Rejecting the “Leftover Women” Label

As the market in China grows more competitive due to a surplus of men, some Chinese single ladies are starting to challenge the label of “leftover women”, a term used to describe unmarried women in their late twenties. From Didi Kirsten Tatlow at the New York Times:

“It’s really annoying,” said Wang Man, 31, an employee of a poverty relief N.G.O. in Beijing. “By now though, I don’t care, as I think there’s a plot behind it. It’s an admonishment to women, it’s telling us what to do, where and when. Everyone is trying to get us to sacrifice ourselves, to look after children, husbands, old people.”

[...A]s a result, partly, of the increasingly defiant attitudes of women like Ms. Liu and Ms. Wang toward a term that many still find terribly hurtful, a riposte to “” has been born — and it’s a clever one. Yes, they’re saying, we’re “shengnu.” But that’s “sheng” as in “victorious,” not “leftover.”

[...] “We should have the right to choose what we want to do. So do we really need such a power-filled word as ‘victorious’ to describe something so normal?”

Ms. Wang agreed. “I’ve heard of it and I think it’s O.K., but I don’t think it’s a question of victory or defeat,” she said. “It’s just a way of life. If I had to choose, though, I’d tend toward ‘victorious’ for sure. Still, it all feels a bit tiring.”

Meanwhile, some people argue that even though the surplus of men has pushed up the cost of marriage, the gender imbalance might not necessarily empower women. From Louisa Lim at National Public Radio:

Nowadays, 70 percent of Chinese women believe a man should provide an apartment, along with a marriage offer, according to a 2011 survey. In economic terms, the relative scarcity of women is giving them bargaining power. These women’s demands are making China’s economy grow even faster.

[...] But some argue that women aren’t necessarily benefiting. Leta Hong Fincher is writing a book on gender and home ownership in China. She believes women are being excluded from what may be the biggest accumulation of real estate wealth in history.

“There are three main ways in which I argue that women have been shut out of the accumulation of real estate wealth: the first is that parents tend to buy homes for sons, not daughters; the second is that homes tend to be registered in men’s names only; the third is that women often transfer their life savings over to the man to finance the purchase of a marital home, which is then often registered solely in the man’s name,” she says.

See more on women’s rights, “leftover women,” and gender imbalance, via CDT.