Ancient China was a male-dominated society. Modern China was introduced to the term “feminism” only after Western ideology began to diffuse throughout the country in the 1980s. Thirty years later, China’s mission to realize gender equality is ongoing. What role do Chinese young women play within this transformation?
How do Chinese young women perceive feminism?
Young Chinese women share a fundamental desire to call for gender equality, reflecting feminism’s rapid development in China. “More and more Chinese women are aware of the term ‘feminism’ and realize that they have to defend the rights. Our field, in particular, has observed that an increasing number of Chinese young women are motivated to learn about feminism. They are also willing to take part in and even organize events to promote feminism.” explains Furui Li, the project manager for Women’s Voice, the media monitor for the feminist network in China. “Most feminists are people who have experienced discrimination firsthand,” Li continues, “so their desires and demands may vary on an individual basis, but the mutual goal is gender equality.”
Despite its significant growth, feminism in China has not totally overcome traditional stigmas. People who work to advance feminist causes admit they are feminists. Larger female audiences who call for gender equality, however, are often reluctant to admit their status as, or aspiration to become, feminists. Chinese psychologist and socialist Yinhe LI wrote in her book My Social Observations, “Feminism (女权 nǚquán, which means, literally, women’s rights) in China has been unfairly stigmatized. The word ‘rights’ is quite sensitive in Chinese mainstream discourse, where it is related to disturbances in the social order.” The tag “feminism” may embarrass women who demand gender equality, which impedes the development of feminism.
What is the status of Chinese young women society?
Indeed, most Chinese believe that China is moving toward gender equality. Women have been receiving incrementally fairer treatment, especially in the major cities. If you fly out of Beijing Capital Airport, you may notice a female-only security check pass. The push for greater gender equality also inspires businesses and ad companies. SK-II, the Japanese cosmetics brand, launched a campaign in 2016 to shed light on “leftover” women (unmarried women above the age of 25), who often endure the trauma of societal pressure to marry. The video received more than two million views on Youtube and three million views on Chinese video sharing platform Youku. It made a clear point: That Chinese women do not need to rely on marriage to prove their self-worth or maintain their social status. Small start-ups also rode the surging swell, achieving rapid development by applying feminist concepts to their business model. For example, female underwear brand Neiwai (内外) proposes to young women in China the novel idea that they should wear what makes them comfortable, not just what pleases others.
SK-II advertisement: A Chinese father despairs over his “leftover” (剩女shèngnǚ), daughter’s single status.
Young Chinese women recognize that real gender equality can only be achieved through independence. According to Amy Wu, the founder of first female entrepreneur community GirlUp, “Chinese women choose to build their own businesses, mainly because they want to be truly independent.” About 92% of female entrepreneurs start a small company, and 73% established their business within the last two years.
Apparently, these contributions are only the tip of the iceberg, but every cultural change takes time to fully manifest. The World Economic Forum ranks China 91st for gender equality. “Organizations may have different results regarding various indicators and criteria, but overall China’s gender equality is still below average in the world,” said Furui Li. According to Catalyst, only 9.6% members of the board of directors in big Chinese enterprises are women. Social discrimination still exists, and Chinese women need to fight hard for their deserved rights.
In China, where does feminism go from here?
The Chinese government passed national legislation criminalizing domestic violence in March 2016 to protect the rights of women and children. There is no doubt that the system is making progress. “The future of feminism in China is bright, but the road is full of obstructions. Apart from social pressure, the government also plays a role. It acknowledges our idea, but it may attempt to steer the way we market the idea.” Explained Furui Li.
Furthermore, despite recent headway, Chinese feminism still focuses on young, middle-class women. “Most women we collaborate with are well educated and live in cities,” said Furui Li. Sexual violence, human trafficking, and other human rights violations more likely happen in the remote countryside. When bad things happen to women in poor areas, they are unlikely to seek police or other forms of assistance. It is also hard for NGOs to reach these women. Certainly, the system is flawed and lacks the integrity to assure gender equality.
How can Daxue Consulting help its clients:
China is a unique market. A clear understanding is more than crucial. Daxue Consulting assists you in conducting research projects and better operating in China. Our team can help you to collect opinions regarding your new brand or product, as well as general opinions and behaviors, to gain a better understanding of the Chinese consumer’s needs and expectations. Feminism has only been applied by only a handful of start-ups in China since 2015. Our client requested Daxue’s team to identify the business opportunities deriving from the feminist movement and to perform an in-depth research to understand young middle-class females.