“Help brother demon” is asked to provide financial support to their brother unconditionally. Why are adult independent women’s life still affected by their parents’ preference for sons?
In others’ eyes, Wang is a yardstick of independent women in Chinese society. Graduated from a prestigious university, being a team leader of an internet company in Shanghai, a happy family with a lovely daughter and a thoughtful husband. If you know nothing about the family she came from, her life is enviable.
In March of this year, shortly after she finished her maternity leave, her mother came to Shanghai to help her take care of the baby. It was the first time this lady saw her granddaughter. However, a month later, this reunion which was supposed to be happy end with a quarrel.
“My mum told me that my brother is getting married, and they’ve already bought him a house and prepared his bride price, but they want me to provide 20,000 pounds for his house decoration and a car.”
This is not the first time she has been asked for money, and Wang has become accustomed to such unreasonable demands. Before this time, much of her income was taken away and given to her younger brother by her parents. But this time, she showed some reluctance, “I have a daughter now and need to save money to raise the baby.” This is how the quarrel began.
Her mother was irritated by this answer. “My mum was yelling it’s useless to raise you up and let you be educated for so many years, you are so ungrateful. Then she began to cry, which scared my daughter, and the baby started to cry too. I feel devastated and don’t know what to do,” Wang said.
Anyone with Chinese cultural background won’t feel it’s an odd scene, and Wang is not an exception.
In January of this year, news about the Hangzhou girl Luoluo appeared on Weibo became a hot search. This ignited 270 thousand discussions and attracted 1.97 billion views. The death happened in 2019. When she was in a bad mood after talking with her parents at night and went for a walk along the river, there was a high tide, and she drowned. However, it’s not her death that caused the public attention. People’s discussion was focused on what her parents did to her.
A year after Luoluo’s death, her parents asked Luoluo’s company to provide 45,000 pounds compensation for Luoluo’s death. After investigation, it was found that the company has not even a little liability for this accident. Her parents made such a request because they planned to use the compensation money to buy a house for Luoluo’s brother.
Many posts on Luoluo’s social media proved that her parents kept asking her for money and used that to support her brother. Luoluo posted on Weibo, said this pressure made her want to commit suicide.
In recent years, a group of people like Lolo started to emerge. It has been a phenomenon involved with many women in Chinese society. They have some common traits: being independent and working hard to make a living in big cities. Parents prefer sons and use their daughters’ money to support their sons. People call them “Help brother demon”.
A woman who can makemoney can be a valuable daughter
For Wang, she became a “help brother demon” after graduating. Although Wang knew that her parents preferred her younger brother since she was young. Instead of complaining, she studied hard, did all the chores and took care of her brother, just wanted to get attention from her parents.
Even like this, when she recalls, Wang still describes her childhood as a happy family time. But after she graduated and found a well-paid job, things began to change.
“My parents started to care about me, praised my abilities to find a good job in the big city, and told me that the family needed me to take care. I was glad to hear this. I felt that I was needed by them, and I can improve their lives.”
At first, Wang took it as her reasonable responsibility to her family. On the other hand, this is also her obedience to her parents. Filial piety is the most crucial part of the Confucian culture in China. Trying to meet the requirements of parents is the moral code for every Chinese. Wang decided to be a filial daughter.
In the next few years, most of her salary and bonus was given to her parents and was saved for her brother until Wang decided to get married, things began to change. When she planned to marry her boyfriend, who had been together for four years, her parents obstructed her marriage for various absurd excuses. This makes her feel odd.
“I don’t know why they didn’t want me to get married, but I was determinant about the decision. Finally, my parents told me it’s because they think, after marriage, I will no longer belong to this family and continue to give them my money.” This selfish action of sacrificing their daughter’s happiness to support their son made Wang very disappointed.
For Parents who prefer sons prefer sons, compared to the past when girls could not be independent, a well-educated daughter with a good salary is more practically valuable.
In China, son preference is regionally different. People in certain areas will show strong son preference, like Wang’s hometown. She believes things have improved a lot in recent years, but the traditional mindset that sons assume responsibility for elderly care has not changed for some people like her parents.
“Even that I have enough money and could take care of them when they get old, my parents still believe that a married daughter doesn’t belong to this family anymore. However, my brother is not the same. When he gets married one day, he would still live with my parents and take care of them.”
Wang thinks that elderly care is the reason why her parents prefer sons. Her parents tend to live with the son when they get old, so they are more emotional bonds. But for families with only one child, this is not the case.
“Although in a family with only one daughter, the daughter would take all the responsibilities of caring the elderly, but in a family with both son and daughter, parents still rely on their sons”. Wang said.
However, elderly care is only one of the reasons why parents prefer their sons. From the angle of “help brother demon” themselves, there are also some thoughts deep in their thinking and may not have noticed by themselves, which made them keep getting hurt.
Why we call victims the demon
Although Wang realised that her value to this family is to provide money but not much emotional connection. Her sanity is always defeated by her parents’ requirements again and again. They know she is a dutiful daughter, and they know how to use her guilty. Wang is highly emotionally dependent on her parents.
The director of the Department of Clinical Psychology, Shanghai Pudong New Area mental health centre Dr Liu Liang, pointed out that “help brother demons” usually are those daughters whose needs and values are always ignored by their parents. So take care of the family is the way to show daughter’s value, this is why they won’t hesitate to sacrifice their self-esteem and their money to do this. Gradually, it became an unconscious, instinctive reaction.
Just like what Wang said, “The feeling of being able to take care of family and being needed is good.” They enjoy being needed, proving their value and proving that their parents were wrong to ignore them before. Compared to the money they lost, they are more afraid of losing what the money symbolised, the affection that didn’t exist from the beginning.
But this thinking pattern would irrationally hurt other family members, like Wang’s husband and daughter. A word widely circulated on the Internet: “Never married with a ‘help brother demon'”. People call them demons because the money they are supposed to invest in the family with their husbands and children was given to their parents and brother.
If we examine this issue from an individual level, many psychologists recommend staying away from toxic families. As Dr Tracy S. Hutchinson said in one of her articles, this can lead people to suffer from mental and physical health problems. However, this decision is challenging for many people. It’s a hard choice for “help brother demon” to cut the connection with their family.
If we look at this issue from the social level, the “Help brother demon” issue shows the dilemma in the rise of women’s rights. The writer of Chinese Women’s News, Liu Tianhong, said: “Son preference shows the persistent patriarchy in China. Women who can be independent through the hard-working themselves but still can’t get rid of the intergenerational exploitation in the patriarchal society.”
The “Help brother demon” phenomenon results from the battle between rising women’s rights and persistent patriarchy.
Besides, according to Liu, this issue has its unique Chinese context. According to Liu, the change of women’s rights in China is after opening and reform. Since then, China has completed the leap in 40years, which may take more than a century in Europe and other developed countries. Therefore, the ideology of Chinese society is a mixture of traditionality, modernity, and post-modernity. They converge, collide, and merge. Women in it can often experience the benefits of women’s status rise and feel the impact of the traditional patriarchal value. This will aggravate women’s gender dysphoria, “Help brother demon” is one of its manifestations.
For “help brother demons”, maybe they’ve already known the answer to the problem. Just like Wang said, “It’s not only because my parents being partial, but also because of my weakness to face the problem. Felling good about my unreserved contribution to take care of them. This is just self-deception.”