by intern from China Post
#MeToo. A simple statement declaring a horrible truth – that the speaker has experienced sexual assault or harassment. But there truly are strength in numbers: the Me Too movement has rocked the sexist and oppressive customs of numerous powerful institutions across the world, from America’s Hollywood, multiple countries’ governing bodies, and now to Asia – #我也是.
Me Too is a phrase, hashtag, and subsequent movement against sexual assault and harassment initiated by American Tarana Burke in 2006. Burke chose this phrase from her personal experiences with survivors, and is intended to promote “empowerment through empathy.” The #MeToo tag on social media garnered widespread attention in America in late 2017, spreading awareness of the ubiquity of sexual assault and harassment; its omnipresence is simultaneously saddening and motivating.
#MeToo made its first appearances in Asia in South Korea and Japan in late 2017. In both of those countries, high-ranking officials are still today being brought down by revelations of sexual misconduct in their past. But, progress there is hindered by flawed reporting systems and societal taboo. These problems are also prevalent in China, the home of over 600 million women, and Me Too has now arrived there as well. In China, #MeToo was initially seen in the context of universities and student-professor relationships, and has largely remained there since then.
Backlash against and persecution of perpetrators of sexual assault and harassment generally starts with storytelling. It was the real life stories women (and men) told about their experiences with sexual assault, and the subsequent uniting under these stories by sharing “#MeToo”, that has made this movement so compelling. Interestingly, this social media based movement – propagated mainly on Twitter and Facebook – has moved to a country in which both of those sites are blocked. In China, the country’s two biggest social media platforms are WeChat and WeiBo; both are closely monitored by the government. Concerning this subject, the censorship is not total – the WeChat platform published an article explaining the removal of a professor at Beihang University and provided statistics proving the abundance of these violations and their severe underreporting to authorities. But when posts are made by individual users detailing their experiences, they get deleted or “scrubbed” from the internet. This type of check is typical of Chinese government efforts to curb activist intentions and ultimately maintain “weiwen,” political and social stability.
This censorship is only a part of the difficulties faced by the Me Too movement and those spearheading it in China. Societal and cultural repercussions against those who speak out are harsh. Often when making the difficult decision to come forward with an accusation, the victims are in turn accused themselves, for false offenses such as acting or dressing inappropriately. In reality, such responses not only blame the victim, an unacceptable stance in this day and age, but also discriminate against all moral men who do not assault others, insinuating that males as a whole have no self-control and women alone are responsible for protecting themselves. Many women also cite fear of losing their job for deciding against reporting a workplace incident. This seems to be an Asia-wide complication: an anonymous woman from Japan stated that if one comes forward, “the company may see such a woman as a troublemaker, and she is likely to be transferred to another division.”
Indeed, the Chinese government itself seems set against acknowledging the widespread problem of sexual assault and harassment within its country. Leta Hong Fincher, a renowned feminist author focusing on China, believes the male-dominated leadership in China feels “spooked” by the prospect of getting undermined like once-untouchable figures elsewhere. The state-run newspaper China Daily even published an article last year titled “Weinstein case demonstrates cultural differences,” declaring that these types of problems are exclusive to the West. An incredulous claim, seeing that statistics place the number of Chinese women who have experienced some form of sexual harassment at a staggering 80%. Censoring and brushing off this movement keeps China’s female population at dire risk of becoming subject to future sexual harassment and assault, along with abetting all past assaults that have been silenced. Somewhere along the way, China has forgotten the mantra that rang through Beijing after it hosted the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995, that “women’s rights are human rights.”
The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/18/metoo-in-china-fledgling-movement-in-universities-fights-censorship , https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/apr/17/chinas-feminist-five-this-is-the-worst-crackdown-on-lawyers-activists-and-scholars-in-decades,
South China Morning Post