Gender, Class, and Psychological Self-Help in China
This chapter analyzes representations of “happy housewives” in popular psychological self-help media in order to examine the relationship between gender, psychology and privatization in China. Through analysis of media and ethnographic data, I demonstrate that while both gender and psychology are represented as sites of regulation and value extraction, the heart of the housewife is the true space of commodification, where emotions, value, and virtue are all generated. This felt space of possibility and potentiality, constructed by media in concert with state interests, intensifies women’s attachment to commodities and to the world, and enhances consumption and entrepreneurship. Happiness promotion, of which the figure of the happy housewife is a key part, not only objectifies women and renders invisible their complex subjectivities, but downplays the intensified gendered exploitation and class stratification since the mid-1990s when privatization began. In this context, I argue that unhappiness or anger can constitute a repoliticizing process that reinvigorates discussions of class as both an analytical and political category in China.
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