Chinese Word For Independent Women Has A Double Edge

By Yang Yang
China Daily, Beijing / Asia News Network


In 2013, nyuhanzi became one of the most popular Internet words in China. In Chinese, it literally means a “female man”, or a man inside a woman’s body. Metaphorically, it means a woman who thinks and behaves like a man, especially men with undisciplined habits.

But for many, it just means independent and tough.

How do you determine whether a woman is a nyuhanzi? Online wags can produce a 20-item list of criteria for just about anything.

Here are some telltale signs from the Internet:

You may be a nyuhanzi if:

– you cannot open a bottle of plain water but keep trying rather than asking for help.

– you like using four-letter words both on- and offline.

– you are “able to change the bottles on water dispensers. (They are often considered too heavy for “weak” girls.)

– you rarely use makeup or seldom take selfies.

– you often don’t bother to wash your face or hair if you’re not going out of the house.

Many nyuhanzi claim they are not favoured by the opposite sex because they are too independent. Some men are put off by them.

“I like nyuhanzi and have very good female friends who drank more wine than me when we dined together. But I don’t want them to be my girlfriend,” Xue Mangmang, a 28-year-old manager of an insurance company in Suqian, Jiangsu province.

However, for many women, the meaning of nyuhanzi goes deeper.

“I think nyuhanzi describes girls who are very independent and tough,” said Li Xiji, 21, a college student in Hunan province. “If they can solve a problem by themselves, they will not ask other people for help. It does not refer only to women who are as strong as a man or who are very brave.”

In June 2013, Li started a group on the social network called “I Am Just a Nyuhanzi”.

In the introduction, Li wrote: “Here, you need not pretend to be weak.

You can be the true you, doing whatever you want. Who said that women must have long hair, can’t speak dirty words, eat fast or cross her legs when sitting down? Who said that women must scream at the sight of cockroaches or cry when hearing thunder or must wear skirts?… I am just a nyuhanzi! What the hell!”

Li has attracted nearly 600 group members. Another similar group has more than 1,100. They claim they can fix a computer or carry heavy things — tasks reserved for men, according to the Chinese stereotype.

While many women call themselves nyuhanzi to show their willingness to buck traditional gender roles, the word has been used by others to show contempt — a kind of gender discrimination.

“When I went to interviews with some employers, I could tell they wanted a man. But I am a nyuhanzi. I can do whatever a man can do in the job,” said Hua Chun, a 24-year-old graduate of Nanjing University.

Lyu Pin, an activist for women rights at the Women’s Media Monitor Network, an NGO, agrees that the word is often used as a sarcasm, but it’s also revealing: “Like the stereotype of the female doctoral candidate, it shows that people are afraid of women’s pursuit of excellence and independence”.

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