Unit 10 Text A
Working Women - East and West
Work, for most American and Chinese women aged 55 and under, involve responsibility for a household, a child or children, and a job outside the home as well. It all adds up to a busy life. How is it going for them – for us?
Experts have observed that life forms a different sort of pyramid for women in China than in the United States. In China, nearly all young mothers are employed outside the home, with their numbers decreasing as they approach middle age. The reasons are clear: the second income of the woman is an absolute necessity for a young family with a child or two. Later on, when the children grow up, the older couple can more easily live on the husband’s earnings plus the wife’s
pension, and fewer middle-aged women continue in employment.
The pyramid for American women is the opposite, with fewer young women employed, and the number increasing at older ages. Many young mothers have found it more efficient to stay home, care for children themselves, and then find employment later when the children are older and more independent. But rising costs of living are requiring more young American women to help support their families, and it is increasingly true that young American women want to have jobs.
But the American working mother often feels troubled by the complexity of her life. Childcare is unreliable and expensive. Childcare workers have low status and are not well educated and are poorly paid – they are often women who are unable to get better jobs. Thus
the American working mother always has the worry that her child is not being as well cared for as she hopes, and the cost of babysitters or private enterprise daycare centers can cost half or more of her salary. Other worries distract her from good performance at her job: What if the babysitter gets sick? What will her employer think if she has to stay at home with a sick child? What if the car, necessary to get the child to the daycare center and herself to and from her job, breaks down? Few people live close enough to their work or the childcare center to accomplish this on foot or by bicycle, as in China.
In China, grandmothers play an invaluable role in taking care of children and households while the young parents are at work. It seems like an ideal arrangement – the grannies become
important members of the family, and they are house and fed in return – although in crowded
homes that most American would not enjoy. In America, an older woman who had to fill this role would be likely to feel she was being made a kind of servant. She may feel lonely sometimes, but generally is proud of being self-sufficient. Both she and her family tend to feel she deserves to be free of childcare now, having reared the large family of the 1950s baby boom.
On the job, Chinese women seem more confident, despite their traditional pretty manners, than do American women in their work place. American women seem less inclined to speak up easily to the boss. Young Chinese women at wok seem bolder and less self-conscious. The work unit is more like a large family, where the youngest workers feel at ease with the “mom” and
“dad” of the group. American women act either as if they doubt that they really belong at work among the men, or they are constantly looking for evidence of discrimination against them.
At home, while Chinese men seem to be performing more household duties such as cleaning, cooking, shopping and caring for children than they used to, and American men are also becoming much more willing to “help”, it seems only realistic to say that people the world over
still regard these as basically women’s tasks and therefore women’s responsibility, no matter who
may do them on any given day. They are a heavy burden on both Chinese and American women, but Chinese women seem to shoulder them more firmly and more cheerfully.
American women do have varied and complex concerns: in addition to work at home and on the job, a woman feels that she must make an attractive home that reflects her family’s status,
she must present an attractive appearance at work, and above all, she must be a good companion to her husband.
Chinese women are freer of the competition for status, especially as represented by their homes, and both men and women have a great deal of companionship in their work unit. Chinese women also look attractive at work, but they achieve it more casually and simply, and do not seem to feel that their career progress depends on the way they look.
Which system is better for the woman? What we expect in life and what we are used to would strongly influence our evaluation. Looking at women in both China and the United States, one cannot help but be impressed with their-out-strength, competence and general good cheer. Our nations could not run without us.