- Engendering Hong Kong Society: A Gender Perspective of Women's Status
This edited volume consists of a collection of papers presented at the International Conference on Gender and Society: The Pacific Rim Experience, held at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 1991. The conference was organized by the Gender Research Programme at the same University. The contributors to this volume come from a diverse mix of areas of expertise: anthropology, sociology, psychology, education, economics, theology, social work, management, and history.
It should be noted that this book marks the "first attempt to compile an academic overview of major gender issues in Hong Kong" (p. 4). The author took it as her starting point and guiding principle that women are disadvantaged socially, politically, and economically (p. 5). While this mandate is understandable in the context that the genesis of the book was a reaction to a 1995 Hong Kong Government report suggesting that the problems of gender inequity and discrimination did not exist in Hong Kong, the book has a major drawback in that it dictates the direction of its discussions in order to downplay the economic and social improvement that women have experienced and enjoyed in Hong Kong, and accepts unchallenged the indexes of gender inequality as measured by Western concepts and assumptions despite questions about the relevance of Western feminism in the context of non-Western societies like Hong Kong raised by Jaschok, Choi, and Lee in this volume. This empirical and methodological bias should not, however, detract from the book's merits on two levels: (1) it contains a wealth of quantitative data that show the macro patterns of structural inequality and change, and (2) it provides a comprehensive overview of the existing literature and research projects on women and gender issues in Hong Kong.
There are ten chapters, most of which are quantitative and macro-analysis in nature, that focus on educational attainment, employment status, occupational distribution, and attitudes and values regarding gender roles and stereotypes. Overall there is very little grounded explanation to contextualize the macro patterns and variations.
In "Education and Labour Force Participation of Women in Hong Kong," authors Mak and Chung, using census data from 1976, 1981, 1986, and 1991, show that in Hong Kong, despite the near gender equity in educational access and attainment up to the matriculation level (equivalent to grade twelve in the North American system), a disparity persists between men and women in earnings and occupational type. The authors conclude that women as a "gendered class are disadvantaged, while their obligations to care for family members exacerbate such [End Page 417] disadvantage" (p. 33). It is suggested that marriage and fertility are major factors undermining the positive effect of higher educational achievement and labor participation on economic outcome for women, but the authors concede that a more in-depth or better grounded discussion of these social factors could not be offered within the context of the census data they used for this analysis.
Westwood, Ngo, and Leung contribute two chapters on "The Politics of Opportunity: Gender and Work" in which they present an extensive review at both the empirical and theoretical levels of the existing literature and data on the sexual division of labor in Hong Kong. While critical of the relevance of specific conceptual approaches to the study of gender equality, the authors fail to raise questions about whether the Western-based theories and methodologies they review are appropriate or relevant to cross-cultural studies of gender relationships. Another chapter written in a similar vein is "Gender Role Identity, Stereotypes, and Attitudes in Hong Kong" by Cheung, Lai, and Au. This is a survey and descriptive summary of existing psychological and sociological research and publications on sex-role attitudes (prescriptive beliefs on proper or appropriate behavior for men and women), sex role stereotypes, and gender roles (self-concepts). Most of this literature utilizes models constructed for research in non-Chinese societies, yet the authors do not raise methodological issues about...