Home » Essay » The modern Cinderella: How a girl found her way out of domestic violence

The modern Cinderella: How a girl found her way out of domestic violence

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It was a warm summer evening. The clock on the wall showed that it was quarter to six. Remy Wan was putting away the kitchen knife and chopping board as she had just finished preparing the materials for dinner.
Just then she heard someone turning the lock. It was her mother Zhang Chen.
“Remy,” Chen yelled to Wan as she walked into the dining room, “why isn’t dinner ready yet? What have you been doing?”
“I’ve been preparing all this time,” Wan argued.
“I told you I’m coming home at six and I want dinner ready by then,” Chen was getting angry.
“But mom”, said Wan, “you are home early.”
Chen slapped Wan hard on the face. “How dare you argue with me? Go cook right away! I need to eat dinner!”
Wan covered her cheek with her left hand, and not a single tear fell from her eyes. Knowing that it was useless to argue, she walked back into the kitchen and turned on the electric stove.
Seeing the remaining water on the pan evaporating, she knew it was hot enough to pour the cooking oil. All of a sudden, Chen rushed into the kitchen, grabbed Wan’s wrist, and pushed her hand onto the burning hot stove.
“How dare you! How dare you!” Chen yelled as she held Wan’s hand on the element for what seemed like forever. Finally, Wan broke away with all her strength.
“No dinner for you tonight,” shouted Chen, “Now hurry and cook! I am hungry!” Chen slammed the kitchen door, leaving Wan crying, kneeling on the floor.
This was just one of the days of suffering endured by Wan in the first 18 years of her life.
Wan had suffered from domestic violence since she was born. The violence mainly came from her mother. The fact that Wan was not a boy not only lowered Chen’s status in the family, but also took away the love Wan wished her mother had given her.
Wan was born in a small town called Humen in the southern part of Guangdong, China. The concept of carrying on the family line is very important in Chinese culture, so naturally her birth was not celebrated like that of many baby boys, as her parents knew that their grandchildren would no longer carry the name Wan. Also, Wan’s parents believed that sons can not only carry on the family line, but can also create wealth and take care of their parents when they are older, while daughters eventually become part of their husbands’ families when they are married. These impacts, along with the one child policy in China, were maximized and reinforced the preference for sons among Chinese parents.
As early as Wan could remember, her family was wealthy and owned a big house, with several servants taking care of them. Her father was a successful businessman who had become rich from a shrimp sauce business. But as his business began to prosper, he had to go on more and more business trips and returned home less often, leaving Wan and her mother Chen alone in the house. When Wan was six years old, Chen dismissed the last servant and ordered Wan to do all the housework the servants used to do.
From that day, Wan lived her life like Cinderella who hadn’t met the kind-hearted fairy yet. After getting up at six in the morning, she had to spend the whole morning wiping every square foot of the floor in the three story house; next she hand-washed all the dirty clothes from the previous night as Chen didn’t allow her to use the washing machine. Later on she needed to do grocery shopping and make dinner, not to mention the dish washing afterwards.
“I had to do everything,” Wan said.
According to a 2010 study by the Changsha Domestic Violence Prevention Group, a governmental research group in Changsha, China, almost 80% of the girls from urban families in Hunan Province, China, suffer domestic violence to varying degrees; this number increases to an unbelievable 96% in rural areas in the province.
The study also indicates a very significant sex imbalance of newborn infants in China. In 2010, for every 100 boys born, there were 95 new baby girls in the world. However, in China, there were much fewer girls than boys. For every 100 boys, there were only 85 girls in China; in Guangdong Province where Wan was born, for every 100 boys, there were only as few as 77 girls.
“The term ‘gendercide’ refers to the systematic elimination of a gender group,” said Evan Grae Davis, a filmmaker and a director. “The UN estimates there are as many as two hundred millions missing women in the world today due to gendercide.”
Davis recently made a documentary called “It’s a Girl” to explore gendercide issues in China and India. He visited the two countries in order to do some interviews and he was surprised to find out that the local women were not only oppressed but also feel awkward and frightened to talk about how badly they were being treated. In China and India, many girls who survive from gendercide suffer from different levels of violence like Wan.
At the age of eight, Wan immigrated to Canada with her family. The Wan family bought a new house in Richmond and found an elementary school for Wan. During the first month after her arrival in Canada, Chen took Wan to many places to settle everything for their new life, and Wan didn’t have to do any housework. For a time, she thought her life had finally changed.
But she was wrong.
After everything was settled, Wan’s father returned to China for business, and Chen simply wanted Wan to do more than she could. School had taken some of Wan’s time, but she was still forced to do all the housework she used to do after school.
“I once got beaten because my mother wanted me to translate a government document, but I couldn’t,” Wan said. “I had been here for only two months and I could barely speak any English at that time.”
Bad news has wings. Although Wan didn’t tell anyone, the fact that she suffered from domestic violence spread very fast and brought in some social workers to her home. But the social workers’ visits simply made things worse. Wan always got beaten after each visit and she ended up in hospital two times, both for broken bones. Wan didn’t know who could help her.
“Slippers, brooms, belts, forks…she just used everything she could handle to beat me.”
Seema Ahluwalia is a sociologist in Kwantlen Polytechnic University who has spent years studying violence against women in Canada. She points out that women suffer all kinds of unfairness and violence even in developed countries like Canada.
“The government really needs to do more than just stepping in after the damage has been done,” said Ahluwalia. “Shelters and women’s centres are barely enough. Measures should be taken to prevent such things from happening.”
Wan tried to run away from home several times. She hid in friends’ houses and also looked for women’s shelters; she even slept under a skytrain station once. But she was sent home time after time, and got beaten every time by her furious mother. On the last time when Wan was brought home by a social worker, she was told that she couldn’t leave home and live alone until she was 18 years old.
Therefore, on Wan’s 16th birthday, she made a decision that changed her life.
She would leave home as soon as she turned 18.
During the next two years, Wan didn’t run away anymore and didn’t even argue with her mother. She was treated even worse than before as her mom mauled her almost every day. However, she was not afraid anymore, for she knew she could rescue herself.
Despite many girls suffering from domestic violence like Wan in India and China, very few of them have the courage Wan has to resist and escape. On her 18th birthday, she carried two pieces of luggage with only her clothes, and moved in with her friend temporarily. She moved out and rented her own apartment two months later.
“Those two months,” said Wan, “were the best time in my life ever.”
Wan’s life completely changed. After she left home, she went to beauty school and completed her International diploma. She did have some financial difficulties when she first moved out as she needed to make her living at the minimum wage, but that was nothing compare to the agony she had been suffering. After several years of perseverance, she now works as a laser technician in a downtown beauty salon, and she also has a boyfriend who loves her. Sometimes she wanders on Columbia Street in Vancouver, where there are a lot of bridal shops, and dreams of the day she will get married.
She still thinks of her mother, from time to time, but the memory only makes her frightened and tremble; her mother Chen didn’t leave her a single good memory. For all these years she only went back home and visited Chen once.
“Once I saw her in the mall from a distance, I pulled up my hoodie and ran away immediately.”
However, when thinking of her future, everything becomes brighter.
“When I have a baby, I hope it can be a girl,” Wan said. “I will love her with all my heart, and give her everything I can.”
“I will be the best mother in the world.”


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