What everyone, in the East and the West, has to learn about women and ageing

South China Morning Post 發布於 2019年11月11日13:11 • Luisa Tam luisa.tam@scmp.com
  • Chinese culture can be sexist, as shown in attitudes to unmarried women past their 20s
  • But recent reactions to Keanu Reeves’ choice of girlfriend prove sexism and ageism are hardly unique to one place
Hollywood superstar Keanu Reeves (right) is dating Alexandra Grant (left). Photo: AFP

When I recently came across a news report that a mother in eastern China was caught beating her 30-year-old daughter with an iron bar because she had not married, leaving her bruised and bleeding, I was shocked but not all that surprised.

Women in China and, to a certain extent, Chinese communities the world over, are often made to feel like failures and sometimes physically abused if they are not married in their 20s or past their ideal childbearing age between late 20s and early 30s. This age range is considered the best time to get pregnant as it is associated with the best outcomes for both the mother and her baby.

When the mother in the news story was arrested for investigation, she justified her actions by telling police she beat her daughter and "not other people". Her response was indicative of the customary belief that children are the property of their parents, and sometimes even seen as an investment to support parents financially after retirement.

Women who remain single " either by choice or fate " are sometimes considered a financial loss by Chinese parents, especially when they are still living at home.

The oranges at the bottom of the basket, a degrading Cantonese phrase. Photo: Shutterstock

Some colloquial Cantonese phrases for unmarried women are rather degrading because they imply single women are worthless and hence not wanted by men. Some of the better-known ones are "sip zou laa" or "lo dai caang".

Sip means to wedge, zou is kitchen, and laa means cracks. It is rather insulting because it implies that a person is only worthy to fill the cracks in a kitchen.

The phrase "lo dai caang" is just as bad, as lo dai means the bottom of a basket and caang is orange. The phrase means "an orange at the bottom of a basket". In other words, it means they are leftovers.

The general status of women may have improved in China and Chinese communities over the years, due to efforts and increased commitment towards gender equality. Nonetheless, Chinese society is still predominantly patriarchal and patrilineal.

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Traditional Chinese belief dictates that it is a woman's life mission to bear and raise children, and take care of her family and husband. Basically, her success is measured by the success of her husband and children.

Older women often find themselves invisible or irrelevant, and this diminishes their so-called social currency.

In today's culture, in both East and West, mature women grudgingly find themselves being "erased" from society, which equates youth and beauty with value. Hence older women are viewed as a burden and sidelined and told they are best not to be seen prominently or, worse, not at all.

Women always have a sharp awareness of ageing and are extremely sensitive to the dismissive and cruel social mindset that equates women growing old with weakness, helplessness, and unattractiveness.

Sadly, even women occasionally perpetuate this harmful mindset, that goes against the movement for a more positive conversation about women and ageing.

Women should resist succumbing to society's harsh and unrealistic beauty standards. They should not fall prey to the pressure placed upon them to be youthful and conventionally attractive to be worthy of love, attention, and success

A recent example to illustrate this point is when an avalanche of comments appeared across various social media outlets regarding the revelation that Hollywood superstar Keanu Reeves is dating a silver-haired 46-year-old, Alexandra Grant. Most of the comments were aimed at Grant's age or expressed surprise that Reeves didn't have a younger woman on his arm.

Some mocked Reeves' choice of girlfriend by saying they mistook the visual artist for Helen Mirren, who is 74 years old.

Despite both women being attractive, there is a certain degree of sexism and ageism involved, and many of the unkind comments came from women.

In the public arena, we have begun to see more older women showing how comfortable they are in their own skin by appearing in their natural grey hair with no "tweakments" such as Botox. We should applaud them for living by their own standards, in their own ways, and by their own truths like Grant.

Women should resist making other women feel inadequate and vulnerable, Luisa Tam writes. Photo: Shutterstock

Women should resist succumbing to society's harsh and unrealistic beauty standards. They should not fall prey to the pressure placed upon them to be youthful and conventionally attractive to be worthy of love, attention, and success.

Women especially should resist making other women feel inadequate and vulnerable. Instead we should stand together to denounce such outdated and despicable sex and age discrimination.

Women should resist feeling obliged to meet other people's standards of beauty and their self-worth should not be measured by such standards perceived and projected by others including the mass and social media.

But women, on the other hand, should stop resisting being true to themselves. They should hold their heads high " be seen, heard, and shine. And that is the right way to age.

Luisa Tam is a correspondent at the Post

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