The arrival of Ms B jr has made evident my lack of manliness. I've worked this out by the amount of attention from ladies I get if I am feeding her or changing her when we're out and about, and comments along the line of 'I've never seen a man do that before!'.

To Hong Kong's men, I apologise in advance for the troubles I'm causing:
he: sorry dear, it's just something men don't understand how to do, you really have to be a woman to do it right
she: look, even a stupid gweilo can manage it, what's stopping you?

Some gentle questioning of friends and family by MrsB reveals that it is not as black & white as it first looks. Men are willing to do these things, but only in a manly fashion, so...
- holding a baby in public: ok, as long as no form of baby carrier is involved. (I thoroughly recommend the Baby Bjorn carrier. It gets a bit sweaty in summertime, but it still beats trying to manoevure a stroller on HK's busy streets).
- bottle-feeding baby: ok at home, but not outdoors where someone who knows you might see you
- changing nappies: Sorry dear, it's just something men don't understand how to do, you really have to be a woman to do it right

I just wish someone had told me that last excuse before we had our children!


It's epidemic

On this theme, as we returned from an outing the other day I mentioned to Mrs Tall that I'd like to just go ahead and take out Daughter Tall's braids, and comb out her tangles [I find this activity promotes a oddly calm and zenlike state in the comber, i.e. me].

Anyway, Mrs T stopped cold, looked at me, and said, 'So is there just too much estrogen in this flat for you right now?'.

Omigod, that was, like, soooo hurtful to my feelings and self-esteem!


SKbaba is very manly and he carried the SK-bbs in a baby carrier (front style) although he was also adept at carrying them on the back in an old-style Chinese baby carrier. As the eldest of many children, he was carrying babies on his back since he was in primary school.

He is also good at combing hair and putting SK-jie-jie's hair in pony tails, but lacks skill at braiding (making plaits).

He was also good at nappy changes etc. But again, those skills developed from his place in the family (eldest).

I remember reading something about manliness. It's a story that a famous toredor was celebrating a big bull fight and was making a big batch of paella and someone said something along the lines of "Don't you think that it would be more manly for you not to be in the kitchen whipping up the paella and he replied "Anything that I choose to do is manly!"

Wah, Muy Macho!

Is that odd?

(Odd in the good way of course)

I'm curious to know if skb feels he's just an average HK guy as far as his approach goes, or that it's a bit different from the norm.

My own feeling is that mums and dads here still fit more traditional roles (dad earns the money, mum takes care of house and children) than I was used to in the UK. Something like my parents' generation (married in the 1950s) were comfortable with.

I realise that's a huge generalisation, but I was curious if it is just true of our local family, or if it is more broadly true.


Mr-"Anything that I choose to do is manly!"-B

Doing his share

I get the impression that he thinks he does more than a lot of fathers, but that it's because he has the time, energy, competence & inclination.

According to some newspaper reports, the "average" Hong Kong father spends less than 20 minutes a day with their kids. That's something we both think is sad.

I'd say our attitude towards childcare and household maintenance is "there's work to do, let's get on with it."

Granted, when the kids were very young we used to vie for who had the "privilege" of doing the cooking or washing up on Sunday, since the other one had to take the kids out to play, wash them, etc. and that was more tiring.

what is manly?

Hey Mr B;

Your post on ‘manliness’ has had me thinking.

Here are several observations/incidents/thoughts that might have something to do with this topic:

  • The Talls went to Ocean Park this past weekend. We spent a lot of time in the kiddie section of the park, as per Daughter Tall’s preferences. Observed, on the little train ride, just ahead of us in line, a set of three kids all around 10 or 11 years old, two of them boys. All three waited to ride individually in separate little trains (irritating, that). Note that these little trains are pink with lavender trim, and that both boys seemed to be taking the ride with no sense of irony whatsoever. They were in fact taking photos of each other. I remarked to Mrs Tall that when I was 10 years old it would have required drugging, knocking unconscious, and hog-tying to have gotten me on one of those trains.
  • Out on the street/in shopping malls, numerous examples of pre-adolescent boys walking hand-in-hand with their mothers, and occasionally their fathers.
  • A father applying hand lotion to his 10-year-old son’s hands by first putting it on his own hands, then rubbing it into his son’s hands – thoroughly.
  • I was thinking about what defined masculinity when and where I was growing up (i.e. small rural USA town 30 years ago). Several things that really mattered to boys/men there – sports, working on cars, hunting/fishing – have very little presence in HK culture. Especially sports. I just can’t get over what an inconsequential factor sports play in HK life, compared to the almost defining presence they had in my own childhood community. Note by ‘sports’ I mean team games played for their intrinsic excitement and glory, not for gambling, which is a whole other topic.

More later on this -- still thinking . . . .


Hi Mr. T,

Some books that might be interesting while you consider the differences in (forgive the socio-speak) "the construction of masculinity" between where you grew up & here.

1) Louie, Kam. (2002). Theorising Chinese masculinity : society and gender in China. (Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 2002).

"Kam Louie uses the concepts of wen (cultural attainment) and wu (martial valour) to explain attitudes to masculinity. This revises most Western analyses of Asian masculinity that rely on the yin-yang binary. Examining classical and contemporary Chinese literature and film, the book also looks at the Chinese diaspora to consider Chinese masculinity within and outside China."

2) Asian masculinities : the meaning and practice of manhood in China and Japan / edited by Kam Louie and Morris Low (London ; New York : Routledge, 2003).

3) Song, Geng. (2004). The fragile scholar : power and masculinity in Chinese culture. (Hong Kong : Hong Kong University Press, 2004).
- deals w/ pre-modern stuff

Kam Louie's book

I went ahead and checked out one of those books you recommended, SKMama, i.e. the Kam Louie one called Theorising Chinese Masculinity. It’s a bit thick with pomo Foucauldian posturing – I just can’t take this stuff anymore, forgive me! – but its basic premises, once sifted out, are really quite solid and interesting:

  1. Manliness in Chinese society can be analysed according to two basic styles: ‘wu’, which is something like ‘martial prowess’/physical strength; and ‘wen’, which means being civilized, cultured, well-educated, and upright in the Confucian sense.
  2. The very best men combine and balance wu and wen, but you can still be a good man if you have one or the other. If you have neither, you’re out of it.
  3. All things considered, though, it’s better to be wen than wu.
  4. One reason for that, perhaps? Surprisingly -- from a western viewpoint, at least -- wen guys get the babes. Wu dudes are expected to shun romantic stuff.
  5. Non-Chinese men can’t be wen, because they’re hairy barbarians. (Not a shocker, this one.)
  6. Women also can’t be wu/wen. For example, since quality calligraphy is a demonstration of inherently masculine power, women can’t be great calligraphers.
  7. Wen has increasingly become associated with business acumen and moneymaking, whereas in the past such commercial associations were seriously un-wen.
  8. Chow Yun Fat is the coolest man alive. (No argument from me on this one.)

Some interesting ideas to think about. They seem to fit with on-the-ground observations here . . . .