On May 7th, my friends and I felt outraged when we saw a banner on the school square that read “Your children can have 26 or 27 Gan die（干爹）”. Gan die (干爹) is a Chinese word used on social media that might be translated as ‘sugar daddy’. Without any hesitation, we protested with a placard saying “This is sexual harassment” in front of the banner and posted a photo online.
This is not the first time that banners like this have been spotted on campus. Every March 7th, the so-called “Girls’ Day”, all the universities in China are enveloped by the collective atmosphere of reckless boys revealing their love to girls. On the very day of “taking good care of girls”, boys will buy breakfast for girls and help girls achieve their wishes. There are also banners that are meant to flirt but end up as sexual harassment. Impulsive boys even break into girls’ dorms to profess their love. Amid those activities, we see no acknowledgement of girls’ own values but only the uncomfortable praise of girls’ sexual attraction and fertility. Just as prominent Chinese feminist Li Sipan has said: “the Girls’ Day make a tradition and convention out of the lascivious fantasies and consumerism, thereby reinforceing the gender stereotype of men protecting weak women.”
Those slogans are full of sexual implications, which are both a release of sexual repression and a reflection of the relationship between the genders in our society. Most college boys lack an active sex life and their sexual desires have nowhere to go. Therefore, taking advantage of “Girl’s Day” festival to rationalise their liberties and lascivious fantasies is the only way out. It is the same rationale behind the wedding custom of harassing bridesmaids. From another point of view, “Girls’ Day” banners uncover the gender views of many boys. They look down on women, regard women as sex objects and men’s subordinates, and think that marriage is the final destination for women. Boys discriminate against girls, and girls won’t respect boys either. Many girls who participate in “Girls’ Day” activities believe in the idea that “boys should take care of girls”. Those girls are exploiting their gender advantage brought by their fertility to not only objectify themselves but also objectify men as money-making machine. Both parties do not truly respect each other’s independent personality. That’s how deformed the relationship between the genders is nowadays.
Below are some of the “Girl’s Day” banners that the author has collected.
Spring breeze pales in comparison to sleeping with you
Tonight I’m only horny for you, please forget me the next night
Fortunately, more and more girls are awakened. They long for the respect for their independent personality and reject to be treated as targets of sexual harassment and lascivious fantasies. They want to fulfil their own values rather than becoming a trophy and attaching themselves to men. They hope that boys can talk to them in a decent manner in relationships. The two friends who stand with me in the picture are exactly such kind of girls.
Our photo has provoked an uproar on social media. Many students think that we have damaged the university’s reputation by exposing the scandal. Soon we found ourselves deluged by attacks. Some people sent us death threats and some mobilised the public to dox us. The girl who stands right in the middle in the photo above was too scared to go out of her dorm for three days, for fear of being recognised by classmates as she had only one coat.
A threatening message to Xiaomi and friends on Weibo: Are you feeling lucky? It’s Friday yesterday, you think you can survive until the next Friday if you keep provoking wars? You seriously think that we don’t you who you are? Your class and your name have already been reported. Once the school abandons you, you are not far from suicide.
Many people think the whole incident is a malicious sensationalisation plotted by us to become famous and some even claimed that we were “exploited by external forces.” To counter-argue against this kind of idea, we published an article to explain the real motive behind our action, which surprisingly aroused more discussions online. Some netizens praised us for being rational and pointed out that the good intention of showing “love and care” is in fact manifested as sexual harassment, as those who hung the banners failed to break the stereotype of gender discrimination. Others also pointed out that the actions to protect the university’s “honor,” to combat individual rights of protest, to extend the attacks from the virtual world to the real world, have already constituted a kind of cyber violence. Apart from abusing us online, our attackers even requested that the university take serious disciplinary actions against us, which is utterly ridiculous. We have shown true love for our school by putting forward our opinions. And what’s the problem with “sensationalizing” the topic of gender equality? We received no benefit from this except fear and bullying.
Our article had garnered 7.43 million views on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, one day after its release. The university administrators “talked” to me for three days in a row and threatened to hand me over to the police if I didn’t delete my post as they claimed to have evidence of me organizing an “illegal” association. And if the police detained me, they would expel me from school immediately. It didn’t work. They later intimidated my parents with the same words. Facing huge pressure, I was forced to delete my post and dissolve the association to put the whole incident to an end.
With the development of the #MeToo campaign, women’s voices are now openly challenging misogyny and the unequal social structure. Students from universities across China are publicly exposing sexual harassment cases on campus, which are unexpectedly regarded as PR crises by the schools. Universities view the students who demand truth and actively engage in public affairs as hidden dangers to stability on campus and they suppress students’ voices by threatening their graduation and pressuring the students’ families. Yue Xin from Peking University, for example, was pressured by the school in various ways to prevent her from applying for the disclosure of the sexual harassment records of one professor. On the one hand, it proves that sexual harassment is rampant in colleges and universities; on the other hand, the negligence of schools reveals the ills of our university system. Western logics such as citizens initiating actions, media follow-ups, and politicians advancing new policies for votes can hardly be replicated in China due to the lack of civil society and democratic politics. China's college system is consistent with the bureaucratic system, namely the "responsible to the superior" system. Performance assessment is based on the superior's orders and requirements, and is only responsible to the superior. Another characteristic that the bureaucratic system shares is the normalisation and stabilisation of all the “movements” and unstable things. When that stability is broken, the responsible person will suppress all the voices to avoid being held accountable by the superiors. University leaders holding the mindset of “dealing with the people who raise the problem rather than dealing with the problem”, are not a help to safeguard students’ legal rights, but an accomplice to hurt students.
Our experience can thus be viewed as a miniature of the Chinese feminist movement’s experience in China. In 2015 five feminists were detained for planning to distribute anti-harassment flyers on public transport, while this year, Feminist Voices, the biggest feminist platform on Chinese social media, was censored. Under the current wave of collectivism and nationalism, we worry that all the feminists and LGBT advocates will continue to be stigmatised. It was the solidarity from other feminists, who had supported me throughout this incident that encouraged me to continue to speak out. Thus, I think that women’s rights activists in China might also need the support and encouragement from the international women’s rights movement.
After weathering this storm, I deeply understand the difficulty of speaking out and the importance of freedom. But I'm not alone. There are many excellent peers fighting for public rights right in the storm eye. We share the pressure together and we encourage ourselves. Do not let our anger degenerate into fear, cynicism, gossip or discontent, but turn anger into power for everyone to actively participate in public affairs, and the courage for us to take actions. Otherwise one day, we may even lose the rights to get angry.
Translated by Yun Zou
Xiaomi is trans and a queer feminist, who co-founded China SOGIE Youth Network. Xiaomi also founded Kaleidoscope Association at Shandong University, which advocates for the rights of gender minorities and women. On March 8th, 2018, Xiaomi and some friends faced a shower of online criticism for protesting against Girls’ Day banners on campus. Image credit: Xiaomi.