Category Archives: Teaching

Thirty-one Months Later: Adapting to Life in China

When I first arrived in Beijing in September 2014, I knew almost nothing about the country I’d just moved to. I was embarking on a new life that didn’t seem to have a sell-by date – I had no idea how long I’d stay or even when I would next go home.

While many of my initial questions were answered long ago, the questions never stop arising, and the number seems to grow rather than shrink. The deeper into creating a real life I venture, the greater my curiosity for this vast country grows.

About thirty months ago, a few weeks into my Beijing life, I wrote what was to be my first and only “Beijing Update”. I sent it as an email and posted part of it on my blog, as a list of weird things I’d learned about Beijing.

While I’d like to imagine I’ve shed my China naivety, after almost three years living here, I’m not even sure that’s even possible. At no point have I felt that I could ever stop learning about this monolith of a nation. So to honour that never-stop-learning spirit, here’s an updated look at those weird things I’m still about Beijing:

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Thousands of bikes crowd Beijing’s streets | image from guardian
  1. Health Check. All foreigners must go through a basic health check as part of their visa application. Only selected hospitals provide this all-inclusive test of sight, blood pressure, height, and weight. Patients get a little manhandled as they are passed from doctor to doctor, who take a blood sample, a chest x-ray, a cardiogram and an ultrasound. Standard procedure. Friends of mine speculate it’s all an elaborate ruse to check foreigners for HIV/Aids and other venereal diseases, which could result in a denied visa. I’ve luckily only been through it once, but I’ve got it coming whenever I change job or get a new visa.
  1. IKEA. I avoid Ikea in Beijing like the plague. Yes, it is treated like a social outing. Yes, people go there to sleep. Yes, people go there on dates. No, it is not a fun place to be. I went once and have never yet been back. I’ll just have to ensure I don’t wind up in a less-than-desirably-furnished apartment!
  1. Milk. Fresh milk appeared in my local supermarket a few months after my first frantic search for it. I stopped buying yoghurt and milkshakes by accident, and I only buy cartons of UHT from our closest shop during bouts of laziness.
  1. Long nails. A significant number of men have long nails on their little finger, often just on one hand. It’s a status symbol showing that the hands’ owner doesn’t work with their hands, but most people I see on the subway simply use their pinkie nail to dig that little bit deeper for ear wax.
  1. Public toilets. There are still public toilets all over the place, but only in certain areas. Bars and restaurants in the Hutongs don’t have loos, and will never have them. Some are kept clean, others are not. Most but not all are squatters. Many don’t have cubicles or even dividers. Few have hand-washing facilities and fewer have soap. Never forget to bring your own bog roll.
  1. Bikes. If I thought there were bicycles everywhere in 2014, you can’t move for bikes now. Cycling has become cool again, thanks to Mobike and Ofo, companies that enable you to hire a bike by scanning a QR code. Beginning with student areas like Wudaokou, these bikes have slowly overrun the city and clogged up an already slow-moving two-wheel traffic system. They’re dockless, so the rider can just leave them wherever his or her journey ends. More than once, I’ve seen men unloading 50+ Mobikes onto a single street corner in a busy area late at night. There are stories of burning piles of bikes. There’s less space to lock a bike you actually own, but less likelihood of theft.
  1. Holiday compensation. In 2014 I was surprised that I was required to work on a Saturday and Sunday to compensate for national holiday. I soon learned that this is common practice. Working at weekends (usually doing one or more six-day-week), is considered fair recompense for having consecutive days off. It gets particularly messy when the celebrated holiday falls mid-week. This never becomes normal; working ‘make up’ days in order to earn a holiday never seems fair. But it makes sense, given the size of the country and the familial nature of traditional holidays, to allow the population time to visit their hometowns for celebrations like Qing Ming Jie or Tomb Sweeping Day.

I’ve learned a lot in my thirty-one months in Beijing, and I have enjoyed the incessant challenge this metropolis poses. Although sometimes it feels the smog outweighs the curiosity, I don’t think I’ll ever stop (begrudgingly) raising questions. Which is why Beijing continues to be my home.

 

Read on

Header image from: Uber for Bikes: how ‘dockless’ cycles flooded China – and are heading overseas, Guardian

 

Words and Women: bell hooks



If feminism is a movement to end sexist oppression, and depriving females of reproductive rights is a form of sexist oppression, then one cannot be anti-choice and be feminist. A woman can insist she would never choose to have an abortion while affirming her support of the right of women to choose and still be an advocate of feminist politics. She cannot be anti-abortion and an advocate of feminism.



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bell hooks, 1988 | image from autostraddle

bell hooks (b. 1952) is an American feminist activist, writer and educator. Born Gloria Jean Watkins, she’s best known by her pen name which she borrowed from her maternal great-grandmother, Bell Blair Hooks. hooks’ writing primarily focuses on the intersections of race, class, and gender, in history, art, education, social activism and much more.

This quotation is taken from chapter 1 of her concise, straightforward feminist handbook Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics (2000), which she says she wrote because she “kept waiting for it to appear, and it did not.” Other influential works (there are 30 in total!) include:

Ain’t I a Woman?: Black Women and Feminism (1981), Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center (1984), All About Love: New Visions (2000), and We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity (2004).

 


Words and Women is a regular feature that spotlights short quotations from influential women activists, artists, and authors.

Embracing Labels: Small Steps Toward a Big Goal

Guest Post | Alexandra Sieh 

Looking up from my book, I scanned the crowded subway car, eager for some good people-watching. But as a new group of folks clambered on, I cringed at some of the actions and attitudes I saw.

Boyfriends pushing (excuse me, “guiding”) their girlfriend onto the train, or speaking to them as if they were children. Women dressed in wildly uncomfortable clothes that align with current fashion trends. Men speaking over the women in their group, or taking no notice of them at all.

From my point of view, these sort of cultural interactions encourage frail, helpless women and domineering men. But as I watch, I try to look past the (irritating) face value of the situation, and understand what societal norm encouraged it. Other times, I mutter angrily under my breath about bullshit men and their bullshit behavior and all these bullshit societal expectations women felt they needed to live up to.

But whether it manifests as deep consideration or silent fuming, it’s always a very quiet sort of rumination on rights and equality, or lack thereof.

I’m sure some reading this would argue my response isn’t much of a response at all. That observation or contemplation aren’t enough – they won’t create change.

Perhaps not.

But despite always having strong views and clear opinions, I’ve often avoided direct action. Rarely would I self-identify as a liberal or feminist or activist (though I am all those things). Ultimately, I was simply avoided labels.

Why? I found them intimidating.

These labels seemed too rigid, too narrow, and far too easy to use as a crutch in writing your own self-definition.

Beyonce's 2014 MTV Video Music Awards
Beyonce’s performance at 2014 MTV Video Music Awards | image from: Independent

I saw many paint broad strokes based on a label, and often their interpretation of that label was inaccurate from the start. Kellyanne Conway anyone? Often, it seemed:

If you’re a *insert label here*, you’re x, y, z.

If you agree with that person or their label, “x, y, z” can be encouraging, positive associations. If you don’t agree, “x, y, z” become negative, and often inaccurate, slurs.

What was my incentive to don these labels, just to have someone assume they knew me based solely on those words?

Well, now I’m not so easily intimidated.

Whether it’s age or perspective or an expat-driven need to further self-identify, I find I’m more comfortable slipping into those labels. Thanks largely to my time living abroad, I no longer feel timidity over being the real me.

Increasingly, I feel a need to go beyond identifying as what I am, by using my own personality and actions to reinforce a positive, more realistic, definition of that label. If I can present myself as a strong, capable, kind, loving, forceful woman and identify as a liberal, a feminist, etc., then perhaps people will start to correlate the two.

Within my life in China, that correlation is often on as small a level as my classroom interactions each day.

I challenge what my students think a woman should wear by donning the mismatched, often baggy or faded, clothing that I love to wear. I pair a feminine skirt with a man’s oversized flannel, because that’s my style. That way, my students see a woman they describe as beautiful deciding herself how she’ll dress and act.

Chinese kids in a training school | image from GRCS
Chinese kids attending a training school | image from GRCS

I purposefully twist my hair into a frazzled, messy pile atop my head to show individuality and even a touch of eccentricity. “That looks crazy, teacher!” “Well it’s good to be a little crazy.”

Despite my being in a loving relationship, I argue every day that women don’t need a man to achieve all their dreams. Nor does finding a partner – man or woman – mean they cede their dreams.

With my brilliant little girls, I celebrate their intelligence. I tell them to dream big. Through some personal (and probably knee-jerk) response to this country’s blatant patriarchy, I go out of my way to push these girls to be forces of nature, strong enough to challenge any societal norms they’re up against.

With my clever little boys, I try to teach them equality by quieting their disrespect, and praising their teamwork.

I do my part, and spend that subway-ride home dreaming about how I hope my students will grow up to be.

So, while I may not be setting the world ablaze with radical thought or loud protest, I thrive through more close-to-home feminism. I may not be powering grassroots movements, but I’m making sure everyone around me supports equality. I may not be rallying, but I’m empowering the women in my life, looking up to them and giving them my support.

I also hope I’m teaching the men in my life how great a world it would be if they did the same. By being powerful, independent, intelligent and strong-willed, I hope to help men see the beauty of that kind of woman. I want to help them shed any fear they have of what a world equality would look like – help them see it’s not about their subordination to women, but their standing alongside women.

Wearing the labels I’m now comfortable owning, I take small steps and celebrate them. Whether it changes the world, I know it changes the world of those around me. And for now, that role is one I am more than happy to play.



Alexandra Sieh is a freelance writer currently working as a marketing director and English teacher in Beijing, China. Read more from Alexandra at Wild-Eyed and Wandering.


Featured image from: Global Girl Media Network

Where did my hair go? The aftermath of a drastic hair cut

Four months ago, I made the courageous decision to cut my 12 inch hair off entirely. Here’s a video of the day, the event, and the aftermath:

A huge thank you to my good friends Maxi Battaglia and Ponita Reasmy for making this video possible. It is a wonderful record of a major moment in my life.

If you’re curious about why on earth I would make that choice, here’s a little summary:

1. Short hair on women looks badass.
2. Binary gender stereotypes are best challenged on the body.
3. My sister lost a significant portion of her hair to cancer treatment.
4. The charity receiving my donations makes wigs for children dealing with hair loss from cancer treatment.

I wrote about my reasoning in an article named Four Reasons I’m Shaving My Head For Charity published by Aliljoy just days before the big shave.

While these four things are all great reasons, I think the biggest by far (for me) is challenging binary gender stereotypes. I’ve always taken an interest in challenging the authority of patriarchal social values that dictate and categorise the value of a woman’s behaviour and appearance.

Gender stereotypes are very clearly played out on the body. I’ve long imagined the female body as the ideal space for these to be challenged. To reference the ever-relevant Judith Butler, gender itself is performed: the gendered body is “the legacy of sedimented acts” (523).

When the body is both my private, personal space and my public, political sphere, I believe it the one place I can instigate my personal challenges to the world around me. Long hair is one of the primary things that makes me recognisably female, and one of the few that is distinctly impermanent. Cutting off all my hair – pushing my appearance to the extreme – is the ultimate act of rebellion against binary gender norms that surround us all.

Not only was this a personal challenge, but through the change to my appearance I challenged the people around me. I challenged my parents, my boyfriend, my friends, my boss, my students, passersby, and anyone who saw me in the three months my hair was unusually short for a woman. I challenged them to react and, in reacting, to show me their true views of what was appropriate for a woman my age to do with her hair.

The worst reactions?

The shock on my boss’s face when I told him my weekend plans. Six young students screaming their lungs out at my altered appearance. My boss telling me (with relief) that I looked like a ten-year-old boy, once my hair had grown a few inches. Being addressed as “sir” on a plane.

The best?

Being told: “you look super hot / badass / edgy.” Getting praised for my bravery. Having a friend copy my new hairstyle within the week. The look of admiration on my teenage students’ faces when I went back to work.

Probably the most common among my Chinese students, though, was an impulse to tell me I still looked beautiful. It was as though, like Samson’s strength, a woman’s beauty fades with a snip of her locks. This is precisely the stereotype that I wanted to challenge. I can’t assume it worked on everyone, but once they got used to my short hair many students – new and old – have praised me for my chic new look.

More on this soon.

If you liked this post, why not check out: Does Having Leg Hair Make Me Less Of A Woman?

References:

Butler, Judith. ‘Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory.’ Theatre Journal 40.4 (1988): 519-531.

Gender Equality in China (Loreli Interview)

Cas Sutherland, whose work we first showcased last September, is a model global citizen. Dedicated to the cause of gender equality and h*#man r*ghts, Cas keeps involved in activities around Beijing and greater Asia, blogging at Zhendegender.com

You are a professor here in Beijing. And you blog about feminism, mostly in a Chinese context. You interview fascinating female movers and shakers. Does this sound about right?

Yes, I am lucky to teach at a progressive Chinese university. I see roomfuls of young, mostly female, students every week, and I get to talk to them about issues that are meaningful to me, in the hopes of instilling the student with an understanding of the nuances of the world both in and outside China. I think I learn just as much from them as they do from me. It really is a two-way learning process.

I usually frame my work as blogging about gender, which includes feminism but encompasses a range of other issues too, including LGBT and women’s health issues. All of these issues interact, which is where we get intersectionality (or intersectional theory) – a contemporary feminism that examines how various cultural and social categories (such as race, gender, class, sexual orientation, etc.) intersect.

I’ve been writing about gender and women’s issues for a few years now, but only recently has my focus turned specifically to China and Asia. Living in China does not necessarily make it easy to write about China, and the women’s rights movement here is controversial and highly political. This makes it a fascinating and necessary topic to write about, but also holds potential dangers for anyone openly involved. The project is pretty new. So far I’ve published interviews with Chinese writers and activists, who are already in the public eye, but I’m planning to feature interviews with people from a wide range of backgrounds. My only problem now is getting around the language barrier.

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Li Tingting (or Li Maizi), Xiao Meili, and Wei Tingting raising awareness of domestic violence.

How do you follow feminism in China, and even other parts of Asia (such as Burma)? How do you keep up-to-date?

Coming to Chinese, Burmese and other Asian feminisms as an outsider means a lot of background research was involved to build a base of knowledge. Having intelligent young Chinese students and friends is a huge source of information and inspiration. Most of my research I do simply by talking to people with similar interests – engaging with people on a topic that they enjoy is my favourite way to learn and to challenge my own ideas. I’m also part of a large group of Beijing-based Feminists, who arrange regular meetings to discuss various issues.

Attending events about related topics has been very useful too. For example the annual Bookworm Literary Festival and the regular events listed on Legation Quarter invite experts, both foreign and Chinese, to speak on contemporary Chinese issues. Many events about China will touch on gender relations in some way, whether or not the event is specifically about a related topic. If I’m curious about the way gender relates to the topic, I will ask. I’m one of those people who sit at the front and always ask questions!

If you were to look back on this time in history 50 years, what would you say is happening with females in China right now?

From my perspective, now is a time of major change. Feminism has gained serious momentum in the past 5 or 6 years, and a specifically Chinese feminism is emerging. Women’s rights issues are more widely regarded as important; issues surrounding women’s health are being taken more seriously and sex education is making progress in schools. LGBT rights have moved forward with the announcement that gay conversion treatment is illegal, and the first hearing given to a gay couple demanding their relationship be recognised as under marriage.

That said, progression continually comes face to face with deep-set traditional values that seem to have little grounding in contemporary life yet hold an established place in Chinese culture. Sex-selective abortion continues in its prevalence (13 mil. per year, 60% are unmarried women) and insubstantial (4 months) maternity leave is forcing women to leave their jobs. A large wage gap prevails in a majority of jobs and women’s education is stigmatized (Female PhD students are viewed as a third gender). Gender equality will continue to be a problematic issue with such a huge gender imbalance in China.

What are the latest major achievements and deeper challenges to feminism in China at the moment?

One of the latest achievements to gender equality in China is the domestic violence law, which came in at the end of 2015. It basically means that the police are obliged to intervene when they get reports of domestic violence, where previously the authorities were instructed not to interfere in peoples’ private lives.

Another ongoing controversial issue is the arrest and detention of the Feminist Five in March 2015. The day before International Women’s Day last year, seven campaigners were arrested for planning to distribute fliers about sexual harassment on public transport in Beijing and Guangzhou. Five of them – Wei Tingting, Zheng Churan, Wang Man, Wu Rongrong, and Li Tingting (known as Li Maizi) – were detained for 37 days. They quickly became a vanguard for women in China.

A year later, they went back to the site of their detention to have their one-year bail revoked and to collect their belongings. Three of them went back with their lawyer, but the case against them was not dropped. This means that they could be prosecuted at any time in the next four years.

These young women are not the type to balk at the threat and their detention kick-started an unprecedented era of widespread feminist activism across China. However, the on-going political opposition to the women’s movement, and the dangers associated with it, could be a major obstacle to the future of Chinese feminism.

You use this phrase ‘global feminism’ – what’s that all about?

I think it is pretty clear by now that feminism is making waves the world over. Here in China, not only is there a burgeoning curiosity to learn about the way feminism operates in the west, but China is claiming feminism as its own. While the label ‘feminist’ means a person who believes we must work toward gender equality, women and men in the UK are experiencing very different challenges to gender equality than those faced by people in China, Burma or elsewhere in the world. While labels can be useful, feminism means different things to different people. I see feminism as a tool for change – it must be applied in new ways in different contexts, and however much we support one another, we cannot fight other peoples’ battles for them.

I use the phrase global feminism because disconnects between western feminist strongholds and developing world feminism can often be misconstrued. There is no reason a western feminist ‘we’ must set the agenda for a developing world feminist ‘them’. Chinese activists are navigating the way toward gender equality using a contemporary Chinese feminism, on their own terms. Nonetheless, Chinese feminism still embodies the principles by which feminists around the world are bound together.

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Super-badass activist Xiao Tie

I read on your blog that a super-badass feminist Xiao Tie may be in some sort of trouble. What gives?

She is indeed a total badass. Thirty-year-old bisexual LGBT activist Xiao Tie is the director of Beijing’s LGBT Centre and one of Beijing’s most prominent young figureheads. Her campaigns for LGBT rights have gained international attention, most notably those protesting ‘gay conversion’ treatment, that is still a widespread problem in China. The authorities are aware of those facts. I don’t think she is in immediate trouble, but she has been prevented from attending events (ie. a discussion of Women’s Rights in China at The Bookworm’s Literary Festival this March) with the threat of detention. This threat could be realised at any time, so she has to monitor her every interaction, whether in public on or social media.

Xiao Tie is among a group of young activists of both sexes who campaign for gender equality and LGBT rights. The ‘Feminist Five’ and their allies are prominent figures in the press (both national and international) and are thus potential targets for the authorities, wumaodang (the fifty cents party) and criticism from Chinese citizens. They are fully aware of this risk, but they are not likely to stop working towards what they believe is right for the country.

Is the Chinese word for ‘feminism’ as stigmatized in Chinese as in English? 

This is a really fascinating and complex topic that I actually covered with my students this week. There are two Chinese words for feminism, sometimes used interchangeably. Both hold somewhat different connotations as each emerged in a specific historical context.

An early translation was 女权主义 ‘nuquan zhuyi’ (women’s power or rights + ism), denoting a militant demand for women’s political rights reminiscent of the earlier women’s suffrage movements in the West and in China. It has distinct militaristic connotations.

The women’s movement later took a very different direction, and the identity of Chinese women thus came to be defined by state organisations, like the ACWF (All China Women’s Federation), exclusively in terms of an official discourse on gender. Use of the term ‘feminism’ was rejected and ‘forbidden’ within this discourse from 1949.

Feminism returned to China during the 1980s, and the new translation proposed in the 1990s was 女性主义‘nuxing zhuyi’ (femininity + ism), which emphasises gender inequality rather than women’s rights, and is seen to have a richer set of cultural and political meanings than the earlier term.

The word feminism is stigmatised in the west because it connotes previous incarnations of feminist thought that have since become less popular. Thus the need for naming developments in feminist thought in ‘waves’. Second wave feminism – the bra-burning era – is part of the reason contemporary feminism is often treated with such reticence. Fourth wave feminism (which is where we’re at now), encompasses intersectionality (or intersectional theory) and operates on the basis that feminism can and should work for every – and I mean every – individual within their own unique social context.

My students tell me that女权主义 ‘nuquan zhuyi’ holds connotations closer to second wave feminism, and女性主义‘nuxing zhuyi’ is probably closer to fourth wave feminism. It depends who you talk to, but from what I understand, ‘nuquan zhuyi’, the stronger of the two, is used much more often, whether colloquially or among writers and feminist thinkers, even though the word is not recognised by the Party.

How can we [any reader] help the situation?

First off, get informed. Learn about the nuances within gender equality movement wherever you are in the world – by reading, attending events, asking questions – and challenge your existing views by talking to people about theirs. Second, go to events and support the cause – whether it is a charity event at the LGBT center, an discussion run by Lean In Beijing, or an event that gives you the chance to talk to experts about what more you can do. Many of the organisations will take donations and are eager to find volunteers. You can even by a Chinese ‘this is what a feminist looks like’ t-shirt from Xiao Meili’s taobao page.

This interview was originally published on Loreli on 12th May 2016.

We Should All Be Feminists: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is one of my favourite authors. She’s certainly my favourite African author and I believe she is the best female writer of our time. Her fiction is poetic and hugely powerful. She weaves enchanting and wonderfully moving stories about the reality of Nigerian life.

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Adichie was named one of the twenty most important fiction writers today under 40 years old by The New Yorker. She featured in the April 2012 edition of Time Magazine, celebrated as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. Hers is the voice of a generation.

Adichie’s stories spark recognition within me. Not only do I remember fondly places I’ve lived, people I’ve met and friends I that I miss daily, but I feel a deep sense of understanding. Of home. Of humanity. Things that transcend distances of all kinds. She gives us a longer look into the real stories of Nigeria. Following in the footsteps of Chinua Achebe, often dubbed the Father of the African Novel in English, Adichie is changing the perception of her Nigerian home in the outside world. She offers up stories – many, varying and widely different stories – that seem to reach into the heart of humanity and pull out only truth.

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Half of a Yellow Sun

Her 2009 talk ‘The Danger of a Single Story’ is a wonderful analysis of the power of stories:

Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanise. Stories can break the dignity of a people but stories can also repair that broken dignity.

“When we reject the single story, when we realise that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.”

Adichie understands the power of stories when it comes to changing stereotypes and erasing false perceptions.

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 11.35.39Adichie’s 2012 TEDxEuston Talk, part of an annual conference focused on Africa, shot to fame when Beyonce sampled it in her performance at the 2014 MTV VMAs: “We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are. We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls: You can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful, otherwise you with threaten the man. Feminist: a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.

While I have read much of her work including the written version of the talk, entitled ‘We Should All Be Feminists’, I had not listened to it until last week, and promptly showed it to 70 Chinese undergraduate students (their responses to come). Her voice and presence transform already brilliant writing into something transcendent. The room crackles with truth, recognition and understanding.

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Half of a Yellow Sun

To those who read any of her novels (Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow SunAmericanah), her ideas about gender are made crystal clear. The fact she admits she finds it hard to read classic feminist texts, acknowledges the stigma around the word ‘feminist’ and once labelled herself as a ‘Happy African Feminist Who Does Not Hate Men And Who Likes To Wear Lip Gloss And High Heels For Herself And Not For Men’ makes her an ideal role model for women worldwide, no matter what their background.

Adichie’s is a singular voice, but it speaks to many. Though we may not have personal experiences like her stories of Nigeria, most of us can identify with them and remember similar moments in our own lives. Her words cross the boundaries that divide us, her sentiments unite us.

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We Should All Be Feminists

There’s little that can be said in response to this – her words need no qualification. She’s just right.

25 Things I Did Instead of Getting Married at 25

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Thirteen months ago, I published an article entitled 25 Things I did Instead of Getting Married At 25. It’s a polemic and judgemental piece about marriage and married people, spurred on by sensationalism. It was an overreaction to people I knew getting engaged, having babies, and posting pictures of their weddings on Facebook. Perhaps it was I, not they, who was scared shitless about the future.

I had been worried that people my age were choosing marriage, relationships, and children – what I viewed as symbols of conventional life – over careers, travel, and self-improvement. I wrote: How can they be my friends when we are so clearly of very different attitudes toward life?

I was proud of everything I’d achieved, having left my home country and arrived, alone, in China. I wanted to tell the world: there are other ways to live a fulfilling life. (Or did I think I needed to prove that some ways are better?) But, what I failed to ask myself was “why should their life choices reflect mine?”

I have always had conflicting views on marriage. Marriage doesn’t seem personally necessary when I know I could live a (financially, socially, politically) stable and independent life perfectly happily. It is difficult for me to see the relevance of an ancient social convention in modern life, particularly with its links to religious bodies that have never held a significant position in my life. It has been particularly hard to reconcile my feminism with the idea of one day getting married: marriage traditionally implied the ownership (and thus restriction) of a woman, and why would any woman willingly choose that?

Times have changed. People have changed. The nature of marriage has changed.

I would still argue that marriage is largely non-essential in modern Western life. I do still believe that marriage is not the only way to show you love someone. But I’ve stopped seeing it as “a pointless gesture people undergo to publicly declare their feelings”.

The very fact that it is non-essential for the majority of people is possibly the most powerful element of modern marriage. Rather than becoming insignificant, it possibly means more than it once did, purely because it is so heavily reliant on individual choice.

I would nevertheless advocate exploring a less conventional path through life, particularly for young people in countries where marriage is still the expectation. For example, many young Chinese women are still expected to get married by the time they are 27, under threat of becoming a “leftover woman” if they wait too long. Rather than be forced into marriage by the phantom “biological clock”, I believe the marriage question must be left to individual choice.

At 25 there’s still so much learning, growing, travelling to be done!

Perhaps there are many more interesting things you could do with your time than settle down with your mortgage and a brand new hubby. But marriage is not the end of life. In fact, it could just be the beginning. There’s still so much living to be done, that in 10 years time, you’re probably not going to be the same person you are right now. So if you’ve found someone who’ll love you for who you are in years to come, rather than who you once were, then you’re a very lucky person.

Getting married is not settling down, it is flying free together.

Nonetheless, it is with pride that I give you 25 things I did instead of getting married at 25:

  1. Fill up a passport five years before it expires
  2. Get a job that changes lives
  3. Move a few thousand miles from homeand stay there
  4. Live aloneand make your house your home
  5. Start a blogand publish things people actually read
  6. Meet friends with whom you only speak your second language(Korean)
  7. Begin studying a third language(Chinese)
  8. Make your own fresh coffee instead of buying it
  9. Create and nurture an indoor garden… keep the plants alive!
  10. Sing at an open mic eventunrehearsed
  11. Learn Capoeira
  12. Quit the job with the sexist boss
  13. Read non-fiction of your own choosing
  14. Study online courses
  15. Become financially independentwhich means doing your own tax returns & facing up to the Student Loans Company
  16. Vote in the UK elections from overseas
  17. Dance around naked in your living room
  18. Make your Dad proud so he tells you every time you talk
  19. Invite your Mother to visitand stay in your home
  20. Tell the world “I am a Feminist!”
  21. Actually make friends with colleagues
  22. Learn more about Buddhism
  23. Inspire people around you
  24. Celebrate Lunar New Year in proper Chinese style(over-eating and fireworks)
  25. Never stop setting new goals

post revised 10th April 2016

Read more:

Read the original 25 THINGS I DID INSTEAD OF GETTING MARRIED AT 25 here (PDF)

Having It All: Career and Love: can we ever have it all? (Catherine and The Lion)