Chapter 10: A melon forced off its vine is not sweet – Part 4

While understandable, the inclination of women to wait until they have found an eligible part­ner within their own occupational and income bracket comes with the non-negligible peril to be left with no man at all. Therefore, hypergyny is always a bit of a gamble where the bachelorette expects (or hopes) to get a better mate than the ones she had met before. For her, the biggest risk is that of becoming so picky that she wastes time that she could other­wise be spending in procreation. She will probably prefer to date a wealthy man, even if the possibility of marriage is fairly dim. She wants that Prince Charming “who is gene­rous and sweet and faithful but who also drives a Maserati”[1], and might wait for him for quite a while. She expects the perfect partner to come along, but all she gets is older. Assu­ming that men seek fertility more than anything else, her chance of finding what she wants is getting slimmer and slimmer with every day passing, the availability of cosmetics and plastic surgery notwithstanding. Many males nowadays still follow their instincts of setting youth and beauty as their top criteria for partner selection. This may not be politi­cally cor­rect, but it is more often than not the only right thing to do in the survival game. Thus, for every man she lets slip, she loses a valuable reproductive opportunity. This is a choice that may not affect her while she is young, but it could haunt again her later, potentially at a time when her health and physical capabilities have passed their zenith.

So what happens if she turns thirtysomething, is financially independent, but has no child? Is she going to stay single or rather drop her standards and go for a poor, possibly ugly man who is a sure thing? Since males themselves are relatively unconcerned about their target’s socio-economic condition when choosing mates, high-status men can make their pick from a large pool of candidates consisting of both low and high-status women. This spurs an intense rivalry among the members of both groups.[2] Setbacks or disappointments, such as a series of rejections or an insufficient number of opportunities, may prompt fears of being squeezed out of the marriage market, triggering thoughts and reactions similar to those described in the Kübler-Ross’ model of Five Stages of Grief:[3],[4]

  • Denial: “This cannot be happening, not to me”; “There is no way that a high-quality woman like me cannot find her Mr. Right”;
  • Anger: “That pizza face will get married next month, and I am still single? Something is wrong here!”; “How could this ever happen to me?”;
  • Bargaining: “I look so old now; if I only could just do something to turn back the hands of time…”; “Ok, it was I who dumped him, but I’ll do anything to get him back”; “Mark was a jerk at that time, but I really should have accepted when he proposed to me”;
  • Depression: “I’m already old, why bother with anything?”; “Nobody wants me anyway so what’s the point… What’s the point?”; “I miss my ex, and now he is happily married to another woman… Why did I not fight more for our love? Why?”;
  • Acceptance: “Even if I have to stay single for my whole life, everything is going to be okay.”; “I can’t force any guy to like me anyway it, so why bother”; “I don’t need a man, I am independent, have a great job, lots of friends, a fantastic niece, two cute puppies… And now I am going to have some ice cream to compensate!”

While choosiness undeniably has positive effects, it also has the power to set off a vicious cycle of endless frustration, to which not even the prettiest and most achieving woman remains unaffected. While the first defeats are easily swallowed, the second and third ones may lead to doubt about her own worth. Angst kicks in, while her self-esteem takes the next blow. At that moment, she may face the temptation to lower her baseline. If she does and chooses a suboptimal can­didate, she confronts the risk to be unhappily married. If inversely, she prefers to persist on her quest, the spiral may go on and on, ending in what some parents consider the worst scenario of all for their children (at least for some women): Eternal singledom.

 

Related proverbs and citations:

宁可高傲地发霉,不去卑微地恋爱

níng kĕ gāo ào dì fă méi, bù qù bēi wēi dì liàn ài

It’s better to rot with dignity than to love in shame.

 

花有重开日,人无再少年

huā yŏu chóng kāi rì, rén wú zài shào nián

Flowers may bloom again, but a person never has the chance to be young again.

 

歲月不留人

suì yuè bù liú rén

Time and tide wait for no man.

No one is so powerful that they can stop the march of time.

 

岁月不饶人

suì yuè bù ráo rén

Age and time have mercy on no man.

Equivalent to “Time and tide wait for no man”.

 

饥不择食

jī bù zé shí

The starving can’t choose their meals.

Beggars can’t be choosers.

If you request something to be given you should not question what you are given.

 

皇帝不急太监急没用

huáng dì bù jí tài jiān jí méi yòng

The Emperor taking his time is just as useless as a eunuch rushing things.

The onlooker is more anxious than the player.

 

女人20多岁像足球,30多岁像蓝球,40多岁像乒乓球,50多岁像高尔夫球

nǚ rén èr shí duō suì xiàng zú qiú, sān shí duō suì xiàng lán qiú, sì shí duō suì xiàng pīng pāng qiú, wŭ shí duō suì xiàng gāo ĕr fū qiú

A popular joke in which women in their 20s are compared to a football (because more than a dozen guys are running after it), in their 30s to a basketball (still chased after but by a reduced number of players), in their 40s to a ping-pong ball (only two men are left), and in their 50s to a golf ball (the further you hit it, the better).

 


Notes

[1]    Cited in: Townsend (1998), p. 124

[2]    Townsend (1998), p. 84

[3]    Kübler-Ross (1969)

[4]    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%C3%BCbler-Ross_model

Chapter 10: A melon forced off its vine is not sweet

You can lead a horse to the water, but you can't make it drink

强扭的瓜不甜
qiáng niǔ de guā bù tián

Given its very nature as a proverb, this expression must have been around for a very long time.[1] However, used in a Chinese context of women, love and relationship, it has arguably never been as topical as it is today. Indeed, contemporary young women probably use it abun­dantly when their parents suggest, or force, them to find a husband. From the genitors’ point of view, their advice to get married is always well-meant: They want their daughters to build the basis of a stable life, reap the benefits of security, and savour the joys of raising a child – while fulfilling their filial and social duties according to Confucian tradition. So far so good. Problems arise when missy has not found true love yet, and prefers to wait a little bit until her Mr. Right crosses her path; or even worse, when she has got him, but her parents do not like or accept him as a son-in-law. In that case, not even the best and most loving intentions may ever be enough to convince her. She will just not follow, nor even listen to her family’s admonition, thus risking discord with her entire kinship group. She argues that a forced union cannot work and will never make her happy. This is due to her expo­­sure to Western values that suggest that romantic love should be a prerequisite for mar­riage, and inversely that its absence may be used as an argument for divorce.[2] However, this view has only existed since the 19th century, while the concept of romantic love itself did not come into being until troubadours of the 13th century sang about it.[3] Before that, couples often lived their lives without affection, focussing on their marital roles. In China, the situation was even stricter, where falling in love was not only regarded as useless, but in fact as working against the supremacy of the parent-child relationship. If ever, affection was only to develop after marriage. Likewise, courtship had no place in spou­sal relationships, but was rather restricted to predetermined seduction scenarios bet­ween men and their mis­tres­­ses or concu­bines.[4]

Since everything was subordinated to the wishes and interests of the family (including one’s feelings and life aspirations), intragenerational relationships were much more valued than mari­tal ones. According to the Book of Rites[5], marriage was a filial duty towards one’s elders, which only had two purposes: To honour the ancestors and preserve the family line. Hence, not the sons or the daughters were to choose their futures mate, but their parents or grand­parents, who they had other criteria in mind than passion, ardour or spiritual conge­niality. What really mattered were factors such as purity of lineage, horoscope (i.e., the con­sultation of positions of stars at birth to predict the success of a particular match), as well the reputation and wealth of the future in-law’s family. Sometimes, dowries and bride pri­ces[6] were paid to settle the deal. Accordingly, marriage was no more than a contract between two family lines, defining specific rights and duties concer­ning heirs and property or, in its simplest form, “regulating the exchange of male economic investments for female fer­tility and parental investment.”[7] For peasants or people in the lower classes, the busi­ness agreement could involve cattle, cash or other gifts (cakes, con­fectionery, jewellery, golden chopsticks, etc.) as material engage­ment tokens. In the case of nobility, matrimony was used for the purpose of forming alliances, resolving conflicts or joining properties. Such customs are referred to as marriage of state (a special case marriage of convenience, deri­ved from the French term “mariage de convenance”, i.e., marriage of convention), or 和亲 (hé qīn, literally “peace marriage”).


Notes

[1] Although the origin of the present byword is unclear, it resembles another saying, “melon falls off when ripe” (瓜熟蒂落, guā shú dì luò), authored by Song dynasty writer Zhāng Jūnfáng (张君房) in the Daoist encyclopaedia Seven Slips of the Cloudy Satchel (云笈七签, yún jí qī qiān, also translated as Seven Tablets in a Cloudy Satchel, or Seven Lots from the Bookbag of the Clouds) he compiled for Emperor Zhēnzōng of Sòng (宋眞宗). By expressing that “at the right time everything comes easy” or “a thing will happen when conditions are ripe”, the adage implies that things are hard to come by as long as the time is not ripe. Accordingly, if a melon has not fallen off its vine, there is a chance that it is not yet ready for consumption. Plucking it might be counterproductive and is likely to yield the opposite result one was originally hoping for. Likewise, the English equivalent of the proverb (“you can lead a horse to the water, but you can’t make it drink”) cautions people that you can give someone the opportunity to do something, but you cannot force them to act if they do not want to.

[2]    Regan (1998), p. 91

[3]    Townsend (1998), p. 165

[4]    http://family.jrank.org/pages/254/China-Tradition-Persistence-Transition.html

[5]    The Book of Rites (礼记, lǐ jì), one of the Chinese Five Classics of the Confucian canon (四书五经, sì shū wǔ jīng, the other four being Classic of Poetry, the Book of Documents, the Book of Changes, and Spring and Autumn Annals), sets forth the social forms, governmental system, and ceremonial rites practiced during the Zhou dynasty (1050–256 BC). The text is believed to have been originally compiled by Confucius.

[6]    Notice the difference: Bride price is the amount of money, property or wealth that the groom or his family pays to the parents of a woman upon the marriage of their daughter to that man. The bride price is set to reflect the perceived value of the young woman. Dowry, conversely is due to the groom or employed by the bride to help establish the new household. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bride_price)

[7]    Townsend (1998), p. 9

Chapter 2: A good woman doesn’t go with a second man – Part 3

But even in cultures where the use of such extreme methods was not common, the mental conditioning of women to remain chaste and faithful seems to have worked out in favour of men as well. Alas, female sexuality is still subject to restrictive, mostly unwritten, social norms that impede its development. Ladies should be ashamed of their desires. Many socie­ties around the world have a lot of tolerance for those women who choose to live out their sexuality freely, without restriction. Although one could argue that the situ­ation has improved over the last fifty years, it is very hard to find females who have com­pletely shaken off all these constraints. Instead, they prefer to hold them­selves back as a way to signal purity, honour and worth. Thus, females’ own sexual repu­tation remains a key preoc­cu­pation for them, as they try to preserve an image of virtue.

Generation after generation, parents have raised their daughters to be “good girls”, barely telling them about sexuality. If at all, they bring up the topic of menstruation, reproductive organs or contraception, but seldom cover other important sensitive parts of the body (for instance, the clitoris) or issues such as orgasm. Instead, they caution their children about the dangers of the dark path of indulgence, call upon their vigilance against “dirty” beha­viour, or implore them to ascertain that their names are not stained by rumours of looseness. One immediate risk of such education is that the needs and urges of young girls become bottled up for many years, which they release in an exaggerated and emotionally unhealthy way later on. Another arguably negative conse­quence is that even the most well-intentioned women have to cope with a dilemma when it comes to the decision to whether or not to allow intimacy with a man they have a strong affective connection with. The subject is diffi­cult, and good women do not agree. Worried about their reputation, women will experience feelings of embarrassment and guilt if she has the impression that she “sold herself under price” or “gave herself to someone too easily”, for example by having inter­course with a man she did not really love. A woman who just slept with a man for the first time might be concerned about what he thinks about her, what she means to him, how strong his fondness for her is, etc. She could also be speculating on how the guy will treat her in the future, won­dering “whether sex was all he was after”.[1] Any doubts about his sincerity or heartiness are likely to demean her and spark off the suspicion that he exploited her, a feeling that most women hate. Then, if she beds someone without any senti­ments of affec­tion, her distress is likely to be even worse. Such an experience will lead her to lose her self-respect, leaving behind a bitter taste of degradation and cheapness.

This explains why women are likely to reject or at least demurely resist the sexual advances of a prospective mate if he fails to convince her about his good intentions (as, for instance, expressed through sympathy, caring, investment of resources, etc.). If he treats her as a one-night stand (and provided that she is herself not interested in a casual liaison), she will con­sider his moves as a violation of her desire for emotional involvement, shutting down to him, and losing her attraction for him. Furthermore, men should not be surprised to see women make it difficult to “get” them. Even if they “want too”, their inner code forbids them to surrender to their lust. Rather, they restrain themselves and wait until a male has demon­­strated enough engagement and devotion towards her. This strategy follows three main purposes: First, to make herself believe that she did her best to resist her carnal cra­vings; second, to allow enough time for the inception of amorous feelings within her heart; and third, to signal to her social surroundings that she is not an “easy girl”.

Thus, whenever passion befalls a “good” woman, she faces a Catch-22 with her eros. Let’s consider the following case: A traditionalist bachelorette falls in love with a conser­vative man. At some stage, she will want to consummate her love towards him. However, if she does have such desires, she must know, or at least her intuition probably tells her that coitus produces posi­tive sensations. If she is aware of the stimulating effects of sex, she cannot be fully innocent (i.e., she has been exposed). Prudish and prudent as she is, she will not take the gamble to open up to her target, fearing that any hint of impurity will repel him. In turn, this (imaginary) thought of potential rejection from the man she loves could potentially cause disappointment in her heart, disturbing her emotionally and destroying her feelings for him. Her love will fade away and eventually vanish… Although not impeccable, the argumentation developed here shows: Sexual puritanism may lead to emotional deadlock and, in the worst case, to a lose-lose situation. This cannot be the purpose of human devotion. Instead, let us liberate ourselves from the chains of sexual conservatism and carry through our passion: Lovers of the World, Unite!

That being said, men who wish to seduce or woo a lady should still be careful to observe her desires as well as her ethical standards. Every woman wants to be respected and to feel valued. In a “post-first-sex” situation, this requirement can be easily translated into slushy or over­charged questions such as “does he see me as wife material or simply as a mistress?” in a female’s mind. She fears that if she has been too fast, she might be put into the “mis­tress”, or worse, the “slut” category. She is well aware that any clue of profligacy or promis­cuity may ruin her reputation and therefore jeopardise her chances to find a husband. Social norms and warning signs such as “you just cannot jump in the sack with a guy so quickly” are deeply incised in her mind. On the other hand, human females are known to be highly sexual in nature: They love sex, they want sex, even if they do not admit it openly. Instead, they will argue that they do not just want sex, or that they want to make love.

Once men see through this line of reasoning, it becomes quite effortless to lure a woman into temptation. In many instances, all he needs to do is to join forces with her and help her find a way to outfox society and circumvent the cultural norms working against sexual free­dom. In reality, it is the male’s role to provide an alibi to women to be naughty and let nature take its course. Sometimes, nice words or a simple “I really like you”[2] will do the trick. Other females prefer to drink alcohol so that they can blame its dis-inhibiting proper­ties for their failure to control themselves. Or both partners construct a scenario in which intercourse “just happened”. Billy Crystal, the American comedian, once declared: “Women need a reason to have sex; men just need a place”. Based on what has just been said in this paragraph, however, it seems that what women are looking for is not a “reason”, but rather an “excuse”.

 

Related proverbs and citations:

男女授受不亲

nán nǚ shòu shòu bù qīn

It is improper for men and women to touch each other’s hand in passing objects (even more so to hold hands, kiss, possibly to communicate).

 

路边的野花别乱采

lù biān de yě huā bié luàn căi

Don’t pick up wild flowers on the roadside.

 

此地无银三百两

cǐ dì wú yín sān bǎi liǎng

“No 300 taels of silver buried here”.

A guilty person gives himself away by conspicuously protesting his innocence. A clumsy denial resulting in self-exposure.

 


Notes

[1]    Townsend (1998), p. 52

[2]    Notice the usage of the word “like” rather than “love”. Although many women claim that they first need to love a man before having sex with him, liking or actually being liked, is enough for most of them. How to express “liking” or what feelings it encompasses for a woman is elaborated in chapter 9 “The path to a woman’s heart passes through her vagina”.

Chapter 2: A good woman doesn’t go with a second man

好女不侍二夫
hăo nǚ bù shì èr fū

Building on what has been articulated previously, the following chapter will discuss other aspects of female sexual morality, as well as its consequences for women’s education and lifestyle choices. As a society renowned for its traditions, China presents itself as a perfect case study to illustrate sexual conservatism.[1] Still today, the official attitude to sex is very puritan. In many regions of the country, the subject remains taboo, people retaining an extremely cautious stance on the matter. As an indecent, bestial and shame­ful act, the close association of intercourse with feelings of obscenity, sin and filth persists. Although young people in the country’s first-tier cities become increasingly open-minded, the bulk of the population considers sexuality as a negative, even bad, thing.[2] Sex is rarely discussed, even in private, and nobody ever dares to talk about it in public. Sexual education in schools is virtually non-existent, as a majority of teachers feel embar­rassed and refuse to explain the topic to their pupils. When facing the question of where babies come from, many mothers are likely to avoid providing a clear answer, even when their daughters are getting close to their first period.

Notice, however, that the proverb chosen here epitomises the rigid code of sexual conduct for wives only. Matrimony, widowhood and women’s role in the family has always constituted a key part in the defini­tion of “feminine ethics”, at least in China. For instance, women who were bold enough to re­marry have been frowned upon for a long time. This so-called “vidual chastity” forbade widows to commit to a second man, even if they had lost their husband at a relatively young age. For the sake of ci­vility and in order to preserve the reputation of their families (i.e., their own but also that of the deceased), they had to relinquish the possibility of finding happiness in a new mén­age and were doomed to stay single. For the Song dynasty (960-1279 AD) philo­sopher Chéng Yí (程颐), dying of star­vation was a morally better outcome for a widow than to marry and obey another man, thus betraying her dead husband and losing her virtue. Consequently, the easiest way a widow could uphold a position of honour was to stay as the elderly mother in her in-laws’ home. Alternatively, she could choose a life under the guardianship of her eldest son. Yet not many would go for this op­tion and move back with their birth families because they had already “married out” and were considered to belong to her husband’s family. New lovers, even stable ones, were also prohibited or, at any rate, not recommended for these “chaste widows”. Any kind of sexual contact with somebody else would provide evid­ence that she was impure, offering an excuse for in-laws to expel her from the family and reclaim the pro­perty (which she was not allowed to take into a remarriage) and the custody of the children she had had with her husband before he died.[3] In return, the families of early widowed women who had resisted fleshly temptation and had remained unmarried until the age of fifty received tax exemp­tions, while the “Confucian martyrs”[4] themselves were awarded chastity memorial arches (贞节牌坊, zhēn jié pái fáng) for their effort and misery.[5]


Notes

[1]    That this has not always been the case can be testified by the existence of ancient pieces of literature exhibiting quite a variety of salacious elements, which sometimes even include graphically explicit depictions of sexuality. The most notable works in this category are probably the Biography of Yingying (莺莺传, yīng yīng zhuán) by Yuán Zhěn (元稹) or The Plum in the Golden Vase (also called The Golden Lotus, Chinese original: 金瓶梅, jīn píng méi) by Lán Líng Xiào Xiào Shēng (兰陵笑笑生, a pseudonym).

[2]    In this context, it is worth noticing that the Chinese word for vagina, when decomposed, can be interpreted as “the path to darkness” (阴道, yīn dào). While 阴 (yīn, literally: shade, cloudy, hidden, sinister, as well as female, has a rather negative connotation, the logogram 道 (dào) stands for constructive ideas, such as road, way, or path, but also method, morals, principle, and doctrine. By the way, it is precisely this character that confers the Taoist (or Daoist) philosophy its name and substance.

[3]    Notice that similar, although less strict, rules applied in Europe. In his manual of Christian devotion The Rules and Exercises of Holy Living, Jeremy Taylor, clergyman in the Church of England, asks widows to abstain from marrying while she is with the children she had with her late husband and within the year of mourning.

[4]    http://www.patheos.com/Library/Confucianism/Ethics-Morality-Community/Gender-and-Sexuality

[5]    See chapter 21 “You can’t lead the life of a whore and expect a chastity monument”.