In China, Feminism Is Growing — And So Is The Backlash

By Jonathan Kaiman
Los Angeles Times

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) In recent years, a small number of Chinese feminist activists, most of them outspoken, social media-savvy women in their 20s, have used creative campaigns to protest strains of male chauvinism that run through contemporary Chinese society. However, as this article illuminates, as the campaigns have grown, Chinese authorities have responded by cracking down on the activism.

GUANGZHOU, China

In June 2015, a restaurant declined to hire Gao Xiao as a line cook because of her gender. Men prepare the food, a restaurant employee told her; women only serve it. So Gao filed a lawsuit.

In the U.S., this likely would have been treated as a straightforward case of employment discrimination. In China, it earned her a visit from the police. Since the spring, authorities have threatened her, contacted her parents and harassed her landlord who, in March, evicted her from her apartment.

“My psychological condition wasn’t very good,” said Gao, a 27-year-old in Guangzhou who, like many young activists in China, goes by a nickname to avoid government reprisals. “Because there were so many obstructions; after launching the lawsuit I felt like I was under attack.”

In recent years, a small number of Chinese feminist activists, most of them outspoken, social media-savvy women in their 20s, have used creative campaigns to protest strains of male chauvinism that run through contemporary Chinese society. Since 2012, they’ve “occupied” men’s public toilets to protest unfairly sized female restrooms; donned faux blood-spattered wedding dresses to protest domestic violence; and shaved their heads to protest education inequality.

What several years ago began as a fringe movement has sparked a nascent feminist awakening, and authorities have responded by cracking down. In March, likely threatened by the activists’ independence, organizational prowess, and not least, popular appeal, police detained five of the movement’s leaders (dubbed the “Feminist Five”) for planning a campaign against sexual harassment on buses and subways. This provoked an international outcry; after several weeks, they were released.

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