Wu Rongrong of ‘Feminist Five’ on Women’s Empowerment in China

Many people have asked me whether China’s feminism movement has encountered a big bottleneck or a backward environment in recent years. Others have asked how I view the future of China’s feminist movement.

My opinion is that we should see this issue from a larger historical perspective. Putting the current problem in a longer time dimension and at the same time in a broader spatial dimension can lead to a more objective answer. In other words, if we look at the history of the past five or six decades, or even longer, the ruling party is getting more and more powerless in controlling feminism.

The independence and fierce criticism demonstrated by feminist activists have also outdone the past that had seemed easily extinguishable. The identity of feminist activists has become more and more vague, which is to say, everyone can be a feminist and everyone can participate in gender issues from various topics. In this sense, today’s feminist movement is unprecedented.

As for the direction of the future feminist movement, it can be seen from the recent #MeToo movement. That is the mutual encouragement from the common life experience that women of different cultural backgrounds and regions have shared. Such mutual encouragement has allowed women whose rights have been violated to grasp the time, share their experiences, and speak out with their unique voices and appeals.

This is an extremely important and long-existing topic that we need to discuss seriously and cautiously because of the complexity and diversity of women. This is how to raise our voices and appeals to empower more women.

During the process, we can also identify problems, such as how to provide support, including the support of public opinion, for women who come forward when there’s an unsupportive, or even a frustrating environment, after a wave of speaking out.

The five women's rights activists in 2015
The five young activists were arrested on 7 March, 2015 for planning a campaign against sexual harassment on International Women’s Day. The five young activists are members of China’s Women’s Rights Action Group. They were to distribute stickers with slogans “Stop sexual harassment, let us stay safe” and “Go police, go arrest those who committed sexual harassment!” on them. After a huge outcry both in China and internationally, and after more than one month of detention, they were released on bail on 13 April, 2015. (photo: Amnesty International/Tumblr)

As we can see from the situation of China’s anti-sexual harassment campaign in the recent two years, the problem of collusion among the opponents of the stakeholders is obvious. For example, the administrators at all levels of a university would put unimaginable pressure on the family of a person suffering from sexual assault, and make the survivor feel outcast and threatened in school.

Therefore, the challenge that we have always been facing is the creation of a supportive environment.

I think this is also a challenge that requires the consensus and cooperation from all the so-called “radical” and moderate feminists. Here “radical” refers to the general opinions of the public, who perceive the image of “radical” feminists as omnipresent and active in public topics with sharp words. The author believes the word “radical” here means “radical” in China’s context.

At present, NGOs like “Girl Protection” (女童保护) and other gender equality and anti-domestic violence organizations in mainland China have all been working on anti-sexual assault education for girls/women. I believe this work is necessary, yet it should be focused on empowering women and providing a supportive environment, rather than making women “the birds in cages,” who would lose more capacity in the name of protection.

Today, feminism in China is still silenced and oppressed by male supremacy and patriarchy, and it also faces the misunderstandings and attacks of netizens, as well as the disapproval of relevant governmental agencies. This phenomenon has forced many feminists to look for a way to survive.

I think it is precisely this kind of environment that has trained the feminists to discuss rationally and objectively, to understand the current situation more profoundly, and to find creative ways to tackle the issues.

From my personal perspective, feminism is a pair of glasses and also a label. The ultimate goal is to empower women, to emancipate them from suffering, and to gain strength. In this process, we’d better accept and make clear the status quo. We must use our wisdom to see the roots of the problems. We must learn how to restrain ourselves, to restrain the anger and annoyance brought by the reality that problems can’t be solved in a short period of time. We must wait a little and discuss with more people until the solution gradually comes to light. It’s another kind of courage.

(Written by Wu Rongrong, translated by Yun Zou. Wu Rongrong is a social worker, women’s rights defender, and feminist who has worked in a number of women’s rights and anti-discrimination NGOs. In 2015 she was arrested by the Chinese authorities as one of the ‘feminist five’ for handing out stickers promoting gender equality.)

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