Teenager fights for women’s rights through micro movie

By Xie Wenting Source:Global Times Published: 2017/3/17 0:28:47 Last Updated: 2017/3/18 7:19:34

The actress in the film Fengzhongliu,is painting by a lake in Beijing. Photo: Courtesy of Sang Ni

Sang Ni is supervising the shooting behind the camera. Photo: Courtesy of Sang Ni

At the age of 18, Sang Ni, a senior student at a Beijing high school, shot the feminist micro movie Fengzhongliu, which translates to "Willow in the Wind." The film has just been released online and tells the story of a girl who pursues her dream of becoming a painter against her father's disapproval.

"I want to encourage women and give them the message that we should chase our dreams in life and not be constrained by what society wants a girl to be," she told the Global Times.

Despite enjoying a comfortable life, Sang says that throughout her adolescence she has always felt confined by demands from her family to "behave like a girl."

Sang says another motive for making the film is her father divorced her mother because she didn't give birth to a boy.

"I was very confused. I wanted to prove something," she said.

In the film, the girl eventually won her father's approval. But in her real life, Sang has yet reached a compromise with her father, who believes a girl shouldn't be a film director.

She prides herself as a "feminist." But being a feminist attracted a lot of questions and even hostility.

Even her mother prohibited her from saying the word "feminism" in front of her.

"She felt the word is negative. She is worried that I will become too aggressive," Sang said.  "But I would like to openly and loudly say I'm a feminist. I want equal rights for women."

Early challenges

When Sang was still in primary school, feminism was still a distant idea for Chinese people. An extremely active child, her teacher believed something was wrong with her and asked her parents to take her to see a doctor.

"I was very embarrassed," she said.

Traditional values expect girls to be quiet and calm. Only in recent years have numerous articles and videos come out telling the public that girls are no different from boys.

For Sang, those school years made her quite confused about her "female" identity, and her family life only added to this confusion.

Her mother has a good career in banking, but still needs to take care of Sang and does all the family chores. In contrast, her father just spends his time with his friends.

"Meanwhile, my grandma often quarreled with my mother and criticized her for not giving birth to a boy," she said.  "I was angry. Why did they only want a boy?"

These experiences made her realize that society has different expectations for girls.

It was only when Sang attended a summer camp at Harvard University in the US that her feminist passion was kindled. It was there that she first got to know the word, and decided to learn more about it.

Unexpected success

It took Sang nearly a month to collect the 80,000 yuan ($11,611) needed through crowdfunding to shoot the micro movie, and eight months to complete it.

It has now garnered more than 10,000 hits online. "I never expected it to become popular. Changes happen gradually. The film may influence people's thoughts and plant the seeds of feminism," she said.

However, during the shooting, Sang found it difficult to strike a happy balance between her studies and making the film, scoring poorly in her examination to apply for a US university.

But the film may stand her in good stead in studying to be a director.

Now, some feminism-themed holiday camps have appeared in China, aiming to attract young students. Some camps made it clear that they  provide students with a new perspective to view the current society and these experiences of social participation will be an asset on students' resumes when applying for foreign universities.

Some feminists praise these camps as being useful for cultivating feminist thought from a young age, while others point out that feminism shouldn't become a privilege of female elites.

Besides, feminism tends to appeal mainly to young people in China, as is shown in Sang's case. Now on  many college campuses, female students have banded together to host seminars aimed at empowering women.

This trend took off after the popularization of Lean in in China, a book written by Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, which encouraged women to pursue their careers.

But still, the overall environment doesn't seem to offer much promise. In one Baidu forum, some netizens said people should be cautious of young feminists.

"They are too extreme. Women's independence shouldn't go too far," read a netizen's post.

When Sang tried to talk about feminism in her school, the High School Affiliated to Renmin University of China, many people resisted it.

As a traditional Chinese woman, Sang's mother stressed that she has many rights and there is no need to fight for more.

Sang's mother is financially independent. "She doesn't think what she has experienced is wrong," she said.

Mothers who think taking care of their families is a woman's responsibility are passing down these values to their children, she added.

In a bid to change her opinion, Sang now tries to tell her mother feminist stories, but doesn't mention the word itself.

"Women's rights are human rights. We should acknowledge physical differences first and then fight for a more diverse and inclusive environment," she said.
Newspaper headline: Feminism on film


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