Civilization may have given men the upper hand for millennia as they lorded it over women politically, economically and physically, but in the natural world, the females of the various species still call the shots. So what’s that got to do with all the single young women in China?
More on that in a bit. But first, consider the mating challenges of the male of the species on land, sea and in the air. The male polar bear has to schlep over all that sea ice in April and May to hunt for a breeding female and fight off other males only to encounter a less than willing partner, because she’s not yet in heat. It is the mating ritual itself that induces ovulation. Then, too, polar bears can be cannibalistic. So you don’t know if you’re going on a hot date or about to be eaten. Bit of a problem that.
But once trust is established, the guy still isn’t golden. The female now puts him through his paces in a display that can only be likened to tryouts for the alpine events at the Winter Olympics. There’s some schussing down the icy slopes, which she usually does more gracefully, because, well, she’s half his body weight. And that’s followed by some running back up the slopes, with her waiting patiently atop while he lumbers behind, because, well, he’s twice her body weight at anywhere between 772 and 1,543 pounds. (Maybe he should try the trending new intermittent fasting diet.)
Honestly, watching this on PBS’ “Nature” and knowing he’s losing his chance to win this furball of a bachelorette, you just want to go right through the TV screen, put your hands on his butt and push him up that hill. And yet, you understand where she’s coming from. After a week of nooky, it’s going to be all on her to prepare the maternal den, have the helpless cubs, nurse them for two years — two years — fend off predators, maybe adopt an orphan, send the kids on their way and begin the whole cycle over again. A female can’t be too picky, no matter how big the male’s, uh, stock portfolio or waterfront property is.
The female bowerbird, which does not have the advantage of a real estate agent, spends lots of time examining the bowers of various male bowerbirds, which may resemble twiggy maypoles or arcades, festooned with stones, berries, feathers, flowers, leaves, bits of sparkly glass and, yes, even plastic in an attempt to entrance and entrap. This is somewhat akin to the old seductive ploy: “Why don’t you come up to my penthouse for a nightcap and look at my, ah, etchings?” Sometimes, the female bowerbird takes an etching, um, blueberry and scoots off. She’s got other listings to look at — ones with better bowers and blue-black male birds who perform well. In other words, it’s not just about dinner. It’s about dinner and a show.
Similarly, the female white-spotted puffer fish may take to the fascinating three-dimensional sand mandala that a male sculpts on the sea floor off the south coast of Amami-oshima Island in Japan’s Ryukyu Islands in a kind of sand castle contest. Or she may swim away. If she stays, there will be some powerful undulating going on — along with what looks like some cheek-biting — for her to deposit the eggs that the male will then fuss over. Hey, not every female is cut out to be a homemaker.
Which brings us to China and the pressure it’s putting on single women in their reproductive prime like lawyer Qiu Huamei to scratch that itch to get hitched. The pressure manifests itself in a full-blown media campaign to ridicule women who remain single and thus among the sheng nu (“leftover women”). In Qiu’s case, captured in the PBS “Independent Lens” documentary “Leftover Women,” she tries to breach the world of a dutiful Chinese girl from a small village south of Beijing — with all of the hapless, awkward encounters with speed dating and marriage brokers that implies — and that of a successful, independent-minded, English-speaking career woman who’s looking for more out of life than fulfilling a tradition.
Let’s understand who put Qiu and some of her countrywomen in this position — men. In 1979, the Chinese government, decided to institute a one-child policy to control the population. Because Chinese tradition dictates that the oldest son care for his elderly parents — and because we wouldn’t want to mess with tradition now, would we? — many females were aborted or adopted overseas.
The policy ended in 2015, but by then, there was a shortage of young women. As the French would say, quelle surprise.
So the government has to pressure women to get married, because the reality is those who are around don’t just have their pick of blueberried bowers and sand castles, so to speak. Some of these choosy ladies are choosing not to choose at all. They are — in the brilliant turn of phrase by single actress Emma Watson — “self-partnered.” Or to borrow an idea from the Jungian analyst Esther Harding, they are psychological virgins — one in themselves.
“Remember that famous scene from ‘Jerry Maguire’ ‘You complete me?’,” Paula Faris said in introducing a “Good Morning America” segment on the self-partnered Watson last year. “That’s not this.”
What’s fascinatingly ironic is that by creating a policy that led to a form of gender selection, the Chinese government reinforced in humans the animal kingdom’s natural selection by female choice.
I think Chinese guys should start brushing up on their schussing.