OPINION> Xu Xiaomin
Straight from a Shanghai woman's heart
By Xu Xiaomin (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-09-04 07:54

Straight from a Shanghai woman's heart

Having been stereotyped for over a century as materialistic shrews, it's time for us Shanghai women to put the record straight.

Like many thousands of Shanghai women of my generation, I have been steeped since early childhood in a, dare I say, feminist culture that teaches us girls to be independent of mind and spirit. The seed of that tradition was sowed by people of my grandmother's generation when the early industrialization of the city created ample job opportunities for young women many of who became their families' bread-winners.

As such, we have earned our rights in a predominantly man's society through financial independence rather than feminist movement which is sometimes confrontational. But instead of admiration, we have been rudely and incorrectly labeled as materialistic, snooty and, more insultingly, greedy and manipulative.

I find such stereotyping most annoying. After learning that I was born and bred in Shanghai, many people, especially men, mutter "wow" with a sly smile. I know what they think: "Watch out, here comes the gold digger."

I am not being too sensitive. Many of my woman friends have said they have the same uneasy feeling when they tell out-of-town acquaintances that they are natives of Shanghai.

We believe that these misconceptions about us have deepened in the minds of outsiders by the rapid economic progress of the city in recent years. As the story of Shanghai's success, to be culminated in the 2010 World Expo, spreads faster and wider not only in the country, but also worldwide, our image seems to be getting worse.

If you walk down any major street in Shanghai, you will notice that we pay close attention to looking our best in the way we dress and behave. Among my circle of friends and colleagues, I may be the least conscious about my look. But still, I spend quite a bit of my income on fashion, which I also write about as part of my job.

For our efforts in looking good, we are labeled "slaves to brand fashion." And because most of the top brands are owned by French or Italian firms we are held guilty of selling our souls to the West. From that misconception was born the myth that we prefer to marry Western men.

Straight from a Shanghai woman's heart

Without the benefit of any reliable statistics, I presume there is a higher proportion of inter-racial marriages in Shanghai than in most other mainland cities. That's largely because there is a much larger foreign community in Shanghai.

The high proportion of Shanghai women marrying foreigners is a matter of probability rather than preference. Like women in other cities, we are just interested in the right men, irrespective of nationality or race.

Oh yes, I admit, we are extremely choosy of our men. But our demanding standard should not be admitted as proof of our materialism. Wide-eye romanticism may not be our cup of tea, but our criteria of a house, car and a high-paying job in a multinational company is not cast in stone.

Our prince charming can be an ordinary man with a pleasant personality, solid education and a decent job. Of course, possession of some worldly wealth, like a downtown apartment, is a big help. We are just being pragmatic, not materialistic.

Every Shanghai mother cares about two things for her daughter, a good career and a decent husband. These are the guarantee of a happy life. And we also love the huge windows and the aroma of strong coffee at Starbucks, read poems whose meanings we may never understand, and put Milan Kundera's books in our bags though we may never read. So what?

E-mail: xuxiaomin@chinadaily.com.cn