Gender equality moves forward, with new-generation families embracing compromise

Tian Shengjie
Male participation in family affairs is a good start for gender equality, and the initiative is growing, with more husbands and wives embracing compromise in work-life balance.
Tian Shengjie

Recently, I took an online training course on "male virtue," which was devised by a renowned sexologist to nudge more men into treating women as their equals.

Dr Fang Gang, a Beijing-based sexologist and sociologist, emphasized in the online training course that men and women are equal. One key topic in Dr Fang's course was full male participation in family work, including household chores and raising kids.

My classmates ― those who had excelled in their professional fields ― discussed how a father could cooperate with a nursing mother to take care of their children, especially when it comes to education.

I was surprised to find that many male students answered questions about mother-infant problems without any hitch. For instance, they knew whether a baby under 6 months old is hungry or needs to change diapers from crying or certain behaviors.

Most of them even have had experience in taking care of babies. As a mother of a 1-year-old daughter, I couldn't answer as comprehensively as them.

"Men's participation in family affairs is a manifestation of gender equality," Fang said. "It is unfair to leave all domestic affairs to women."

The recent courses were designed for future regional leaders to become teachers of offline workshops for diverse audiences. They are married professionals, with related working experiences and equitable minds, Dr Fang said.

Gender equality moves forward, with new-generation families embracing compromise
Tian Shengjie / SHINE

My husband took my daughter to an aquarium in Putuo District in October.

Male companionship was a keyword in the online class but, I think, sometimes it's a luxury.

My daughter recently had her first birthday. Looking back on this year, I noticed that my husband had been on a business trip for nearly five months. Certainly, he couldn't help much with the daily care of our baby in a hands-on manner, but I still think he's a good man.

When he is free, he can do everything but breastfeeding. Even when he was on business, we had video calls for about an hour every day, and he also worked out our daughter's study plan even though he was far away from home.

In a sense, fate drives us forward so that many choices are involuntary. I know he has done his best and, in my mind, he is the best father and husband. There are those who go home and indulge in games and neglect their children and wives.

For me, cooperation based on gender equality is the essence of my marriage. We work together, like comrades, to build blockhouses to resist all risks. We continue developing in our respective fields.

This is why I support my husband in going on business trips, even to remote areas for a long time. When I can handle my daughter by myself and balance work and family, a temporary farewell is for our solid blockhouse in the future. He also said he would do the same for me.

Beyond imagination

For our society at large, promoting the idea of "male participation in family affairs" is a good start for greater gender equality.

For my parents' generation, however, such a concept was beyond imagination. They thought men should go out to work, and he who spends hours "slaving over" his wife and children was a good-for-nothing.

In the past, many jobs were more suitable for men ― usually taller or stronger than women. Females were more likely to do housework, taking care of the elderly and raisingsu children.

But now, especially since the Industrial Revolution, the mode of production has changed dramatically. While machines have replaced parts of physical labor and the entire society needs more labor force, women's potential in the workplace has been stimulated.

The National Bureau of Statistics showed at the end of last year that the number of employed women in China had grown steadily. In 2020, there were 67.794 million female employees in cities, an increase of 19.179 million over 2010.

As more and more women have jobs, their power to speak for their legitimate right has increased. Imagine a working mother. If her husband proposes a divorce, she can tell him that their daughter should live with her, because she can afford to raise the kid on her own.

Gender equality moves forward, with new-generation families embracing compromise
Tian Shengjie / SHINE

A kindergarten holds a father-child activity in a park in suburban Shanghai's Songjiang District.

With rising women power, the shackles of feudal ideology on men are gradually disappearing ― men have found more choices in work and life,

My husband once told me that if he could, he was willing to be a stay-at-home dad but not an idle man.

"'Eating soft rice' 吃软饭 (a Chinese term means living off a woman) sounds great. Despite its possibly negative implications in the beginning, the phrase has increasingly been taken to mean something neutral ― the status of a man who stays at home not to idle away his time, but to help with family work.

"It's also fun to do housework and take care of our child," he said. Although he spoke sincerely, my father-in-law believed that he was just joking.

Dr Zhang Zhihui, a student in the online course who is a potential leader in promoting male virtue, said: "Laughing at men 'eating soft rice' reflects a stereotype about men's role. According to this stereotype, men must have a strong stomach to 'eat hard rice.' But you know, a large number of men, who think they are busy on work, are 'eating soft rice' in housework ― they live off their wives in this respect."

Among my friends, few men live off their wives, but some have started to realize that the age when men should go out to work is out of date.

Fred Zhou, an old friend of mine, newly spliced, said he is trying his best to spend more time on his family life, whether it is cooking, cleaning, gathering with friends, or watching football games.

Gender equality moves forward, with new-generation families embracing compromise
Ti Gong

All dishes are produced by Fred Zhou.

Unmarried Weylin Wu also finds pleasure in cooking. He said: "I look forward to doing housework with my future partner because the boredom of housework will disappear."

He also bought many electric appliances, such as a dishwasher and a robotic vacuum cleaner, to ease the burden of housework.

The role of fathers has also been highlighted in the parent-child relationship.

According to the Hangzhou-based big data company ittime, around 30 percent of fathers accompanied their children for more than four hours every day in 2019. But domestic market research firm iResearch said in a recent report that, in addition to sleep time, 43.8 percent of fathers spent over five hours with their children every day last year.

Every time I take my daughter to Shanghai parks during the weekend, I see families of three having picnics, catching insects, fishing and barbecuing.

However, a report on the living conditions of working mothers in 2022 released by in May shows that the husbands of more than 20 percent of working mothers are "deadbeat dads."

Gender equality moves forward, with new-generation families embracing compromise
Tian Shengjie / SHINE

Men are not permitted in a nursing room. Such signs can be seen in many places.

Even in Shanghai, a first-tier modern city, you can still see that a mother-baby room in a big shopping mall is closed to fathers.

When mothers hold around 10-kilogram children with one hand and wash their bottoms with the other, fathers are kept out of the door, and can do nothing but play mobile phone games.

Good news is that in Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang Province, some mother-baby rooms have been renamed as baby-care rooms to encourage fathers and mothers to work together to take care of their children.

I believe, in the process of achieving gender equality, this change will not be an exception.

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