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The Ten Biggest Sex and Gender Stories of 2012

Dushi Nvbao 17 Dec

The City Lady (都市女报) from Shandong today has a front page story on the Ten Biggest Sex and Gender Stories of 2012 in China (年度十大性与性别事件). Based on an exercise led by the head of the Sex and Gender Institute at the Beijing Forestry University (北京林业大学性与性别研究所) named Fang Gang (方刚) (a man), this Top Ten list has been published every year from 2008. Each item on the list is accompanied by commentary from the staff at the Sex and Gender Institute, which is translated below along with each of the ten items.  

1. 38-year-old woman with master’s degree promotes chastity online (38岁女硕士网晒“贞操”)

In February, Tu Shiyou (涂世友) from Wuhan University started a blog advocating pre-marital chastity and proclaimed that she herself was still a virgin (while uploading to her blog the medical report to prove it), eliciting many critical and satirical responses.

Commentary: Each person can choose their own way of life, but the notion of sexual chastity has a suppressive quality. A real sexual revolution seeks to bring down those who seek to inhibit the individual’s right to choose for themselves. Criticism and mockery of Tu Shiyou online were directed at every facet of her female identity such as her age, gender, and level of education. Yet at the same time various social stigmas were appended to her such as “educated and ugly woman that no-one wants.”

2. Ye Haiyan (叶海燕) and “free sexual services” (叶海燕“十元店”免费提供性服务)

At the beginning of the year, Ye Haiyan posted pictures on her Weibo of her volunteering to provide free sexual services to migrant workers in order to bring attention to the lack of legal rights of sex workers. For her pains, Ye suffered physical violence and her place of work was damaged.

Commentary: Ye Haiyan’s activism in this regard has illustrated the legal difficulties facing sexual workers in China, which is based on the false notion that women cannot control their own sexual desires, and that sexual transactions are immoral. Her actions have graphically illustrated the current situation in China regarding sexual rights.

3. “Gendered” education

In February, Zhengzhou 18th Middle School in Henan province tried out a new education method by launching the “Masculine Boys” and “Refined and Intelligent Girls” standards. In March, government in Shanghai approved the 8th Middle School’s “Shanghai Senior High School Male Experimentation Class” with the stated goal of cultivating a happy environment for wholesome and studious male learners. Both schools reported good results in these experiments.

Commentary: Sex education ought to promote gender equality and to encourage each gender in its own right, yet both of these “gendered” education programs start out from the principle of promoting differences between the genders and some form of gender prejudice is only one step away. By acknowledging that various differences exist between the genders, we can better promote gender equality and individual development.

4. The controversy of under-age girls in brothels

In 1997 the criminal law in China was revised so that the keeping of under-aged girls in brothels was specified as a crime, thus separating it from the crime of rape. Various scholars have in the period since maintained that this distinction has lowered the threat of punishment associated with the crime of keeping under-age girls in brothels. In March this year, the vice-chairperson of the All-China Women’s League (全国妇联), Zhen Yan (甄砚), stated that the law is not sufficient for the adequate protection of minors, and called again for the law to be repealed.

Commentary: We support the repeal of this law to protect young girls from sexual exploitation, yet we should not in the process infringe on the rights of children without incorporating the voices of children themselves. Simply choosing between “repeal” or “not repeal” will not solve this problem.

5. The case of the suicide of the gay man’s wife

In June, a woman named Luo Hongling (洪玲从) jumped from a high building to her death after her husband admitted to her on Weibo that he was gay. This case ignited heated debate among the gay community regarding marriages with the opposite sex.

Commentary: Increasing awareness of sexual rights has also given rise to discussion of the rights of homosexuals. The phenomenon of wives of gay men leads to the suffering of many people, including the unloved wife, the gay man forced to marry a woman as well as the rest of the household, and the causes of this issue goes deep into the roots of society. Forbidding homosexuals from heterosexual marriages will not solve the problem. This issue causes us to reflect on the relationship between love and marriage and the value of both.

6. The case of “I can flirt but you can’t disturb” (“我可以骚,你不能扰”行动)

In June an official working on the Shanghai subway posted an image on Weibo showing the back of a woman wearing a see-through top. Professing his good intentions, the official reminded women not to invite sexual harassment by dressing provocatively. A few days later, two women launched a protest by carrying posters in the subway with the words “I can flirt but you can’t disturb.”

Commentary: In the discussion on sexual harassment, the phrase “I can flirt” turned the role of women from passive defence to an active embrace of “flirting” in regard to their public posture and right to make their own decisions. “You can’t disturb” then links this proactive stance with a not very euphemistic or reserved method to display women’s abject rejection of sexual harassment. Combining these two phrases challenges conventional perceptions of women’s rights in terms of sex and gender issues.

7. 84-year old transgender man boldly steps out of the closet

In June in Guangdong province a 84-year-old transgender man named Qian Jinfan (钱今凡) boldly stepped into the limelight by accepting an invitation for an interview with a journalist. Qian was of the intention to challenge the prejudices held in society against transgender people and to advance the rights of transgender people in the workplace.

Commentary: Compared to gays and lesbians, the public campaign for the rights of transgender people are still much less conspicuous. Qian Jinfan’s loud and clear exiting of the closet has illustrated the life-long prejudice and discrimination that he suffered. While his case might indicate that we are moving toward a completely non-discriminatory environment, it also shows that we are still far from achieving a full reflection in society of the sexual rights of multiple sexual orientations.

8.Male participation in the fight against sexual violence

During the Global Campaign Against Sexual Violence Against Women campaign in November and December, the UN Population Fund China representative office ran a concurrent online campaign in China to get men to pledge to oppose sexual violence against women. During the 16 days of the campaign, 351 men signed up to the pledge.

Commentary: Sexual violence emphasizes aspects of male masculinity that have their roots in gender inequality in society. Campaigns against sexual violence directed at women should not focus on making an adversary of the male psyche, but rather cultivate, encourage and support a consciousness of gender equality among men and rally them to collectively build a harmonious and gender equal society.

9. Online “pornographic anti-corruption”

Pornographic images and videos of officials have recently increasingly been exposed online, and the persons involved have been punished severely. Due to such cases, in August an official at a university was expelled from the Party; in November another official at a university was fired from his position; and also in November an official in Chongqing was also relieved of his position.

Commentary: In these pornographic anti-corruption online cases, “sexual prowess” became a potent weapon against official corruption and abuse of power. No matter if these sexual acts were or were not part of corrupt activities, such “sexual politics” became the subject of widespread condemnation, and the people involved – both the officials and the women – suffered severely. Such “pornographic anti-corruption” has already morphed into public condemnation of private sexual violence.

10. The activities of feminists

In February a number of women launched an “occupy the male bathrooms” action; in April female students at Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou sent a letter to 500 companies protesting against gender discrimination in recruitment; in August various women shaved their heads to express their dissatisfaction with the Ministry of Education for gender discrimination in college entrance exams; in November various women posted bare-breasted pictures of themselves online to show their support for the enactment of laws governing domestic violence; and in December women in Guangzhou put on red wedding dresses to also protest against domestic violence.

Commentary: There is currently insufficient public space and platforms for feminists to voice their opinions, and a new younger generation of women are taking to the streets to voice their views on women’s rights, matching their online activities and challenging a culture dominated by father figures. These activities have ignited public awareness of women’s rights and have  allowed women to express their loathing of oppression, challenging traditional gender values.

Links and sources

City Lady (都市女报): 2012那些性事
Fang Gang on Weibo