Celebrating Women: A Reading List

In recent years, International Women’s Day has been celebrated primarily as another consumer holiday in China, with many women getting half a day off work in an effort to boost spending. Official media celebrated the day by displaying images of women in traditional roles or as icons of beauty, while activists in China protested the commercialization of the holiday:

While some official accounts lauded actions of women fighting for their rights around the world, little attention was paid in state media to Chinese women’s efforts to do the same:

Yet, as many others pointed out, within China there is still plenty to protest. In many ways, progress for women’s rights has reversed in recent years. Sexual harassment is still rampant, and a nascent Chinese #metoo movement has faced ongoing barriers. Journalists in particular face sexual harassment on the job; a recent study found that 80% of Chinese journalists had faced “unwanted sexual behavior, demands, language, and non-verbal or physical contact” inflicted by either a manager or a co-worker. In the workplace, Chinese women routinely earn an average of 22% less than their male counterparts, while culturally embedded notions of women’s place in society emphasize their subservient role to men. In job interviews, women are frequently asked about their marital and pregnancy status, in violation of anti-discrimination laws. Activists who work to change the status quo are often censored or otherwise silenced.

Feminist Voices, the preeminent social media group speaking out for women’s rights, was shut down a day after International Women’s Day; they were similarly shuttered one year ago:

Outside of official media, many people have been sharing valuable resources to highlight the powerful work by women working in or about China. Journalist Joanna Chiu was interviewed by SupChina about two new initiatives to focus attention on the work of writers of Chinese origin or who write about China. Her Greater China Female Experts Open Directory lists over 400 female experts who specialize in a range of topics on China. Chiu’s second project, NüVoices, is a newly launched editorial collective “gathering veteran and emerging writers, journalists, translators and artists to celebrate and support the diverse creative work of women working on the subject of China (broadly defined).”

Time Out Beijing listed the “best books on women in China,” while the New York Times profiled feminist poet and revolutionary Qiu Jin as part of a series of retroactive obituaries for women who had been overlooked by history:

Other suggested readings: