Sexism Increasing in China

Leta Hong Fincher maintains that sexism in China has gotten worse in a retreat from gender equality espoused by the Communist Party when Chairman Mao said “Women hold up half the sky.” She observes that most Chinese believe that men belong outside and women inside the home.[1] However, a woman’s movement exists in the form of feminists who organize unregistered grassroots women’s rights groups.[2] Registered groups such as the Anti-Domestic Violence Network in Beijing can’t work on their own but must work in alignment with the All-China’s Women’s Federation (established in 1949).

Some of the underground leaderless groups use performance art to make their statements to cloak the political content, such as “Li Maizi” and other radical lesbian feminist university students and friends who organized a performance in Beijing in 2012. They wore white wedding gowns splattered with red paint to protest domestic violence and carried posters saying “Violence is right beside you. Why are you silent?” They posted photos on their Weibo pages where Li Maizi has thousands of followers, although she said the people who comment on Weibo are mostly men. Like FEMEN and SlutWalk demonstrators, they used their bare torsos, in this case, splashed with red paint to collect 10,000 signatures to lobby for legislation to penalize domestic violence. In the “Bald Sisters” campaign they shaved their heads in a variety of cities to protest quotas giving men an advantage in university admission ”to protect the national interest,” now that women score higher on entrance exams.

Hong Fincher noted that many of the most committed feminists are lesbians, which used to be considered a mental illness and a “hooligan crime.” Some feminists occupied men’s toilets to advocate more public toilets for women. “Occupy men’s toilets” was blocked on the main social media site Sina Weibo and bloggers sites frequently get hacked. Police pressure university administrators, employers, landlords and family members to pressure activists to be silent and often invite them to drink tea, meaning be interrogated by police. Although women villagers also organize against corrupt officials, activists complained that western media ignores them.

Another step backward is the campaign to get women to value getting married and having a child above career advancement, to avoid being the dreaded “leftover women” who are still single in their late 20s. Employers are allowed to openly discriminate, as in their ads stating that only men or attractive young women should apply. Women are encouraged by government agencies such as the Women’s Federation to not be too picky in their choice of a husband, although there’s a shortage of marriage-age women. Single men are called “bare branches” and are often poor and uneducated. The government believes “harmonious society” depends on harmonious family as the state is obsessed with maintaining stability when hundreds of thousands of protests occur each year. The Party is also worried about the surplus of men caused by the one-child policy. A Xinha News editorial reposted on the Women’s Federation website encouraged women whose husbands were having an affair, a common issue, to “Try changing your hairstyle or your fashion.”[3] They also said there are three genders in China: men, women, and women with Ph.D.” In 2013, the Party’s newspaper, the People’s Daily disparaged “leftover women” because “single, highly educated and well-paid as they may be, they are the ones who are left behind.”[4] Local branches of the Women’s Federation arrange matchmaking events for “high-quality” women who will produce quality children. Hong Fincher doesn’t paint a hopeful picture for Chinese women.

[1] Leta Hong Fincher. Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China. Zed Books, 2014, p. 38.

[2] Leta Hong Fincher. Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China. Zed Books, 2014, Chapter 6.

[3] Ibid, p. 20.

[4] Ibid., p. 41.

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