headaches, huzhou, less food-related, musings

Face It

03.17.09 | 6 Comments

“I think lots of Chinese boys think you are pretty, but they’re all to afraid to say anything. Chinese boys are too shy. You’ll never find a Chinese boyfriend. So…” said the married teacher ‘Joe’ who, sentences before, suggested we get a hotel room and “fully relax” together. He raised his eyebrows suggestively.

Right. Because you make such a convincing argument for why I should sleep with you.

Did I mention this was our first full conversation?

The last thing I expected to find when I moved to China was a boyfriend or anyone expressing interest wishing to become so. The stereotype is Western Man- Chinese Woman (WM-CW). In fact, it seems incredibly easy for Western men to find a Chinese girlfriend (or girlfriends, which is also sadly frequent). This is called “Yellow Fever.” It’s the stereotype of the roles of submissive, obedient, demure Chinese woman and the powerful, privileged Western man. I acknowledge that this is not the case in plenty of WM-CW woman relationships, but a quick search through China forums will pull up plenty of discussions on how to get a Chinese girl or how to get a Western man.

The Chinese Man-Western Woman (CM-WW) relationship is incredibly rare. Chinese men are ‘not masculine enough’; Western women are ‘too liberated.’ In my opinion, it all comes down to preconceived notions of power and gender dynamics. Based on my personal socialization, observations, and experiences in both cultures, I am going to make some generalizations that seem unfair and totally sexist. Guess what—so is society!

Men are ‘supposed’ to have power, women are not. Westerners are ‘supposed’ to have power, Chinese (in this case) are not. So there’s no problem in a WM-CW relationship—the men still have the power; nothing’s changed, so it’s all good! It’s just a greater power gap.

But when you get to CM-WW, things get convoluted. The man ‘should’ have power, but so ‘should’ the Westerner. So everyone gets all confused and these relationships arise with comparative rarity. In his horny, piggish way, Joe was alluding to this power confusion.

So why am I gabbing on about this? Because when I expected that no Chinese men would be interested, that they would be too intimidated by me, I was operating under unfair assumptions of my own. I have literally had more men express romantic interest in me (usually of the pushy, lecherous, or adulterous type) in the past four months than I had in the previous year in America.

There was the cop. There was (and still is—he haunts the halls) Joe, and there’s another teacher, ‘Tom,’ and a friend of a laowai (whom I hardly know) whom I have seen in person for LITERALLY two minutes. And then there are all the other men who don’t need two whole minutes before they’re asking for my phone number, offering to take me to dinner and asking me to ‘teach them English.’ Uh huh. Right.

I’m not trying to suggest that I am SO desirable that I’m just fending them off at every turn. But I have never, ever experienced such a persistent sense of male entitlement. The way I’m experiencing it, these men feel that it’s okay to be pushy, persistent, and creepy around me because I’m a “liberated” Western woman. They seem much less likely to do or say any of these things to a Chinese woman. (Though I am not a Chinese woman, so how would I know?)

Joe, is the most extreme example of this. He repeatedly pressured me to drink after I explicitly said, many times, “I do not like alcohol. I do not want to drink.” He questioned my sexual history (I didn’t answer) and tried to sleep with me, claiming to “understand the Western mindset” because of all the time he’s worked abroad.

His understanding is clearly incredibly deep, since everyone knows all Western women need sex all the time with any penis that offers.

I just stood up and walked out on him. In that case, the behavior I dislike is readily identifiable.

The problem is that usually it’s not so obvious.

Most people have heard of the Chinese concept of face, or mianzi. Mianzi is how one is perceived by others is society—it’s totally dependent on what other people think, and it’s incredibly important. I’ve had a TON of guys ask me to drink with them, and when I refuse for various reasons, they huffily proclaim, “你不给面,” or “You don’t give face.” Because my sole purpose in life is to give you mianzi.

I spent considerably more time with Tom. Tom was pushy in the beginning, too, but he’s friends with Violet, one of the teachers who takes care of my life here, so I joined him for dinner with his friends. He’s a decent enough guy. But every time we’ve gone out we’ve would met a new group of his friends, and soon, I got the feeling that he was showing off the pretty Western girl who speaks Chinese.

I have come to feel that Tom thinks the most attractive thing about me is my face-giving potential (directly linked to my physical face). I give him INCREDIBLE face just being his friend, so imagine how much face he would get if I were is girlfriend. Astronomical face. But all this didn’t become clear until a recent Saturday night, during which Tom proceeded to get astronomically wasted, clung to me, tried to take me home with him, then tried to go home with me. As I’m sure you all know, it is supremely difficult to reason with a drunk person. I still have the spectre of giving him the ‘just friends’ line the next time I see him hanging over me.

The idea of giving someone mianzi based on my Western face doesn’t sit well with me at all. It is incredibly shallow, objectifying, and you know what, I get enough people staring at me all day, thank you very much. Heck, my students shout “Sexy girl!” at me when I remove my scarf or venture into the warm spring weather without a winter jacket. Shocker!

That friend of a laowai who I’ve seen in person for maybe two minutes asked me three times via text last night where I lived. I didn’t tell him. He texted me again today saying, “Yesterday you didn’t tell me where you lived.” I shot right back, “I don’t tell people I’ve just met where I live.” Later, he wrote back, “I think I know where were you lived. 哈哈哈![the Chinese equivalent of lol or hahaha]” I didn’t text back to see if he actually found out.

Aside from this semi-stalker texter, part of the problem, I’m afraid, seems to be my utter naïveté as to men’s motives. I almost always give people the benefit of the doubt. The term for dating is 交朋友, which more literally means to join in friendship, but Tom, in the beginning, told me he wanted to 成好朋友, which refers more to becoming or growing into friends, not joining. I wasn’t sure if this was doublespeak or not, so I asked Hebe and she said, “Even I don’t know.” So I gave him the benefit of the doubt, and for most of the times we went out, I honestly could not decide either way what was going on.

Aside from the fact that all of China thinks I look like Barbie (seriously), another big problem is that I speak the language. Once a man finds out I speak the language, it seems he takes that as his ‘sign’ to pounce, especially since he may not speak English. If I didn’t understand him, there would be no situation. So I work hard for almost five years to gain this language ability only to have it turn into a disadvantage.

So why am I telling you this, right? This isn’t a dating blog, and I’m just one of millions of women huffing “Ugh, men” in exasperation. But I feel that part of this tangled mess stems directly from my ethnicity and part of it from the cultural differences. I have no idea what the dating customs are here. I’ve asked my students and even they can’t tell me. It seems a mystical process that involves spending lots of time together and then, at some predetermined yet undisclosed moment, you are Boyfriend and Girlfriend and then you’re as good as engaged/married. It makes my head hurt, but maybe that’s just the MSG.

Since my attack at the hands of two young men, I have become hyper-sensitive to the way men look at me. It doesn’t take much to make me feel threatened now, so all this attention has really affected me more deeply. It’s harder for me to trust people, so it’s making me even more sensitive to all this attention.

Linking this back to the beginning, it appears that teacher Joe was totally butt wrong. Sometimes it feels like all of Huzhou either wants to find me a boyfriend or become my boyfriend. And you know what—it’s annoying the hell out of me. All my life, I have wanted to find love—it’s always been something that’s very important to me. And it still is. But right now, for the first time, I have been actively relishing living by myself, spending my time as I please, not answering to anyone. I am really enjoying being with me, and I don’t like all these men clawing to claim me and give them face.

China, I love you, but BACK. OFF.

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