I’m not talking about economic soft power.  I’m talking about the power of grace and delicacy, something which is very well understood in Asia but is seemingly lost on most Westerners.  In the West, power is acquired by and equated with aggression, machismo, boldness, callousness, and often violence.  This kind of power could be termed “hard power,” and it’s very obvious and undeniable.

Yet the idea of “soft power” can be just as persuasive and even as devious as hard power, and as the name suggests, this is something that leans more to the female side of the spectrum.  You could call it “feminine wiles,” but that implies subversive intentions.  Soft power simply means to exert power and influence through softness rather than force.

Women in China are not hard, and women in China don’t want to be hard.  They don’t want to be weak, but they don’t want to influence others through outright aggression and force.  The combined elements of their small physical size, soft features and voice, social and cultural expectations, and China’s historical emphasis on grace and delicacy makes most Chinese women seek to be softer and more feminine in the traditional sense.

Now we Westerners hear the words “feminine,” “soft,” “delicate,” and we think “weak,” “submissive,” “easily manipulated.”  This is hardly the case.  Of course there are countless examples of Chinese girls who are manipulated and subservient to their men, but this is more often due to poor judgment, desperate circumstances and naïveté than innate weakness.  A woman who embodies softness and delicate beauty can wield tremendous power over men, but this is a power that men are more willing to submit to, because it compliments their manliness.  The fact of the matter is that most men don’t like a woman who is aggressive, loud, and coarse, because these are traditional male attributes, and as the Chinese say, a mountain cannot have two tigers.  A man does not prefer a manly woman, just as most women don’t want an effeminate man.  Yin doesn’t want another yin, it wants a yang.  Call it chauvinism, caveman gender politics, whatever; this is the way it is.

In China, and other Asian countries, women understand this.  They don’t want to compete with men to see who can be the most manly, and subsequently, the most powerful.  It is true that men are far more dominant in most Asian cultures, but I think this is due to economics and physical capabilities rather than inherent characteristics.  The reality is that Asian women actually do have a great deal of power in their homes and families, though this power is less overt and tangible, but no less real.  And as I said before, this is a kind of power that most men are willing to put up with, because it’s not in direct competition with them.  Let’s face it, men want to be powerful.  This is an essential male trait throughout the entire animal kingdom.  If there is a threat to that power, it must be confronted.  We men can’t help it, it’s in our DNA.

Of course I’m not suggesting that women should intentionally suppress any aggressive urges or assertive personality traits.  The world needs strong women.All I’m saying is that from what I’ve seen in China, men are men, women are women, and this relieves a lot of gender stress in daily life.  Of course this creates a whole new set of problems, but these are issues for each family to resolve on their own.  A man will resist a bitchy woman who disrespects him, but will gladly cater to a woman who expresses gratitude and appreciation for her manly man.  In my own experience, my wife is glad to be a delicate flower because she knows that I will cherish her gently and attentively.  She’s certainly not a pushover and she sets me straight when I need it, but I never feel that I have to tiptoe around the idea of her feminine identity because she sees her softness as something to be embraced and nurture rather than suppressed, and that makes me feel relaxed as a man and as a husband.

Now to all you guys out there using your hard power to manipulate and subjugate, and to all you ladies using your soft power to seduce and subvert, as the Chinese say, 去死.

Xena- a bit on the butch side, but she handled her business. 

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