WHAT IS IT with Hong Kong men and women? A spat raging in cyberspace over the past six months has pinned the worst stereotypes on both sexes. And judging by the level of mutual contempt, it's perhaps not surprising that so few marry each other. The squabbling began with a tongue-in-cheek website called the Hong Kong Girls Disaster Management Centre (konggirl.hkloves. com). Launched in August, it set out to 'improve the psychological well-being' of Hong Kong women - gong nui in colloquial Cantonese. Its definition of gong nui: manipulative, egotistical, phony, coquettish, controlling, money-grabbing and enslaved by designer brands. The men who indulge these overbearing women were 'dogs'. The website was an immediate hit, especially with men still smarting from previous media reports that showed Hong Kong women found them wanting. It was payback time for years of slights. On YouTube, one resentful male uploaded a video on which he rapped through his list of pet hates about the Hong Kong woman, and it's attracted more than 30,000 views. Not long after, local females retaliated with a list of '81 sins committed by Hong Kong men', detailing their less-than-desirable traits. Not only were local men geeky-looking, they were irresponsible, chauvinistic and feeble-minded underachievers with low self-esteem. The debate degenerated into a vicious, irrational fight, with sexist remarks exchanged on both sides. Ng Hing-hung, a 25-year-old university student, even tried to organise an anti-Hong Kong women rally in October but failed to attract supporters. He concedes many friends don't share his views, but remains active in e-forums advocating his 'cause'. Although he hasn't been a victim, Ng cites stories of men being abused by the women in their lives, some complaining of being bashed with handbags or slapped in the face. What angers him most are women who apply double standards under the guise of feminism. 'It's not fair for women to ask for equality without giving up the privileges. They demand equality at work, but expect to be treated like princesses when they date,' he says. The phenomenon inspired director Lam Tze-chung to film the romantic comedy I'll Call You, a satirical take on Hong Kong women who pick on men. But how far does this clash reflect diverging expectations of the sexes? Anthony Fung Yik-him, an associate professor of communications at the Chinese University, suggests cyberspace encourages extremes of expression because it offers anonymity. It's a convenient channel for individuals to vent their frustrations about dating or anger with a partner. 'They may not be able to express their feelings in public because they don't want to jeopardise their social and professional life,' says Fung, who has an interest in gender issues. '[In cyberspace] they feel they don't need to bear any responsibility.' Even so, others reckon there is some truth to the accusations. Marketing executive Tsang Yat-yu says criticisms of the current generation of Hong Kong men are valid although some are exaggerated for dramatic effect. 'I'd say about 60 per cent of it is true,' she says. 'Hong Kong men are not as decent as before, maybe because of flaws in their upbringing; they are too spoiled. At the same time, women are now more aggressive at work and more confident about themselves. They aren't as restrained as they were 10 years ago.' Similarly, account executive Wong Kai-man rates Hong Kong women poorly compared to those on the mainland and Taiwan, whom he describes as being more compliant and gentle. 'Hong Kong women are more materialistic and realistic. But they are tough because of their good education and financial independence,' he says. While Wong says he has no trouble finding a girlfriend, his friends often find it hard to please 'overbearing' dates, or face rejection because they are 'not good enough'. 'They don't understand why women expect them to pay the bills all the time when they talk about gender equality,' says Wong, who visits the online forum occasionally. 'They have double standards.' Newspaper columnist Avin Tong Hei-man suggests the online battle has been waged by some conservative men who have a hard time accepting a loss of power. 'Women can have successful careers now, just like men, so men don't have the mileage anymore,' says Tong, who has defended Hong Kong women in her articles. Career-focused women may feel differently when they reach their 30s or 40s, when there'll be few men available who fit their requirements, she says. 'I often hear stories of how they'd settle for any single guy. We're not like men, we depreciate with age,' she says. Whatever the case, the sisters have been doing well for themselves. The number of women receiving tertiary education has doubled over the past 20 years to 451,300. Similarly, 110,400 women now earn more than HK$30,000 a month, about twice as many as a decade ago. Social commentators say the rise in social status and pay encourages women to reconsider their options. They tend to find greater fulfilment in career and friendships, while the search for a partner is less of a priority. Over the past 15 years, there has been a 39 per cent rise in the number of unmarried women compared to a 8.5 per cent increase among men. That may also explain why more local men are looking elsewhere for partners. Last year, more than 40,000 men married women from the mainland, about twice as many as those who wedded local women. Fung argues the online feud only represents a small, extreme group. 'There are always bigoted men who think their rights are encroached when women get more power. It takes time to fix that,' he says. The media is also partly to blame for fostering a materialist culture that leads people to associate money with love, he says. 'Those traits are found in societies elsewhere,' says Fung. 'But Hong Kong is more of a capitalist society than the mainland and Taiwan, and women here are more likely to be seen as gold-diggers. A lot of people's value systems are based on money.' Cultural commentator Perry Lam Pui-li says the cyber frenzy has deeper roots in real life although the internet is a convenient platform for venting long-suppressed frustrations. 'It can't happen out of the blue. The phenomenon brings out hidden problems in society.' The relationship between men and women is in a constant state of tension because they have different expectations of each other. But in Hong Kong the disparity is more pronounced because it's such a highly commercialised world, Lam says. The way gossip magazines played up model Cathy Chui Chi-kei's marriage to Henderson scion Martin Lee Ka-shing reinforces the stereotypes of both sexes in such a materialist society. Lam also sees the boundaries blurring between the virtual and real worlds. 'Those who keep posting views on the internet may become more daring to express their views in real life.'