The other day, I was asked for my thoughts on the trending hashtag, “Shenzhen girl (深圳女孩儿).” I didn’t understand the question because I don’t Tik Tok. According to my young friend, the hashtag origin story occurred when a couple Shenzhen girls walked into a Beijing bar. The Beijing girls chatted about falling in love and relationships; the #shenzhengirls talked about making money and what they would buy with their cash. Apparently, this generation of #shenzhengirls are too materialistic. I wasn’t shocked by the hashtag because sexing the greed is an ongoing Shenzhen conversation, where people have tended to attribute a woman’s economic success to an immoral character.
But things aren’t so straight-forwardly chauvinistic.
A few days after #shenzhengirl came to my attention, the meme “Girls today if they don’t work hard they’ll be grabbed for marriage … and they’ll have to give birth to two children (现在的女孩子 如果不努力 是会被抓去结婚的 。。。并且还要生二胎)“ popped up in a We Chat group. The humor, of course, is the idea that it’s better for young women to be independent than a wife and mother. When I showed the joke to a friend of mine, she sighed and commented, “Girls don’t have any easy choices.”
I noticed the meme because it appeared in one of the more traditional groups that I’m in. It’s a group where productive men and loving women are assumed to be the moral basis of good marriage, which is in turn thought to be the basis of a healthy society. Jokes and criticisms tend to circle around the traditional ideal of a single-surname village / association, which is held up as a symbol of the good society. However, even in this group, there’s no easy agreement about what a #shenzhengirl should become as she ages into womanhood. Instead, there are questions about what girls and women are entitled to as family members, along with questions about what a bride owes her husband’s family. Indeed, “traditional” in this context seems to mean “accepts the idea of sacrificing oneself for husband’s family,” while “modern,” which is a desirable value in other contexts is tied to a woman’s social successes. And yes, being traditional or modern often isn’t a choice, but a response to a specific situation.
So point du jour: the shift I’m noticing in the debate about #shenzhengirls is that what used to be a consensus about girls and women being held responsible for upholding family values is being questioned. As more and more young couples face the practical reality of “naked marriages (裸婚)”–no ring, no wedding, no car, no house–the value of marriage itself is suspect, as #shenzhengirls legit wonder, “what’s in it for me?”
I find the characterisation of women of a region an interesting phenomenon, one that is in nature both regional and global. The stereotypes some may have on Shenzhen girls are eerily similar to their neighbours ‘Gong Nui’ (Hong Kong girls: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gong_nui ), whose (unfairly portraited) characteristics have been perpetuated by TVB series and popular YouTube videos. A comparative example half a world away is Essex Girls, whose even more negative connotations were reinforced not only by the reality TV show The Only Way’s Essex, but also Oxford Dictionary. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Essex_girl) However, both HK and Essex girls have their opposite-sex counterparts ‘Hong Kong boys’ and ‘Essex boys’, which seemingly, make the characterisation of women less of a sexist act. I wonder is there a hashtag or a social discussion on #Shenzhenmen trending also?
Hi Sice, I agree that there are classist and gendered ways for shaming poor men and neighborhoods for the way they carry social inequality, but nothing makes slut shaming (seem) less sexist. When greed and ambition are sexed in ways that place young women in vulnerable positions vis-a-vis male supervisors, colleagues, and clients the assumption is: if a young woman is willing to use her body to make money, then she can’t be sexually harassed. This means that sexual assault needs to be brutal before it gets noticed, let alone reported. This has been extremely noticeable in Shenzhen, where millions of teenage girls have entered the workforce (and especially the service industry) after graduating from middle school or high school. For stories about the experiences of female migrants, you’ve probably read 安子 (https://www.dushu.com/book/10023484/). However, I find 吴君 (http://www.chinawriter.com.cn/fwzj/writer/459.shtml), who has been documenting gender relations since 1995 especially insightful.
About hashtags, I haven’t heard about #深圳男孩儿, but maybe because I don’t really follow social media. I learned about #深圳女孩儿, for example, because a student asked me what I thought about the expression (for a TikTok post that never happened. She also asked me what I thought about #来了就是深圳人. I suspect my answer to that question was as useless to her as my take on #深圳女孩儿.) That said, for most of the time I’ve been here, discussions about what is a 深圳人 have been about how immigrant men realize themselves through hard work. As pathways to improving one’s class position have narrowed and been closed off, discussions about lazy young people, and now 内卷 and 躺平 appeared. However, generational discussions that disparage young people for being uncompetitive in a rigged system seem to be common to big cities, rather than Shenzhen specific.
Off topic, I’m wondering how to pronounce your name. In my head, I have two versions: a Mandarin version that is something that begins with 思, but I can’t figure out the ce and an English version that rhymes with spice.
It ‘s the latter, meaning the number six on a dice, originated from Latinate French ‘sis’…
On sexism shown in the hashtags, I think we are on the same page (I was being sarcastic when I said ‘seemingly…’). Two wrongs don’t make a right – #ShenzhenGirls and #ShenzhenMen couldn’t cancel each other off . Even if one day we get to a point where half of the people in power are women and ‘Shenzhen Men’ becomes a synonym of males sleeping their ways to the top, the co-existence of the two terms doesn’t make either of them any less sexist. There is this French film ‘Je ne suis pas un homme facile’ (I’m not an Easy Man) paints a picture of what the world would look like when gender roles are switched and men become the victims of sexist expectations.
You haven’t missed out much not being on social media, as most of the discussions of the trending topics on TikTok and the likes are shaped by mainstream media platforms anyway.
One example of those platforms is Bravo TV’s Real Housewives franchise, in which women are presented as powerful, hard-working, driven, liberal, know what they want, and most importantly, candid with their desires and emotions. Despite being a reality show that is highly controlled, selective, occasionally staged and overly dramatic, the positivity coming out of these depictions of women with money and beauty who don’t shy away from expressing their desires for quality sex and more wealth, in my opinion, is a powerful weapon against slut-shaming. ‘Slut shame’ only works when a society is filled with distorted moral idea about sex and money. It is difficult to combat slut-shaming against women in a society where swear words commonly involve female’s sexual organs and people won’t have open conversations about what they see as taboos such as sex life. Perhaps Shenzhen needs a TV show like The Real Housewives of Beijiashan Hill (or something like that…)
In the age of Lumiere in the 18th century, when reasons are so crazily worshipped, being emotional was unwanted. Emotion-shaming was used to suppress women’s rights and discredit women’s works. (even though women are just as reasonable as men) Emotion was slightly vindicated in 19th century when romanticism ruled. Fast forward to this day and age, where everybody talks about how they feel, shaming someone as being emotional simply wouldn’t hurt. In time, slut-shame would go inutile just like that.
But we don’t have the luxury of a century to wait for a gradual cultural change, what can the establishment do to accelerate it? Economy wise, Katty Kay and Claire Shipman have done amazing researches that show that the productivity of a corporation increases dramatically when its decision makers are consisted of roughly the same number of men and women (‘Womenomics: Work Less, Achieve More, Live Better’ 2009). Politics wise, French law makes it compulsory for political parties to nominate equal number of male and female candidates in elections – Something Shenzhen’s local residential committees, if not municipal congress, should consider. With a structural change that helps women get into positions of power, sexism, especially in the form of slut-shaming, shall decrease (sorry if France is not the best example to manifest the efficacy of the policy change…)
(For the record, sexual harassments and exploitation at workplaces is absolutely NOT OK. I guess what I am talking about here is a narrower sense of slut-shame, diverting from ‘sexed for greed’ that you so thoroughly and wonderfully explained)
Thanks for the recommendations. I’ve heard of the novelist, but never read her works. Coincidentally, I’ve been considering buying Yiwei Xue’s Shenzhener. Not sure if it’s any good, but some online said it’s critically acclaimed. (https://www.amazon.com/Shenzheners-Yiwei-Xue/dp/1988130034)
Hi Sice, Yes, I didn’t doubt we were on the same page about gender issues. Thank you for the Yiwei Xue recommendation. I haven’t read it, but have downloaded it. That said, I’m wary of “critical acclaim,” most likely because I was raised on US American movies and tv; I like fast edits and straight-forward story lines in fiction. In practice, this means when I hear the expression, “critically acclaimed,” I understand it to mean “slow pacing with easy to miss denouement” and end up watching a food documentary.
Haha. Tell me about it! It’s like, before you know it, you’re already searching on Netflix to see if there’s a film adaptation of the same novel …