The 11th annual Bookworm Literary Festival opened in Beijing on March 8, International Women’s Day. For the opening event of the 18-day program of panel discussions and workshops, Zhang Yajun — co-presenter of Radii’s Wǒ Men podcast — and two brilliant writers — Dan Bao and Lenora Chu — reviewed how the #MeToo movement has developed in China since the beginning of this year. Each speaker also shared their observations and insights into gender issues in China.
Bookworm Literary Festival (photo by Ian Johnson)
Panel moderator Joanna Chiu — a correspondent for Agence France-Presse — started the discussion by bringing up the complexity of people’s identities: if we want to move the discussion forward, she said, the question of identity cannot be simplified.
Yajun talked about the huge differences that exist between the last three generations of women in China, due to the country’s unprecedented economic and social development in the modern era. Urbanization has changed Chinese families’ lives, she said, doubling women’s responsibilities to (and pressure from) parents and relatives. Additionally, there are still many women who have not yet been included in discussions about gender inequality.
“Fighting against sexual harassment matters more than Buy Buy Buy.” – Shi Liu Ying on Weibo
Dan Bao, a writer and reporter who focusses on gender, family and class issues in contemporary China, emphasized that the movement in China must be observed and talked in a Chinese context, although it does “resonate with the third wave of the international feminist movement.” In her opinion, Chinese women are confronted with two wars: consumerism and cultural conservatism. Women’s rights have nothing to do with “lipstick economics” nor “wifely submission and virtue.” The image of an “ideal” woman should be defined by women, and in the process of rebuilding it, social media can be a powerful tool — especially in China, where smartphones are incredibly affordable and widespread.
Lenora Chu — author of Little Soldiers: An American Boy, A Chinese School, and a Global Race to Achieve — talked about the distinct gap between school performance and career development for boys and girls. She observed that the stereotype of women occupying relatively lower positions in the workforce and stereotypes relating to the One Child Policy both play roles in the issue. Therefore, both a bottom-up social movement and a top-down policy approach are needed to achieve change.
Later in the conversation, the moderator suggested that a major change in women’s social roles might cause uncertainty and insecurity about China’s democratization or “Westernization.” On March 9, the Weibo account 女权之声 Gender in China, which previously had 180,000 followers, was banned on the microblogging platform, and its WeChat public account was also later shut down.
Nonetheless, #MeToo has made some inroads into China. Former PhD candidate Luo Xixi came forward to accuse her supervisor Chen Xiaowu of sexually harassment on New Year’s Day this year, and the accused Beihang University professor has since been fired for his actions 13 years before. Luo’s story has encouraged countless women on the internet during the cold winter days, but the spring of #MeToo in China has yet to come.
Cover photo by Ian Johnson
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