The 2021 internet buzzword for China’s rising feminist movement is “男女对立” — “antagonism between the sexes”. Commonly seen in official state criticism or angry internet comments, the derogatory phrase is used to shut down vocal proponents of gender equality, accusing them of “disrupting” the harmony between men and women.
Just a week ago, the expression trended again on Weibo after an on-stage statement by female rapper NINEONE. Her comments didn’t go over well, drawing backlash from audiences who felt they were out of touch with the feeling of the moment:
“Boys have always dreamed of becoming an athlete or a pro-gamer, but after they turn 18, they must abandon their dreams,” said NINEONE. “In order to be a good husband and father, their entire life is centered around buying a house and car. I hope that everyone can understand and empathize with their situation. Boys should be daring in chasing their dreams and girls should also strive to be themselves. Then we can achieve true equality.”
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Users on Weibo and Douban blasted NINEONE, saying that while her statement appeared to champion gender equality, it ignored the structural inequalities that led to those social norms in the first place.
In China, to be considered an “eligible bachelor” on the marriage market, men are expected to be able to afford a house and a car. Often, the bride’s family will also request a caili (彩礼) from the groom, which can range from a direct payment to gifts such as cars, appliances, or jewelry. According to a report published by the Paper, caili in China tend to range from 50,000 to 200,000 RMB.
Although women may dodge some of those financial pressures, they face enormous pressure to marry, and a slew of other social challenges. Issues of harassment, sexual assault, and inequality in the workplace have gained traction in mainstream discourse; meanwhile, China’s government has been struggling to encourage marriage in the face of a declining national birthrate.
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NINEONE appeared briefly during Rap of China auditions in 2018, but blew up the following year with the release of her debut album, Dear X. Since then, she has announced a solo tour, performed in music festivals around the world, and placed 10th in the latest season of Youth with You.
After the video of NINEONE’s speech blew up, her Weibo was flooded with comments. The rapper, meanwhile, has responded that she will not back down from the “hate,” and stands by her statement. That stance also won her some supporters, most of whom consider China’s growing feminist sentiment to be a form of discrimination and hatred against men. One of the comments on Weibo read:
“What is so difficult about you women’s lives? No one ever demands that women must have savings, lead a successful career and support their families. All you ever do is just lie around at home. Bearing children doesn’t make you special. You accuse us of hogging all the resources but would you ever marry a penniless man?”
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The artist’s fans also expressed their disappointment in the comments section. Many followed NINEONE for her outspoken nature and the rebellious force that she represented in a male-dominated industry. But her actions didn’t align with the “girl boss” image that her agency promoted. One fan wrote:
“Why can’t you understand that women also carry financial burdens? Many of us, too, have to afford housing and pay back our loans. Our mothers and aunts and grandmothers are still responsible for performing a fair share of household chores. Who will empathize with and understand them? I enjoy your music but I will not remain silent about this issue.”
China has been undergoing an awakening around gender equality, giving rise to new icons such as education pioneer Zhang Guimei and comedian Yang Li.
That movement, however, has received significant pushback from both individuals and the state; in April 2021, Douban shut down at least ten of its feminist communities, citing incitement of radical ideological views. Despite official efforts, China’s rising wave of gender equality is becoming harder to contain.
Cover image: Youth with You IQIYI/青春有你爱奇艺
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