China

In China, Women Still Have To Fight For Their Right To Be Single

In China, Women Still Have To Fight For Their Right To Be Single

Women look at souvenirs in central Beijing, China

Wang Yu-jie

A stand-up comedian in China recently used the term "single panic" to describe fears among women about being alone, and the words have since resonated in online discussions.

The "panic" is a product, the female comedian pointed out, of pressure and prejudices in Chinese society against single women. The only way for single women to be regarded as "not that miserable," the entertainer joked, is to live a more glamorous life than a married woman. "But even then, people will still say, 'look, she lives in such a big house and there's not even a man in it.'"

In reacting to the comedian's bit on "single panic," many online argued that it speaks to gender inequality within traditional Chinese values. As one love-and-relationships blogger wrote: "For centuries men have been the masters of the house, while women are the caregivers, and they are born to satisfy and serve the others."

Nowadays, Chinese women are gaining higher social status through access to better education. And yet, the traditional norm of "getting married as early as possible" is still popular, albeit with new social powers given to women, the blogger argues. "When being single is stigmatized, aging becomes a restriction. The mentality of Chinese women is always in conflict."

The writer goes on to say that societal norms make marriage the only significant relationship for women looking to be accepted in society, and that in turn discriminates women who have not walked down the aisle as being somehow "leftovers."


Two women glance at a mobile phone together in central BeijingArtyom Ivanov/TASS via ZUMA Press



At the same time, inflated ideas about marital life lead people into situations they haven't really though, the blogger argues. That, in turn, can result in full-blown financial, emotional and spiritual turmoil. In that sense, marriage for the sake of security is a paradox.

Others on social media take a different view, and criticize what they see as efforts, among certain sectors, to "promote non-marriage" and "infertility" — things that are ultimately "dangerous for the country." And it's not just older voices who take this kind of reactionary stance. One recent social media post (that garnered 4,000 likes) compared the so-called "leftover women" to the milk poured out during the economic crisis.

The issue of single women was also brought up, interestingly, in a 2017 IKEA commercial that aired in China. In the ad, which stirred up more than a bit of controversy on social media, a girl dines with her parents and calls out to her mother, who slams her chopsticks on the spot and turns against her: "Don't call me mom if you don't bring your boyfriend back!" Then, when the girl's boyfriend comes to visit, the girl's parents completely change their attitude and immediately set up a happy and warm home.

Some believed that IKEA's ad is a reflection of Chinese reality, that parents pressuring their children to marry is widespread. They saw nothing wrong, in other words, with the message. But others took real issue with the commercial, saying it demeans women and promotes a distorted concept. "If you don't have a boyfriend, you can't even call your mother?" one social media user asked.

Marriage for the sake of security is a paradox.

IKEA subsequently issued a statement apologizing and withdrew the ad.

Many argued that IKEA's "urge for marriage" ad simply missed that mark, that in trying to address a hot topic in Chinese society, it failed to grasp the psychology of the target group.

In another ad — SK-II's "She Ended Up at the Matchmaking Corner," from 2016 — several "leftover women" are shown speaking with their parents. It opens with the parents putting pressure on their unmarried daughters. But in the second half of the commercial, the daughters are able to explain to their parents that they "don't want to get married just for the sake of getting married." In the end, the parents seem to understand, and there's a reconciliation between the generations.

In addition to choosing between infertility and marriage, some single Chinese women are also looking for a third way: single parenthood. A particularly well-known case is Haiyang Ye, CEO of a cosmetics company, who traveled to the United States in 2017 to buy sperm and gave birth to her daughter Doris through artificial insemination. The effort cost her more than $75,000.

In a short documentary she revealed how some people on the internet criticized her for being selfish, saying that the family she had formed without a man was incomplete and that the child would have a miserable life. Ye believes that she has done everything she can to give her daughter the love she needs and that her family choices shouldn't be anyone's business but her own.

In the commenting section for the documentary, many women expressed their appreciation for her choice. Some argued that a responsible single mother can offer more happiness to her children than two parents who don't get along, while others pointed out that in two-parent families, many fathers today don't take responsibility and aren't, in the end, "essential.''

Others criticized Ye for trying to start a trend, something the CEO denies. She responded by saying that what she'd like rather is for women to have more freedom of choice. That, she said, is what she'd like to see become more mainstream.

Freedom is also the message that the comedian was trying to get at with her "single panic" routine. She too wants every woman to choose as she sees fit, and to not have to face pressure or criticism from those around her.

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Geopolitics

Erdogan And Boris Johnson: A New Global Power Duo?

As Turkey fears the EU closing ranks over defense, Turkish President Erdogan is looking to Boris Johnson as a post-Brexit ally, especially as Angela Merkel steps aside. This could undermine the deal where Ankara limits refugee entry into Europe, and other dossiers too.

Johnson and Erdogan in NYC on Sept. 20

Carolina Drüten and Gregor Schwung

-Analysis-

BERLIN — According to the Elysée Palace, the French presidency "can't understand" why Turkey would overreact, since the defense pact that France recently signed in Paris with Greece is not aimed at Ankara. The agreement covers billions of euros' worth of military equipment, and the two countries have committed to come to each other's aid if they are attacked.

Although Paris denies this, it is difficult to see the agreement as anything other than a message, perhaps even a provocation, targeted at Turkey.

Officially, the Turkish government is unruffled, saying the pact doesn't represent a military threat. But the symbolism is clear: with the U.S., UK and Australia recently announcing the Aukus security pact, Ankara fears the EU may be closing ranks when it comes to all military issues.

What will Aukus mean for NATO?

Turkey has long felt left out in the cold, at odds with the European Union over a number of issues. Yet now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is setting his sights on another country, which also wants to become more independent from Europe: the UK.

Europe's approach to security and defense is changing dramatically. Over the past few months, while the U.S. was negotiating the Aukus pact with Britain and Australia behind the EU's back, a submarine deal between Australia and France, which would have been worth billions, was scrapped.

The EU is happy to keep Erdogan waiting

Officially, Turkey is keeping its cards close to its chest. Addressing foreign journalists in Istanbul, Erdogan's chief advisor Ibrahim Kalin said the country was not involved in Aukus, but they hope it doesn't have a negative impact on NATO. However, the agreement will have a significant effect on Turkey.

"Before Aukus, the Turks thought that the U.S. would prevent the EU from adopting a defense policy that was independent of NATO," says Sinan Ülgen, an expert on Turkey at the Brussels think tank Carnegie Europe. "Now they are afraid that Washington may make concessions for France, which could change things."

Macron sees post-Merkel power vacuum

Turkey's concerns may well prove to be justified. Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel always argued for closer collaboration with Turkey, partly because it is an important trading partner and partly because it has a direct influence on the influx of migrants from Asia and the Middle East to Europe.

Merkel consistently thwarted France's plans for a stricter approach from Brussels towards Turkey, and she never supported Emmanuel Macron's ideas about greater strategic autonomy for countries within the EU.

But now she that she's leaving office, Macron is keen to make the most of the power vacuum Merkel will leave behind. The prospect of France's growing influence is "not especially good news for Turkey," says Ian Lesser, vice president of the think tank German Marshall Fund.

Ankara fears the defense pact between France and Greece could be a sign of what is to come. According to a statement from the Turkish Foreign Ministry, the agreement is aimed "at NATO member Turkey" and is damaging to the alliance. Observers also assume the agreement means that France is supporting Greece's claims to certain territories in the Mediterranean which remain disputed under international law, with Turkey's own sovereignty claims.

Paris is a close ally of Athens. In the summer of 2020, Greece and Turkey were poised on the threshold of a military conflict in the eastern Mediterranean. Since then, Athens has ordered 24 Rafale fighter jets from France, and the new pact includes a deal for France to supply them with three frigates.

Photo of French President Emmanuel Macron and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on September 27 in Paris

French President Emmanuel Macron and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on September 27 in Paris

Sadak Souici/Le Pictorium Agency/ZUMA

Erdogan’s EU wish list

It's not the first time that Ankara has felt snubbed by the EU. Since Donald Trump left the White House, Turkey has been making a considerable effort to improve relations with Brussels. "The situation in the eastern Mediterranean is peaceful and the migrant problem is under control," says Kalin. Now it is "high time" that Europe does something for Turkey.

Erdogan's wish list is extensive: making it easier for Turks to get EU visas, renegotiating the refugee deal, making more funds available to Turkey as it continues the process of joining the EU, and moderniszing the customs union. But there is no movement on any of these issues in Brussels. They're happy to keep Erdogan waiting.

Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU

Now he is starting to look elsewhere. At the UN summit in September, Erdogan had a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the recently opened Turkish House in New York. Kalin says it was a "very good meeting" and that the two countries are "closely allied strategic partners." He says they plan to work together more closely on trade, but with a particular focus on defense.

 Turkey's second largest export market

The groundwork for collaboration was already in place. Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU, and gave an ultimate proof of friendship after the failed coup in 2016. Unlike other European capitals, London reacted quickly, calling the coup an "attack on Turkish democracy," and its government has generally held back in its criticism of Turkey.

At the end of last year, Johnson and Erdogan signed a new free trade agreement, which will govern commerce between the two countries post-Brexit. Erdogan has called it "the most important treaty for Turkey since the customs agreement with the EU in 1995."

After Germany, Britain is Turkey's second largest export market. "Turkey now has the opportunity to build a new partnership with the United Kingdom and it must make the most of it," says economist Ali Kücükcolak from the Istanbul Commerce University.

Erdogan is well aware of this, as Turkey is in desperate need of an economic boost. Inflation currently stands at 19%, and the currency's value is consistently falling. Turks are feeling the impact on their daily lives: food and rent are becoming increasingly expensive, while salaries remain unchanged.

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