Comparative Study of American and Chinese Women’s Images
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Comparative Study of American and Chinese Women’s Images

Top Vocational College of Information and Technology  Zhu Weifang

Shaoxing zhejiang 312000

Abstract: American and Chinese women share the similar images because of the social and physical factors: they belong to the same gender. They are objects of viewing, species needing protection, caring mothers and loving wives. All these women’s images are created in a man-centered society and show the inferiority of the female. On the other hand, their different cultural backgrounds, especially the influence of Chinese patriarchal theory and American humanism thoughts, cause the various women’s images they hold. Generally speaking, American women are more independent while Chinese women are more self-sacrificing. The author of this article tries to make a comparative study of American and Chinese women’s images with the mass media as a cultural resource.

Key Words: American  Chinese  Women’s Images   Culture





1.     Introduction

            The possibility of making comparisons between American and Chinese women images

#p#分页标题#e#I once came across the saying of a British gentleman visiting the United States, “ I don’t think it is possible to write a book about the American character. The United States is too large; the people and their lifestyles are too different. The country is changing too rapidly and the future is so uncertain.” There is kind of truth in his words because of the immense size of the United States and its enormous ethnic diversity. However, in spite of these important differences, a strong tie binds Americans”(Keary 3). In this sense, it is possible to make generalizations about the basic American beliefs, values and character traits. What’s more important, is ensures the impossibility of making a comparative study of American and Chinese women images.

            Relationship between culture and sex role

Sex role refers to the role the male and the female play respectively. Culture plays an tremendous part in shaping expectations attached to sex roles and this process, sometimes called socialization ,determines how each of us assimilate our culture’s ideas of what it means to act as a male or a female (Hirsch berg 148).As French says ,sex role is learned and what is learned can be learned differently (151). “Whatever we possess by nature, from our genes, sex role is not among them” (French151). This point is easy to understand because if sex role were inherent, men and women would not feel and act as differently as they do from culture to culture .The research of John Money and of Hampson shows that hermaphrodites who

are chromosomally and hormonally of one sex but are raised as if they were the opposite sex lead normal lives, including sex lives, as members of the sex in which they have been reared (French151).

Another example to show that sex role is learned is mothering. Many people had the view that mothering is women’s natural ability, yet studies show that there is no evidence of an instinct or biological basis for mothering (French153). It is reported that there is no harm to infants, or to their mothers, if the infants are not reared by their biological mothers. At the same time, we often see among women that those who lacked mothers in their childhood can’t mother in turn, and are distant or abusive to their children. Education in mothering occurred so early that we all confuse it with instinct. In fact, mothering is learned and the role has been played by women for so long a history owing to the cultural and social factors.

It is common that we tend to acquire a sense of our own sexual identity in conjunction with societal expectations .Yet these expectations differ strikingly from culture to culture. What’s more, the range of behavior within one sex is as great as that between the two sexes and it is even more obvious to find in different cultures.

            Sex role and women’s images#p#分页标题#e#

From the above analysis, it is reasonable for us to conclude that sex role is influenced largely by the various cultural and social factors. Sex role is represented in many ways, such as people’s behavior, people’s attitudes towards the male and the female, the profession classification, physical appearance, etc, Another important way to demonstrate the sex role is the mass media, such as television, films, comic books, history books, magazines, newspapers and broadcasting, etc. From the mass media, we obtain the so-called images. The author of this article tries to make a comparative study of American and Chinese women’s images with the mass media as a cultural resource.

2.     The similar American and Chinese women’s images

Both American and Chinese women have some kind of similar images mainly because they both belong to the same sex—the opposite to the male sex. This basic similarity determines that their shared images are all related to the different sex roles played by the male and the female.

French catches the gist of the male role prevailing in the modern society under the influence of the traditional patriarchal society. In his words,” The male role consists largely of sacrifices—men must give up the hope of happiness, the ideal of home, emotional expressions and spontaneity, in order to become members of an elite that values power, wandering isolation, individuality, and discipline (149).People all want to make men of boys and they specialize in brutalization: rigid discipline, emphasis on physical hardness and strength, and attempt for sensitivity, delicacy and emotion (French 150).People want men to show manliness and manliness mainly means to be in control at all times and remaining in control prevents a person from ever achieving intimacy with another and thus precludes easy friendship, fellowship and community. That’s why in our daily life, we meet so many manly images: the successful life-controller, the brave heroes to save others, the wealthy manager, the insightful conqueror of danger, the robust boxers, etc. If we come across a man crying, we tend to snore at him for his not being a “true man”.

On the contrary, women’s images are quite different from men’s .Ben Jonson’s poem embodies the disparities fully (Fuller 70).

“I meant the day-star should not brighter ride,

Nor shed like influence from its lucent seat;

I meant she should be courteous, facile, sweet,

Free from that solemn vice of greatness, pride;#p#分页标题#e#

I meant each softest virtue there should meet,

Fit in that softer bosom to abide,

Only a learned and a manly soul

I purposed her, that should with even powers

The rock ,the spindle, and the shears control

Of destiny, and spin her own free hours.”

All the women images are determined by the male-centered society. The feudal consciousness that women are inferior to men has great influence in many people’s mind and the media, which have great influence on the masses, are deliberately and in deliberately broadcasting prejudices and discrimination towards women.

            Specie needing protection

In men’s eyes, women belong to the species needing protection because of their physical weakness. From the American and Chinese movies, we frequently find the strong and brave men characters protecting or saving weak and feeble women. No matter in ancient times or in modern times, Cinderella’s can find happiness only when they have the good luck to meet the courageous princesses to save them; the sleeping beauties can live merrily only after the kissing of the princesses.

            Objects of viewing

Women are symbols of sexuality, beauty, virginity, innocence and seduction. Women occupy most of the covers of the popular magazines and advertisements and become the objects of viewing and admiring .In Wollstonecraft’s words, women are “like the flowers which are planted in too rich a soil, strength and usefulness are sacrificed to beauty; and the flaunting leaves, after having pleased a fastidious eye, fade, disregarded on the stalk, long before the season when they ought to have arrived at maturity”(4). These unhealthy women’s images are created by the men considering females rather as women than human creatures. They have tried to make the female alluring mistresses than affectionate wives and rational mothers. The civilized women of the present century, with a few exceptions, are only anxious to inspire love, when they ought to cherish a nobler ambition, and by their abilities and virtues exact respect (Wollstonecraft 4)#p#分页标题#e#

            Working women

In spite of kinds resistance, workingwomen have become prevailing images both in American and in China. Although the popular beliefs about women’s natural capacities supported their entry into the traditional “feminine” professions, such as cleaning, teaching, clerical jobs, nursing, factory work, librarianship, etc, a growing number of pioneers are venturing into other fields. They run business, they become astronauts, lawyers, doctors, taxi drivers, soldiers and politicians. For example, the chief economist of General Motors is woman. and so is the president of the great filmmaking company 20th Century Fox. In China, we have the female minister of foreign trade department, Wu Yi.However, we are also aware of the fact that for one woman executive or one woman judge, there are still countless typists and saleswomen who struggle through their day without any sense of victory. Besides the profession variety, women also have another image---the victims of pay gap. Although wage discrimination has been against the law both in China and in American, yet systematic underpayment on the basis of sex still pervades the workplaces. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research in Washington calculates that the average 29-year-old workingwoman with a college degree will lose $990000 to the pay gap over her career (Gardner! 100). In the magazines and newspapers, such as Women of China and China Daily, we frequently come across the news of women complaining about their underpayment.


Besides the images we have mentioned above. Women do have some good images related to their capacities and virtues. In Hume’s eyes, women are like supermen and women are often the domestic financial managers, charged with stretching small salaries to cover large families. Wives function different roles as cook, dietitian, nutritionist, cleaning woman, social and final secretary, hostess, interior decorator and child-care specialist (Hume 20).Some certain magazine says, “a woman is the nurturing force, spiritual and moral guide, comforter, wardrobe mistress, seamstress, caretaker, nurse, socializer, problem-solver, lullaby-singer, educator and adviser”(Hume 20).

3.     The variations in American and Chinese women’s images

It is easy for us to find that both American and Chinese women share kinds of similar images because of the physical and society. However, we are aware that women’s images are not only determined by their genre, but also more influentially determined by the culture in which they survive.#p#分页标题#e#

    China has undertaken the fetters of standing feudalism and the patriarchal theory is influential, such as (1) the whole family was a basic economic unit. The male were responsible for matters happening outside the family and the female were in charge of the trivial matters in the family ;(2) family power was in the hand of the male master and the mental leaders in big families were all male seniors. Thus the popular ideology was the superiority of the male and the inferiority of the female.

On the contrary, American is a country full of the valuation of bourgeois humanism, and the ideology of “equality, freedom and fraternity” got popular. The humanism elements are mainly as follow (1) The importance is not attached to families or to human relations but to individuals;(2) The focus in on personal rights but not on family duties;(3) The female and the male are considered equal;(4) The belief of equality of everyone is well accepted (Tian 178-234).

Because of the different cultural surroundings, the American and Chinese women’s images vary greatly even in today’s open globe emphasizing mutual communication and understanding.

3.1The self-sacrificing Chinese mothers and the happiness-pursing American women

3.1.1        Giving birth to a baby

The Chinese and American take different attitudes towards giving birth to babies. In China, giving birth to a baby is regarded as a virtue of a woman and the pregnant women are considered as the most beautiful and greatest and they show the so-named maternal beauty. They suffer the pains of bearing and producing a baby bravely without complaining and hopefully enjoy the process. On the contrary, some American women think children are kind of burden in their lives. Giving birth to babies may have bad impact on their keeping good figures, on the marriage life and on their careers. After all, mothering is not an easy task and it takes lots of time, energy and patience. This tendency brings about the zero population growth of America. That’s also why in many Chinese TV series and movies, people can find easily the pregnant women showing beauty and earning respect, while we seldom find this image in American movies.

3.1.2 Maintaining the marriage or getting a divorce

It is reported that America has become the country with the highest divorce rate in the world and many Chinese women can’t understand and accept this tendency. In America, the value placed on marriage itself is determined mostly by how happy the husband and wife make each other (Keary 203).The majority of American women value companionship as the most important part of marriage. They get married because marriage would add another realm of experience, another dimension of life “(Hume 20).If a man and a woman are desperately unhappy together, it is better not only for them but for their children that they live apart instead of remaining together. In Faul’s words,” marriage in the U.S tend to look more like serial monogamy than lifetime partnership, especially in the major cities and under half of all marriages and in divorce”(58). Many celebrities, such as Elizabeth Taylor, Hilton Wilding, Warner Forte sky, etc, marry repeatedly.#p#分页标题#e#

By contrast, the Chinese women don’t pay much attention to their own happiness. They don’t live for themselves. Instead, they live for the family, the husband and the children. The duties to raise children and to look after the husband are the aims of their marriage. That’s why so many Chinese women are willing to give up their jobs and stay at home to be housewives. That’s also why so many Chinese women endure the hardship of marriage patiently and try to maintain the unhappy marriage life. In a word, the Chinese women become the sacrifice of the family .Although nowadays, many have realized the importance of self-recognition and self-fulfillment, it is still hard for the Chinese women to face divorce easily. After all, they have been influenced by such a long tradition from the patriarchal society and the ideal mother image full of sacrificing spirit has been rooted.

3.1.3        The caring Chinese mothers and American working women

   To many American women, family responsibilities are not that important than the self-fulfillment and identity maintaining. The busy and vigorous professional women have replaced the caring mothers and wives. More than 80% of women between ages of 35 and 45 are employed outside the home. To Faul, “the ideal non-working wife, the caring, nurturing mother greets children after school with a plate of home-baked cookies, do exist. But are nearly extinct”(60). As a result, children spend more time with baby-sitters, day-care center personnel, relatives and neighbors than their mothers and mothers are not always the first to hear “secrets” of the children any longer. At the same time, because of the less time spent together by the couple, the husband and wife get less communication and understanding than ever. For example, Caroline, a character in American Beauty, an Oscar-winning movie, is the typical American working woman image, firm in character, successful in career, but caring little about her husband and her daughter.

On the contrary, in China, wives are always depicted as the natural bearers of all housework no matter whether they have their own careers. This point is especially conspicuous when covering successful women. The reports in the media often include their compunction to their husbands for they are too busy with work to do housework. For example, in covering four delegates of the people’s congress, the three male delegates were praised for their achievements in the sphere of learning: the female delegate was introduced for her good performance both in work and in house chores, how well she solved the conflicts between her tow roles-a professional woman and a good wife(Xiao 18).

What’s more, the unselfishness and the sacrificing spirits of mothers are always the main subjects the media covers. A good example is an article’s statement of extolling mothers, “Mother, how toilsome you are all your life! You devote completely to the whole family, serve as an able and virtuous wife and mother, abide strictly by the moral standard of the spiritual fetters imposed on women in feudal society. How great the unselfishness of a mothers’ love is .How lucky women are that the Creator gave the right to be mothers only to them”(Xiao 18).

3.2 The independent American women and dependent Chinese women

#p#分页标题#e#In both America and China, women have witnessed steady progress toward equal status for themselves in the family and in society. However, they still share different degrees of equality and independence.

Individual freedom is probably the most basic of all the American values and the belief in equality has had a strong effect on the women images (Keary 204). According to Letha and John Scanzoni, two American sociologists, the family institution in the U.S has experienced four stages of development. In each new stage, wives have increased the degree of equality with the husbands and have gained more power within the family. The four stages are the following(1)wife as servant to husband during the 19th century;(2)husband-head, wife-helper during the late 19th and early 20th centuries;(3)husband-senior partner, wife-junior partner during the 20th century;(4)husband-wife equal partners since the late 1960s(220-25).The equality is enhanced and it is obvious that equality has close connection with the economic basis, because more and more workingwomen appear. Since they earn enough income to support themselves and have no difficulty in living alone, American women become independent.

In Chinese families, the male are the main providers of family economic means, though some women do work for living. Many women rely on their parents before marriage and they regard marriage as their only chance to gain independence from their parents, to have a provider, or to be assured of a good place in society. As a result, they never become totally independent.

What’s more, Chinese women are psychologically dependent. Chinese women are raised under the concept of the weaker sex and the protected ones. They are taught by the society and their parents not to be too strong and showy. Other wise, they would be regarded as not true women. A typical Chinese girl should be gentle and lovely, tender and soft as water, and infinitely affectionate, they are born and grow up to be protected by the male. Thus although under the influence of foreign trends as women’s liberation movement, some have realized the importance of independence, the dependent Chinese women are still a well-known world images compared with the American independent women.

There are many other differences in American and Chinese women’s images worthy of studying, such as the conservative Chinese women and the open American women. The above-mentioned two are the most obvious and typical ones.

4.     Conclusion

There are many factors on women’s images, and culture is an influential one. The variation in American and Chinese women’s image serve a good example. It is hard to decide which women’s image is better, but to women themselves, the most favorable image may be the one that can choose what one wants to do. As in Fuller’s words,” Nature would take care of that; some birds will delight to make the nest soft and warm; no need to clip the wings of any bird that wants to soar and sing, or finds in itself the strength of pinion for a migratory flight unusual to its kind”(84).#p#分页标题#e#




Works cited

1)Binder, Frederick M. and David M. Reimers, eds. The Way We lived. Vol.2.Lexington: D.C Health and Company, 1988.

2)French, Marilyn. “Gender Roles.” One World, Many Cultures. Ed. Stuart Hirsch berg. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992.

3)Fuller, Margaret, “The Future of Women.” Western Women’s Monologue. Ed. Gao Fen. Wuhan: Huazhong University of Technology Press , 2000.

4)“Prejudice against Women.” Western Women’s Monologue. Ed. Gao Fen. Wuhan: Huazhong University of technology Press,2000.

5)Gardner , Marilyn. “The Pay Gap for Women: It’s a Family Issue.” The Way Americans Think and Act. Ed. Han Jie. Shanghai Jiao Tong University Press,1999.

6)Hume, Janice. “Changing Characteristics of Heroic Women in Mid-century Mainstream Media.” Journal of Popular Culture. Vol.34. No.1. 2000: 9-29. Keary, Edward N. et al eds. The American Way. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall Inc.1984.

7)Wollstonecraft,Mary. “ A Vindication of the Rights of Women.” Western Women’s Monologue. Ed. Gao Fen. Wuhan: Huazhong University#p#分页标题#e# of Technology Press, 2000.

8)Xiao Ming, “ Sexual Prejudices in the Media.” Women of Chinese.Vol.3.2001:18-19.