The Curious Case of Career Women in China - OZY | A Modern Media Company

The Curious Case of Career Women in China

The Curious Case of Career Women in China

By Meghan Walsh

SourceChristian Kempin/Getty


Equal pay is equal pay is equal pay is equal pay.

By Meghan Walsh

Comparing women’s rights in the U.S. with women’s rights in China is an exercise in apples and oranges. Even so, China’s very first gender-injustice case has taken place, with the government settling. Progress? Maybe, maybe not. A little over a year later and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a bipartisan advisory group, has found that:


of recent female college grads say there is still gender discrimination in the job search process.

Not surprised? Well, the whole thing is a lot more complicated than you might think. 

First, there’s the blatant nature of the discrimination. LOL level. Job ads specify they want tall, single and young (no older than 25) women for “pink collar” roles, aka secretaries. Men only, of course, for experienced or supervisory jobs. “They don’t hide it. It’s explicit,” says Peter Kuhn, a UC Santa Barbara professor who did a study that showed 10 percent of job postings state a sex preference. Women also earn less and are required to have higher qualifications than men. China actually does have laws barring employment discrimination on the basis of gender. It just rarely enforces them. Indeed, in gender-equality rankings, China comes in at 87 out of 142 countries. 

So what’s wrong with China’s women? Why don’t they act up? It’s the year 2015, more than five decades after Title VII of the Civil Rights Act barred sex discrimination in the states (although we said we weren’t going to compare). Here’s the catch: Chinese society brands unmarried, educated lady city dwellers as sheng nu — leftover women. Sweet! And this sobriquet isn’t a gift from Chinese frat boys. It started with the government, the same one with those anti-discrimination laws. State-run media started using the term in 2007 as fears began to ratchet up over the country’s gender imbalance — the result of selective abortions and infanticide during China’s three-decade-plus, one-child policy. Now there is an estimated 20 million male surplus. 

“There is this dual situation; women are making gains and at the same time they have lost ground,” says Cara Wallis, a communications professor at Texas A&M, who has studied gender dynamics in China. So basically, women in China have to choose: Fight for a career and get branded as a “leftover,” or marry and stay home and abandon your career. Is there a door No. 3?


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