Should wives be shared or rationed?

Should wives be shared or rationed?

Translated by Atom & Norman for Chuang, from《“团购老婆”好还是“配给分妻”好》by Zheng Churan, known as “Datu” (Giant Rabbit)–one of the five feminists detained for 37 days last spring on the criminal charge of “plotting to incite the disruption of public order.”1 Here Zheng intervenes in the ongoing debate between leftist and rightist men about how to deal with the disparity between numbers of men and women in China, caused by the combination of selective abortion, female infanticide, and elite polygyny after nearly four decades of the state eugenics policy known as “Family Planning.”2 For an English report on this debate, see “China professor’s wife-sharing proposal sparks ire“.

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Chinese economist Xie Zuoshi recently announced that the amount of bachelors in China would soon reach 30 million. Concerned about this national problem, Xie applied economic theory to analyze the situation and reached a conclusion: men with high salaries will ‘obtain’ women (a special commodity) because they can afford the high price. According to this concerned citizen, China’s marriage problem can only be solved by opening the marriage market, ending monogamy, and legalizing polygamy and same-sex marriage. Through these means, Chinese society will be able to maintain stability.

Soon afterwards, Lin Dao published a sarcastic response. His article satirizes the cold-bloodedness of an economic reasoning that treats humans as commodities. Opposed to marketization, he holds the opinion that the full marketization of marriage will lead mothers-in-law to bully poor men, and will mean that only the rich will be able marry while the poor will not. Naturally he has ulterior motives. He does not really care about the institution of marriage; he is calling for macro-economic regulation. He proposes that if people want to live with dignity, the state should treat houses like wives and establish a rationing system that allows each household to own only one house, similar to the laws mandating monogamy.

Because of space limitations, I cannot address all of the absurd points made in these two articles. For example, jumping from one topic to the next, Xie Zuoshi suggests that girls are growing bigger breasts because of hormones, and that the bachelor issue will be addressed by the fact that environmental pollution is causing old men to die early. Lin Dao quips that one benefit of sex reassignment surgeries is that men will be able bear children. I can only point out the essence of this debate: that is, that men are publicly debating one another about how to allocate women, as though women were commodities like houses or cars, in order to realize some grand political ideal originating from either the patriarchal left or the patriarchal right.

In this debate, women are either commodities or rewards. These two articles paint a clear picture for me: the high and mighty neoliberals and the brothers of the oppressed classes are arguing about a commodity called women. The former group says: “No constraints! No monogamy! No laws! Allow rich men to buy several wives! Allow poor men to share a wife by group-purchase!” The latter group fights back by saying, “I am so miserable! You refuse to give me a wife! Brothers, let’s overthrow the tyrant! One female college student for every man!”

You two male commentators should not consider me harsh. If you were the women in the middle of this debate, you would have been cursing long ago. Behind the current imbalanced sex ratio of 30 million bachelors lie 30 million baby girls who died due to sexual discrimination. But somehow everyone is still crying about why “some men can’t find wives”.

Regardless of whether they are talking about sharing wives or rationing them equitably, these commentators are all announcing their demands from a man’s point of view. Throughout this process they have never asked a woman’s opinion, instead urging women: “Just be a good little commodity or reward, that’s enough.”

Why do men want to get married? Don’t talk about love and affection. Suppose women were unwilling to do all the housework, to satisfy men’s sexual desires, to conform to the patriarchal structure of marriage, or to bear children according to the wishes of men’s families. Would rich men or poor men want to get married any more?

In a society dominated by men in politics, economy and culture, neoliberalism treats women as commodities. Through her unpaid housework and reproductive functions, a woman is like a gear in the machine of capitalism. Although her labor is “free”, the machine cannot function without such “free” gears. Therefore, neoliberals use advertising to create the identity of the beautiful, objectified Other; they use subsistence wages that are lower than men’s wages to fuel women’s impetus to work; they use the media to polish the image of women as good middle class wives and mothers. Their aim is to wrap this commodity, woman, in beautiful and functional packaging that will incite “men as consumers and as workers” to compete for her purchase. Men who are not rich enough must work harder, otherwise they won’t be able to afford such a wonderful commodity.

I’m not sure whether the mothers of these neoliberals are all idle middle-class women, but it really seems that they don’t recognize women’s significant contributions to the labor market and low wages, or the fact that the burdens of housework and reproduction fall on women’s shoulders.

Moreover, some of the patriarchal left-wingers seem to view women as a type of reward. “My brothers of the oppressed classes from across the country, come join our struggle for the anti-capitalist paradise. What? You ask about houses? The organization will provide them for you. And wives? They will also be supplied.” But the most terrifying thing may not be this sort of loose theory that “once class issues are resolved, then women’s issues will be solved”, but the fact that in the political strategy of the “brothers of the oppressed classes” there is basically no role for women as “sisters of the oppressed classes”. Women’s needs are considered “basic human needs”, which eventually are simplified as “men’s needs”. If we cannot combine “the liberation of the losers (屌丝)” with gender equality issues, we are in fact pursuing freedom by oppressing women. I am afraid that by following this route we cannot build a communist society where everyone can live with dignity, but a society where only men can live with dignity.

Those brothers of the oppressed classes who are treating women as prizes and criticizing economists who commoditize human beings, can you understand why your mother-in-law forces you to write the name of your wife on the property ownership certificate even though the apartment was bought by your parents? This is because if a woman divorces, the new Marriage Law means that she is completely cleaned out: despite all the household labor she has done, she has no means of going on strike to obtain any form of compensation or social security.3

So even though these male gods may not admit to gender discrimination and may sneer at feminists, from the point of view of “the women who hold up half the sky”, their economic and political demands are extremely childish. The so-called “queer” (酷儿), “diversified” (多元成家) kinship system that they propose is merely a flashy cover-up for a male-dominated system of female slavery. Why do some people still not understand the commonsense claim–being made now for over a hundred years–that women are human beings? They can denounce feminists for using the strength of numbers to besiege male public intellectuals. They can pretend that structural gender inequalities don’t exist. They can roll around on the floor crying about the poor men who can’t find wives.

But they cannot prevent feminists from bursting, one by one, all of their abscessed efforts to objectify woman.

They cannot prevent a unified feminist movement from criticizing all those grand ideas that ignore the rights of women.

They cannot keep women awakened by feminism from taking action, shattering their fantasies, and pulling them back to a reality where they must acknowledge that women are not objects for them to buy or allocate.

 

—Datu

 


Chuang notes:

 

  1. See “Free the Women’s Day Five! Statements from Chinese workers & students,” “Gender War & Social Stability in Xi’s China: Interview with a Friend of the Women’s Day Five,” and “How “feminism” became a household word this Spring Festival.”
  2. On the eugenic nature of China’s “Family Planning” policy (misleadingly known as “the One-Child Policy” in the West), see “The Corporeal Politics of Suzhi” by Ann Anagnost.
  3. In her recent book, Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China, Leta Hong Fincher describes how a new judicial interpretation of China’s Marriage Law establishes that if a spouse’s name is not on the property deed, they don’t have any claim to the marital property in the event of a divorce. Combined with the widely held view that men should be the (titular) providers of the marital house (even if the wife and her family have helped to finance the purchase of the house), this means that many women are left with no assets if they divorce. Hong Fincher claims that this interpretation of the Marriage Law has helped to shut Chinese women out of “the biggest accumulation of real estate wealth in history”.

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