"New" Gender Roles of Chinese Immigrant Wives: Reconstructed to Stabilize Marriages
Starting from the 1970s, the world has become more economically globalized, accompanied by the flow of information, the flow of culture, and the flow of immigration. These global changes push many immigrant wives to leave their native countries to come to the United States either with their husbands or to join their husbands. Living in a country where social, cultural, and economic factors are so different from those in their native country, Chinese immigrant couples have learned to adapt to the new environment to maintain the stability of their marriages. One of the biggest challenges that Chinese immigrant couples, especially the wives face in the process of marital stabilization is to readjust their "new" gender roles at home (Note: new means being different from the ones they played in mainland China) and reconstruct their "new" gender role ideologies. Drawing data from surveys and in-depth interviews with Chinese immigrant wives in the United States, I investigate how the reconstruction of Chinese immigrant wives' gender role ideologies stabilizes their marriages, and what the reconstruction of gender role ideologies mean to the wives, who were once instilled by the Chinese government with the notion of "women can hold up the half sky," and who all grew up in Mao's era, when gender equality was greatly emphasized in the national agenda. My findings support the theoretical concept of the social construction of gender (Thompson 1993), which argues that gender is constructed at multiple levels of analysis: the sociohistorical context (i.e. structural and cultural constraints), the immediate context, and the daily interaction. I find in this study that in the sociohistorical context, the structural constraints refer to the recent U.S. economic recession, racism, and the INS policies, and the cultural constraints include the dominant societal gender ideology and the limited social network. The immediate context refers to the multiple births of children and the limited family support system. Gender role ideology is also reconstructed and reaffirmed by the daily interaction between husbands and wives. Each spouse interprets differently in the daily marital interaction process, which may affect how couples, in this study, how wives readjust and interpret their "new" gender role. For some Chinese immigrant wives, becoming a stay-home mom means a sacrifice but for some it means a choice rather than a sacrifice. How they interpret this gender role change would affect how they perceive their marital satisfaction. Those who believe they have made a sacrifice for their marriages are more likely to report marital dissatisfaction than those who believe they have made a choice to stay home. I find that how Chinese immigrant wives interpret and readjust their "new" gender roles are influenced by the above mentioned various contexts. The multiple levels of gender reconstruction determine the marital stability of Chinese immigrant wives.
Keywords: Gender Roles, Immigration, Marital Stability
Dr. Yan Yu
Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, Grand Valley State University