Myth as reality
Boy, am I glad the TVB reality show Bride Wannabes is over. Zooming in on a growing segment of society like that, under the harsh fluorescent lights, nevertheless leaves a lot unsaid.
The show was all the rage, and its recipe for success was: superficial problems blown out of proportion; the quest for the ideal mate portrayed as larger than life; and an intentional exclusion on the part of the show's creators of the real issues at play.
Yes, the show reflected the worsening trend of an imbalanced male-female ratio, which limits union; but, while focusing on these girls' quest to get their prince, it neglected the real problems behind their pangs of love. Instead, the implied message was that the only thing standing between them and happiness were the women themselves.
The people who derived joy out of laughing at the women's plight - one reason the show was so popular - aren't given the true reality. They missed out on what could have been: the show should have shone its harsh light on the gender gap and - what University of California, Berkeley professor Arlie Hochschild called back in 1989 in her groundbreaking book, The Second Shift - the 'stalled revolution' that got women into the workforce but with little change on the domestic front.
The 'wannabe brides' were portrayed as looking for a myth - the myth of ideal marriage. The counsel provided to them only reinforced the misrepresentation.
Both men and women, married and available, suffer because of the gap between ideal and reality. Marriage hasn't become any easier; in fact, numerous factors are making it harder. The 20th century ushered women of all classes into the workforce, empowering them with more financial and social independence, but it has created a huge gap between such advances and the lagging perceptions about gender and the strategies to deal with it.
Women used to marry for economic advancement. Even when they first entered the workforce, the wage gap was so wide that the female wage could only supplement, not pay for, actual living. These days, two wages are a necessity, not a luxury, and looking for a husband for social advancement is unrealistic, despite what we may read in the tabloids. Gender dynamics have changed.
To be sure, women have come a long way. But we continue to face outdated perceptions of gender roles, especially those for the home.
Consider also just two factors that exacerbate and accentuate the problem here in Hong Kong: long working hours and the high cost of living.
This paper's survey released this month on our low birth rates only confirms that our city is friendly to business but hostile to living. It's just too hard - with careers - to contribute to a relationship, a home, and much harder to have children.
Single women and childless couples don't need patronising; there is nothing funny about longer working hours and stubborn outdated perceptions and ineffective 'solutions' that inhibit meaningful relationships. What needs to change is the way we allow shows like Bride Wannabes to delude us, and work outside the home to take over our life.
Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA