This semester my work focused mainly on China and the gender-based issues that have led to high levels of domestic violence against women. Domestic violence, also called domestic abuse and intimate partner violence, classifies as any physical, psychological or sexual abuse taking place in the home (Tam, et al. 2016). In China, nearly 90% of domestic violence cases are a result of men abusing women (Lancet, 2016) and around 40% of women report experiencing domestic violence. Unfortunately, this number is thought to be much higher especially in rural areas as well as due to underreporting (Leggett, 2017). A long history of oppressing females, their bodies and their rights, coupled with men being built up as the superior sex, has resulted in layers upon layers of gender bias deeply rooted into the Chinese society. The use of the feminist theory and a timeline of social, political, cultural and economic events that have led to this human rights issue, including Chinese footbinding, a completely male dominated political sector, men as the main source of income, and refusal of government intervention against the issue, will be discussed in greater detail below to explain why China is still facing such a high prevalence of domestic violence against women.
With the Song Dynasty in thirteenth century China, came the desirable elite practice of footbinding; both a rite of passage into womanhood and higher status, and a major event in the continued suppression of women’s rights. Footbinding took place around the age of five and made it so a girl would not be able to work in the fields, helping to support her family’s income due to the pain and limitations caused by it. Before the process was complete, the toes and feet would need to be broken and rebound many times into smaller and smaller shoes with the desired size of a grown woman being a 3-inch foot (Forman, 2015). According to lecture, at this time small feet were seen as an exotic symbol that suggested a woman would be obedient and faithful to not only a man, but his family. In middle class families, often one girl would be selected to get her feet bound while the others would be needed for their work in the field. This was often their invitation to climb up the social latter, as it would qualify their daughter for a man of better rank. Although at this time no one was questioning the social structure in China, the hierarchy that still effects women today was already an unquestionable part of life. The Ming and Qing dynasties that followed represented a time of complete male power, where men ran the political, legal, education and economic sectors in china while women did housework such as cooking, cleaning and needlepoint (Wasserstrom 2018).
Fast forward to 1979 when the one child policy was put in place to help halt China’s rapidly growing population. This was strictly enforced in urban areas, and less dense rural areas were sometimes more lenient allowing a second child after five years. Generally, birth ratio is somewhere between 1.03 to 1.07 men to women worldwide. After the implementation of the one child policy, the male to female ratio in China was all the way up to 1.17 to 1.3 depending on location and said to be due to selective abortions and infanticide of girls (Hesketh, Lu & Xing, 2005). It is widely known today that there is said to be over 55 million more males than females and China’s one child policy is partially to blame for this. In China, men are often seen as more valuable to the family dynamic because of their laborious abilities and their duties to take care of their elderly parents later in life (Wall, n.d.). If we stop now to use the feminist theory, we can see that females and males have had very separate roles throughout China’s history. Males were seen as having more important duties such as running the legal and educational sectors and taking care of their parents and grandparents when they got old (Wall, n.d). This separation of roles and duties was seen at not only a national level, but also a family and individual level and has resulted in a hierarchy favoring men as the superior sex.
Throughout history, domestic violence against women in China was seen as a normal part of life that was to be accepted or dealt with privately in a marriage until 2001, when it became a valid reason for divorce (Lancet, 2016). Prior to 2015, domestic violence cases were still seen as a private affair that was death with in the home. In 2015, laws were put into way that banned domestic violence in female-male marital relationships. All other non-marital or same sex relationship are to be dealt with privately without government intervention (Leggett, 2017). Going back to the feminist theory, it now becomes clear that the political sector has also played a large role regarding the acceptance of domestic abuse against women. As stated earlier, for many years men single handedly ran the legal system when domestic abuse was considered completely acceptable (Wasserstrom 2018), how are women supposed to find a voice when the only people that would have been able to help them, were against them? Even today women still struggle to find their voice, often called ‘the spiral of silence.’ This stems from common ideals that the peace and status quo should not be disturbed, taboo topics of sorts often are kept quiet in fear of unacceptance and refute. The underreporting of domestic abuse cases can also in part be attributed to this (Leggett, 2017). Women continue to have little political power in decisions that most affect them as they still hold very few positions in office today (UN Women, n.d.). This becomes a large political and cultural issue, not only surrounding domestic abuse cases but for other women’s issues as well.
The third wave of the feminist anthropological theory focuses not only on gender to explain gender inequities but also other groupings such as class, race, and ethnicity to further understand how other categories influence gender inequality (Dominguez, Franks, & Boschma, n.d). Intersectionality can also be tied into this discussion due to its ability to explain how overlapping identities such as gender and class both impact experiences of domestic abuse in China in different ways depending on each factor (Carastathis, 2014). For example, a female in China is much more likely to experience domestic abuse in their lifetime than a male (Lancet, 2016), but a female of lower class is often more likely to experience domestic abuse than a female of the upper class (Leggett, 2017). In addition to class, there are many other subgroupings that intersect and contribute to intimate partner violence such as stress, demographic, education level, income of each partner and relationship/marriage satisfaction. For example, one study showed that lower class men that were unsatisfied with their relationship were five times more likely to initiate intimate partner violence than those that were satisfied (Chen, Yu, Luo & Huang, 2016). As well as the many predictions that rural areas face a higher prevalence of domestic violence (Leggett, 2017). Using the third wave of the feminist anthropological theory and intersectionality allows us to better understand this gender-based issue when using sub groupings such as class, education, stress, relationship satisfaction and demographic and how they all intersect and intermingle (Carastathis, 2014). Social gradient in many ways can explain domestic violence prevalence; with those on the lower end of the spectrum in any subgrouping often at the highest risk for domestic violence.
Not only is domestic violence a human rights issue, but it is also a public health issue due to the fact there are often many short and long-term negative health consequences involved with victims of domestic violence. Somewhere between 45-84% of domestic violence victims face post-traumatic stress disorder. They are also much more likely to experience depression, lower self-esteem, psychological distress and trauma (Levendosky & Graham-Bermann, 2001). These issues often manifest into physical ailments and a need for isolation. Suicide is also a large issue for females in China, with most suicide attempts by women occurring directly after an incident of intimate partner violence and being an impulsive decision (Yanqiu, Yan & Lin, 2011). A history and current issue of millions of women experiencing intimate partner violence is thus a serious public health issue for many reasons. Research has shown that more extreme cases of domestic violence lead to more severe health impacts and some cases can even result in intergenerational trauma faced by future generations (Chen, Yu, Luo & Huang, 2016). This could in part explain the negative impacts experienced by children in households with domestic abuse including: decreased self-esteem, decreased social skills, increased behavioral problem, depression, aggression, PTSD and fear. Other reasons for this include experiencing the abuse first hand and a decrease in good parenting due to the abuse (Levendosky & Graham-Bermann, 2001).
Dominguez’s feminist anthropology article makes it clear that the Marxist and structuralist model of the feminist theory have proven that the oppression of women is not an inherent part of life and even centuries of gender inequality could not ingrain this into humans (Dominguez, Franks, & Boschma, n.d). Postmodern feminist perspectives agree that all knowledge and understanding is socially and culturally constructed (Allen, 2011). This being said, the severe gender inequalities that have been engrained into Chinese society and culture, with time could change. Going back to the issue of Chinese footbinding, several factors contributed to its demise which could help to end domestic abuse in China today. During the beginning of the 19thcentury, the practice was still very prevalent but towards the end of the Qing dynasty Westerners began moving into the country. With them, they brought their unacceptance of the practice at which time it began to fade. The practice ended soon after Mao Zedong took control of China (Schiavenza, 2013). Although this did not sever the gap of gender discrepancies, it did completely change the public’s view on a very prevalent and important practice in China at the time. This shows that with a change in perspective, moderately quick changes can be made to an entire nations views surrounding a prevalent issue. Unfortunately, in China women still do not hold many political positions and therefore do not have as much power as they should in the laws that most affect them (UN Women, n.d.). Any changes, would need to occur first with the people in order to push changes on a political level. In order to end domestic abuse, women need to become more comfortable talking about and sharing their experiences by making them a public issue. This includes the need to stop the spiral of silence. A big problem that is stopping this is the gender hierarchy that is present not only in China, but many countries around the world, even if it is on a much smaller scale in some countries. Online platforms which already exist are a great key for domestic abuse discussions because they do not require people to necessary show their faces or give away their identities. With support, abuse victims might be able to find the courage more frequently to leave a partner who is abusive in any way – psychologically, physical or sexually. If domestic violence were to be framed as a human rights issue rather than a women’s issue, it might be taken more seriously in China, regardless of continued gender bias.
China’s patriarchal history proves itself time and time again. With nearly all domestic violence cases being against women (Lancet, 2016), they have long accepted a fate that in a relationship abuse is often an undeniable factor. Throughout China’s history, female bodies and rights have been put at the fate of men and their desires. This behavior was encouraged by not only society but their families, even as young girls. The feminist theory and intersectionality explain how women’s lives have been overcome by intersecting systems of oppression based on other factors such as class, for as long as we can date back. Whether that be through footbinding, domestic abuse, poor job availability, or holding little to no political power, being a female has many limitations that often vary depending on social class, education, demographic, wages, and relationship status. Feminist theory also makes it obvious that nearly every piece of China’s history has contributed to its current issues facing women’s rights, as men have never suffered in the same way as women and have always held the power. In order for the issue of domestic violence to improve, women need to band together, in person or on social platforms, to share their stories and frame domestic abuse as a human rights issue. Hopefully then, more and more women can have the courage to leave their abusive partners.
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