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The phrase “women hold up half the sky” just got popular lately with the Women’s March. It’s poetic, touching and empowering. Does it sound fresh and creative to you? As a Chinese, it’s so familiar that it gave me an illusion of traveling in time and space.
The phrase was a communist propaganda came out during the Great Leap Forward movement in China in the late 50’s. Some think it’s from Chairman Mao but it’s not officially documented. When human labor was scarce, the government started the women’s liberation movement, encouraged women to join the workforce. It initiated women to get out of the house to work in the fields and factories, get equal payment with men. No matter what’s the initial intention of this movement, more and more women joined the social activities, it’s liberating and progressive at the time.
“Women hold up half the sky”–Women’s images are strong, powerful and hardworking in the posters during the time.
It all seemed beautiful and empowering, right? But the other part of the story is probably less told. When women’s rights were super emphasized in the workforce, women’s contribution at home was devalued almost completely. When women were given the rights to work, they were taken away the rights to take care of their family or even to give birth. The society was designed that shortly after having children, people had to go back to work and gave the babies to raise by all kinds of child care facilities.
When my mother had me, she had to work in a factory 7 to 5, leaving me with the factory held childcare. Most of the Chinese babies in the cities weren’t breastfed. The lucky ones were cared by grandparents before going to kindergarten at age of 3.
As we all know, having babies and raising children takes the majority of a women’s time. If you want women to work more, it should be eliminated as much as possible. There came the late marriage and late childbearing policy and one child policy in the 70’s.
“Control birth rate for the revolution.”
“late marriage and late childbirth, control birth rate, free the women labor.”
The employment rates of Chinese women are still one of the highest in the world. “It means women do hold up half the sky!” We’re proud about our women’s equal rights. While it’s true that women in China have gained a lot of freedom of education and work, there are other problems. Stay at home moms have no social support and benefit, often are discriminated against; Marriage laws are economically unfavorable to women who spend time with children instead of work; Divorce rate has been rising, family values are disappearing; Generations of children are separated from their parents at young ages. To go and hold up half the sky, how many women are doing it by choice? And at what cost?
I believe that the American people who marched and held the sign have all the good intentions. I think it’s necessary to understand the origin of the slogan, its good and bad effects in the history, and the ideology behind it.