"Have women ever really been suppressed in China, I often wonder? The powerful figure of the Empress Dowager immediately comes to my mind. Chinese women are not the type to be easily suppressed. Women have many disadvantages, have been prevented from holding stenographic positions or judicial posts, but women have ruled nevertheless in the home, apart from those debauchee households where women have become toys. Even in these homes, some of the concubines manage to rule their lords.
And what is still more important, women have been deprived of every right, but they have never been deprived of the right to marry. To every girl born in China, a home of her own is provided. Society insists that even slave-girls should be married off at a proper age. Marriage is women's only inalienable right in China, and with the enjoyment of that right, they have the best weapon for power, as wife and mother.
There are two sides to this picture. Man has undoubtedly been unfair to woman, yet it is interesting to see how sometimes woman has her revenge. The total effect of the subjection of women consists in the general recognition of the inferiority of women, in women's self-abasement, in their deprivation of the social advantages of the men, in their lesser education and knowledge, in their cheaper, harder and less free lives, and in the double sex standard. The oppression of women is more the invisible sort, resulting from the general recognition of their inferiority. Where there is no love between husband and wife, the husband may be very autocratic, and in such cases the wife has no other recourse but submission. The women merely endure family autocracy as the Chinese people endure political autocracy."
My Country and My People, Lin Yu Tang, 1935
Does anything change in this world? While trying to slog through My Country and My People last night, I read the above paragraphs, horrified by the snobbish few of women's travails in China that Lin Yu Tang takes. As he tries to explain and defend his culture to the West, his own arrogance and misogyny is revealed.
With his words still rattling through my head, I read two very sad articles today revealing that nothing has changed in China. The first looks at the recurrent attempt by failing Chinese leaders to blame their worse deeds and ultimate demise on a "dragon lady" - a common slight of hand trick that has existed throughout Chinese history to paint women closest to the scene of political intrigue as overly sexual, conniving, trouble makers in order to hide where blame ultimately lies. The second looks at the story of one woman's forced abortion currently taking Chinese media by storm and discusses the ins and outs of China's one child policy.
What links them together? Despite almost a century of social upheaval, Lin's words are as true today about Chinese women as they were at the beginning of the last century. Marriage is women's only inalienable right in China... "the oppression of women is more the invisible sort, resulting from the general recognition of their inferiority." China believes itself to be a liberalized society, but it's exactly this assumption that will keep it from rising above its discriminatory past and present. Change cannot happen until China is willing, as a collective society to drop the arrogant platitudes concerning change and take a long hard look at the invisible, underlying, and completely prevalent attitudes it has towards its women.
Please read these articles and pause to reflect for a moment on the needs of your sisters. Their greatest need is for a worldview change to rip throughout China from top to bottom and back up again.
Right now, old things are in. They have been for a while. When I was a teenager, the vintage market was just starting up, but now it is in full force. With the more recent additions of etsy and pinterest, the market has almost become commonplace. As time pushes us forward, the Western world expresses a collective look back through our most common language - commerce.
But recently, we have moved beyond the market of the old to something even more exciting and interesting - craftsmanship. The nostalgia that started with combing thrift stores and raiding grandmothers' closets has now morphed into the desire to actually produce the past into our present. So much contact with the remainders of yesterday has renewed our understanding that skills must be specialized and that often owning one well crafted labor of creative love surpasses two half-forgotten and slapped-together copies. And ta-da! new handmade objects now hold the same nostalgic joy in them as their vintage counterparts because the process of handmade craftsmanship itself rings of past decades.
At the center of all this commercial celebration of the past, both old and new, is the desire and need for whimsey. A touch of whimsey causes us to play by embracing something different. Whimsey looks to possess something outside of ordinary life, whether from the reaches of imagination, from across the ocean, from the starry future, or from the dusty past. When we have found it and brought it into our world, we laugh and the moment lightens to give us joy for our present. Through the use of the unusual or the different, whimsey gives us strength to enjoy the all-consuming present.
And now, my shameless plug. One of the best examples of whimsical craftsmanship I have seen is a new millinery start up co-owned by my dear friend, Amy Rambo. As long as I have known her, Amy lives and breathes a love for whimsey and it exudes throughout Olive and Jane. Who doesn't want to wear a hat if not simply for the joy of the word fascinator? Take a peek at the Olive and Jane lookbooks and indulge your fanciful self. Let your imagination run wild with what once used to be and then let a bit of it creep into day to day dreams.