I’ve just returned yesterday to Los Angeles from an amazing month in China packed full with media interviews, fashion photo shoots, a TEDx talk, and wonderful visits with friends and partners. For some photos from my trip, click here.
With so many companies investing enormous sums to bombard Chinese women with product advertisements, I see 2013 as a year where a few smart companies will successfully establish a deeper emotional bond with women by understanding and addressing our actual needs.
One company I’ve been working with on this is P&G. P&G’s feminine-care brand Whisper has as its motto “free to choose” and is about supporting women in all the exciting and confusing choices of our modern-day lives.
Indeed, recently I had this exchange with a reader:
She: I feel like I’m living a life constructed for me by other people.
Me: Well, what is it that YOU want to do?
She: I don’t know. I can’t hear the sound of my own heart.
It’s in response to these words that I wrote my latest Wall Street Journal China column. It’s my first try at fiction, and my first try at science-fiction, so I hope you love it. Here it is reprinted in full below, courtesy of the Wall Street Journal:
More women on weibo but men’s voices are louder
An MIT graduate student recently analyzed the users of Sina Weibo and found that 60% of the users are women, but men comprise twice as many of the users with over 5,000 fans. The title’s study: More women on Weibo but men’s voices are louder.
I was thinking about this study last night when I went to bed.
And then I imagined a dark and joyless world.
A world where women’s survival depends on pleasing everyone
This world is similar to ours, with one difference. Each woman is born with a curse: if at any time she says something which offends any other person, she immediately will die by electrocution.
To free their daughters from worrying about such a painful outcome, parents everywhere implant their baby girls at birth with a tiny chip called a Great Female Wall, or GFW for short.
The GFW works by shutting off all self-expression, oral and written, online and offline. This ensures that its wearer offends no one and pleases everyone.
Where women are auctioned based on youth and beauty
Lacking the ability to speak, write or even to think freely, the women cannot survive independently. But they are valuable as flower vases, child-bearers and house-keepers for their husbands.
To ensure the orderly transition of women from parents to husbands, every four years occurs the Bride Auction of all women aged 20 to 24.
At the start of each Bride Auction, the women are sorted from most to least valuable according to beauty and age. The most expensive brides look like Fan Bingbing and are 20 years and one day old and are sold to the richest men. Last to be auctioned are the women who look like Ai Weiwei and are 23 years 11 months old. They’re sold to the migrant workers from Anhui.
The world runs smoothly, until gradually things start to go wrong. The women become depressed and their work slows to a crawl.
Women cannot forever be suppressed
The engineers behind the GFW realize that the women need to be provided with a safe and controlled outlet for self-expression.
Through complex algorithms, they conclude that the only self-expressions they could allow while guaranteeing 100% inoffensiveness is by restricting speech to Weibo tweets, and in these categories:
1. Photos of adorable kittens and babies.
2. Photos of beautiful meals in beautiful restaurants.
3. Retweets of tweets by Lee Kaifu which do not mention the Jike search engine.
The engineers reprogram the chips accordingly, and the women start to tweet safely.
But one engineer remains troubled. He asks: What if a woman doesn’t want to be restricted at all? What if she wants to be responsible for her own speech? Aren’t women adults, after all?
So he goes rogue. He secretly reprograms the GFW chips to give each adult woman the option to turn off her chip and go free. He then notifies all the women, taking care to warn of the potentially grisly consequences.
It takes just one person to start a trend
One woman chooses to free herself. Her name is Hung Huang.
Hung turns off her chip, opens her mouth, then proclaims to all within earshot:
‘This GFW is B.S.!’
The women avert their eyes and shudder as they await the sound of Hung’s sizzling flesh. The teenage boys open wide their eyes in anticipation.
But nothing happens.
Hung does not fry. She does not apologize. She calmly opens her computer, logs in to Weibo, and unleashes a torrent of original ideas.
Everyone is stunned. Has the women’s curse been just a giant misunderstanding? Could it be true that if a woman offended someone else, she had nothing to fear?
How the women start to sing
The next day, with Hung still alive, one by one, the women start to free themselves.
But then they say nothing.
With sadness they realize that, for so long having lived a life constructed by others, now that they can talk, they have nothing to say.
They seek out the safe confines of Weibo, with its 140-word limitation and the fact that in writing, they can take the time to craft their words with no one watching.
Soon they find that very act of writing calls forth their internal dialogue. Each time they write, their voices become clearer, more focused and confident.
Soon their voices start to well up inside their bodies. And then＃ one woman lifts up her face to the sky and starts to sing.
So pure and clear, her voice ignites what until then had been a world without music. A second woman joins her in song. Then a third. Exhilarated, they sing in harmony.
From that day forward, women do not talk but only sing. Talking simply cannot keep up with the decades of pent-up passion now pouring out of their souls.
And then love erupts
With all this music swirling everywhere, the men become dizzy with the onslaught of female beauty all around them.
For the first time in their lives, the men experience love. And through their experience of love, they themselves transform, from mere owners of women to men of desire.
Then the men and women do as men and women do when wholly themselves and in the company of others who know themselves: they couple off in lifelong unions built on love and passion.
This morning, I awoke from my dream enraptured and wondering to what extent we women operate under a Great Female Wall, trained since birth to please everyone and offend no one, and to listen to everyone but ourselves.
I wonder what would happen if we freed ourselves and cultivated our own voices, and if as we became more confident, women and men both would find the love that we all need and deserve to have.
And I wonder if our marriages based on love would result in children who are encouraged to express themselves as the beautiful and wondrous human being that each one truly is.
Joy Chen is a Chinese-American former Deputy Mayor of Los Angeles and author of the best-seller ‘Do Not Marry Before Age 30.’ She also is a wife and mother of two young daughters. Visit her at www.joychenyu.com. The opinion is her own.