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feminism in China? Must be too busy holding up half the sky…

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Chinese feminists, happily out there, but sadly not in China

As I’ve mentioned before, it’s not just religion that’s providing a brake to the progress of female empowerment. The Chinese ‘Communist’ Party, which seems to be religiously opposed to religions of all kinds, with their popes and patriarchs, hasn’t benefitted from this opposition by promoting any of its female citizens to leadership positions.

I say ‘communist’, because  there’s surely no organisation on the planet that’s less communist than the thugocracy that currently rules China, and has done for the last seventy-odd years, since Mao bludgeoned his way to power. If we take communism to mean the dictatorship of the proletariat, clearly it will only happen when ‘prole’ and ‘dictator’ mean the same thing – that’s to say, never. And it’s a sad irony that any nation with any reference to communism in its title has always engaged in the most brutal – and very macho -authoritarianism. So basically I’ve come to consider both communism and fascism as synonymous with thugocracy.

So Mao’s statement that woman hold up half the sky was just patronising claptrap, apparently. Xi Jinping, the unutterably worthless bag of scum that is China’s latest dictator (I’m sorry, but I always get emotional where thugs like Mr Pudding and his Chinese mate – can’t think of a nickname just yet – are concerned. My anti-authoritarianism goes back to earliest childhood and is deeply ingrained), is suppressing the equality of women as part of his corruption campaign. It doesn’t seem to be phasing outspoken women in China, most of whom are destined to outlive the scumbag. Still, for the time being, they’re being muzzled, their Weibo accounts suspended, and their harassment by Party goons adds another layer to the harassment they’ve lately been experiencing on campuses and in workplaces.

These are backward steps for women in China. It was the fascinating Empress Dowager Cixi, one of China’s most under-rated political leaders, who first banned foot-binding back in 1902, a ban that was overturned, probably because it was instituted by a woman, but later reinstated. Even so, China was at the forefront of women’s rights in the early twentieth century. A researcher on women’s rights in China, Emeritus Professor Louise Edwards of the University of NSW, points out that early progress in equality and supportive legislation came from within the system rather than from grassroots activism:

If you were working in the state sector in China, as a woman in the 1950s, you had access to maternity leave, breastfeeding leave — these kinds of protections were way ahead of Australia at the time.

But the Party has become more repressive and ‘anti-western’ since the events of 1989, and especially since the rise of Mr Pingpong (okay this needs a bit of work). Clearly the Party has become more macho (there has never been a woman on the politburo standing committee, in its almost 70-year history), so feminists have had to work from outside that framework, and are more of a threat, and therefore more ‘western’. It’s all rather predictable in its stupidity. So China has dropped down the rankings for gender equality, temporarily. But Mr Pingpong will be dead meat soon enough (actually, not soon enough), and women will rise again, inevitably. The arc of the moral universe may be long, but it bends toward justice, in spite of these pingpongy, Mr Puddingy gremlins in the works. In fact, once Pingpong is out of the way, hopefully without being able to secure another fascist to replace him, feminism will likely burst into the public sphere with a vengeance, as identification with feminism is increasing big-time in China. Lu Pin, the founder of Feminist Voices, an influential media outlet shut down in 2018, remains confident about the future. An ABC article, linked below, quotes her:

Today, more young people than before agree that they are feminists. Today, the debate on feminism in Chinese society is unprecedentedly fierce.

Again, it’s a matter of nature eventually overcoming oppressive cultural artifice, but meanwhile the attitude of the Party towards increasing sexism and male brutality is to downplay the violence and to avoid at all costs any mention of feminist values and aspirations. It’s a very backward move considering that, by the 1970s, Chinese women, who in ancient China often didn’t even have their own names, formed the largest female workforce in the world. The one-child policy, introduced in 1979, led to abortions and abandonment of female infants, and a noticeable gender imbalance problem into the 21st century. Although the policy has since been relaxed, women are reluctant to become ‘baby factories’ for the Party, given the lack of support for child-rearing, and the current patriarchal fashion.

China’s first ever law dealing with domestic violence was enacted in 2016, over 40 years after Australia’s Family Law Act (1975) defined and legislated against domestic violence. However, it appears that the law is largely a well-kept secret. Frida Lindberg, in an article on women’s rights and social media for the Institute for Security and Development Policy (a Swedish NGO), writes this:

Despite the Anti-Domestic Violence Law, domestic violence cases have nevertheless continued. Some argue that the law is ineffective due to low public awareness about the issue and punishments that are too lenient. In addition, the law has been criticized for promoting family harmony and social stability, a principle that stems from Confucianism, as this seems to contradict the law’s principle of preventing domestic violence.

Lindberg’s article shines a light on current obstacles to female participation and progress in the Chinese workforce, obstacles that many WEIRD women now in their sixties and seventies (my generation) experienced regularly four or more decades ago. But of course the social media issue is new. Weibo and other social media sites became a vital outlet for women after the treatment of the so-called feminist five were muzzled, at least partially, after street protests in 2015 over domestic violence and the lack of public facilities for women. Unsurprisingly there was a backlash against feminist posts, which many in the movement saw as a good thing – any publicity being good publicity –  but the Party decided to put a stop to the argy-bargy, removing many social media accounts of prominent feminists in 2021. It also appears to be lending support to anti-feminist nationalists, who have been trolling outspoken women for anything they can find, including sympathy for Hong Kong and for oppressed minorities. The Party has used the excuse of ‘disrupting social order’ to harass and shut down whistleblowers who’ve posted about sexual harassment, but the number of views these posts garnered argues for a groundswell of concern about the issue, one way or the other. Feminists have fought back by coding their messages to avoid censorship, but this obviously has its limitations for attracting public attention, and is usually identified and reported by the ‘nationalists’.

So, it’s a ‘watch this space’ situation, or rather, watch this region. Having taught scores of Chinese women over the years, I know all about their intellect, their passion and their power. In his book Asia’s reckoning, the Australian journalist Richard McGregor described the irony of how conformist Japan has become a liberal democratic country of sorts, while the more liberal and individualist Chinese are saddled with the Party and its goons. It’s surely a temporary situation, but just how temporary is temporary?

References

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-06-08/feminism-in-china-internet-crackdown-erase-womens-voices/100165360

Click to access Lindberg.-2021.-Womens-Rights-in-China-and-Feminism-on-Chinese-Social-Media.-1.pdf

Richard McGregor, Asia’s reckoning, 2017

 

 

Written by stewart henderson

July 23, 2022 at 6:43 pm

bonobos, religion and feminism

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bonobos, promoting the common good

Yuval Noah Harari argues in Homo Deus that religion has lost, or is losing, its political clout, and is largely a force of the past with little impact on the future. This is largely true, but more so in WEIRD countries. Catholicism still has a firm grip on many South American and African countries, and I don’t see any Islamic nations Enlightenment in the offing – but you never know.

During the ‘New Atheism’ fervency of a decade and more ago, I became quite engaged in the issues. I’ve never believed in any gods, but I’d avoided really thinking about Christianity’s ascendancy in the UK and Australia (I have dual nationality). The decline of the religion even before New Atheism had made it all quite easy to ignore, but the new polemics excited me enough to read the new texts – The God Delusion, God is Not Great, Breaking the Spell and assorted others. Perhaps more importantly, I actually read the Bible, and, through my blog, wrote my own exegesis of the gospels and other New Testament writings, compared Jesus to Socrates, and other fun things. It passed the time. And I’m sure the movement hastened the drift away from religion in the WEIRD world.

For these essays, though, I’m thinking of how religions have impacted on the females of our species. Catholicism, Islam and Hinduism, in particular, have had a congealing affect on male and female social roles, especially, it seems, among the poorer classes in the cultures those religions dominate.

There’s a lot that I could say about religions, but in a nutshell they grew, initially, out of a desire to understand and control the world as humans saw it. That’s why, in my view, they’re in competition with science, which grew out of exactly the same desire, but which has turned out to be phenomenally more successful in fulfilling that desire. So religions are in wholesale retreat, especially in the WEIRD world.

Let me elaborate. The world to early human apes was full of mysteries, as it is to bonobos, chimps and other smart creatures, who might take note of such sights as waterfalls, volcanic eruptions, lightning fires, and even, perhaps, slow changes like the growth of a tree from a seedling. Also regular occurrences such as the change from day to night, seasons, the movements of the sun, moon and stars. But human apes would likely go further than a sense of wonder and awe. They would come to wonder what, and why. And lacking any handy explanations they would turn to inventing them – and those whose inventions seemed most convincing, and who seemed most familiar with the forces at play, either through delusion, calculation or conviction, might attain a power of sorts over the group, something seen as innate and special, and perhaps passed down to offspring. The forces and vagaries of wind and water, heat and cold, of food abundance and scarcity, might seem to be manipulable by the powers and spirit of these chosen few, the adumbrations of religious figures, shamans, a priestly caste. And given that, apart from a few notable exceptions – some ancient Greeks and the odd Egyptian and Chinese – science as we know it is a very recent phenomenon, religions held sway for ages, not only explaining and ‘controlling’ the powers of nature, but inventing plausible enough stories for how it all began and who to thank or blame for it all.

If this just-so story about the origins and purpose of religion has some truth to it, then it follows that religion has a conservative element. This is how the world began, these are the forces that created it, and this, that and this is what they want from us, in payment for the life they’ve given us. It’s unchanging, and we need to maintain our roles, eternally. For example, the Judea-Christian origin story has woman as almost an afterthought, man’s helpmeet, shaped from a supernumerary rib. The Islamic creation story is altogether more vague, but both myths took shape within highly patriarchal societies, and served to maintain those societies largely unchanged for centuries, until we began to find better explanations, at an accelerating rate.

Still, we’re left with the legacy of those religions and, for example, their views on leadership. It strikes me that some of the Catholic hierarchy would rather be burned at the stake than allow women to become priests, and I doubt that there are too many female Imams. There are debates of course, about whether restrictions on female leadership roles are cultural or religious, or indeed about whether culture and religion can be separated, but they often work together to maintain a perennial status quo.

Until, of course, they don’t. Modern science has knocked us off our pedestal as the darlings of the gods, and has reframed what used to be our whole world as a tiny planet revolving around a bog-standard star on the outskirts of a fairly nondescript spiral galaxy in one of possibly countless universes. It’s been a bit of a downward spiral for our sense of specialness, and it’s all been quite sudden. We can pat ourselves on the back, though, for having brought ourselves to our senses, and even for launching ourselves into the infinity of progress – a world of particle colliders, tokamaks, theory-of-mind-AI, quantum computers and space tourism and much else beyond the horizon. And yet, the old patriarchy is still largely with us. Men in suits, or in uniforms, leading the military, dominating the business world and manipulating the political arena. There’s no good reason for it – it’s simply tradition, going back to early culture and religion. Some of these cultures seem incorrigible in spite of their new-found WEIRDness. Will Japan, for example, ever transform its male business and political culture? When will we see another Chinese woman in the Politburo? As to Russia’s Putin and his strong man allies – when will this kindergarten club grow up?

With the success and growth of modern science has come great international, and inter-gender, collaboration. I can think of no greater model for our future development. With the current pandemic, too, we’ve seen follow-the-science politicians, many of them women, emerging with the greatest credit. Co-operation among women has always been powerful, but too little recognised. I would like to see more of this co-operation, especially in the service of keeping men in their place. It works for bonobos. I truly feel that a bonobo culture, but with human brainpower, would make the human world more exhilarating, in its compassion, in its sexiness, in its sense of connection with the biosphere and all its delicate mechanisms, than any other cultural change we can make. I actually think it will happen – though sadly not in my lifetime.

Written by stewart henderson

August 18, 2021 at 8:24 pm

The Epoch Times and the ‘CCP virus’

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a man lies dead in the street in Wuhan in late January – this image was also used on p3 of The Epoch Times

Jacinta: So something unusual arrived in our letterbox the other day – a newspaper of sorts. Made out of paper.

Canto: Weird. Haven’t read one of those for a while.

Jacinta: Yes, nowadays we read those things on tablets, just like the Flintstones of yore. It wasn’t a big newspaper – an 8-page broadsheet – but it was unusual in other respects. It was all about China, or rather the Chinese government – the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). And none of it was positive.

Canto: Yes, the newspaper is called The Epoch Times, and has an ‘about us’ column on page 2, which tells us it’s ‘dedicated to seeking the truth through insightful and independent journalism’.

Jacinta: ‘Standing outside of political interests and the pursuit of profit, our starting point and our goal is to create a media for the public benefit, to be truly responsible to society’. All very commendable of course, but the whole paper is devoted entirely to criticising the CCP, highlighting its nefarious tactics and giving a voice to silenced, and sometimes disappeared, Chinese citizens, and also to Australian critics of the CCP.

Canto: So it’s Australian-based, operating out of Hurstville, a southern suburb of Sydney. Apparently founded back in 2000, it also states ‘we stand against the destruction wrought by communism, including the harm done to cultures around the world’. So, what do you think?

Jacinta: Well… we’re no admirers of so-called communism (which is always dictatorial or oligarchical rule in fact). We’re into open, progressive and collaborative societies. So, while I’m sympathetic to the cause of this newspaper, here’s a criticism. It’s interesting that we’ve had this in our mail now, from this 20-year-old organisation. It comes at a time when the CCP is undoubtedly weakened by the spread of SARS-CoV-2, and will be scrambling to improve its reputation and to limit the economic damage done to China by this disaster. It’s a bit like these China critics and journalists, many of them of Chinese backgrounds themselves it seems, are ‘going in for the kill’ against a weakened adversary. All very ‘nature red in tooth and claw’. And of course I sympathise to a degree, but note that I mentioned ‘collaborative’ before, and in our last post we talked about not playing the blame game at this time. The Epoch Times has an editorial on its second page, entitled ‘Giving the Right Name to the Virus Causing a Worldwide Pandemic’. Their decision is to call it the CCP virus, a name they use throughout the newspaper. I respectfully disagree for a number of reasons. First, it would be a step backward to the Spanish influenza days. As we know, the Spanish flu didn’t originate in Spain, but much of the early reporting of it came from there, while other nations, still engaged in the HSW (Horribly Stupid War) of the period, suppressed the news to maintain morale. This was unfortunate geographical nomenclature, as many people still confusedly believe it came from Spain. Today we wisely use scientific names which refer to the type of pathogen – coronaviruses have their characteristic s-proteins, hepatitis viruses affect the liver, from the ancient Greek root hepat-, etc. This helps make clear that viruses and other pathogens have no nationality and know no borders. It also helps to internationalise science. Second, while we need to know the precise origin of this virus, and to try to shut down what at this stage looks to be the passage from bats to humans via one or more intermediaries, the priorities right now are to stop or reduce its spread, to reduce its effect on human bodies, and ultimately to develop a vaccine to stop it in its tracks. Only after we’ve achieved these things should we be looking at causes and blame.

Canto: Right, like when the Titanic’s sinking, it’s no use wasting time on causes or human failings before the event, all your energies should be spent on saving lives, getting others to collaborate on rescue efforts, and getting the hell away from there. Those other enquiries come afterwards.

Jacinta: Right. Now China is apparently trying to help with supplies of PPE and with its own clinical trials of antivirals and vaccines. Obviously there are political motives there, but if it’s providing effective assistance we shouldn’t reject it. Now, there’s a massive amount of journalism being produced as to the CCP’s motives and its effectiveness in, for example its assistance to Italy, with which it has had long-standing relations, and we shouldn’t be naïve about the CCP’s misinformation campaigns, its dubious politicking, and its cyber-warfare activities, and all of that should be reported on, but in my view, the reporting should always have this question in back-of-mind: Is it (I mean the reporting) helping or hindering the spread and/or defeat of Covid-19? That s the one and only priority at the moment. If the CCP is saving lives and reducing suffering in its own country and elsewhere at the moment, that’s a good thing, and should be welcomed.

Canto: Misinformation costs lives too though. It’s interesting that both Hong Kong and Taiwan, two regions that have reason not to trust anything coming out of the CCP, have performed far better than most in combatting Covid-19. Many Hong Kong residents have been wearing masks since the SARS outbreak of 2003, and the people themselves were ahead of their own government in wanting shut-downs. They’ve experienced only four confirmed deaths – an amazing feat. It really pays – and saves lives – not to trust the CCP, it seems.

Jacinta: So let me give a third reason. China is an economic giant, keen to expand its economic impact around the world. Twenty-five percent of Australia’s manufactured goods come from China. China is the largest customer for our Australian exports, by far. Successive Australian governments have been trying to diversify our trade relations, but it seems that market forces are moving us to an ever-closer reliance on China. So we know that too-strident criticism of the CCP, however deserving, may have a severe economic impact. It places us in a delicate position. The question then becomes one of leverage – finding ways to criticise from a position of amity, or at least some kind of partnership.

Canto: Good luck with that. And we need to show them that we know what’s what, and that we’re not weaklings. And join and participate in international forums that promote human and minority rights, and lend our weight to international criticism.

Jacinta: Yes, and with these caveats, I do want to endorse what The Epoch Times is doing. It’s important that people hear from and about the dissident voices within China, their courage and their suffering. Knowledge is power, and much anger and outrage is thoroughly justified. What has happened to Fang Bin? To Chen Quishi? To Li Zehua? To Ren Zhiqiang? How does the CCP justify its treatment of the late Dr. Li Wenliang and of Dr. Ai Fen? This will not be forgotten, nor will the CCP’s self-interested, deceitful, incompetent and bullying mishandling of the early stages of this outbreak. The party needs to be brought to account, by international forces, in the aftermath of the pandemic.

References

The Epoch Times, April 20, Special Edition

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/COVID-19_pandemic_in_Hong_Kong

https://www.australiachinarelations.org/content/understanding-australias-economic-dependence-china

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fang_Bin

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Li_Zehua

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chen_Qiushi

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ren_Zhiqiang

https://www.ijidonline.com/article/S1201-9712(20)30111-9/fulltext

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ai_Fen

Written by stewart henderson

May 10, 2020 at 12:51 pm