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Turning the Tables on Sajiao: When Men Pout Back

Sajiao is traditionally a feminine preserve, but many Chinese men aren't afraid of playing the game

04·11·2012

“Learn how to sajiao,” declared the March 2012 issue of Psychologies magazine (Chinese edition). “A woman who knows how to sajiao knows how to make a man happy.”

If that sounds like relationship advice for Chinese women, then guess again. Sajiao (撒娇), the art of being coquettish, is no longer the tool of female soft power in the battle of the sexes. It is the byword for relationship happiness for many. And guys are doing it too.

In July last year, we featured an article on this lovably annoying staple of any Chinese relationship. To Westerners – and many independent-minded Chinese – sajiao comes across as infantile and manipulative. Whining, pouting and foot-stomping all seem designed to browbeat a boyfriend or husband into doing whatever a girl wants.

But today, men too are beginning to sajiao. For some, it alleviates the pressure of having to be a manly protector, responsible breadwinner, model father and filial son all rolled into one. Others just want to feel pampered by their girlfriends or wives after a long day at work. More and more are questioning the idea that a man must shoulder the sky and endure it all, like a latter-day Chinese Superman.

Despite the rewards, men who sajiao risk looking immature and unmanly.

“When I see a man like that, it raises goose bumps on my arms,” reported one woman surveyed by Psychologies. Another admitted that the practice is simultaneously lovable and exasperating. By sajiao-ing, Chinese men invert ideas of femininity and masculinity that have shaped long-engrained social expectations.

Reactions are mixed. Although the whiny pouting typically associated with sajiao-ing women is a major turn-off for some, to most Chinese the ability to sajiao still represents the height – and the reserve – of femininity.

 

For the competent career woman in particular, it is an indispensable tool for appearing neither too independent nor too self-sufficient for her boyfriend. Sajiao allows her to appear soft and feminine rather than hard and powerful, traits that challenge traditional notions of womanhood. By playing up to the male ego, she accomplishes the near-impossible: making her man feel like a man.

A man who sajiaos, on the other hand, changes the rules of the game and upsets the expectations of give-and-demand. Where does that leave Chinese women, who are taught from a young age that sajiao allows their men to feel more protective, more loving and therefore more giving? The childish cutesiness that passes for most sajiao is disconcerting when turned on women, most of whom expect men to be “men”. While some might see it as emotional availability and reward it with loving affection, others see a big baby.

If some displays of sajiao – from men and women alike – seem like childish tantrums, it’s because they are. Sajiao is a skill acquired and honed since infancy; girls are expected to sajiao to their dads as practice for their future husbands. On the other hand, young boys usually are told to “act like a man” when they sajiao.

Still, guys know too well the potential rewards of their behavior. Who hasn’t seen a little boy bawling for something while his mother and grandmother rush about to satisfy his every demand?

In the modern single-child Chinese family, the sajiao-ing man may be a byproduct of overly doting parents and grandparents. But men beware: if you overdo it, you can look distinctly unsexy.  A woman with such a husband can feel like she’s saddled with two sons instead of one, a dubious blessing even in China.

Photo courtesy of IceNineJon, Flickr

 

It’s all great information, but how do you even get into a relationship in China in the first place? Learn to woo the ladies, China-style.

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