Ask the Yangxifu: Has marriage to a Chinese man changed your feminist views?

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M asks:

I have been reading your blog for some time now and the majority of your female readers are independent, intelligent women whom have (some) “feminist” values/ideas such as equality, rights, freedom of choice.

I would like to know has being married to a Chinese man and to the Chinese “extended family” changed your…“feminist” ( independent ) views? Did you have to change your way of thinking and adapt to situations, traditions, culture that may not share your own ideas and beliefs? Do you accept things in China that you wouldn’t accept back in your own country? If so how did/do you handle this? How does it make you feel?

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I thought about this question for many weeks and could never seem to come up with the right answer. And then I realized the issue here — the thing is, my marriage to John hasn’t really changed my core feminist/independent views all that much.

See, I married a feminist guy who just happens to come from the countryside of Zhejiang, China, as I’ve written before:

Over the years, from dating through marriage, John continued to blast stereotypes about Chinese men, that they’re so sexist. He loved my larger, curvier body in all of its beautiful imperfections, and never suggested I change a thing. During all those times when I was the family breadwinner, he always felt proud of me and my ability to make a living. He grew up in a household where no one hit women and children, and condemned domestic violence in all of its forms. He kept doing the dishes and his share of the housework, and never assigned a gender role to any household chores.

John has always loved me just as I am and always supported me in my endeavors, even when it comes to writing about him and our marriage together. In fact, if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be writing this blog at all!

As for his family, sure, not everyone is as progressive as he is. But that doesn’t mean that I’ve had to somehow change myself to fit their expectations. We can disagree. And if we do, I usually say something to them. It might surprise you, but I find it far easier to speak up in front of his family as opposed to my own in the States. Perhaps it’s because foreigners in China are expected to be a little weird and get a pass when we do things differently. Maybe it’s because I’m speaking to them in a foreign language, which liberates me because it’s not the language I grew up with. And it probably helps that John’s parents (and most of his family) don’t fit those stereotypes of the strict and conservative Chinese family.

Of course, there are things about Chinese culture that, on the surface, seem to clash with feminist/independent views. Take for example the dependency among family members in China and the expectation that children should care for their parents when they’re older. Yet, some families in the US do these things too. My dad invited his father (my grandfather) to spend his final years living together with him, and my aunts and uncles take care of my grandmother so she doesn’t have to stay in a nursing home. As independent and feminist as I am, I still believe these are good values and would want to do the same if John’s parents needed our help.

And ultimately, there’s a difference between understanding a culture and completely overhauling your own views for someone else. It’s important to know and respect your partner’s culture, but that doesn’t mean you have to hide who you are to do it. Otherwise, you’re just dealing with a one-sided relationship and those are usually doomed to fail. Just as I’ve become closer to John’s culture, he’s also become closer to mine — and the whole process has only made our marriage that much stronger. Yet when it comes to our beliefs and our way of thinking, we’re still pretty much the same as we were all those years before when we first met.

Maybe my marriage really is unusual. And maybe to some people I might not seem “independent enough” or even “feminist enough”. But then again, that should tell you that there are no hard or fast rules for cross-cultural marriages in China or even what defines a woman as independent and feminist.

Sometimes, you really can find happily ever after in the most unlikely places in the world. 😉

How about you? How would you respond to this question?

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Do you have a question about life, dating, marriage and family in China/Chinese culture or Western culture? Send me yours today.

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13 thoughts on “Ask the Yangxifu: Has marriage to a Chinese man changed your feminist views?

  • May 16, 2014 at 9:59 am
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    Personally, I have never changed myself nor my views to ‘fit in’ or please anyone. Like John’s family, my husband’s family are very open-minded. Plus, I think it is my independence and ability to speak my mind is what attracted my husband to me in the first place.

    However, when dealing with people in Taiwan in general, I haven’t lost my voice but I have found more acceptable ways to express my opinions and thoughts. For example, when I presented ideas or positive criticism to my previous employers, I would talk about all the positive points and then I would suggest some changes. And most accepted my thoughts and made changes because they realized that it was in the best interest for them and their business.

    Reply
    • May 19, 2014 at 2:53 pm
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      Thanks Constance! Yeah, I think people might be surprised to know that our guys like us just the way we are, because we’re different!

      Reply
  • May 16, 2014 at 11:26 am
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    I like your answer. Japanese men also have a bad name in the dating game – it’s difficult to explain how some of those stereotypes are true for a lot of men, but not ALL men.

    There are exceptions to every rule.

    Reply
  • May 17, 2014 at 2:13 am
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    I sometimes find it hard to understand what “fitting in,” independence and feminism really mean. What is the big thing about “fitting in”? We are not talking about wearing an apparel. In any relationship, whether cross-cultural or not, you have to give and take if you want harmony and peace, not stress and strife. You don’t have to, in fact, you can’t “fit in” to anybody. In fact, you can’t even “fit in” to yourself, if truth be told. Does independence mean that you have to insist on doing things your way and not compromise or that you insist the other guy or gal is wrong or does wrong and you stand to censure and condemn and show your worth? Does being feminist mean that the other must do what you expect him to do because otherwise that’s sexist or perceived to be by those holding the same view as yours? Really, if you do away with the labels, they all boil down to being reasonable in the circumstance and and to live and let live, except where to do so would lead to a lot of pain and dire consequence then, perhaps, you would want to insist on being the labels or acting out your “convictions” Not condemning anyone here really, and certainly not Jocelyn! It just makes me wonder, sometimes, this obsession about seeing things in black and white, about…what have you?

    Reply
    • May 19, 2014 at 2:54 pm
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      Yeah, things are totally not as black and white as we like to frame them. And China is not always the country you think it is!

      Reply
  • May 17, 2014 at 7:48 pm
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    Well, I am traveling in P.R.China right now. I just realized how americanized I am already since I have hard time fitting in Chinese way now. American way is independence. Chinese way is relationship building which is never my favorite part. Depedency is for poor who needs to help each other through all challenges and hard time. Independence is for rich who has all means alone to deal all situations without resorting to friendish or relationship. I am sure things will change when China become wealthy enough.

    Self-actualization needs material wealth as condition. Self-actualizers display independence, few friends, autonomy, which are amazingly signs of perfect introvert. When you are poor, you have no choice but kissing up all kinds of relationships to keep yourself alive.

    Reply
    • May 19, 2014 at 2:55 pm
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      @AG, I can understand your feelings. My husband certainly feels different after his experiences abroad…when you have those experiences, you inevitably change as a person.

      Reply
  • May 19, 2014 at 11:57 am
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    I’m not married, but when I dated a Korean guy, yeah, a lot of changes happened in my life, especially when it comes to the way I think and feel about certain things. One thing I learned from being with a Korean guy is to be okay with the fact that some guys are too shy to be affectionate in public, or that it often takes a Herculean effort for them to disclose what’s wrong. On a more positive note though, being with someone from Korea helped me expand the definition of masculinity and also helped me feel less ashamed of myself, or at least get over the fact that I did like certain feminist movies.

    Hope it helps!

    Reply
    • May 19, 2014 at 2:56 pm
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      That’s great you’ve learned all of these wonderful things from your experiences, Sveta!

      Reply
  • May 20, 2014 at 5:37 am
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    I’ve been asked that question as well, and I always find it a bit funny, because anyone who truly holds a view doesn’t “change it” for other people. I do stick to my core convictions, even when they fly in the face of some Chinese family members views, but I also make efforts to sacrifice some personal preferences to show that I value his family as well.

    When we were first dating, I think my gentle exterior led my husband to believe I was all sweet, and he soon discovered the sass that can come out. But he quickly realized that he admired my brain, and observed that compared to girls he had dated in the past, I was concerned about things other than shopping and going out to eat..that I had convictions, and that was why he loved me more than anyone he’d ever met.

    I think my husband has been in the difficult spot of actually figuring out how to stand by his wife when the culture expects something else…but he has done it, and I’ve come to realize that is a big sacrifice for him to make too.

    Reply
  • July 14, 2014 at 10:05 am
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    Women don’t need to be a “feminist” in the modern world if they have wisdom, morality and isn’t a sloot.

    Reply

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