We Are Not Water on the Floor (#178)

Would you throw this vase at the patriarchy? What if the patriarchy is your father-in-law?

I was fortunate enough to grow up with parents who didn’t have double standards for girls. No telling how much of this was due to feminism and how much was due to fact that the child labor pool in our house was only ¼ male (sometimes less). Big Brother had to do dishes. My sisters and I had to mow the lawn.

Our value was no less because we were female. In fact, everywhere I looked, being female was better. NASA came to my school, madly recruiting astronauts, since women are psychologically and physically tougher. My older sister won almost every academic award possible every year. Women are overtaking men in law school, medicine, and overall college attendance.

But wait, there’s more. Daughters are twice as likely as sons to care for their aging parents. Meanwhile, teenaged boys cost far more on their parents’ auto insurance.

Given stats like these, who wouldn’t want a daughter instead of a son?

Oh, right. My China-born in-laws.


It’s Day  #Feels Like Infinity of My Chinese-American In-Law’s Visit.

So far, Sunny and Jay have filled my house with doggie methane, nearly burned it down making tea, criticized my pets relentlessly, intimated that said pets should be dinner, criticized my cooking, criticized my husband’s handiness, and humiliated me at Costco.

Yet I feel I’ve gotten off lightly. They have yet to bring up grandchildren. Irrationally, I’m a little offended. I wonder if my in-laws deemed our household so awful that we shouldn’t even have kids.

Turns out my in-laws merely play a deeper game. After a week, instead of asking me about the state of my uterus, Jay asks me about the state of my book.

“You…you want to know about my book?”

“I see you writing hard. When will you finish?”

“Uh…” I don’t have a pat response, probably because my own over-achieving family wrote off my writing long ago. Most haven’t asked me about it in years. Jay’s interest is like raindrops hitting a parched dessert. My smile blooms as I say, “It’s going well – thanks for asking. I should have this draft finished in a few months. Then I have beta readers check it out, or maybe a professional critique. Once I finish rewriting, I have to query – agents first, since I fired my last one, then, once I have an agent, they send the book out to publishers. Maybe this one will sell.”

“How much money can you make on a book?”

“Not much, especially on the first one. If you’re lucky, you get an advance, but it’s only in the thousands of dollars. Then you hope the book sells enough to be reprinted and make back your advance.”

“I will buy a hundred copies!” Jay announces.

I’m touched enough that I blink back tears as I laugh and say, “You won’t have to buy any, don’t worry! I will send you a free autographed copy if I ever get one published. Along with every other member of the family.” (The “thanks for believing in me” dedication on Jay’s copy won’t even be sarcastic.)

“So when will it be finished?”

“Hopefully in the fall.”

Jay nods. “Good! As soon as the book is all done it will be a good time for you to  get pregnant!”

Goddamnit, all that book interest was a TRAP! And I walked right into it.  My smile and posture wilt as Jay goes on and on about our baby, calculating how it should arrive within a year.

I attempt to stem the madness by tossing my husband under the bus. (Don’t pity him, either. His father, his goddamned bus.) “Jay. We’re not having any kids until ANDY decides he wants them. You need to argue with HIM.”

“Andy’s sister, she got married and had a baby right away, to make her husband happy.”

This is news to me. I thought Andy’ first niece was down to the failure of birth control on her parents’ honeymoon. Even though both of them are doctors. Tsk, tsk.

Jay points an accusatory finger at me. “If you loved your husband, you would have baby already!”

“Not true! Because I love and respect my husband, no kids until he says he wants them.”

No one dares argue with my father-in-law. He’s out of practice and furious. The volume of his voice rises as his English breaks: “You no love your husband!”

I yell back, “I do so love my husband!”

“Then you must respect him and have his son right away. No more delay.” Jay sits back in his chair. He thinks he’s won. He’s ready to move onto other matters. “Now, what are you going to name my grandson?”

Yes, GRANDSON. In Jay’s eyes, a son of a son is the most important thing ever. Which pisses my feminist soul off to no end. “What if we have a girl?”

Jay waves a dismissive hand. “A daughter is unimportant. A daughter is like water on the floor — run away.”

As I hunt for a vase to heave at this smug, living embodiment of the patriarchy, I remember my Chinese daughter-in-law tea ceremony. Chinese culture is not like western culture. In America, most white sons and daughters ideally leave home at 18. Forever. Parents pray that their children will stay gone – even atheist dads like mine.

Once upon a time in China, though, only daughters left to get married. Sons brought their wives home. The Chinese daughter-in-law tea ceremony then cemented the newest daughter-in-law’s status at the bottom of the female pecking order, perhaps one step above a hired servant.

Andy’s cousin Freddy still lives at home with his parents. He’s around forty. I’m the only one who thinks it’s weird.

Historically, the Chinese desire for sons instead of daughters made sense. A son would be with his parents for life, while even the most most beloved daughter would leave before her second decade. Pouring love and resources into a son was a better parental investment. Male children who would take care of their aging parents were celebrated. Daughters who would depart were not. Of course there is an irritating proverb about it. Of course my father-in-law knew it. The patriarchy is real, yes, but it’s cultural, not personal.

So I leave the vase on the table, even when Jay continues to badger me about his future grandson’s name.

When he pauses for breath, I say, “Well, I’ve never even thought about a first name, but I’ll tell you what. You and Sunny can pick out a Cantonese middle name.”



My father-in-law’s eyes shine. His mouth moves, though I don’t hear any words. Perhaps he’s silently testing and discarding potential names.

I don’t think he even sees me anymore. Here’s my chance to escape and walk the dogs (i.e., get to the other end of the block before screaming).

On my way out, I wave a hand in front of Jay’s eyes. He finally looks at me.

I whisper, “But remember, you should probably pick out names for girls. Because in my family? The chances of a boy are less than 25%.”

And we are more than okay with that.

Here’s to strong women.
May we know them.
May we be them.
May we raise them.

In honor of the “A Day Without a Woman” Strike, held on March 8th (International Women’s Day), I’ll be taking the day off from my unpaid blog and social media. But I will be back on the 9th to answer all comments, including the inevitable ones insisting that I hate men.

Published by

Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

32 thoughts on “We Are Not Water on the Floor (#178)”

  1. Ahaha, love it! Great post! You tell him!

    You should tell your father-in-law that the skewed male-female ratio in China is ruining the China demographic right now! Not enough women to marry the men and it’s causing big problems! You need to produce another female to marry more Chinese males! haha

    Oh god my fiancee’s family is also super male-centric and slightly sexist. Last time I visited my fiancee’s family, I just so happened to ask about birthdays when my fiancee and I were shopping near his house and he said: “oh, today is my mom’s birthday.” I shouted and screamed about how we weren’t doing anything, how they didn’t get any presents for her, etc etc.. I went to Gap and got her a sweater before going back to their house and I told my fiancee to stop near a cake shop and get her cake. We walk in with the cake and the present from me and she said:

    “Wow. This is the most anyone has ever done for me on my birthday ever. I’m so touched.”

    POOR WOMAN. Always caring for her Chinese husband and sons without voicing her own desires like a true filial housewife! Oh my god my heart went out to her. I realized in that moment why having a daughter was CRUCIAL.

    Daughters are totally better than sons. Just sayin. You lay it out pretty well.

    I hope you have a daughter too, don’t tell Jay 😉

    1. I tell Jay all kinds of things, but he just doesn’t listen. Sunny, though, I think she stays more in touch with life in China because Sam-Yee is still there.

      Your poor future MIL. That’s terrible. I’ve seen it happen in white American families, too, though. Like one mom’s birthday was coming up, and her GROWN ASSED SONS were arguing over what cake she should make for her own birthday because they wanted one that THEY liked. That’s beyond fucked up, right? I kind of think it’s up to a father to demonstrate respect for his wife, to show by example how she should be treated. And it is up to a mom not to overdo, and to insist on the same courtesies she shows her husband. But there’s also a cultural element — birthdays and holidays mean very little to Andy’s family and were rarely celebrated. So it’s up to me to teach him, right? Very easy for him to ignore.

  2. Girl power all the way. You go, girl. It is amusing how Jay is so intent that you will have a son right away. I like to think you got the upper hand that 😉 As a girl, woman, coming from a Chinese family, the part about being married off and being seen at the bottom of the pecking order is so true. So long as the girl can show a bit of “looks” and act demure despite coming off as unable to do anything, all is well…. It’s something that bugs me until no end. As much as I am a lazy person, one thing I cannot stand is someone hovering over my life and telling me to do this and that, now and then.

    No hating on men, I love and respect them. But when we set our mind to it, we can do the same just as men. Watch out.

    1. Oh, absolutely it must suck being a second class citizen. I sometimes wonder if Andy’s sister notices this or gets angry about it. On the other hand, getting angry at Jay and Sunny isn’t allowed.

  3. Gah, Jay is so outdated. NO ONE in their right mind would want to have a son now. When they grow up and have to get married you have to fork out millions so they can buy an apartment and be eligible for marriage!

    1. I guess they left Hong Kong too soon. If they’d waited a little longer, maybe Jay would have changed his mind. Hahahahaha, no, that’s crazy talk. The man is utterly inflexible.

  4. Haha, luckily my Chinese in-laws are fine with either sex, as I’m currently 22 weeks pregnant with most likely a girl (my family is also good at producing girls and the anatomy scan seems to have confirmed it). My in-laws live in Beijing though, so maybe they are more affected by the current ideas that actually view girls as more desirable, since boys are so expensive and there are so many of them.

    The pressure to have grandkids was quite strong though, and now that I am pregnant they are of course super excited and will come to live with us for two months after the baby is born… I appreciate the help but kind of dread living with them already.

    1. Your in-laws are more hip than mine. Also nicer! Are they going to force you to stay in bed while they do everything? (I think that’s kind of cool; probably yours also wouldn’t almost burn down the house.)

      1. Probably they will try, and I don’t really mind with regards to housework 😀 But I’m not gonna follow most Chinese postpartum customs with not taking a shower in a month and stuff.

        Even during pregnancy my in-laws would probably have wanted me to just stay in bed… They even yelled at my husband for letting me carry the trash bin downstairs (shouldn’t have told them that).

          1. They are pretty sweet, yeah. Thanks to them, I’m not really even doing any housework now because they told my husband that pregnant women shouldn’t touch chemicals and stuff. I’m not complaining!

  5. My background is Austrian-German and in our family, it’s the women who take care of the older relatives. No matter if they have full time jobs and tons of kids, they fit it in. My brothers were clueless when my mother aged and needed help. I had to tell them what to do and where to take her if, for some reason, I couldn’t do it (which rarely happened). Obviously girls are cherished as much as boys. Maybe more.

    1. Exactly. Women do most of the hard and overlooked jobs (especially ones that don’t pay). They tend to plan better, too, and see what needs to be done longterm. They get their hands dirty with spring cleaning because sometimes you just gotta roll up your sleeves and deal with shit.

      1. You’ll find some blog posts about it from way back in the day (or at least one post), in which I write confidently about writing the book. Then you’ll notice those posts stop. I did get about 70 pages written. Maybe some day…

  6. I didn’t know you were working on a book! But I remember reading something about you playing around with a screenplay? Did I get that wrong?

    In any case, yeah, grew up with the ‘not as good as my brother bit’ pissed me off, then I got over it. Plus, there are so many crazy dynamics and changes that are happening to ‘traditional Asian’ families right now. There is already challenges and conflict with these older ideas, and of course, those who want to hold on. In Thai culture though, it’s the girls who have to care for the aging parents.

    1. No, it’s both books and screenplays. Though mostly working on a book right now. So in Thai families do the parents move in the the daughter and her husband (if she has one)? Or does the daughter stay with the parents?

      1. Both situations can occur. And these days, kids are looking to escape such responsibilty, there is no guarentee that any of the kids will stick around.

        Sooo, do you plan on giving us more info on your books or screenplays? Do you plan on letting us know your real name? or are you going to continue with your ‘pen name’ in publication? Just curious.

        1. Good questions. I’ve had several blog readers offer to a) fund a book publishing kickstarter, b) critique manuscripts, c) harass me about putting more stuff on the internet because I don’t post enough. So for a book I’d probably keep my pen name, should I be so fortunate as to ever publish.

  7. The obsession with having a male in my family at least is preserving the surname. It’s not as if some surnames are exceptionally rare, it’s a superstition of having a larger number of kin descendants to worship you in the afterlife. And only those with the same surname are considered kins. That’s my understanding anyways. While the Southern Chinese/Cantonese are typically more focused on kinship (their equivalents to churches are clan-tongs), that doesn’t explain Jay’s stubbornness.

    My family is of the same background of Jay’s, a fairly sizeable one, and my parent’s generation (in their 60’s) aren’t too focused on gender. Feminism via Communism wiped out most notions of that. So many of my uncles and aunts didn’t chase to have a boy, unlike their parents.I suppose among the older generation, they were just raised in an entirely different culture, where there was an absolute patriarchy. You can’t necessarily change that perspective at ages 70+.

    Just ramblings I suppose.

    1. No, not ramblings! Insights! (I’m going to have to google clan tongs and learn more, thanks for that.) I think it’s fascinating that Jay appears to be stuck in time, unlike other families. Although on Sunny’s side, her mother was thrilled to have male grandchildren. Maybe Jay just has an obsessive personality. But you’re right, there’s no changing it.

  8. Just a suggestion about names: In our family all the kids got two sets of names, a first and middle name in English and a two syllable name in Chinese–names to be used during appropriate occasions.

    It must be a hard time for some (especially older) men. Before women showed their strength and ability, they could assume they were better in every way than half the population. That’s an edge it’s hard to give up.

If you liked this, let the white girl know!