Making umbrellas manly is simple: Cast a chivalrous shadow

Updated: 2013-07-23 13:25

By Sun Li in Fuzhou (China Daily)

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Women's faces are often found in the shade cast by the umbrellas they carry on China's sunny days.

But it's rare to find Chinese men blocking UV rays with one.

I've only used parasols for staying dry during downpours and just deal with sweltering climates I encounter. But I recently considered joining the few male "sunbrella" bearers during my time in Fujian province’s capital Fuzhou, known as "China’s No 1 furnace".

The China Meteorological Administration's National Climate Center recently determined the city to be the country's hottest.

This summer's 17 days of temperatures higher than 35 C were officially classified as "abnormally hot" by the city's meteorological bureau.

The heat made me dizzy. And thirsty. It hurt.

I drank more water but continuously felt ever-thirstier on the most broiling days.

While I wanted to use an umbrella to deflect the sun's blazing rays, I didn't because of my association between parasols and femininity.

I'd never considered umbrellas' relationship with masculinity until about four years ago, when I met an American friend on a rainy day in Jiangsu province's capital, Nanjing.

I offered to walk the Pennsylvania State student to his apartment, since he didn’t have an umbrella.

"That's cool man," he said, pulling his hood over his head and dashing into the rain.

The guy wouldn’t use the umbrella during a rainstorm, let alone on hot days.

I later came to learn many Chinese men also hold an "umbrellas-aren’t-cool" outlook.

And I've found many women feel the same about men carrying them.

When I proposed using one to shield my colleagues from the sunshine, women in my office responded with such words as “gosh” and “girlie”. I was speechless.

A male colleague suggested I use a dark-colored parasol to appear at least somewhat more manly.

He agreed men need them just as much as women – except for him. He drives a car.

"Umbrellas are effective against Fuzhou’s fierce son for people without vehicles," he said.

I almost bought a relatively manly umbrella but noticed a middle-aged guy who was holding one getting strange looks from passers-by.

So, I tried a hat. But it drenched my scalp with sweat and messed up my hair.

During the week that I observed umbrella use’s relationship to gender, I noticed an elderly man who carried a parasol.

The 61-year-old described the notion that an umbrella is feminine as "nonsense".

"Who decided they’re only for women?" he asked.

"Why not use one if you want to protect yourself from the heat. Would you rather be seen as a sissy when you carry one or as silly when you get sunstroke or heat rash?"

I identify with his logic. My conclusion is that it’s sexist to define parasols as detractors of masculinity.

But my personal outlook aside, I still hope to deflect odd looks as much as UV rays.

One day, I saw a picture of a man holding an umbrella on the street. He was holding it for a woman.

The scene looked natural and nice. Nobody would have looked at the guy as if he were ladylike. Rather, his umbrella use made him seem like a gentleman.

From the next day on, I’d carry my women friends'umbrellas for them during dinners or outings.

This proved a perfect solution to my situation.

The best was when one of my female pals smiled sweetly and said: "Thank you, gent!"

I responded: "You’re welcome, my lady".

What I really meant was, simply: "Thank you, actually".

So, men can carry umbrellas without fear of being seen as girlie. All they need are, well, girls.

The happily attached have a readymade excuse. And single guys have another reason to ask women out.

That makes the shade cast by umbrellas brandished by men cool, in every sense of the word.

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