A Whole Lotta Beauty and Nothing Else

I teach a few different things in China. My least favourite course is ‘advanced oral English’. First, there is nothing advanced about the abilities of the majority of students – ‘advanced’ is just a word that, in typical Chinese fashion, is for appearances only . And second, I am not an orator. Decent teacher, yes. Orator extraordinaire, no. Oh, and third, trying to have a heavily interactive class when the standard number of students in a small, participation-based university class is 50 is a waste of everyone’s time.

If I must teach communication methodologies, I prefer to teach writing. But if I had my druthers, I’d be teaching a variety of other things within the analytical realm.

Anyhow, I’m in the middle of two weeks of the dreaded speech-making unit. This is where I give a choice of topics (ranging from easy to requiring more insight and imagination). One of the topics requires these 18- to 23-year-olds to think about what they want their lives to look like in 20 years.

If they choose this topic, inevitably, they talk about the family they want. If you can believe it is possible, the Chinese romantic narrative is even more boring and standard than the Western one. Everybody says almost exactly the same thing. I have never, ever, ever met anyone here who wants something different than the rest of the 1.35 billion people.

While it is depressing to hear the young women spout the romantic dream that is the curtain that hides their impending slavery, it is worse listening to the men. And sadly, most of my students are men. Even though I spend an entire class talking about how to describe personality or character, and get them to brainstorm adjectives, they ALL describe their future wives in exactly the same two-dimensional way, and unsurprisingly, there is never a reference to character unless it is to imply that she exists to wait on him and provide children, which is still not really ‘personality’. They describe Future Wife as ‘beautiful’ and that is it. She has no substance. The only thing that matters is that she is beautiful. One of the better speakers did say: “I don’t like girls with strong opinions.” So there you go.

Interestingly, when I teach the class on character and do the brainstorming exercise, most of the students include beautiful, pretty, or cute on their lists, and I do the requisite explanation that physical attractiveness is not a personality characteristic. And although you could, in English, call someone beautiful and refer to their personality, that is not at all what people are thinking here when they put it on their list of personality traits.

When describing men, there is a much richer palette. Men are allowed to be intelligent, talented, creative, hardworking, diligent, responsible, etc. Oh, to be multifaceted – dare I dream?

If you do manage to get people to describe women in any detail, you get a more intense and benevolently misogynist list than you get in the West – today’s Western woman might be called strong, but what is meant is that she is a sexual being with all that entails regarding character (wild, masochistic, uninhibited, slutty, etc). It’s just as superficial, in my opinion. In China, it is all naiveté, innocence, and purity – these are all ideal ‘girl’ qualities. The ideal woman is ‘a girl’ – she acts like, looks like, and thinks like ‘a girl’. It’s so ingrained in the culture – even trying to get people to refer to females over 18 as women is really hard to do. They have no problem calling 18-year-old males ‘men’, though.

I decided I have to stop assigning this topic for speeches. As my educational techniques regarding women and personality and human status are clearly not working, I am now going to give my barf trigger mechanism priority.

In another post, I’ll tell you about a) Chinese misogyny in hero/role model discussions and b) how my writing classes approached their assignment on short fiction.

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Posted on November 4, 2015, in Education, Feminism, Language, Male Privilege and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on A Whole Lotta Beauty and Nothing Else.

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