“I’m a man, how can I be a feminist,” a 25-year-old laughed when approached on the street for a vox pop about feminism. He wasn’t the only Chinese man to be bewildered by the question. Some even said that they agreed with equal rights and opportunities for women, they just wouldn’t tell anyone they are feminists. “We should all be feminists, women and men,” said Zhu Zihua, the university student who participated in the “My Vagina Says” project and is still figuring out whether or not she is a feminist.
Chinese women had their feet unbound, but their hands remain tightened. China definitely needs more feminists, both female and male. China is in desperate need of ardent feminists with revolutionary spirit because gender is still prescribing what Chinese women should be rather than how they are, so unless there is a change of paradigm in China, little will change soon.
For this shift to take place, China needs more female campaigners and more men who associate with the word feminist. It needs for its daughters and sons to be raised differently to become feminists. This will be the only way to do away with centuries of deeply ingrained patriarchy in a country where political power colludes with capital and perpetuates gender inequality. Both women and men need to understand that their silence indicates complicity with a state of things that supports a condition for women as China’s second sex.
Chinese women need to unlearn what they have been taught while growing up and is making them vulnerable in the face of gender expectations. They have to demand respect because they deserve it, at home, at the office or in the street, and they must stop being apologetic for their femininity. They have to educate their daughters with a new mindset, free of prejudice and aware of their full potential to strive for a better condition and social role in contemporary China. They should also unite, as that is the only way that they will be able to make waves in China and generate an evolution that will shake the hallways of Chinese leadership.
As for men, they need to understand that gender issues are also men’s issues and ultimately leadership issues. The same system that produces men who abuse women also produces men who abuse men, so men in powerful positions who fail to protect both genders should be held accountable. Chinese men need to start berating, and stop praising, other men that flaunt misogyny with pride. Homophobic remarks and other derogatory behaviour towards women are offensive to every man's mothers, wives, daughters, sisters and female friends.
If human and moral reasons aren't strong enough to persuade China to tear down centuries of patriarchy and misanthropy, then China should turn to the statistics and case studies that have long proven the efficiency of economic gains generated by gender equality. Gender equality should be given equal importance to the economic and political status of the country in the global context, as it will push the country's international profile as a role model of a truly balanced and developed society.