Adultery has traditionally been a male thing. But in China – as the socialist country claimed their women were equal to men – women have expanded their equality also into adultery, says professor James Farrer, an eminent scholar on China´s sexuality in the Atlantic.
Why would Chinese women demonstrate a greater propensity for adultery than women in France, where sexual attitudes are often portrayed as remarkably liberal? Or than American women, who are bombarded by infidelity in TV shows and movies, not to mention among the celebrities that star in such entertainment?
“China is a society that has emphasized women’s independence and women’s equality,” says Farrer. “Socialism was not a passing thing. It had a big impact on the way that women saw themselves. So Chinese women feel as though they have a right to the things that Chinese men have a right to. And when you talk to women about infidelity in China, they will often say, ‘Well, men do it. Why can’t we?’”…
Another phenomenon associated with infidelity in China involves women married to partners whose income is modest. These women are sometimes interested in “trading up” should the chance arise. “I would say that working-class women who are not happy with their marriages are sometimes actually looking for a better deal rather than just trying to enjoy themselves,” Farrer says.
“And then there is the phenomenon of women who are married to men who have money but are not available, are not around, and they are looking for affection,” Farrer adds. “And there, I think it is more looking for some kind of sexual or romantic fulfillment rather than just trading up.”
For Chinese women, opportunity may come in the form of participation in the country’s labor force. “One thing that China has is very high rates of female labor-force participation,” Farrer says. “So women work, and women who are out in the labor force have more chance to meet men, and therefore far more chance to hook up with somebody, and women sitting at home have less chance.”
According to World Bank statistics, 70 percent of China’s female population (aged 15-64) participated in the country’s workforce in 2012, compared to 84 percent of the male population. Some of these young women are working far from their hometown and their parents’ disapproving gaze, away from the responsibilities of children, and sometimes separated from their romantic partner.
In China, Farrer says, sex has traditionally been seen as something that comes later in life and is earned. “In the West and even in Japan, sex is seen as sort of like child’s play. It is something that young people get up to, a thing people do for amusement,” he notes. “In China, it is seen as something that adults do.”
“It is more legitimate for a guy who has already made a lot of money to indulge himself in this kind of stuff because he has already made it, whereas young people, who don’t have any resources, any money or social status, should be working hard to get that stuff and shouldn’t be fooling around,” Farrer continues.
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