China and the Women's Repressed Sexuality

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In her article “Sexual Liberation and the Older Woman in Contemporary Mainland China”

Jeanne L. Shea discusses one of the most important issues of  contemporary people in  theRepublic of China – so-called sexual liberation of middle-aged and older women. The author compares public and media discourses on sexuality and sexual activity issues of the aforementioned age groups with the empirical data gathered during 1994-1996 in urban and rural regions of Beijing Municipality. The findings  Jeanne L. Shea has presented are rather significant in a bid to deeply understand the nature of Chinese society, its traditions, customs, and attitude towards such a peculiar and intimate topic as sexuality and women's attitude to sexual activity in the age of 40 and above.

Structurally, the paper could be divided into two considerably important parts. The first one discusses how and, foremost, why public discourses of 'sexual liberation', 'feudalism', and the role of women in this processes have risen in a contemporary China. Using the social and historical context,  the author arguees that aforementioned media and public discourse lumped all women above certain age, usually above 40, into one category, which is supposed to have one attitude toward sex, romance, and marriage in later life.  It is quite interesting to know that this universal attitude presents women of certain age as virtually sexually inactive drawing a line between younger progressive women, middle-aged, and older ones.

Another distinctive division, not to be biased, takes its place not only in China and concerns not only sexuality. It is rural-urban division. The majority of Chinese sources on sex education of older people as well as media discourse in general pictures rural women as being more conservative, more repressed in their sexual behavior than the urban women. Rural women are traditionally-oriented, in contrast to their urban colleagues. However, there is a number of researches that contrast with a popular point of view that some of them perceive rural women as more sexually active than urban women.

There is a strong division in media discourse between educated and uneducated women. Women with higher educational level tend to be less repressed than those with lower level. As the author points out, “it is believed that only women with more education can rise above ignorance and superstitions”. Despite the following attitude, in Chinese society and media discourse about sex, romance, and older women, the author argues that this representation of women's attitude towards sexuality  is often caricatured thus fails to capture the diversity of actual contemporary women older than the age of 40.

Basing on the research conducted in 1994-1996 in urban and rural regions of Beijing Municipality, the author has proved that many representation attitudes and sexual activity among middle-aged and older women found in contemporary Chinese media sources rely on inaccurate assumptions about the prudishness and the homogeneity of women older than 40. Contrary to these  representations, actual social research data on middle-aged and older Chinese women show that at least three-quarters report currently having a sex life.

In a nutshell, the article seems to be a high-quality sociological research. However, I have a couple of ideas that would likely improve the validity of results. First and foremost, I doubt whether Beijing Municipality could in any sense represent the whole country. It is a well-know fact, that there is a number of ethnic minorities in China. Also, there is a vast variety of regions with the different languages, traditions, and customs. I, therefore, argue that despite the good quality of conducted research, results could not be generalized. Consider Hong Kong, for instance, which had been under the British rule for quite a long time. That means that British traditions and attitudes could indirectly affect attitudes toward sexuality and sexual relationships.

Secondly, it would be rather informative to study the impact of traditional customs on contemporary media discourse. As the article clearly illustrates, media politics discriminates certain age groups and exploits traditional view on sexuality in middle and older ages, which can also have a considerable impact on attitudes toward sex and sexuality.


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