Monthly Archives: December 2012

“Size matters” for role models

I was reading a book by Iris Chang on the Chinese in America which I found very absorbing. She talked about the high sex ratio among Chinese Americans at the end of the 19th century until the beginning of the 20th century: males are certainly much more likely to come to America, mostly for work, and in some rare cases for business. Yet due to the restriction of the immigration policies back then, most of their wives have to be left in their home country. Only very few of the wives were able to rejoin their husband in the new continent.

One consequence of the unbalanced sex ratio that I did not thought about before reading this book is the lack of female role models, which discourages the next generation of female Chinese Americans from fighting their way of success at that time. Living in the higher segregated Chinese communities, even if a young  girl is highly motivated to pursue educational or professional success, a good female role model from their earlier generation is difficult, if not completely impossible, to find.

My first response to this story was hardly related to Chinese American in Chang’s book. But it does have something to do with role models. From a very young age, all the great people that I adored – scientists, politicians, and artists – happen to be male. I never realized how much difference it makes until around age 20, when I gradually came to realize that no matter how much I appreciate and admire these great people, and no matter how much I wanted to be like them, I am never of the same kind as they are because in every way I am a female. Not that there are no great females in history that I admire, but with their relatively smaller size of population, it is not easy for me to identify a good female role model that I would like to be like on every dimension.  “Size matters.” I am not a feminist, but I do have a clear eye on how the world is for sure a world of men, and will be for many practical reasons. Sometimes this is sad – perhaps not sad in the same way as the smart young girls in Chinatown at the turn of last century – but it is something that I have, by now, learned to deal with.