My first Women in American Law class in China was VERY interesting! I’m not sure how many students I actually have, since several came up to tell me that they haven’t registered, but want to sit in and listen. I had about 14 in the room, and 9 on the class list I passed around. And, like I usually have at home, the class is all women.
The girls were with me again, even though we got their health clearance, because Tracy couldn’t go with us today to enroll them in kindergarten. I think it’s actually a good thing that they came to my first classes, because I think it served to break the ice. But it definitely opened me up to LOTS of personal questions!
Chinese people ask personal questions of each other and of foreigners as a matter of course. The Chinese greet each other not with a simple hello, but with a question about what is going on in their lives – where do you work? How much do you make? One of the women at the Beijing Embassy told us that she is greeted by people who know she is breast-feeding with the question, “Do you have enough milk?”!!!!!
So I got questions from my class about why I adopted, why I was single, and – my favorite – what I was looking for in a husband! I turned the question around on them, and asked my class what Chinese women looked for in a husband. They all agreed that the most important thing was that he be hard-working. One said the most important thing for her was that he was a Christian. Another said it was most important that he love her very much. But they all agreed it did not matter how much money he had, so long as he had a good work ethic. None of them expected to be supported by their husbands, since in China EVERYONE works outside the home.
I asked them how important it was that women marry in China. They said it was very important, that you cannot have a family until you marry, and that if you are not married by age 25, your family started to harass you about getting married!
I then used the issue of marriage as a way to talk about autonomy – how one of the issues that drove the second wave of feminism in the U.S. was the ability to choose a career instead of marriage or a career together with marriage. We also talked about whether marriage in China was better for men or for women, and who had an easier life, men or women. They all agreed that men had an easier life, and that men in China benefited from marriage more than women did.
It’s interesting how many of my examples are working cross-culturally. One of the examples I use to illustrate that much of the world is male-centered (ideas of merit – beauty, art, intelligence, competence, etc.) in the U.S. is to ask the students to name 5 great artists. I always get the names of male artists, and then ask if only men can be great artists. They answer, no, of course, and then we talk about the fact that men initially defined what art was, and the definition did not include the creative things that women do – quilting, embroidery, etc. Well, it worked exactly the same way here – I got the names of male artists and the conversation proceeded exactly the same!
So, all in all I think this will be a great class. It will be especially fun for me to learn about differences between Chinese and American culture, and to discover the similarities, too.