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Leftover Women: The Story of China's Unmarried Women

( [email protected] ) Oct 24, 2016 09:52 AM EDT
Women in China over 27 are viewed as unwanted or "leftover". This is a sad reality because many of these women are beautiful, talented and educated. In Leta Fincher's book, Leftover Women, this sexism struggle is probed and revealed to Western readers. It's pathetic that the progress of these women is being punished by the media of their homeland.
Women over 27 still unmarried are called "leftover". Traditional Chinese people feel threatened by women entering the work force and becoming educated. They feel it poses a threat to population growth for their nation. Photo: SK-II

In China, to be female and single over 27 is not seen as a normal thing. If anything, it is seen as a shame to the culture and to one's family to still be single after a certain age. This is unfortunate because these women often hold university degrees and have stable careers but no prospects for marriage. Since the Chinese media is so heavily censored by the government, the people of China only receive some perspectives on this phenomenon where women are remaining single longer.

The term "leftover women" comes from the title Leta Hong Fincher's book by the same title. In her book, Fincher probes into the modern sexism struggle that is so prevalent in Chinese culture today. Her research was done through analysis of the media and many firsthand interviews with these so-called "leftover women". According to Fincher, the People's Republic focuses on unmarried women entirely too much in all forms of media: ads, newspapers, magazines, etc. She says these ad campaigns are "very insulting".

Leftover Women explains that the Chinese government is using these blunt, unsympathetic tactics to shame women into marriage. The unspoken reality is, there are millions of leftover men as well due to selective gender abortions. In 2012, there were 117 boys born for every 100 girls that were born. The statics come from a culture that values the lives of women less than men but wants their women to proudly follow the gender double standard being prescribed by every government regulated media outlet. How is this an appropriate or ethical standard to expect Chinese women -- or any women -- to live by?

Chinese leaders fixate on this issue because they note the sex ratio of their nation and are concerned for the future generations of China. In her NPR interview, Fincher acknowledged that she believed the term Leftover Women was in response to all the educational strides Chinese women have made in recent decades. As women move forward with their professional lives, they often want to delay marriage for a season. Women making progress in their lives and improving their society should not be punished with rude or slanderous messages in the ads on televisions or columns in the newspapers. These women should be treated with the honor and respect that all female role models are due because they are proving that women can be vital to their communities without being married.


These women are "free agents" and that is seen as a threat to the traditionalist values of Chinese culture. As women gain their own money, careers, and identities ...some may find that marriage would only hold them back from the life they want to lead. This is a grave concern to the government of the People's Republic. In some cases, women marry hastily to avoid the "leftover" label but lose property and wealth rights in the process. This often occurs because women that request rights in financial matters are seen irrational by their new husbands as well as their in-laws. By being the sole owner of property within the marriage, the man always has greater power in the relationship, giving the women less of a say in domestic affairs. The husband being a sole owner presents another dilemma for the wife because if the marriage ends in divorce, she is effectively homeless.

Though there are countless stories of sexism, oppression, and abuse amid the leftover women, there are also stories of tremendous courage and strength. Women choosing to leave their marriages because of abuse. Also, stories of women becoming educated, running businesses and living healthy, independent lives. The headlines in this country boast of boundless opportunities available to women who work hard but the traditional reality is that most want their daughters to marry rather than be billionaire business executives. Though women have a long way to go in the People's Republic, it certainly seems that young women are finally seeking success and happiness on their terms rather than the ones that their society dictates.