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‘Stay Virgin’ Speech Sparks Debate on ‘Traditional Feminine Values’

© AFP 2021 / FRED DUFOUR Chinese women pose for a picture on the beach in Qingdao, eastern China's Shandong province on July 24, 2015
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A speech given by a guest lecturer at a Jiangxi Province university which told women that they should remain virgins before marriage and acquiesce to beatings from their husband sparked controversy, with both women's groups and netizens slamming the statements as retrogressive.

Ding Xuan, a lecturer from the China Women's Development Foundation, a foundation with the stated aim of protecting women's rights, gave a speech at Jiujiang University on May 14 titled "How to be a model woman in the new era."

She said that women shouldn't wear revealing clothes because they are "seductive" and can lead to sex before marriage. She also said that women should endure domestic violence because "people who are beaten regularly tend to be physically healthy."

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Reports of Ding's speech were met with condemnation. The Jiujiang Women's Federation said that society should distinguish between traditional values and outmoded ideas.

"Women are not subordinate to men, we can love beauty and wear whatever we like, we have our own ways to express our love and having sex before marriage does not mean we don't have self-respect," said Sina Weibo user baimnuo.

After this furor, Ding told news site last week that her lecture "may have been problematic" but added that she lectures her own daughter in this way.

Sanctioned sexism

Apart from criticizing Ding's remarks, many netizens expressed worry that her speech may show that the "traditional moral code" which was meant to have been abandoned long ago has now returned.

"Many people believed the traditional moral code for women had already disappeared as women's status has significantly improved in recent years and people are more open to modern ideas such as gender equality and feminism," Peng Xiaohui, a sexology professor at Wuhan's Central China Normal University, told the Global Times. 

However in recent years, schools teaching "traditional feminine virtues" have sprung up nationwide. Instead of promoting gender equality, these schools tell girls that "a woman should respect her father, husband, and son unconditionally" and that "women should be subordinate to men," media reported. 

The fact that Ding is still invited to give speeches means that her sexist ideas are still welcomed by many people, said Peng. 

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Peng said that the root cause is the structural power differential between men and women. "Gender equality can only be realized when women and men are equal economically and politically," said Peng.

However, most women are under pressure to focus on their family rather than pursuing their own careers, Feng Li, a women's rights advocate, told the Global Times.

Women are told since childhood that they should serve their husband and offspring, said Fu, adding that some even scorn women with successful careers as a "failure."

Peng said that if parents want to teach their own children traditional ideas, this is their own personal choice, but schools being allowed to teach young girls the outmoded concepts can be seen as government-sanctioned sexism as schools require official permission to teach certain content. 

A report on gender inequality released by the World Economic Forum in 2016 showed that China ranked 99th among 144 countries. China's sex ratio at birth was ranked bottom of the list.

Virgin complex

One of Ding's most controversial claims was "a woman's best dowry is her virginity." 

"This part shocks me the most is that even in modern China, society's preference for virgins persists, which I believe is a sign of retrogression," Sina Weibo user xiaoxuem commented.

Hit Chinese TV show Ode to Joy, which follows the lives of five young women living in Shanghai, touched on this topic recently, when a main character's fiancée broke off their engagement when he found out she had had sex before. The show portrayed the woman as feeling guilty, the character describing herself as "a dirty woman."

Peng noted that some girls also have a "virgin complex," and they believe that once they give their virginity to a certain man, they have given him "everything." 

"The preference for virgins originated in the patriarchal society, where women were seen as men's possession sand women's main goal was to give birth. People prefer new possessions to second-hand ones," said Feng. 

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Marrying a virgin is like possessing a girl completely, 28-year-old man surnamed Cheng told the Global Times. "If she is not a virgin before marriage, I felt like I am chewing someone else's leftovers," he said.

Many young men are hypocritical as they embrace sexual liberation for themselves but insist their partners must have remained celibate, said Peng, explaining that this is a clear example of a sexist double standard.

"I would only accept men's virgin complex if men themselves remain virgins until they get married," a 27-year-old woman surnamed Zhang told the Global Times.

This article was written by Zhao Yusha and originally published in the Global Times. 

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