Gender Notes: A Short Note About China

February 8, 2015

It’s always hard to figure out what the hell is going on in China. It was clear at the 2008 Olympics there was a China the government wanted the world to see and then there was whatever existed behind the curtain. Even with the rush of western money (not only are Walmart products made in China there are over 100 Walmart stores in China), it’s still hard to get a clear picture here.

This is especially true of gender roles in China.

There’s been several stories about how great the new Chinese economy is for women, smashing the glass ceiling. A 2013 survey of over 6000 Chinese companies found that 51% of senior management was female. Stories about China having more female billionaires than anyplace on Earth. I doubt that was what communist leader Mao meant when he said, “Women hold up half of the sky.” But then again, China is a long way from Marx’s vision of a communist utopia.

When westerners visit big cities, they do report seeing large numbers of women in the workforce. (According to Chinese government data, about 74% of women work, the same as the United States). The problem is China is still mostly an agrarian society and women working on a farm are probably not as “empowered” as woman working at a Walmart. (That’s such a sad statement.)

Chinese culture is one of the oldest continuous cultures on earth (after India, if I remember my freshman World History class accurately), so you could say gender roles are heavily entrenched. There is is still favoritism of boys over girls and husbands over wives, but despite Conservative claims about Chinese-Americans aborting female babies there is evidence that Chinese female fetuses are not aborted at a higher rate here or in China. Chinese maternal health law prohibits ultrasounds being used to establish the sex of the fetus to prevent female infanticide. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

The emerging issue seems to be how those ancient gender roles are re-emerging in the growing cities. There is a new shaming of single women who have not gotten married. They are referred to as sheng nü, or “leftover women.” There is a new book out by a young researcher named Leta Hong Fincher called Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China that explores this trend.

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The themes remind me of the work of Susan Faludi in her works Backlash and The Terror Dream. We can can’t assume we are on a straight path to gender equality. It’s more like a pendulum, that women’s advancement brings with it a push back to the “good old days” of oppression. Just check out the latest propaganda from ISIS or the 700 Club.

I’ve told my students to keep an eye on China. The American Century is over. World Systems Theory predicts that China will be the next global top dog. The culture (including ideas about gender) that we’ve been exporting to the world for the last 100 years could be replaced by the Chinese culture we import.

This is the world my daughter will grow up in. Will concern over leftover women replace concern over thigh gaps here? And how are the women and girls of China advancing (or not) in this global economy? I think Fincher’s book will be a good place to start.

I’m interested on what people who know more than I about contemporary gender roles in China. Please feel free to comment.

The following books were mentioned in this post. You can buy them from Powell’s through this blog. Just click on the covers below to go to the site.

The Great Breast Milk Secret. Dad’s on the Boob!

January 16, 2015 This blog is what happens when two much loved things come together, breasts and milk. Sorta like Reece’s Peanutbutter Cups.

There is a massive movement afoot (or abreast) and it’s exciting to see. England and the US have been hit with a wave of “Nurse-Ins,” as women protest Victorian views about breastfeeding. Babies have to be fed on a regular basis, and sometimes that’s when mom is in a restaurant or even an Anthropologie store in Beverly Hills. And if you tell her she can’t (because some funky hang-up you should talk to a therapist about), be prepared for an army of moms to show up, armed with babies and mammaries.

Breast-Feeding Moms Protest Nursing Incident at Anthropologie in Beverly Hills

For most of the 20th Century women were shamed away from breastfeeding. That was something that “primitive” women (i.e., not white) did, who didn’t have access to all that awesome baby formula. (Gee, who profited from that idea?) But now the evidence is clear, breast is best. Breast milk builds all kinds of healthy immunities and baby brains and dozens of other benefits for both mother and child. (Sorry Enfamil, Incorporated.)

101 Reasons to Breastfeed Your Child

So it’s a new day. Universities and workplaces have “lactation stations” where women can nurse and pump. Target has a whole row of breastfeeding supplies so women can pump the good stuff without ever missing a single post on Facebook.

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But there is another part of the story that is still taboo and I’m here to break it; Breast milk is not just for babies. Google shows lots of searches for “Is it OK to breastfeed your husband?” Apparently everyone is asking about it but no one is actually talking about it. When the topic comes up, you are obligated to say, “Ew!” or “No way!” or “That milk is for the baby!” Go ahead, do it. Get it out of your system now. The reality is partners are slurping up mama’s milk for a whole bunch of reasons other than pervy ones.

Obviously, there is an erotic element. When you think about it as an anthropologist (the scientists not the store employees), it’s pretty bizarre how western culture has festishized the breast. I mean, really, their primary function is to feed children but we use them to sell burgers at Carl’s Jr.. As Abby Epstein’s wonderful 2014 documentary, Breastmilk, discusses, there’s an entire sub-genre of “lactation porn” featuring women spraying the way men spray in traditional hard core porn. (I have no idea what these films are titled. How to Train Your Dairyman 2?) But people who are intimate enough to conceive a child should be allowed to mix it up with bodily fluids in the privacy of their own barn. I mean, bedroom.

Of course, all the health benefits the baby receives can help the partner as well. (I have not had the flu this year.) However, there are concerns because breast milk has a high fat content to help the baby grow, so you might have to hit the gym if you are slipping breast milk into your coffee. Breast milk also has about six times the cholesterol of cow’s milk. That’s good for the baby but might not be good for you (unless you own stock in Lipitor).

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The main reason for writing this piece (besides completely outing myself as now having an elevated cholesterol level), is that partners can REALLY help nursing moms by going on the tit. As we learned in our lactation class before Cozy was born, breastfeeding can be a lot harder than hippies make it look. And a good partner (husband, wife, boyfriend, local hobo) can really make the process a whole lot easier.

The first issue is helping with blocked milk ducts. This is going to happen a lot early on. And baby is not happy when there is no food coming down the pike. So, unless a woman in the rare position (physically and statistically) to fix this herself, Dad needs to get to work. Most people know how to suck a breast, even if they haven’t done it since they were a month old. So a good hard sucking session is going to bust up that roadblock and everybody in the house will be happy. I’m not going to say who will be the happiest. (Mom, you weirdo.)

Secondly, partners can help get the milk flowing for the baby. Sometimes baby is not willing to do the work to get the milk to let down and so, again, help is required. Some women can have a milk letdown with good Usher slow jam or an old YouTube videos of John & Kate Plus 8, but a more patient mouth usually does the trick. It’s for your family, for God’s sake.

Third is the issue of engorgement (which should be the best death metal band name ever. “We’ve got tickets to see Cannibal Corpse and Engorgement!”) Look, the milk is coming whether there is a baby on one of the nipples or not. A full breast may look “porn star,” but it can be painful, so be a good egg and help out, will ya. Momma is leaking while you are driving to a rare date night dinner? Pull the damn car over and relieve some of the pressure. No court in the land will convict you. I wouldn’t suggest doing this in a restaurant or movie theater, but in an alley behind a restaurant or movie theater is perfectly helpful (and, hot).

Of course, there is also the “pump and dump” matter. Occasionally, moms like to treat themselves to a glass of wine. Or a case of Fosters. That boozy milk has got to go somewhere besides baby. It’s not exactly like suckling White Russians, but you can always pretend that you are belly up to mother nature’s bar. Hiccup.

I know all this is “weird” to talk about. We don’t even have a term for it, it’s so taboo. “Partner nursing” seems wrong. I know I play a role in helping my wife get her supply up which helps her and our baby. It’s also an intimate bond between two parents who shouldn’t be shamed just like breastfeeding in general shouldn’t be shamed. I’ve really had enough of the Orwellian Sex Police who want to shame consenting adults. So maybe this is the next movement. A celebrity could come out as a proud “Lactation Dad.” (I’d like to nominate Kanye West.) There could be partner nursing workshops, sponsored by Lipitor. Let’s end the silence and enjoy the experience. Until then, I’ll just say, “Ew!”

Cozy’s dad is on TV again.

December 18, 2014

I’m getting good at doing things with a baby on my man-hip. I’m not sure if peeing should be one of them. I am definitely not an expert in child rearing. I have Facebook for that.

When Andrea was pregnant, I felt like I was the first person to ever have this idea, reproducing. Having a kid. Apparently, women have been having babies for decades. Nearly 6000 years, according to some Christians. That’s a long time! The point is that, as it turns out, I have a bunch of friends in Portland and on-line that are experts.

I do hold some expertise on some topics. As a criminologist and sociologist with a PhD, there is a whole range of topics I can offer perspective on. I was live on KATU this morning talking about the Kim Jong Un/Seth Rogan Sony international crisis. I talked to KGW on the subject yesterday. Live interviews are always more fun. I got to say, “We spend trillions on the war on terrorism and with just one vague threat, America folds like a cardtable after a poker game” on live TV. I practiced that line so I wouldn’t say that America folded like a poker game, which half-way makes sense but requires a working knowledge of poker.

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Usually, I’m the “hate crime” guy. I’ve done a million interviews on the subject, from 60 Minutes to Good Morning America. I’ve been on shows from Gangland to (my favorite) The Sally Jesse Raphael Show (Hey, it was a free trip to NYC. And yes, I was hung over on the show.). My mom Googled me once and called me in horror finding all the hits that were connected to hate groups. “Those people really hate you,” she said. Believe me, I know.

If you’ve got a mass murder, serial killer, gang activity, terrorist bombing, police or school shooting, I’m your man. You can call me the professor of mayhem. When the news is bad and you need two more minutes to fill your newscast, call me. You know I’m good for a soundbite that will link today’s tragedy to the “big picture.” I know the research and the academic language but let me try to frame it so Joe the Plumber, who probably lives in the right-wing of society, can process it.

Now, let me say, I say “no” to lots of interviews. Even more now that I’m “with child.” I learned my lesson after a local news station asked me about a dead cat on a railroad track and the chyron below my talking head said, “Randy Blazak, Voodoo Expert.” There are lots of people at Portland State who are experts on topics I can only Google, so I often say, “Call Professor So and So in the Psychology Department. She knows more about this than me.”

[FULL DISCLOSURE: Driving into KATU at 5:30 this morning, they were discussing the Sony hack on NPR and compared it to the US hack of Iranian nuclear power plants in 2010. When I got to the green room, I Wiki’ed Stuxnet and worked it into my interview a few minutes later, like I had a big fucking brain. Expert!]

Society has an over-reliance on experts who supposedly know something more than the common schmo. I do read the research and obsess about data and so I might have some insight on something. But, personally, what I am trying to do is offer a critical perspective of power and institutions that has disappeared from the mainstream media. I can put a tie on and get a few lines in about institutional racism and maybe Joe the Plumber will think, “Yeah, that makes sense.”

Where I try to do this the most is around discussions of gender. Viewers do not expect a radical feminist perspective to be coming from a white guy in a corduroy jacket. I can use the authority of my privilege like a Trojan Horse to at least make allusions to patriarchy and destructive forms of masculinity.

After one horrific school shooting, I was live on KPTV. I turned to the camera and channelled my friend, Jackson Katz, and said, “I want all the viewers watching this to imagine that all these school shootings had been done by girls instead of boys. Don’t you think every newscast in the nation would be talking about gender right now?” There was a lot of positive response from female viewers. (One male commenter called me a “college pussy.”)

I hope this expertise is of some value to my daughter. Not that her dad is on TV all the time, but that he has something to say about power. There is value in speaking truth to power, even if you are not an “expert.” And it should never be a one-sided conversation. That would be me if I was a preacher.

Talk Box: Sociology Professor Randy Blazak on Ferguson