Sexual Politics

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 October, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 October, 1993, 12:00am

THE balance of power between the sexes has always been affected by age differences between husband and wife. Traditionally, the rules of Chinese society say that in marriage the man must be older than the woman. Society made sure this unwritten rule was followed by preventing women from receiving education or from getting any kind of job outside the home or the fields. A young woman's destiny has always been clear in China: her role is to get married, thus securing what the Chinese call 'a long-term rice ticket'.

If a woman is not allowed to earn her own living and not allowed to own property or land, there is only one contribution she can make to society: marry and have children. But who decided on a suitable husband? The girl's parents of course, who would be anxious that she marry someone earning a good living, which usually meant an older man. A younger man, a man of the same age as the girl, would never get permission from her parents, even if the couple were deeply and genuinely in love.

The situation is different these days because everyone goes to school and job opportunities are the same for men and women. But there are other factors which affect sexual politics and which are also due to age differences. Firstly, in physical terms a man reaches his sexual peak in his 20s while a woman reaches hers in her 40s.Secondly, men are not so mature mentally as women at the same age and need far more attention.

By and large, men are children who never really grow up in the same way women do. Physically, a woman is stronger, at least in the sense of being more resilient than a man.

She is able to stand pain, to suffer. A man, however, needs two kinds of love - a lover's love and a mother's love. Only a mature woman can provide both. The result is that many men these days really need older women. A man's position in the family rests on the tradition that financially he is the boss. But a woman has another kind of power.

She can attain power in just one night and doesn't even have to be pretty - look at Jiang Qing, Mao Zedong's last wife and his ultimate manipulator. Sometimes men call my programme to say they are in love with older, more mature women, but their families object to the union. Why do families object? Because many parents are frightened that they won't be able to manipulate an older daughter-in-law in the way they want to. They want their son to marry a virgin who knows nothing about anything.

That way the parents can easily do all the manipulating. These men face a dilemma. They either have to listen to their parents or follow their heart and marry the woman they love, even if she is older. I encourage them to follow their heart. I tell them: 'You aren't going to spend the rest of your life with your parents, are you? But you might stay with this woman.' Here is a typical example. I talked to a nurse who told me she had worked long hours for much of her adult life and had therefore had little chance to go out and meet people.

Then she met a patient who was 10 years younger than she was and they fell in love and decided to marry. But she was afraid her relatives might gossip behind her back. I said to her: 'If you don't get married, they'll gossip anyway and they'll call you anold maid. But will these people who gossip about you be beside you when you're lonely?'