of mental disorders. It has been acknowledged by the international medical world that homosexuality is not a disorder. In 2006, the Declaration of Montreal has proposed the observation of May 17 as the International Day Against Homophobia. They called attention to homophobia, discrimination of gay people and unfair treatment. Remove your prejudice, you can do it!”

The post soon attracted over 17000 comments, and more than 11000 shares on Weibo. It was also shared by the Weibo account of The Gay Voice (@同志之声).

The Communist Youth League is a youth movement run by the Communist Party for those between the ages of fourteen and twenty-eight. Many of the members of the Communist Youth League are university students, who hope to join the party one day.

Many netizens seemed surprised by the the post, saying: “You’re the first to speak out,” or calling the Communist Youth League their favorite ‘official’ account.

 

“It’s late a night, but I think I see some light.”

 

“It’s late a night, but I think I see some light,” one gay commenter from Jiangsu said.

A happy netizen from Heilongjiang responded:

“Thank you, Fujian Youth League! This moved me to tears. When I first saw the news I felt so awful, and then I saw that the post by Li Yinhe was removed and I started to feel pessimistic about our society, but now that I read this voice from the Communist Youth League, it really touches my heart!”

One man from Beijing responds:

“I am gay myself, and I have a partner. We’ve been together for 8 years. I would never deceive a woman by marrying her. That would harm her, and it would harm me. I want to stay together with my partner forever, through thick and thin. I hope people can show some tolerance, so that my partner and I may find our way in life, without discrimination.”

 

“Don’t forget you are the Communist Youth League!”

 

But not everybody seemed to be happy with the Youth League’s statement. One popular blogger wrote:

“Being gay is not a mental illness, but it is not normal. Although the World Health Organization has removed homosexuality from the category of mental illnesses, it does not mean that it is regular – that is a fallacy, which many gay organizations hold on to with their life. And now, the Communist Youth League in Fujian Province has also posted a CCTV post from 4 years ago to go with the trend, but you shouldn’t harm young people to become a trending topic. Don’t forget you are the Communist Youth League!”

This post received over 3000 comments, mostly from people who disagree. “You are the one who is abnormal,” many said.

Dozens of people on Weibo praise the Communist Youth League. “I never though I would say this,” one person said: “But I am proud of the Communist Youth League.”

By Manya Koetse

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

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What’s on Weibo provides social, cultural & historical insights into an ever-changing China. What’s on Weibo sheds light on China’s digital media landscape and brings the story behind the hashtag. This independent news site is managed by sinologist Manya Koetse. Contact info@whatsonweibo.com. ©2014-2017

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