Chinese perspectives on what makes an independent woman?

Chinese perspectives on what makes an independent woman?

I am Laura. I have been with Phenxx for several months and work on the social media team. I wanted to sit down with my mother, who lives in Guangdong, China about the notion of independence for women. After living in Australia, I think that Australians make a lot of assumptions of what Chinese culture is, what being a woman is in China and that we have less developed ideologies. I hope this conversation can bring a little more enlightenment to what it means to be a Chinese woman in the twenty-first century and how our long and strong culture can endure, but also mix with a modernity we see in the West. My intention that this insight into our conversation opens the minds and hearts of women to our philosophies. My mother has so much wisdom and I am the beneficiary of it all. Thank you to my beautiful mother, and I hope you enjoy the conversation as much as I did! 

L: How do you view the term "independent woman"? How do you think they define it?

L:你如何看待独立女性这个词呢? 你觉得她们的定义是怎么样的?

M: I believe that, regardless of gender, independence is most crucial. Being an independent woman means living your life in your own way or choosing the path you prefer. That's my understanding. If I can live by my own rules and do what I want, that's independence. You have that right, that choice, or perhaps you've crafted such a privilege for yourself, which is commendable.


L: If we focus solely on the generic term of girls or women without delving into the nuances of gender, in your opinion, what does it take for a girl, or let's say, a woman, to be genuinely independent, whether financially or ideologically? What do you think are the tangible signs of independence?


M: Specifically, I believe a financial foundation is essential. Without it, nothing else can stand. Without this foundation, many aspirations remain mere daydreams; if you have ideas but can't execute them, your choices are substantially limited. However, some people might have a strong financial foundation but still can't find independence. Why? Because many external factors are out of their control, and they need to balance their influence on others. That's not complete independence, per se.


True independence requires a financial foundation and a strong sense of self-awareness. From a young age, you should strive to understand and manage relationships that might impact your growth, giving yourself room to maneuver. 


For instance, as a woman in China, respecting and caring for one's parents is ingrained in our culture. The phrase "When parents are alive, one shouldn't travel far" holds true for many. I might have missed numerous opportunities because I prioritized being close to my parents during their lifetime. It doesn't mean I couldn't leave them, but the independence achieved by abandoning them is not the kind I pursue. I seek a balanced form of independence.


L: Can you give any examples of individuals, whether from history or your personal experiences, who epitomize the image of an outstanding independent woman in your eyes?


M: Among the people around me or those I know of, I don't feel I have the right to define them. But if I look closely, I feel like I am the most independent amongst them!


L: Then how do you see yourself as an exceptional independent woman?


M: Since I was young, when I began to understand myself and my actions, my parents' teachings and guidance played a pivotal role. Like you mentioned, there were things I couldn't comprehend immediately, but I noted them down and tried to grasp them over time because my parents always had my best interests at heart. I continually analyzed and filtered what they instilled in me. Parents naturally hope their children grow up independent because they can't be with them forever. I always made an effort in the direction they hoped for me, seeking their acknowledgment. Over the years, I believe I've managed the balance of our relationship and mutual understanding well. Whether it was about my education, marriage, or career choices, I've strived to ensure each step aligns with my intrinsic value without depending on anyone. Furthermore, the financial foundation is vital, as I mentioned earlier. Without it, all other endeavors are moot.


Therefore, I feel that in this aspect, I've always been fortunate. However, my luck wasn't just a matter of chance. It's because I have worked hard. For all these years, I've been striving, and that's why the divine looks favorably upon me. Don't underestimate this; it's crucial. So, I was discussing this issue with a friend earlier. I said she's doing quite well given her current state (new marriage). I joked with her that she has someone to rely on now. She replied that she's not even sure about it; she wasn't actively seeking such a situation. She mentioned not having an income. Even if someone is there to provide for her now, she feels really uncomfortable when she has to ask for money. Especially since they have just gotten married and haven't started living together yet. When they finally do, who knows how things will turn out? She's envious and thinks I'm in the best situation. 

所以我覺得在這個方面我一直很幸運,但是我的幸運也不是偶然的,那是因為我曾經努力過,這麼多年我一直在努力,神明才會眷顧我。不要小看這點,這個很重要。所以剛才我還跟朋友在談這個問題,我說她挺好的,她現在的狀態這樣子,我跟她開玩笑, 說她有人接盤了。她說其實她也不知道,你想,她根本也不是追求的這個。她說她沒有收入嘛,儘管現在有人接盤了,她說你看看我兩手一攤,當你兩手一攤,向老公兩手一攤要錢的時候,其實她的心裡是很難受的。而且現在是她們是還剛剛结婚,還沒有住在一起,相處住在一起的時候,那就更加不知道了,這種東西。所以她就很羨慕她覺得我是最好的,我現在這種狀態所以這獨立什麼東西都是相對的。

Independence is all relative. Darling, everything is relative. Considering the kind of country and place we're in, can there really be independence? It's somewhat compromised on a larger scale. But on a personal level, I feel that I have relative independence; I'm more independent in the broader sense. It depends on what you're seeking. Of course, everyone has desires. I have my small piece of independence, but I also yearn for a greater one.


L: So, considering what you said about how independence in our country is somewhat compromised, there has been a growing emphasis on women's issues in recent years. Media and movies have been promoting the image of the independent woman. They might portray women as CEOs who are busy with work and have no interest in romance, kind of creating a stereotyped image. How do you view this portrayal of the independent woman in media?


M: I think the depiction in movies and TV is often too idealized. Either they portray an overly perfect scenario or an exceedingly negative one, neither of which reflect reality. The so-called "independent women" in these shows are often out of touch with the real world. True groundedness is feeling at ease with oneself. The narratives about strong female leads are mainly for appeasing the audience, showcasing what viewers ideally want to see. But real life isn't like that. An individual's independence is related to their comprehensive planning and management skills. For instance, your grandma says, "If you have a problem, come to [my mum’s name]," and whenever you facig a problem, you always found me first.  It means people trust my judgment and decision-making abilities. A genuinely independent woman, a successful one, is someone who can integrate all factors. Our lives are like tangled threads; independence is the ability to untangle them. If you can do that, you're on your way to becoming a truly independent woman. So, don't view independence in such a narrow scope. It's not just about having money or friends. Think about it, if you can't understand the people and things around you, life becomes stifling. When you have money, friends, time, and love, that's when you truly feel independent. And being loved is essential, right?  That sounds like a holistic, relative form of perfect independence. But what if you lack any of these elements? Say if you're missing even one of these – money, friends, time, or love – it becomes very challenging to be independent.

M: 我觉得影视作品的东西都是太理想化了,它要么就是把现实做的太完美,要么就是做的太恶劣,其实都不是的。我觉得影视上面的所谓的独立女性,其实都非常不着地气。真正着地气的就是,我觉得就是怎么说呢,你自己很舒服,你自己很舒服。太難去說了,那種大女主啊那些東西,其實都不成立,它只是為了討好觀眾,把觀眾最想要的東西表現出來了。但是現實生活中並不是這樣的,一個人存在著他的獨立性,個人的獨立其實是跟她的綜合的統籌有關係的。比如說奶奶說有問題就找我,那是啊,那你有問題你也找我呀,因為她們知道我可能會有一些運籌的能力在這裡邊,一個真正的獨立女性,一個成功的獨立女性是因為她特別能夠綜合所有的因素,在這個紛繁的世界,一團麻煞裡面,我們的生活就是一團麻煞,就看你怎麼能夠一一的把它理順它,這才是獨立。你能理順這一團麻煞,你就能夠成為一個非常優秀的獨立女性。所以,這個獨立,你不要單單的這麼片面的去看它,絕對不是的。媽媽跟你說這些東西,希望你也能夠理解,真的,就是你能夠你想想如果你連周圍的人事你都理不清楚,你會活得很難受,你會覺得很憋屈活得。你沒有錢你會難受,對不對,你沒有朋友你會難受,所以說,當你又有錢又有朋友又有時間又很轻松的时候,你会不会那个独立的感觉就是,当然还要有爱,就是最好的,有人爱你,对不对? 那才是一种完美的,我说的完美是相对的一种,相对完美的独立。但是你一旦没有钱,没有这个朋友,没有时间,又没有爱的时候,这中间你差了一样,你都很难做到独立。

L: Throughout my life, from when I was a child, have you tried to nurture me into the image of an independent woman that you have in your mind? How did you go about it?


M: Of course, I have. From the very first day I became a mother, I've thought about this. My upbringing and experiences were crucial. By the time I became a mother, I had already lived through several decades. These experiences were more than enough to guide a child. Over the past twenty or so years growing up with you, I've gained even more insights. My experiences always lead the way, so I can always share them with you. While your knowledge and perspective might surpass mine now, the one thing I have that you don't yet is experience, especially in life. Because some things only become clear after you've experienced them, understand?


People often say that what truly heals you isn’t time, but understanding. Once you understand, you know, and finally when you get it, you heal yourself. But right now, I understand even more than you. Did you know that? So, not long after you were born, I understood. But at that time, I felt a little powerless because I was constantly busy with work. However, I consider myself lucky because my parents were quite independent thinkers. They weren’t easily swayed by popular opinion or ignorant; they received higher education. For Chinese people of their generation, that was quite rare. So my parents provided me with a very relaxed environment to grow up in, and I was fortunate enough to provide the same for you. Look, if you check all the education I’ve given you or our WeChat conversations from the beginning, you’d find so much information. From the time you were growing up until now, for example, I always pushed you towards being an independent woman. Before you started school, we always had a housemaid, right?


But why did I quit my job in the year you transitioned from kindergarten to elementary school? I left a significant job I held for over 14 years, where I was the chief representative. I also dismissed the maid. Why? First, I realized that I needed to be there for you. Without my influence and teaching, I couldn't pass on my values and beliefs effectively. I was always busy with work. Fortunately, after I resigned, I earned a better income and had more time, thanks to divine blessing. Secondly, I decided to let go of the maid because once when she was chatting with me, she mentioned, “Laura asked what we're having for dinner, and I told her I didn’t know and that we had to wait for you." While others might overlook such a comment, it alarmed me. I realized I couldn't keep a maid, no matter who. Their influence on you could be significant. If she tells you to wait for your mom, she’s indirectly instilling in you an idea of dependency, making you think you always need to seek approval or answers from your parents, diminishing your independence and ability to make decisions. I hope you'll be a thinker, and not rely on anyone to tell you what to do or simply heed their words. That’s why I let the maids go. They influence you by saying you should listen to me, and such behavior indirectly affects your decision-making and involvement. We all should have the ability to judge and participate, whether in our family or society.

可是我為什麼在你上小學那一年,你就是從幼兒園進小學那一年,我辭掉了工作,我把我一份很重要的工作,做了十幾年,十四年的一份工作,我是個首席代表,我辭掉了,辭掉了。而且我還把保姆也辭掉了,為什麼?因為我發現了第一,我需要陪伴你,如果沒有我的陪伴,我的言傳身教,我的意識,我的思想是沒有辦法很好的灌输给你的。我天天忙我的工作,当然,很幸运我辞掉了我拿到了更好的经济收入和更多的时间,这是神明保佑我。第二,我为什么辞掉保姆,因为我发现保姆跟我聊天的时候,她说“Laura问你今天吃什么,我说那不知道,要等你妈妈回来。”我听了这句话,我当时的反应别人可能就過去了,但是在我這裡,我覺得不行了,我突然意識到我不能留一個保姆,不管是誰。因為她  在你身邊給你影響是非常大的一個影響。她說要等你媽媽,实际上她给你讲这个过程当中,她就让你产生了一种没有主见的意识,你会无形中被她感染到,以后什么东西都要問媽媽,問爸爸,沒有了一個獨立的判斷能力或者一個主觀的參與能力。我的意思就是希望你要有獨立的思考能力,你不要依賴於任何一個人給你指示去做,你不要聽利於任何一個人,我的意思就是我把這些保姆辭掉啊。我都覺得他們會影響到你,因為她說什麼都要聽我的,那實際上這個行為就無意中影響到你了,那我是說我們每個人都要有自我的判斷和參與能力,在這個家庭也好,在這個社會也好。

Actually, from this incident, I realized early on that I wanted to raise you to be an independent thinker with the ability to make choices, though many parents never had this kind of thoughts that early.


L: Given your interactions with the French and your work experience over the years, I believe you understand that France inherently values freedom and has a rather romantic national character. When people talk about French women, especially those from Paris, they often associate them with the embodiment of independent single women. In your view, how do French ideals of female independence differ from those in China in recent years?


M: Of course, they're different. The concept of an “independent woman” is relative, depending on the time, place, and societal context. The definition of an independent woman in Guangdong may differ from that in Hunan. In France, the romantic notion of freedom contributes to their concept of an independent woman. If I lived like a French woman in China, I might be seen as more carefree in people’s eyes. But in China, our universal values mean I need to consider my parents, child, husband, siblings, and what they have given me, as well as the feedback from my friends. This brings me a unique kind of joy, a joy only an independent Chinese woman would understand. Western universal and societal values are quite different from ours. They're more individualistic, while our Chinese societal structure and culture emphasize family and community. We're descendants of Confucius. Although I don’t agree with everything, the values of respect and filial piety instilled in me by my parents are Chinese universal values. 

M: 当然不一样,每一个独立女性都是相对的, 在什么样的时间和地域范围之内,甚至是什么样的社会范围之内,这都是决定了独立的定义的。你要是说我在中国,是中国型的独立女性,在广东和湖南,中国的南方和北方,独立女性的概念意义都是有区别的。我觉得在法国你要说她独立女性,法國的獨立女性浪漫啊,這種什麼崇尚自由啊,那因為法國的社會的普世價值觀賦予她獨立女性法國式的這種概念。獨立女性的概念在中國,不是啊,我在中國我也可以活得像法國那樣法國女人那樣肆意妄然,或者想怎麼樣怎麼樣,我會有可能活得更瀟灑一點,人們眼中的瀟灑。不是中國我們國內的,國內的普世價值觀就好像我剛剛跟你說的,我要考慮到我的父母,我的孩子,我的先生,我的兄妹,我要考慮到他們的感受,我要我為他們所付出的那些東西,然後他們帶給我的一些反饋,包括我的朋友,讓我產生了一種獨立的愉悅。但是這種愉悅是作為一個中國的女性,一個獨立女性,我才能夠體會到的。但是法國人,他們不一樣,就不要說法國人,就任何一個西方的,他的普世價值觀,社會價值觀跟我們都有很大的區別,他們是以個人為中心的,這就是我們中國人的社會結構和我們的文化決定了。我們是孔老夫子的後代,雖然我不是完全贊成一些東西,但是在我的成長過程中我父母給我的教育要孝順,要尊重別人,尊重尊師,要尊重什麼什麼這些,都是中國的普世價值觀。

Additionally, there’s the old Chinese saying that a woman obeys her father before marriage and her husband after. It’s not about complete subservience, but it means I prioritize my husband’s family. If I lived in France, our relationship might have ended, breaking our family. But here, I actively work to keep our family together. If I were to adopt a French woman’s independence, it might bring more discontent to you and my parents. There wouldn’t be much joy in that for me. Thus, it’s challenging to compare the two. They are inherently different due to societal principles.



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