Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Cooking Soup to Writing Papers: A Journey through Gender, Society and Self

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Cooking Soup to Writing Papers: A Journey through Gender, Society and Self

Article excerpt

Abstract (ii)

This paper describes my roles as a housewife, previously, and a doctoral student, currently. It examines crossing the border from the family domain to the university domain from a gender perspective. When I was a housewife, I was stigmatised by society and without any prospects. As a doctoral student, I am considered a worthy woman and my life has been romanticized. The analogy of cooking soup represents my life as a housewife, while writing papers represents my life as a doctoral student. Describing this dramatic transition from seven years as a soup-cooking housewife, to a third-year, paper-writing, doctoral candidate, I will explore two major aspects--both from a gender perspective: (I) What do cooking soup and writing papers mean to a housewife in Chinese culture? (2) How do I experience my new role as a doctoral student, compared to my role as a housewife? Following this discussion, I call for a deconstruction of the femininity of cooking soup and the masculinity of writing papers. The paper closes with an attempt to empower housewives to challenge the dominant discourse that defines a woman as useful or useless in contemporary society. Key words: gender, China, women's roles


A gender-based analysis of the link between the desire to be the perfect writer with the desire to be the perfect soup maker is the heart of this paper. The information provided is autobiographical. My intention is to present my changing role from a housewife, who is stigmatised in the family sphere, to a doctoral student, who is romanticized in the academic field. Gender plays a part in this discussion by virtue of the fact that the housewife's act of cooking soup is feminized in society, while the doctoral student's act of writing papers is masculinized. To begin this discussion, a review of the literature on the role of a Chinese female and the merit of women's voices will be provided. Following this review, a description of my changing role from that of a housewife to a doctoral student will be offered. Cooking soup stems from a disciplinary regimen and is seen as a type of self-construction, while writing papers is a resistant regimen and a type of self-reconstruction. These two contrary life experiences come together to demonstrate how a gender perspective affects my perception of women's worthiness in Chinese society.

Expectations and roles of the Chinese female

Gender refers not to biology but to a set of social meanings attached to male and female that is a relational, socially constructed dichotomy for distinguishing the sexes (Bordo, 1989). It further refers to a social construction of femininity and masculinity, and indicates the cultural aspect of identity and social relations (Hall, 1990). In Hong Kong, traditional Chinese culture is deeply embedded, and there are context-specific female role expectations based in Taoism and Confucianism. Taoism mentions that maleness (yang) and femaleness (yin) are nearly equally valued: the reservation arises as yin has been conceptualized as more passive, negative and weaker than yang (Ortner, 1974). In Confucianism, the Three Obediences and Four Virtues indicate how women should behave (Teng, 1996). For instance, attaining marital and familial bliss are considered a woman's success and happiness (Tam, 1999). As such, women should strive to be good mothers, which is a socially desirable female role.

Gender roles have been delegated thus: family-centered activities for women, and society-centered activities for men. Women are socialized to place primary emphasis on the family and to obey their husband and honor the specific family roles assigned to them (Hall, 1990). Food preparation has been assumed as the woman's role (Chart & Kerr, 1988). The mother's role of cooking for the family then takes on a normative rather than purely instrumental value. As it is a woman's role to nurture family members, a woman's sacrifice for the good of the family is also considered normal. …

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