Academic journal article Journal of Research in Gender Studies

Radical or Conventional? - Portrayal in Chinese Media of the Relationship between an Older Woman and a Younger Man

Academic journal article Journal of Research in Gender Studies

Radical or Conventional? - Portrayal in Chinese Media of the Relationship between an Older Woman and a Younger Man

Article excerpt

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The opinion that a husband should be a few years older than his wife is commonly accepted, although it is not rigid in reality and there are stories that tell otherwise in different cultures. The belief is supported by biological, sociological, economics, and psychological studies and by individuals' reflections on experiences.

Contrary to the belief, in China, the rate of marriage between older women and younger men reached 40.13% in 2010, much higher than in the 1990s (Liu and Liang 2014: 47), and recently the romantic relationship between an older woman and a younger man has been a popular topic in the Chinese media landscape. Despite the increase in the number of such marriages and media attention on the older woman-younger man relationship, very little serious and in-depth academic work has focused on this relationship. As a myth, this type of relationship is basically represented as something new, modern, and radical, engaged in by many celebrities as well as creating media celebrities out of some ordinary people. The media portrayals seem to add another alternative in the discourse of heterosexual relationships, especially conventional heterosexual marriage. At a time when the number of the women who concentrate on education and career and delay marriage has been increasing, the dilemma that these women often face is that they cannot easily find the type of mate they traditionally have been taught to seek: single men who are older, more successful, and more financially dependable. The relationship between an older woman and younger man presents a new model and possibility for women who spent their time pursuing educational and professional dreams and self-realization rather than finding Mr. Right when they were young. If this type of relationship is truly well accepted by individual men and women, it can make such marriages more satisfying, as Lehmiller and Agnew (2008) suggest based on their research. However, individuals' perceptions of the relationship can be highly affected by normative beliefs on heterosexual romantic relationship and marriage, especially in a society such as China, where communal, societal, and familial views and reactions still substantially influence individuals' happiness and satisfaction. The way in which dominant culture, especially the powerful mainstream media, portrays the older woman and younger man relationship can greatly guide the perception of the relationship among the general public. As a result, a detailed examination of the mainstream media's representation of the older woman and younger man relationship can help us learn how the dominant culture imagines and broadcasts its beliefs concerning the relationship, and whether the beliefs can truly empower women and provide more alternative choices for both men and women to find a suitable partner based on their individual satisfaction and happiness.

Focusing on recent popular Chinese television dramas, I examine how the media portrayals signal and celebrate a new form of relationship and marriage, yet still strongly reinforce the male-dominant status in romantic relationships. The representation of the older woman-younger man relationship raises some novelty in marriage and life in current China. However, because the current studies can't provide a true understanding of age in relationships, the media heavily emphasizes patriarchal values, and as a genre, the plots of romance often conform to conventional views on gender roles, the relationship between an older woman and a younger man has always been a myth in the cultural discourse. Despite the many Chinese TV programs focusing on the older woman-younger man relationship, its popular image neither challenges traditional gender roles nor the form of marriage and relationship in mainstream Chinese culture.

Scholarly Discussions on the Age Difference between Spouses

Research concerning partners' ages in heterosexual relationships among people who are not legally registered is hard to find because of the difficulty of collecting tangible data and statistics about individuals who are dating. …

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