Face it, feminists, many women would rather lie down, not lean in

By Rong Xiaoqing Source:Global Times Published: 2016/12/13 18:58:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

At the end of October, lovers of Chinese film in New York enjoyed a hearty meal of screenings at New York University. The program, called Real China, was a biennial festival organized by NYU professors Zhang Zhen and Angela Zito to present independent documentaries and experimental films from China. The theme of this year's festival, the eighth since its inception, was made clear by the T-shirt Zhang wore that day — black with a white vertical line in Chinese saying "This is what a feminist looks like."

The films selected were quite to the point, from transgender filmmaker Dajing's I'm Going to Make Lesbian Porn, and queer filmmaker Popo Fan's Papa Rainbow to Lu Yang's animation Uterus Men. The titles of many films were as transparent in their message as Zhang's T-shirt.

While the showings were fascinating, the most intriguing moment to me happened during the panel at the end of the three-days screening, when an audience member asked Chinese director Huang Ji about the status of women's rights in China.

Huang said she believes it has improved a lot because, even in the small village in Hunan Province where she grew up, women no longer have to work their butts off to support the family. "They can stay at home to take care of their children with their husbands going out to work and making bread and butter for the family," Huang told the audience.

Eyebrows were raised. Buzzing was audible. The Americans among the audience, many middle aged, looked at one another with incredulous expressions: Clearly that didn't fit their definition of progress.

But what Huang said may have represented a new trend in feminism or, more accurately speaking, a reverse trend in feminism.

Chinese and Americans have never been on the same page in their pursuit of women's rights. When Chairman Mao told Chinese women they can "hold up half of the sky" and launched a series of policies to mandate gender equality, women who worked as secretaries were still considered revolutionary in America.

The mandate in China, though, was arbitrary and ahead of its time. And the retributions were clear. Few men in China will hold the door open for a lady even today. Generations of women grew up with a lack of "feminine" characteristics. All over China, especially in the countryside where Huang grew up, women had to do heavy laborious work as hard as any man did, despite differences in physical strength between the two genders. It may not be a surprise for people who know such historical context to see that a generation of women in a richer China want to be housewives and consider that progress.

This trend is not confined to China. In the US, current feminism may have been partially defined by Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In, a bestselling book that calls for women to push harder for progress in the professional arena, but more and more signs have appeared suggesting that under the surface, the undercurrents of doing the opposite are also getting stronger.

Comedian Ali Wong, a writer of the popular ABC hit Fresh Off the Boat, explained it explicitly in a recent routine made for Netflix. "(Sheryl Sandberg's) book is called Lean In. I don't want to Lean In. I want to lie down," Wong told her audience. "I think feminism is the worst thing that ever happened to women. Our job used to be no job … then all these women have to show off and be like 'We can do it. We can do anything.' Bitch, shut up. Don't tell them the secret. (These women) ruined it for us. Now we are expected to work … A lot of women are upset with me about these comments. They are like 'but Ali, we have so many more options now.' Oh you don't think we have a lot of options when our day was free, unscheduled, unsupervised, and most importantly, sponsored?"

If that sounds like comic sarcasm, writer Irin Carmon's recent op-ed piece in the New York Times, titled "What Women Really Think of Men," pointed out another side-effect of women's superiority in a more serious tone: "Men taking responsibility, even retrospectively, is what it's going to take for us to believe another world is possible, one in which we don't romanticize female superiority to let men off the hook."

Carmon was commenting on President-elect Donald Trump's words to his male supporters in a recent "Thank you tour" that women are "better than you are." And she thinks one of the reasons that so many women supported Trump, despite his misogynistic comments on women, was that they think men are irredeemable.

But I think the election result can be explained from another angle. Many women ran away from Hillary Clinton because she and the feminism she represents have arbitrarily defined progression as a one-way road, and are never willing to give women the option to "lie down." 

The author is a New York-based journalist. rong_xiaoqing@hotmail.com

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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