The Third Sex

In a traditionally patriarchical society, the first sex is male.  Simone de Beauvoir jump-started the feminist movement with a book titled The Second Sex.  That should cover everything, right?  So what is the third sex?

Last year, EastDay (see Peacehall, 4/18/2004) reported: "On university campuses, there are three sexes: male students, female students and female graduate students."  There are various theories and acrimonious reactions over this classification.  One female student said, "It must be the male students.  They have an inferiority complex.  Intelligent females who know what they want put tremendous pressures on males."  It is also noted that there is an asymmetry in the situation: it is alright for an intelligent male to marry an uneducated, pretty-looking female and that is presumably fine for the female; but it is not alright for an intelligent female to marry an uneducated male, good-looking or not.

As reported in Peacehall on 3/29/2005, the researchers at the graduate student association of the Huatung Teachers University has conducted a survey of 662 current graduate students (including both masters and doctorate students) at five universities in the city of Shanghai.  Here are the survey results:

On this subject, New Weekly (新周刊) interviewed Professor Yu Jiangbao of Xiamen University.  Here is the transcript as reported in Peacehall (3/27/2005):

Q: What are the consequences for female graduate students not being able to get married?

A:  Contemporary education has gone from elitist occupation to popularization, so that the number of female graduate students is increasing rapidly.  Therefore, this is a worsening problem.  At the moment, the problems of the sub-group of female graduate students on the marriage market makes them a "highly-intelligent socially vulnerable" group.  The foreseeable consequence if this is not resolved is the growth of the attitude that "it is preferable to marry better than be educated".  This will cause disappointment among females and the abandonment of education and tendency to become dependent, thereby eroding the hard-earned social investment to encourage gender equality.  Thus, gender inequality may return as a result.

Q: This social vulnerability should be related to the system of higher learning.

A:  On the one hand, generally speaking, we have an imbalance of male-female ratio.  On the other hand, there is also another kind of gender imbalance within higher education.  I called that a counterbalancing of gender.  In the 1990's, that was a generation with single children, and more female students entered into universities than males.  This is not just in the humanities where there have always been more females, but also in those departments such as physics or mathematics.  Prior to this, fewer females wanted to enter those departments and there were also fewer females entering university.  More recently, there were more female undergraduates and the ratio of females among graduate students is increasing.  There are more females than males in many disciplines.  The marriage problem emerged under these circumstances.  If you say that the educational system acts like a sieve, then this sieve has produced a gender imbalance.  This is a problem within our system that will require some studying.

Q:  When a man chooses a mate, he is usually not willing to find a better educated female.

A:  If we say that the educational system has produced a gender imbalance in higher education, then it has objectively increased the supply of well-educated females in the marriage market.  The traditional attitude is what is subjectively creating the marriage problems of the female graduate students and magnifying the objective problem.  Within the social system, we accept the equality of gender and we have basically attained this equality in practice in some sense.  But the deep and hidden cultural attitudes that actually drives our behaviors and choices still contain the traditional belief about how to select our mates.  The core of this belief is that of the "strong male and weak female," and this is also intimately connected with the believe that "the male deals with the outside and the female deals with the inside."  These cultural beliefs on gender inequality restricts our standards and role expectations in choosing our mates.

Q:  This is not just a problem about the men.  The educated female graduate student is also highly selective in their mate choices.

A:  On the one hand, the female graduate student hopes that their mates should have education not less than theirs.  On the other hand, the males hope that the females should not have more education than theirs.  These are the sides of the same coin, but it leads to the same inequality in choices by gender.  These attitudes creates two consequences.  On one hand, the female graduate student increases significantly their requirements: that is, on top of the usual standards of height, wealth and status is added education as a minimum requirement.  This posed a barrier in the marriage market, and decreases the number of choices.

Q:  Can this problem be solved?

A:  This problem had been formed from many factors, so the solution of this problem is a complex and systematic project that will take a long time.  I believe that the critical issue is to change our "strong male and weak female" attitude with respect to choosing a mate.  Obviously, the marriage problems of female graduate students are the symptoms of the rupture due to social changes and cultural attitudinal shifts.  Modernization does not involve the modernization of the superficial social system, but the cultural attitudes must be in step with the social modernization.  Thus, we need to eliminate the gender inequality about the attitudes towards mate choices.

On one hand, the male should not feel pressure when faced with a better educated female.  On the other hand, the female graduate student should not consider the education of others as an important criterion.  The educated female should reflect about the social reality that their personal lives and their work lives are two different domains with different standards.  Superiority at work does not imply superiority in personal life, and vice versa.  A short while ago, the media reported a certain female doctor lied that she was only a college graduate when seeking a mate.  The fact that this doctor concealed her academic record shows how weak this group is.  Yet, from another point of view, the fact that the doctor was not looking for somewhat better educated than her already represents some progress in attitudes.