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One hundred years ago, many women in China were still having their feet bound. Today, while discrimination and inequality and harassment persist, the culture has been transformed. In the major cities, we've found that Chinese men often do more domestic chores than American men typically do. And urban parents are often not only happy with an only daughter; they may even prefer one, under the belief that daughters are better than sons at looking after aging parents.
It is very difficult to ascertain the relative "statuses" and "roles" of men and women in a society, especially so in a society where one has little experience and can barely speak the language. However, my short time in China has convinced me that one of the few but very important good things for the Chinese people that Mao did was raise the level of women's position in society significantly. I believe that this trend started even before the Communist take-over, but he was a major force in institutionalizing it. Several Chinese women I have spoken to have credited Mao with "liberating" women from the traditional subservient position they had in feudal China. One well-known Chinese woman commentator even joked that Mao was the "sugar daddy" of all Chinese women. And because of him, she went on, Chinese women did not have to fight for their equal status with men, as women in Western society did, leaving them with a peculiar paradoxical confidence/insecurity complex regarding how to integrate their sense of femininity, sexuality, economic power, social roles, and so on, in an extremely rapidly globalizing and modernizing China that nevertheless retains traditional conservative views of sexuality and gender roles in some ways.
Having said this, the countryside remains far more traditional than the city, and no doubt the modern economic trends that Kristof and WuDunn decribe must be having enormous impact on the relative status of women there.
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