Vagina Monologues has provoked debate and controversy around the world, yet nothing as ugly as in China. To advertise for a Chinese version of the show on their campus, 17 women students from the Beijing Foreign Studies University recently posed for the cameras, each holding up a sign "quoting" her vagina. "My vagina says: I want freedom," read one; "My vagina says: I decide who to let in," said another.
They cannot have expected the savage criticism unleashed online after they posted the photos on the internet. Thousands of web users, mostly men, commented unkindly on their looks, accused them of being immoral and compared them with prostitutes...
Yet amid such a harsh environment for women, I have witnessed with delight the blossoming of feminist activism: several women hit Beijing's streets on Valentine's Day, dressed in wedding gowns spattered with fake blood, to protest against domestic violence; students rallied in front of the Wuhan city government offices to voice their opposition to an intrusive gynaecological examination imposed on prospective women civil servants; a friend is currently marching from Beijing to Guangzhou to protest against child sexual abuse.
This summer, I and two dozen other women graduated from China's first Feminist School, organised by several feminist non-governmental organisations. One of our teachers was Li Jinzhao from the Beijing Foreign Studies University, who assigned the Ying Dao Zhi Dao homework. Li and other professors hope to introduce the eight-session course to more universities.\
The online assault on the students was a brutal reminder that beyond this circle of enlightened women, many do not favour gender equality. Yet to look on the bright side, I hope the event will raise awareness of gender issues. The history of the feminist movement shows that every step of progress has to be fought for.More at Zhang Lijia's website.
The piece was earlier published at the South China Morning Post (but behind a firewall)
Zhang Lijia is a speaker at the China Speakers Bureau. Do you need her at your meeting or conference? Do get in touch or fill in our speakers' request form.