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A Leftover Woman Speaks, With Her Voice and Her Face February 17, 2020

Posted by Onely in Uncategorized.

girl-4456485_1280The New York Times posted an “Op-Doc” on YouTube focusing on Qiu Huamei, a successful lawyer and (judging from the short video at least) an engaging, intelligent, sensitive, and progressive woman with excellent taste in haircuts. Unfortunately, Qiu is ostensibly still kinda sucky, because at the advanced age of “over 27”, she is–gasp–STILL SINGLE. This makes Qiu a Leftover Woman aka Sheng Nu aka a woman who has to field daily microaggressions from people who feel threatened not only by Qiu’s unmarried status, but by her own relative indifference to finding a husband.

The Op-Doc shows Qiu talking to an amatonormative reporter about her single status. We see her gamely going on a few unfun dates. Most painful are the scenes when she returns to her small hometown south of Beijing after a five-hour bus (or train?) and motorized cart ride, to be greeted and then grilled about why she isn’t trying harder to get married. You can watch it for yourself here, but I’m going to pull out some key quotes below to illustrate the unintended (and intended) microaggressions that single people–especially women–weather every day. Note how Qiu struggles (with more success than I’d have) to compose her facial expressions, when the reporter criticizes her looks and when a promising date says he wants to be the power player in the relationship. In the most resonant clip, her sister literally screams at Qiu for not caring about marriage and kids.

Some of our Copious Readers who don’t believe in singlism (we do have trolls!) may suggest that the more egregious microaggressions are mistranslations or misconstrued translations. No. I have lived in China and Taiwan and speak Chinese well enough to understand (after, ahem, repeated viewings) that what the speakers are saying is exactly what you (as a presumed English speaker) are reading in the subtitles. Here’s a small sampling of the pokes and dings our intrepid independent heroine Qiu receives in this short video:

From the reporter: 

Sorry if I’m being too straightforward, but you’re not beautiful in the traditional sense. . . You might think you look young, but you’re fooling yourself.

From the male chauvinist date: 

As a woman, you don’t have to give advice, just tell me what you need. . . I don’t want my wife to be stronger than me.

From her sister (yelling):

It’s tiring to start a family, but who doesn’t want to have one? Who has a comfortable life after marriage?

Allow me to don my psychic psychotherapist cap. The sister obviously hates the life she built for herself after caving to heteronormative and amatonormative social pressures, and she may have unvoicable mixed feelings about the small male human scooting around in front of her lap and face, who is intermittently blocking the blast of venom she’s trying to unleash on her less conventional sister.

Ok, I’m removing my psychic psychotherapist cap now. Here is where we at Onely acknowledge that the sister is just one of millions of women who are pressured into marriage because 1) the Chinese government (like many governments) regards the nuclear family structure as a building block of social stability and 2) because of the One-Child Policy, China has so many Leftover Men (the fact that Leftover Men aka Sheng Nan is not a term–as far as I am aware–speaks volumes about the sexist side of singlism).  Give this systemic governmental and socio-cultural pressure to pair up on paper and in the bedroom, we can hardly blame Qiu’s sister for feeling (uh oh, here comes my unlicensed psychotherapist cap again) fooled and trapped, and lashing out accordingly. We can hardly blame the reporter for warning Qiu about her ancientness, because hasn’t that reporter been warned to fear her own aging again and again, not just in Chinese media but in media all over the world?

When do we stop being angry at the individual people performing singlist microaggressions and instead turn our anger toward the legal, financial, and communications systems that perpetuate outmoded nuclear-hetero-family-amatanormative thinking? Right now I have enough anger to go around for everyone, for microaggressive individuals and Big Brother institutions alike. However, it’s the Big Brother micro (and macro) aggressions that are the most insidious, and therefore the most dangerous. Stay tuned for more Onely posts about Institutionalized Marital Status Discrimination, which affects all countries. Even though the U.S. (and other places) have seen a rash of pro-singledom pieces in the media lately, those pieces only talk about singleness as a valid socio-cultural lifestyle, ignoring the fact that legal and financial discrimination against unmarried people continues unchallenged. While we see Qiu modulating her facial reactions against the insults in the video, what we don’t see are the impacts to her bank account, retirement savings, housing payments, and insurance payments, most or all of which may be negatively affected by her unmarried status. I’m basing this assessment on my knowledge of marital status discrimination in US laws, which I’m sure are different from China’s, but also probably way too similar.


Photo credit: Pixabay


1. Craig - February 18, 2020

That’s just awful! And here I thought we had it rough in the US. I hope that campaign falls flat on its face. Thanks for posting, Christina!

2. caseyseyb - February 18, 2020

Whoops, meant to send that to myself – apologies!!

Onely - February 18, 2020

I don’t see what you accidentally sent, but maybe that’s my lack of techno skillz showing. Thanks for the comment anyway 🙂 🙂

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