“Your Arts degree is useless. You studied the wrong degree, made a very wrong decision there. You finished your degree, and you still can’t find a job. Should’ve studied something like commerce or dentistry. Like your brother. Maybe he can get you a job.”
That’s what my mum says to me all the time. It’s no secret she fawns over my brother who studies something science-related, holds a respectable well-paying job and has completed Grade 8 piano as opposed to me who, well, is a free spirit.
It’s also no secret in Asian cultures that males are regarded as the supreme sex. The so-called almighty, smart, know-it-all, responsible sex. Many Asian parents prefer having boys over girls and shower infinite adoration over their male offspring.
The history and origins behind this phenomenon is rather sketchy, only speculation at best.
The dominance of white male supremacy eons ago in Asia might explain it. At the beginning of time, the West was more developed industrially and stronger economically. They colonised many Eastern nations, sending predominantly male troops abroad who built houses and towns here from scratch.
Perhaps at the time Asians looked up to, in awe of their male colonisers for laying the foundation for stable Asian societies (although some Asian countries did despise imperialism and colonial rule).
Much physical, manual labour had to be done back in the day. Many emperors in ancient China commanded male slaves to build the Great Wall and construct cities with their bare hands. Bending over and stooping to cultivate and harvest rice also had to be done.
Asian males are naturally physically bigger in size and have significantly more strength than Asian females, two traits that proved advantageous for them in these situations. The men puffed and pant and successfully toughed it out under emperors’ orders and brought harvest home, putting on shows of “can-do” attitudes, determined characters and the sound ability to handle ordered responsibility.
This was all while Asian women stayed at home behind closed doors, fanning pots of rice cooking on rickety stoves and taking care of kids. Behind closed doors, in the privacy of the home, where no one saw just what skills they had and what they were capable of.
Filial piety is highly valued in Asian cultures and is also arguably a reason why males are favoured in Asian cultures. Men keep their surnames when they get married; women “marry off”, usually taking their husbands’ last names. Men in a sense “stay” and “belong” with their birth-right family for their entire lives. Having a son(s) would naturally mean that there will be someone “in the family” to take care of the Asian parents, shower them with gold and cash when they grow old.
Conversely, perhaps it’s because of all these reasons Asian women are constantly stereotypically considered weak, passive, submissive and spineless in Asian families.
What reaffirms the mentality that Asian males are superior to Asian women is the frequent assumption the former are always right. That is, no one really questions their achievements or the legitimacy and ethics of their choices and actions (when Asian males are questioned, it’s usually by other males).
This was the case in my household when I lived at home.
Most weekdays when my brother wandered home in the evening, my mum asked him, “How was today? What did you do in class? What did you do at work just now?”
My brother would say something along the lines of, “Meeting today at work. We discussed a lot of things and we’re doing this, this and this for the project.”
“Wahhh! So impressive! You can do a lot of things! So what happens now? How does it work?”
When I came home, mum asks me, “What did you do today? How was work today?”
I go, “I did this, this and this.”
“Can you do it or not? Do you even know how to do it?”
With the right attitude, anyone can do a lot of things and achieve a lot of things.
This post hits a sore spot with me. As an Asian female, my parents infuriate me with their favouritism of the males. This is something I will resent forever and so apparent since I left high school. My father used to say things like I would never be a successful engineer and discouraged my education in this field because according to him, the males in the workplace would never take me seriously, it will be too hard for me etc. According to him, I can never and should never be a manager because I’m female. It became a dinner conversation where he would point to my younger siblings and say things like, ‘I never want you guys to become engineers’ as an attempt to discourage my education. It’s been years since I studied engineering and his digs at me, indirectly or directly is something that still can not be forgotten, still makes me angry and upset. I feel infuriated and wish I never listened to him. On a bad day, I walk past my parents and ever though we aren’t arguing or anything I think back on the things they said, even the little things that made my education more difficult and I feel anger bubbling to the surface. I get even more angry when my father denies he ever said anything.
Just the other day my dad was trying to sell the idea to me that working in a bank would be so pleasant. I guess he still thinks females are too delicate to do anything other than smile at customers, sit and type at a keyboard. When I was younger he didn’t rise me that way though, he sold the idea that I should be able to care for myself. Steered me away from finding boyfriends, now he wants me to just find an easy job which allows me to take long parental leave. He doesn’t understand what I want though and when I do tell him, he disagrees unless I say what he wants to hear.
Long post, sore spot. Wish people could take a look at themselves and realise they are sexist and change. Especially since they should support their own children, not bring them down.
Thank you for sharing your story, you are very brave. I think your story is an excellent example of the belittling of females in Asian cultures. In some Asian countries today, girls aren’t even expected and encouraged to finish high school education, let alone be a manager or at times enter the workforce – the only jobs they are expected to do are cleaning, cooking, sewing and babysitting. Jobs that are generally regarded as ‘feminine’.
I can relate to your situation personally. My parents are very encouraging of me to study and earn a Bachelors degree. But funnily enough, they don’t want me to pursue any more education after that, for example not honours. My mention of my desire to write a thesis was shot down by them, with them saying it is/will be a waste of time. My brief mention of a PhD was shushed. Perhaps it’s because like in your case, they don’t believe I am capable of this. But on another note, sometimes in Asian cultures, females are strongly discouraged to obtain a higher education certificate or a Masters or a PhD – this makes them look ‘smarter’ than the boys and so they will find it ‘hard’ to get married. And the females will be ‘too smart’ for a smiley, customer service job.
It is really hard for us Asians to not listen to our parents, because this is in some sense to us disrespectful. But at times like these, it is really important to remember that everyone is their own person, and draw strength from this and move on in life. Tomorrow is always another day 🙂
Despite being Asian myself, I haven’t received that kind of attitude so much. In my family, my younger brother and I get the same responses from my parents. Admittedly, my dad might get along with me better than my mom to me, and this is in vice versa for my brother (he and my mom are good together).
In the big picture, I think that notion is currently lessening in my country (Thailand). I rarely hear people around me prefer boys to girls. Their family are happy with thier children no matter what sex is.
In the working environment, I can say that I’ve met a lot of women in the management positions such as managers, directors, or even presidents. As I’ve observed, I don’t think those who I’ve met would think that males are more superior or smarter than females.
Only one thing I believe that we might still think of males as superior gender is anything related to sex, sexual acitivities, dating, or flirting, etc.
This is one of the few times I’m hearing that the idea of superior Asian males is lessening. It’s definitely heartening to see this in your country Thailand – it gives (Asian) women more opportunity to show their skills and contribute to society. There seems to be more equality amongst men and women in your country, and family, from what you’re describing. It must be a very warm and welcoming environment to be in.
Thank you for sharing your personal experiences.
Dating, sex and sexual activity are entirely different subjects but yes, male dominating undertones are indeed present in these contexts. I shall not go there 😀
It’s sad that some Asian parents don’t shower some of the attention to their daughters. I’ve seen and heard stories that daughters go out and work and their brothers are spoilt and idle and sit around at home and do nothing. And some are so conservative to the point where they treat their daughters as a commodity, i.e. how much dowry they get if they marry off their daughter/s.
My brother and I get the same treatment; my parents were happy with my decision to take on an Arts degree because they need I was pretty good at Humanities studies.
I guess Asian culture isn’t the only culture in the world that favours boys over girls. In the West they did that; i.e. competition in the Royal families and all that. Cleopatra was quite desperate to have a son with Julius Caesar only because her son could claim to be Emperor of Rome.
I think one of the reasons that Chinese families favour boys is the following; the daughters don’t inherit anything from parents and only sons do. So, if a rich guy has daughters only but not sons, the inheritance will go to the sons-in-law and there has been stories that have proven sons-in-law to be extremely unreliable. Therefore, they would prefer to have a son where he can protect the inheritance. Also, as China is an agricultural society, they need more men to do the agricultural/farming work.
And yes men do retain their surnames, but I think women can retain their maiden names too, and kids are allowed to take up their mother’s surname. I mean, the word for ‘surname’ in Chinese is ‘姓’, the left radical ‘女’ means female or woman, therefore indicating a long time ago children take their mother’s surname.
There are Asian cultures, up until these days, that still function in a matriarchal society. For example the minority groups in Southwest China (non-Han people) such as the Miao, Zhuang, Yi, Naksi, Tong, Bai people. Women work, men stay at home and kids take after their mother’s surname. Pretty cool 🙂
You are very lucky in that your parents treat you the same as they do your brother. You must come from a very loving family who really loves their kids equally!
You are right in that some Asian parents shower much love over their sons, and continue to treat their sons as the apple(s) of their eyes when they exemplify lazy or rude behaviour. I don’t know how true this is or how often this happens, but I suspect that some Asian parents who run their own business tend to right away offer respected positions to their son(s) if they/he decides to help in steering the family ship. Even if they/he has little experience for such position(s).
Very interesting to hear that up until these days that there are matriarchal societies in some parts of Asia. I’m happy to hear that there is such a thing 🙂
Reblogged this on My Blog…My Precious and commented:
I reckon, yes, in some Asian cultures men are definitely seen as the ‘better’ sex especially in Asian countries. However, there are often more educational, professional and employment opportunities for Asian women in Western countries, so some Asian families here might recognise this and treat their daughters as equally they do their sons.
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awesome information! thanks for sharing that!
thank you ❤
Your mother is supporting your brother from few very simple biological reasons:
1) Almost all females can easily get a partner vs. only most successful males.
This is because humans are polygamous species ( alpha males monopolizing several females,
losers go without females).
2) If your brother proves to be an Alpha male he can give her many many grandchildren vs. you
who can give her only few as you are women and women are not as fertile as men.
3) She tries to prevent that he is a looser who will go without mate ( big risk if he is Asian living in west even bigger risk if he lives in China with excess male population.
4) Your brother has to fight much tougher competition as a male than you will ever experience.
Women ave biological advantage in mating ( almost all women will have children).
Man have to fight for that privilege.
This is why evolution has made men:
Smarter ( 10% more brain mass).
More creative ( all science is invented by men fighting to gain access to women).
There you go. Be nice to your brother as he faces much harder competition than you ever will and he is probably smarter and more creative than you are.
Thanks for this Jim. Looking at it from a biological perspective, it does make some sense. Sometimes some guys just aren’t that attractive to women for one reason or another (e.g. behaviour, personal traits), and parents can at times shower positive affections over their sons to make them feel good about themselves and maintain their confidence. I don’t think all females can easily each get a partner though – similarly, it also depends on their personal traits and location and whether anyone around them finds them attractive.
Truth be told, there is much more to life than finding a partner and searching for love, and competing with one another. Do these things make us happy? Maybe. Maybe not. Being productive work or leisure-wise can make one feel good too. And treating everyone around us with respect or simply making a stranger a smile can go a long way for our self-esteem.
Seeing your levelheaded response to this, I have much more respect for you. Many people will react defensively to anything that might suggest anything contrary to their opinions, and you could see why some so called “feminists” would take offense at the idea that males could have biological advantages, especially since Jim has some awkward wording that could be taken as offensive.
Anyways on to my own experiences, my older sister was “free-spirited” and she very much represents her zodiac(the tiger). I was the younger sibling who always tried to make peace. I definitely can see the discreptioncy between the way that I am treated and that my sister is. The favoritism towards me, the male child, is clear, but sometimes favoritism is unwanted.
You have to understand that both the female AND male children are treated as objects by Asian parents but the difference is, the parents put more stake into their supposedly superior male offspring, and at least in my case, this resulted in my sister enjoying a lot more freedom.
Something that has a huge influence on asian culture that you have forgotten to mention is the hero culture of Asia, stemming from Chinese classics such as Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The heroes in these classics are predominantly males where strength, cunning, and above all, loyalty form the three pillars of the ideal male. I think this has had a good influence on some men as the heroes are honestly good role models. However the lack of female characters might have had a part in what you have mentioned where there is this idea in much of asia that somehow women lack those desirable qualities?
Thats true which community treat them equally????
As the (I’m thinking only) male child, I suppose your parents along with other Asian parents had very high stereotypical expectations of you in terms of study and career. This is not necessarily a bad thing – you might’ve been taught and learnt the value of hard work. Interesting to hear that your sister enjoyed a lot more freedom in her younger days. Many Asian parents are known to be more protective over their female children; the parents are intent on marrying off their daughters as opposed to anything else. That is so long as their daughters are able to bring home a tasteful suitor, the daughter can do what she pleases most of the time.
Yes, Chinese classics that feature male protagonists all the time can be a reason why males are seen as worthy models! Good thinking 🙂 I used to love watching the series The Monkey King (or Journey to the West or Sun Wukong) on television growing up. Come to think of it, the protagonists were all male.
And thanks for the nice words!
“The dominance of white male supremacy eons ago in Asia might explain it. At the beginning of time, the West was more developed industrially and stronger economically. They colonised many Eastern nations, sending predominantly male troops abroad who built houses and towns here from scratch.”
Sorry but whites colonizing Asia has nothing to do with the culture nor was the West more developed at the beginning of time. The two most advanced civilizations in human history were the Indian and Chinese cultures, the West didn’t catch up with the East until the start of the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution. The colonizers did no such construction of towns, they conquered towns and big cities, then renovated sections of them for foreigners. The idea of men being superior to women in East Asian cultures is a result of Confucianism and the idea of filial piety in which you explained in your blog.
Regardless, stay strong, the world is changing. But it is up to you and your generation to change this part of the culture for the sake of your children.
Thanks for reading and thanks for your comment. Many historic buildings in Singapore (e.g. Fullerton Building, Old Supreme Court Building) were built by their colonial government post WWII and embody European architecture style. Many of these buildings today are icons in Singapore’s history and much admired by the locals here. So there is a slight possibility that this influenced some Asians to (unconsciously) see Western males as almighty superior. Totally agree that the idea of men being superior is related to Confucianism and filial piety – these ideals are so entrenched in Asian culture that if one opposed them, they would be unfortunately looked down upon.
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