women hold up half the ceiling

Daniel A. Foss (U17043@UICVM.BITNET)
Wed, 6 Sep 1995 17:19:50 CDT

hence difficult of translation into English) treatment of women under Dengist
Modernization, let me direct the Tribe to page A1, National Edition of The
New York Times, Sept 6, which is today: "Women as Chattel: In China, Slavery
Rises." Readers might wish to compare these horrors with the historical-
anthropological study by Patricia Buckley Ebrey, The Inner Quarters, 1993,
which deals with the period of the "Song economic revolution," a thousand
years ago. As is true today, commercialization of the economy a thousand
years ago intensified women's sheer physical toil in the commodity economy,
while considerably lengthening their working hours; compensatory loosening
of constraints, in the guise of independent sources of cash income, failed
to appear. Economic history has repeated itself, except that wherein China's
economy was the most technically and commercially sophisticated in the world
a thousand years ago, this is, politely put, no longer true. Ebrey, however,
puts at least as much emphasis on the commercialization of women as domestic
property, "chattel," if you will, in large-scale commerce conducted, often
over long distances to orders placed by niche-market consumers, those buying
women on term contracts (as opposed to lifetime ownership), and other specialty
demand for diverse wants.

It would seem that sale of women was organized in a far less ugly fashion
a thousand years ago than it is now: kidnapping and beating (as part of the
analogue of "softening up," as in, ah, resocialization of Africans victimized
by the Middle Passage in the eighteenth century by a stay in a concentration-
camp-like hell in the British West Indies prior to delivery to the final
purchaser) are conspicuous excrescences, unlike their obscuring by gentility
in the Song. The economic coercion remains the same: No source of income, in
employment, self-employment, nothing.

In the Song, this commerce was Perfectly Legal, and by definition the Best
Families patronized the brokers. A man's duty, in terms of status symbolism
and emergent consumer-society aspects of urban culture (especially in such
megacities as Hangzhou) dictated his ownership of concubines qualitatively and
quantitively in keeping with his Station In Life; and where the wife had
dominion over household purchases, it fell to her to select the merchandise
from the broker's catalogue. (Jealousy on the wife's part was construed as
inexplicable psychopathology, hers, at that time. The occasions for husbandly
jealousy or frustration alike were rendered as institutionally minimal as
possible for the wealthy.)

The crudity of the contemporary market in women may reflect its nominal
illegality. Much of Chinese life is nominally illegal, as it has been for
3800 years of recorded history, with the anticipable result: "Yet when it
comes to the selling of women, the authorities show a tragic indifference
to what women's rights advocates now consider the most pernicious violation
of human rights in their nation."

It's my Suspicion, based on my Paranoid Powers and Training, that if they
want to find even Worse Stuff going on, they should Look Harder.

Daniel A. Foss