When Married Women Bully Single Women

When I read a letter to the editor signed “Mrs. John Doe” or “J’s wife”, I feel irritation.

This is a mild form of “women-to -women” violence that often is overlooked and underappreciated.

As a woman from the generation that fought for civil rights for women, I recognize the patriarchal symbolism of “Mrs.” as opposed to the gender neutral “Ms.”

Women who identify publicly as an appendage of a spouse, knowingly or not, display an historic form of gender superiority. They tell the world they have worth because they are not a “spinster” or “old maid.” Their message subtly stigmatizes single women.

A recent study in China found “extensive evidence” of women-to-women violence, primarily psychological, targeting urban unmarried women over the age of 30.

“Notably, most of the direct perpetrators of violent acts against single women are married women, who are seen to accept and defend the patriarchal society and value system to viilfy the existence of single women,” writes author Shaoefen Tang.

The article, “Gender-Based Women- to -Women Violence Against Urban Chinese Single Women (Aged 30-48) in contemporary China,” was accepted for publication by the journal of Sexuality & Culture.

Tang writes that single women in China are disrespected, marginalized and pushed to marry because remaining single is regarded a threat to social harmony and “going against China’s traditional family.”

Leftover Males

The situation in China may be more pronounced because of the country’s former one-child policy, which has led to an unbalanced sex ratio in which males comprise 52% of China’s 1.395 billion population and women 48%.

Tang says “leftover males” can’t find partners when women delay marriage or remain single.

Tang also cites an “ongoing trend” in China toward remaining single, which negatively affects China’s childbirth rate and exacerbates what is seen as a problem of China’s aging workforce.

Single women in China are subject to a range of punitive actions, including insults, verbal violence and social exclusion.

Traditionally, Tang writes, Chinese mothers play a primary role in pushing a daughter to get married. If the daughter objects, the mother typically uses verbal violence to reproach or humiliate her through “moral condemnation.” A chorus of female relatives gossip and speculate in the background about why the daughter is single.

In the workplace, Tang says, being single is often considered “a weakness and character flaw by other female colleagues.” A female worker’s single status may be weaponized by female rivals, causing them loss of promotions and business opportunities.

Tang quotes one older woman as stating that she is often assumed to be a lesbian, which remains a negative status in China.


Ultimately, Tang writes, “Married women who act as critics of single women are also seen to reinforce (and become accomplices to) patriarchal culture in Chinese society.”

Tang’s research included 32 in-depth interviews of Chinese never married single women between the ages of 30 and 48 in 13 cities.

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