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Why '2 Broke Girls' Is All the Rage in China

In China's battle between cupcakes and Communists, the cupcakes appear to be winning. While Chinese President Xi Jinping promotes the "Chinese Dream" of national rejuvenation with mixed success, the U.S. sitcom 2 Broke Girls has drawn Chinese audiences by depicting a more modest dream: the chance to open a cupcake shop.

First airing in the United States in October 2011, 2 Broke Girls tells the story of Max and Caroline, two 20-something women who wait tables at a diner in New York City while saving to open their own cupcake shop. The show's first season appeared on Youku, China's YouTube, in August 2012, and has risen to become the most popular U.S. sitcom on the site, with over 81 million views.

Perhaps Chinese viewers prefer 2 Broke Girls because they can empathize with the characters, who work hard for low pay. In 2012, the average Chinese took home a little less than $4,000 of income, according to official figures. One fan commented on Weibo, China's Twitter, that she wanted to be like Max and Caroline. "Although they are poor," she wrote, "They work hard together to achieve a shared dream."

While wages are much higher in China's urban areas, the country's income gap and the rising cost of living have many worried that hard work will not translate into success, or even security. For these people, 2 Broke Girls represents the dream of a meritocracy. One Weibo user wrote that she felt 2 Broke Girls was about girls "at the lowest tiers of society" pursuing their dreams "with bravery and determination." Millions of Chinese, especially university students and recent graduates facing a tough job market, admire the protagonists' optimism and positive attitude in the face of adversity.

The show depicts a more avowedly individualistic aspiration than the Chinese Dream, which Xi defined in November 2012 as "the national rejuvenation of the Chinese people." The Economist noted in May 2013 that the Chinese Dream contains elements of the American Dream, but also "a troubling whiff of nationalism and of repackaged authoritarianism." On Weibo, some have criticized the official definition, maintaining that the Chinese Dream should focus more on improving overall quality of life and less on the country's GDP.

The Chinese Dream and what can perhaps be called the Cupcake Dream are not mutually exclusive. Numerous senior officials have emphasized the importance of an entrepreneurial spirit, but in the service of nationalism. By contrast, 2 Broke Girls has not appealed to Chinese nationalist sentiment. If anything, Chinese viewers might be offended by the show's stereotyping of its Asian character -- the New Yorker described 2 Broke Girls as "so racist it is less offensive than baffling."

Yet fans of the show in China are drawn in by its feel-good message. "I don't just watch 2 Broke Girls for fun," one viewer explained on Weibo. "I am studying the spirit with which they pursue their dream. At the end of every episode, when they count how much they've saved, I feel an indescribable positive energy. The girl who grew up rich can pick herself back up even though she lost all her money. The girl who grew up poor still has a positive outlook and sharp tongue." The viewer concluded by asking, rhetorically, "Why on earth shouldn't I pursue the life that I want to live?"

Via Weibo/Fair Use

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It's Official: Iceland Is The Best Place In the World To Be a Woman

Women of the world: pack your warmest sweaters, and head immediately to Iceland. According to a newly-released report from the World Economic Forum[pdf], Iceland is the #1 country in the world for gender equality, for the fifth year in a row. And that equality is helping propel Iceland and its fellow Nordic nations to new economic heights. Turns out, the smaller the gender gap, the more economically competitive the nation. Even when that nation is totally freezing.

The notion that gender equality drives development (rather than the other way round) has been so widely celebrated in recent years that it begins to seem trite. But as the newly released 2013 Global Gender Gap Index -- which measures gender parity in 136 countries -- reminds us, gender equity isn't simply a matter of equal rights. It's a matter of efficiency. Many countries have closed the gender gap in education, for example, but gender-based barriers to employment minimize their returns on that investment; Their highly educated women aren't working. The highest ranking countries in the index have figured out how to maximize returns on their investment in women, and are consequently more economically competitive, have higher incomes, and higher rates of development.

The report notes a strong correlation between Global Gender Gap Index rankings (which measure health, education, labor political and participation) and measures of global competitiveness, as the graph below illustrates. The smaller the gender gap, the better off the economy. Perhaps it's no surprise that less-developed nations lke Yemen and Pakistan are near the bottom of the Index. What's more surprising is that relatively economic powerhouses like Turkey and Japan are right there in the basement with them.

Take the Philippines. It ranks #5 on the Global Gender Gap Index, higher than any other Asian nation. It's the only country in Asia that has fully closed the education gender gap, and its labor force boasts growing ranks of women workers, especially professionals and managers. Not surprisingly, the Philippines is now the fastest growing economy in Asia, having recently edged out China (#69 on the index). There are many reasons for this, including macroeconomic policy reforms under Aquino, but the role of a large, educated and diverse work force shouldn't be discounted; Indeed, gender parity in Filipino education and labor preceded recent economic growth.

Though not exactly analogous, something similar is playing out in the corporate world. A 2012 report by Credit Suisse found that companies with at least one woman on the board outperformed those without by about 26 percent. A 2012 report by McKinsey & Company similarly found that companies with more diverse boards boasted higher profit and higher returns on equity than others. It could be that better performing companies are in a better position to give women a chance, but the researchers at Credit Suisse suggest that simply diversifying the leadership pool can generate surprisingly positive results.

So, what are the highest ranking countries doing right, exactly?

One major factor, which the report notes every year, is that high ranking countries "have made it possible for parents to combine work and family, resulting in high female employment, more shared participation in childcare, more equitable distribution of labor at home [and] better work-life balance for both women and men."

Meanwhile, in the United States, the notion that women could conceivably someday successfully combine work and family is still constantly under debate. Incidentally, the U.S. dropped one place in the rankings to #23 -- below Burundi, Cuba and, god forbid, Canada.

The lowest ranking country is Yemen, which has only closed about half of its gender gap. Japan fell four places to #120, due in part to a widening gap in political participation: The number of women in parliament fell from 11 percent to 8 percent during the past year. And, though Japan has made significant investments in education over the years, it has not removed barriers to employment for women meaning it has yet to cash in on this investment. The report argues that simply closing the gap between male and female employment in Japan would boost GDP by up to 16 percent.  Turkey remains among the lowest ranking countries in Europe. Despite some gains in literacy, educational enrollment and labor force participation, the country still has fewer women professionals, managers, and politicians relative to other European nations.

In short: It's awesome to be a woman if you're in Iceland. In Yemen, not so much.

Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images