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Women in Journalism

News: Chinese Women Still Seek a Seat at the Table

Today The Atlantic published an article about Lean In in China.  The article was written by our friend Roseann Lake, who is writing a book on China’s “leftover women” and does an awesome cartoon called Chaoji Shengnv.

Rigid gender roles are well-entrenched in China, a country where young girls grow up learning xue de hao bu ru yi jia de hao, a phrase translating as “it’s better to marry well than to study well.” Still-influential Confucian values dictate that a man should be superior to his wife in terms of salary and education, and as a result many women with college degrees find themselves unwanted in China’s marriage market.

Enter Sheryl Sandberg. Even before the Facebook COO set foot in Beijing, several grassroots “Lean In” groups, inspired by her bestselling book of the same name, had sprouted up across the country. Though many of these groups are officially registered on Sandberg’s platform site, LeanIn.org, their objectives are tailored to local needs. One of the first groups of this kind, a Lean In Circle comprised of 13 young women from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and the U.S., lists “involving men,” as one of its goals. “Women will only be able to fully ‘lean in’ if the men around them—their husbands, coworkers and bosses, and potential mentors—provide support,” is one of the group’s key written objectives.

Their initiative is especially needed in China, where a woman’s professional success, no matter how exceptional, remains secondary to the importance given to her marital status. Marriage is such a dominant social force that, according to numbers from the National Bureau of Statistics, less than 2 percent of Chinese females remain unmarried by the age of 38. Whether they choose to marry or end up acquiescing to marriage pressure is a separate issue, but modern women struggle to ensure that their life partners are supporting, rather than inhibiting, their professional and personal ambitions.

“Society is less forgiving and accepting of diverse lifestyles and types of accomplishments; families place tremendous pressure on their children to achieve high incomes and stable family lives, even if these come at the expense of individual happiness,” says Mariel Reed, an American woman who co-founded the Lean In Beijing group with Allison Ye, a native of China’s Jiangxi Province. “There is a need in China for a more diverse, personally-tailored definition of success.”

Charlotte Han, one of the principal organizers of Lean In Beijing’s group activities, and part of a group who met Sandberg at a private event at Peking University, echoes Reed’s sentiments. “She said we were the first international circle outside of the U.S. that she got to meet, and she had tears in her eyes,” reports Han. “After meeting her, I want to lean in more decisively. For me personally, the “lean in” attitude is about pursuing what I love and want—it’s motivation to proactively engage in meaningful and challenging work which will help me learn, take initiative, and be responsible for myself.”

You can read the full article online here or in PDF here.

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