According to China’s Ministry of Education, investing in teenagers’ physical education and mental health support can cultivate their masculinity.
On January 29, the Ministry of Education publicly responded to a proposal, “Regarding the Prevention of Feminization of Male Teenagers” (“关于防止男性青少年女性化的提案”). While the title of the proposal deems “feminization” as a social problem, the response connects the “decline” of masculinity to physical health.
After the response was published, it triggered severe backlash from an army of progressive internet users. At the time of writing, a related hashtag on proposal had received over 1 billion views and 200,000 posts on social media platform Weibo. Many strongly expressed their distaste and left witty put-downs that condemned the proposal’s backward thinking.
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“Do they think acting feminine is an insult?” reads one of the top comments on Weibo.
“I have a good idea: the father can become the ‘househusband’ and I am sure that the child will grow up to be super masculine!” wrote another user who took a jab at the “masculine” men that refuse to accept their fair share of housework.
While most upvoted posts and comments on Weibo strongly oppose the proposal, some users on other platforms say otherwise.
According to an online survey conducted by ifeng.com, 64.23% of over 1 million respondents agreed that it is necessary to cultivate male teenagers’ masculinity. Furthermore, 53.49% of respondents agreed that gender non-conforming behavior needs to be “corrected” among young people, whereas the rest either disagreed or were unsure.
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“The first people we should correct are those improper and feminine celebrities!” a top comment under an article on influential state media outlet The Paper declared, pointing a finger at celebrities and influencers, which the original proposal accused of having a negative influence on teenagers’ values. “Wearing overalls, smokey eyeliners and bright lipstick […] how can the youths not be affected when these are the people that are constantly in the spotlight?”
In 2020 alone, over 70 makeup and skincare brands in China selected male celebrities as spokespeople for their products. As more talents appear and the market expands, beauty standards also shift to become more inclusive.
However, as androgynous imagery and a broader spectrum of masculinity have become more prominent in mainstream entertainment, there has been pushback from those who retain values related to toxic masculinity and machismo. This proposal and its backlash is the latest skirmish in this battle over what it means to be a man in modern China. It’s unlikely to be the last.
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