Confucianism and Gender

The picture shows the development of the Chinese character, the word “woman”. It belongs to the pictographic character which is a writing system that depicted real world objects, events or ideas. So clearly we get the image of a woman that shows her “kneeling position” which means to be obedient and docile. This is the gender role women should play since this word had originated from ancient China. The image expanded much more strongly when it had been united by Confucianism.

Confucius, as we know, was a philosopher, educator and political figure. His teaching which called Confucianism formed the basis on education and comportment of the individuals, which made their lives more ideal. He developed an ethical system, described the important principles of humanity, loyalty, morality and consideration in society. Also, he discussed how the individuals interact with others in society, especially focused on the model of “home” which for him was a microcosm of the state. He expressed the perfect range of human interaction in his word “Five Relations”; the ruler to the subject, father to son, husband to wife, the elders to the young, and the last one is between friends. These ideas not only affected the shape of the individual roles, but also fixed gender roles differently between men and women in the society. Especially, “women” had been kept staying at a disadvantage position.

The Confucian family morality which is the spiritual fetters of wifely submission and virtues imposed on Chinese women called “three obedience and four virtues”. For women at their every stage of life must “obey her father as a daughter, her husband as a wife and her sons in widowhood”. These are the “three obedience”. As for the “four virtues” are the proprieties in behavior, speech, demeanor and diligent work, of course women’s work only centers around the home because men’s work centers around outside. Also, there are more unbalanced in case of divorce. A man can divorce his wife if she doesn’t obey his parents; also if she is lecherous, jealous, has a nasty disease (even be disabled that classified as “nasty”), barren (especially not be able to bear a “son”) and she talks too much or steals. Unfortunately women don’t have the same rights to charge their husbands. It sounds strange, unfair, discriminating, but this is the gender role for women in Confucianism.


by Linda  (Ying-Yu Lin)

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