Throughout the world, China has the largest population with about 1,390.08M people residing within these borders and about 57.6% of these people living in urban areas. The other 42.4% live in rural areas, where suicide is the highest in the country (Lorenz 2019). China accounts for 44% of the worlds total suicides and 56% of womens suicide (Law & Pozi 2008). This being said, about 38.3 out of 100 rural chinease women commit suicide each year, compared to about 27.5 out of 100 rural men (Lee 2014). Notice that women have a higher suicide rate compared to men in China. This is very unusual as in many other countries, men have the higher rate of suicide than women. This unusal rate of suicide for women is exactly what I have chosen to focus on using the feminist theorological perspective and my chosen social determinent of health: gender. In China, women’s rate of suicide is much larger than men’s as the gender norms expected of them causes them to develop mental illnesses that are left untreated, leading to suicide.
To start, the feminist theorological persepctive is essentially the study of how gender affects a certain situation, as in this case. This theory was first brought up when it came to the attention of anthropologists that anthropology in a whole was androcentric and there was little to no focus on women. This theory brought in the conversations and questions focused around sexuality, gender, class, etc, making this way of learning and knowing culture so much more advanced (Anderson-Levy 2011). This anthropological theory went through two stages before entering the one it is currently in. The first wave occurred between 1850-1920, where the main goal was to incorporate more women’s voices in endography. During this time, it was uncommon to have a women’s perspective on culture and due to the lack of women in this field, women were rarely heard or recorded. Next, came the second wave which rightfully occured right after the first, between 1920-1980, and was merely focused on seperating gender from sex. Before this time, gender and sex meant the same thing and anthropologists realized that there were more to gender and sex than our specific culture led on. While they were also fighting for this separation, they were also fighting to end the grouping of male/female, as they are not the same. Finally, we have the third wave. This current wave started in 1980 and is still currently going strong as we are still pushing for the acknowledgement of the differences between common categories such as ethnicity, race, class, etc. Instead of just focusing on upper class white women, they are now widening their focus to include all cultures, and all ethnicities (Cacoullos 2001). This being said, these anthropologists are now focusing more on women and the differences among them rather than the differences between only men and women (Dominguez et al. 2017). Furthermore, this theory is perfect to explain why women are committing suicide more often than men in China because of how they are treated differently in their social lives.
Since the beginning of China’s history, women have always been forced into a more dominant position. Being a women in this country already means that you are resided-over by centuries old standards of family and gender roles, so the fact that these women are still being defined by patriarchal views is not surprising. In a patriarchal system, no matter where you are, it is tradition to marry whoever their father wanted, bear children to keep their family tree going, tend to their husbands every wish and need, while also putting their own wants/desires/dreams to rest (Ebrey 2019). Another thing to add is that your social-hierarchy determined what job the father of the household held, who his friends were, and where he lived. With all of that came fame and money, and as you might expect those are things that a typical person might desire, so men fought hard to maintain this social status through marrying their daughters to similar families. Considering this, these women had to sacrifice themselves to maintain this system for the benefit of their family line (Ebrey 2019). Although most of these women are not forced into marring someone anymore, this system is still very prevalent in rural China today, as they are still expected to drop everything and take care of their family and home while also, within the last decade or so, having the expectation to carry a full time job on top of all of these other expectations (Weiyuan 2009). This alone leaves little to no time to focus on their own health; mental or physical. Since the patriarchal system, these women have had little to no choice with what they do with their lives or future. They had to drop everything to get married and preserve their lineage by having children, which resulted in little formal education that made it very hard to get a high paying job, so they are forced into low-paying, pick of the litter disasters (Attane 2012). In 2010, it was reported that 6.6% of women in rural areas still have had no education. 6.6% is a lot considering that the Urban areas only have 3.5% of women uneducated (Attane 2012). This lack of education is mostly due to the pressures that continuously are put onto these chinease women, that make it so they have no time to get said education. However, some women still are allowed to get an education but still about 29.4% of these rural women only have an education up to the primary level. This being said, most of these women work in wool textile factories, restaurants, food stands, etc. where the working conditions are less than bearable (Weiyuan 2009). In the artcile “Women and suicide in rural China”, the author mentions one case in which this woman had so much to deal with, like financial situations, family, health and everything else that is socially expected of a women that she eventually developed manic depression. This depression gave other people a reason to publicically shame her and it became too overwhelming for this one women to handle, that she eventually committed suicide (Weiyuan 2009). Going back to the feminist theory, these expectations that this woman and all chinease women are held up to socially can change their life in negative ways, like put their mental health in a bad state; so bad in which they feel there is no escaping and the only way out is by death. Not to mention, even seeking help for mental health or even putting oneself first leads to being socially ridiculed by their neighbors, in which makes their lives even more unbearable.
Furthermore, this inequality within family life is not the only thing these women are facing on a daily basis that makes it hard for them to fully enjoy their life. This factor would be the expectations regarding beauty. The beauty industry has grown so much in the last few years throughout the country, but it has grown a significant amount in China due to the high consumer income levels and the overall interest in these products. These high consumer income levels are also affecting the plastic surgery industry, leaving China in third place for the highest plastic surgery market (Jung 2018). These increases in these two beauty markets are making it seemingly easier to get caught up in how someone looks like and going to any lengths to achieve said look. Not to mention, the popularity of selfies have taken a part in making the plastic surgery market grow as these women continue to photoshop and pose in different angles that make someone look like the “ideal” woman. In China, alike everywhere, another thing that is shown a lot in the media is how thin a woman should be. This expectation of thinness is only starters for the worst as they are expected to achieve so many other unattainable images. This being said, eating disorders in China have grown a significant amount in the last decade due to the increasing popularity of being slim. This is much different than what the beauty standard for chinease women was decades ago as it used to be having a plump body and a fuller face (Jung 2018). Going back to the patriarchal system that I discussed earlier, Jaehee Jung suggested that this increase in unrealistic body standards may be due to the increased opportunities for women that, in return, have threatened the patriarchal system (2018). Around the world, change is rarely accepted and this change in society in China is no different, and has this patriarchy system going into defensive mode. These unrealistic body images are making it hard for women all around the world to accept themselves for how they look, but in China it has become even harder. It was estimated that women from east asian countries, like China, would be at a lower risk of developing anything related to hating their own body like eating disorders. However, this estimate was very wrong as these women have to deal with the definitions of gender changing, what their own identity is, and the societal pressures of looking a certain way. This pressure to conform to these unrealistic body standards have been in response to the increased power women have been able to acquire throughout the years and with the diminished patriarchal system. (Jung 2018). These expectations regarding beauty are something most men do not have to live with in China, especially in rural China. By thinking about how these women are affected by these beauty standards compared to women in the United States, it gives outsiders an idea of what these women have to deal with on a daily basis based on what is socially accepted at “beautiful”, this makes it hard for these women to be completely mentally healthy and to accept themselves as who they are.
At this point, it has become very clear as to why these women who live in China are choosing to turn to suicide. With all of the societal pressures put on these women, it becomes much harder to focus on themselves or on their health. The combination of these gender expectations regarding beauty and family life makes it hard to focus on their own mental health because they are so focused on how their peers are ridiculing them. This fear of being judged scares everyone into conforming to society, however in China it is much different because of how tight their communities are. According to the feminist theory, the point is to take away the focus on stricktly men and let this focus be turned on women too (Anderson-Levy 2011). This change of focus is in its early stages within China’s society. Although this patriarchy system is still very prevalent in their society, women are starting to be more open with denying these expectations and taking their own control of their life (Jung 2018). This being because there are more and more help centers for battered women opening up within China’s borders. Not many women are using these services currently, but with the hope of focusing more on women’s rights in China, they would use it more often (Weiyuan 2009). To conclude, the feminist perspective gives a helpful insight into why so many women in China are turning to suicide. With the help of gender roles in their society, women are forced to deal with so much pressure that can be very detrimental to one’s health and without the help or focus one one’s self, it can lead to suicide. If these gender roles do not change soon, these suicide rates may even increase in the next few years, resulting in even more loss.
Anderson-Levy, L. (2011, January 11). Feminist Anthropology. Retrieved from https://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199766567/obo-9780199766567-0007.xml
Attane, I. (2012). Being A Women in China Today: A Demography of Gender. Retreived from https://journals.openedition.org/chinaperspectives/6013?file=1
Cacoullos, A. (2001). American Feminist Theory. American Studies International, 39(1), 72-117. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.proxy1.cl.msu.edu/stable/41279790
Dominguez, J., Franks, M., & Boschma, J. H. (2017, April 24). Feminist Anthropology. Retrieved from https://anthropology.ua.edu/theory/feminist-anthropology/
Jung, Jaehee. (2018). Young Women’s Perceptions of Traditional and Contemporary Female Beauty Ideals in China. Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal. 47. 56-72. 10.1111/fcsr.12273.
Law, S., & Liu, P. (2008, February 1). Suicide in China: Unique demographic patterns and relationship to depressive disorder. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11920-008-0014-5#citeas
Lee, H. (2014). Fearless Love, Death for Dignity: Female Suicide and Gendered Subjectivity in Rural North China. The China Journal, (71), 25-42. doi:10.1086/674552
Volker, L. (March 22, 2019) “Topic: China.” Www.statista.com, Retrieved from www.statista.com/topics/753/china/.
Weiyuan. (2009). “Women and Suicide in Rural China.” PubMed Central (PMC). Retrieved from europepmc.org/articles/pmc2789367.