Social Illness of the Week: Straight Man Cancer
The Word of the Week comes from the Grass-Mud Horse Lexicon, a glossary of terms created by Chinese netizens and encountered in online political discussions. These are the words of China’s online “resistance discourse,” used to mock and subvert the official language around censorship and political correctness.
zhí nán ái 直男癌
Brazen machismo or heterosexual male chauvinism; a conservative, misogynistic viewpoint that hinders progress towards gender equality, and can contribute to the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault.
“Straight man cancer” describes the outspoken misogyny and entitlement of many men (and some women) in China. References to this “disease” first appeared on Weibo and Douban in June 2014, gaining traction in response to several sexist Weibo posts by philosopher Zhou Guoping in January 2015. Zhou wrote that “love and childrearing” matter the most to women “in their hearts,” and that women who deny this essential ambition lose their beauty in his eyes. Straight man cancer also infected Baidu on March 8 of that year, presenting as a “doodle” of a ballerina in a music box. It was a far cry from the illustration of Chinese women as doctors, athletes, and astronauts the search engine had commissioned and later scrapped.
In May 2016, scholar and PLA officer Wang Weixing was diagnosed with straight man cancer after he claimed that Taiwan’s new president, Tsai Ing-wen, has a short-sighted, “emotional” approach to politics because she is single.
In July 2018, the revelation of rape committed by high-profile Hepatitis B awareness advocate Lei Chuang, and a separate revelation of rape and sexual assault by environmental activist Feng Yongfeng, marked China’s #MeToo movement hitting the country’s public interest sphere. In a WeChat essay castigating related fraternal inaction, willful ignorance, and slut-shaming from within China’s social justice world, feminist activist Li Maizi blamed “the admiration of authoritative figures, the lack of precaution towards the powerful, and endless occurrences of straight man cancer [for] contributing to the outbreak of the #MeToo movement in the public interest sphere.”