“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Children around the world get that question a lot. And for children in China, the answers will likely break down along gender lines. Though the country has progressed economically by extraordinary leaps and bounds over the past two decades, children are still steered toward professions fitting conventional and traditional norms -- and not only by parents.
Take the “I Have A Dream” theme park in Beijing. It allows children to test out various future careers by examining and “role-playing” dozens of different jobs in mock settings such as courtrooms and airplanes. The park sounds like the ideal mix of education and play, but according to a report by the BBC, while child visitors are always told to dream big, many of the kids still stick to careers that follow traditional gender stereotypes.
Girls often want to try out the flight attendant setting. After loading up a fake airplane cabin with suitcases, the girls are guided by amusement park employees on how to act and carry themselves to be a stewardess while also learning how to serve meals from service carts. Meanwhile, many of the boys choose to work at the facility’s fake airport as either custom agents or security guards. Outfitted with fake bulletproof vests and toy mini-rifles, boys are encouraged to act aggressive and tough.
Some schools also seek to impose strict gender-specific behavioral conventions.
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Last week, the state-run China Daily newspaper published a report on a Shanghai elementary school that is piloting a program on gender education. School officials had apparently perceived a "decline in masculinity" in boys and addressed the issue by rolling out new classes that would teach the boys and girls traditional concepts of femininity and masculinity for their respective genders. Twice a week, the kindergarten classes were separated by gender – while the girls played dress-up in flouncy skirts and "cooked" meals in a fake kitchen, the boys played with sports equipment and army figurines.
So it's not surprising that traditional gender constructs continue beyond childhood. According to the BBC, at the China Mining and Technology University in eastern Jiangsu province, a classroom full of students in the lucrative mining engineering major program are all men. It’s not because women don’t have an interest in it. As it is dubbed a “green card major” -- which means it virtually guarantees you a job after graduation -- the program is much sought-after by both men and women. However, there's a prerequisite: You have to be a man.
“China’s labor law suggests mining work is unsuitable for women, so we ask women to refrain from applying to our major,” Shu Jisen, one of the department’s senior professors told the BBC. At another university in northern China, women are not allowed to study naval engineering, because spending extended periods of time aboard a vessel would be very tough for women, an admissions officer said.