A bookmark or a fan? The hidden stereotypes behind the act of gift-giving | Teen Ink

A bookmark or a fan? The hidden stereotypes behind the act of gift-giving

April 28, 2022
By cnie_2005 SILVER, Shanghai, Other
cnie_2005 SILVER, Shanghai, Other
6 articles 0 photos 7 comments

Favorite Quote:
Alis Volat Propriis
(She flies With Her Own Wings)

Growing up in a Chinese household, I understood the strong emphasis on family, and as a cultural custom in family reunions, people prepare gifts for each other. I watched as each of my cousins, and I received our presents. They were all packed in blue bags, so I assumed they were the same.

There is a sort of blessing behind each present from the gift giver. It was not until I sat down that I peered inside my gift bag to see a traditional Chinese fan with cute panda prints on top, while my male cousin beside me held a bookmark in his hand. I expressed my gratitude with a smile on my face, but deep down, I began to ponder the underlying stereotypes of these gifts. Perhaps my relatives hoped for greater beauty and elegance from the girls with the fan and greater wisdom or success from the boys. I don't think my relatives intended to enforce stereotypical qualities that a girl or boy should aspire to have, but the culture that raised them taught them that this was the gender norm. 

The Chinese character for woman, "女," is created to look like the image of a woman crossing her legs. Traditionally, women in china have always been depicted as symbols of beauty and subservience, whereas men represented positions of power. Before the end of the Qing Dynasty, women's education was based on the teachings of social ethics and becoming virtuous wives. The whole upbringing would be centered around the virtue of being docile and obedient. What women learned during those days amounted to nothing more than cooking, sewing, knitting, and housekeeping. In contrast, male members from wealthy families were afforded schooling based on the teachings of philosophy and Confucius. These skills enabled wealthy students to obtain the knowledge required to enter the civil service sectors of the government bureaucracy.

At the age of ten, young girls would be restrained to their boudoirs and brought up by their parents to be subservient to men. At the age of fifteen, it was customary to be betrothed and, at twenty, married. As soon as the woman married, she was considered a physical piece of her husband's property. Furthermore, parents usually arranged marriages for their children in Ancient China, based not on love but on economic and social considerations.

Male dominance is further illustrated through the ancient practice of foot-binding. Girls from a young age had their feet wrapped in a binding that broke their toes to discourage further growth since women with tiny feet were considered more attractive. Forced to hobble around on contorted feet, young girls could only work within the vicinity of home. Ancient Chinese accessories further expressed the oppressive expectation for women to have subtle beauty and docility towards men. Women were forbidden to show their faces in public and laugh and smile while showing their teeth; as a result, they covered their faces with a fan. Around the Song Dynasty, a type of silk fan became popular among aristocratic young women. These fans were often round to resemble the moon. This fan has two charms: the fabric and the license for artistic creativity. The fan was made of thinly woven translucent silk that hides the face but lightly reveals a women's red lips and makeup. The main "face" of the fan is also embroidered or hand-painted. Artworks featuring birds and flowers were especially popular among women who used them as a prop to showcase their grace and beauty.

There are still certain expectations to act according to these ideals in contemporary Chinese society. Living in a Chinese household, these were also the early expectations placed upon me, but this small act of gift-giving made me even more aware of the embedded stereotypes around me. If we try not to make presents gender-based and eliminate the boundaries for what is considered a gift specifically for girls or boys, perhaps society will change for the better.

Similar Articles


This article has 0 comments.