After Shuttering of Feminist Douban Groups, Women Call for Unity Online

A crackdown on “extremism and radical politics” has shut down feminist Douban groups, and in turn rallied Chinese women to declare support for the movement and opposition to the censorship of critical social discussion. The crackdown has targeted adherents of a feminist resistance tactic known as “6B4T,” who pledge not to marry or procreate—a highly sensitive issue as Chinese authorities struggle against plummeting birth rates.

Reuters reports on how the censorship elicited a mass backlash from women online, including many who do not adhere to a 6B4T lifestyle but felt compelled to offer support for the movement:

“I firmly support my sisters on Douban, and oppose Douban’s cancellation of feminist channels,” said Zhou [Xiaoxuan, also known as “Xianzi,” a high-profile Chinese feminist], who in 2018 filed a sexual assault suit against a national TV anchor, fuelling China’s #MeToo movement.

[…] The closures prompted social media users to create new Douban channels in hopes of resurrecting the groups, while the hashtag “women stick together” sprang up on China’s Twitter equivalent, Weibo, garnering almost 50 million views.

“We should stick together,” one Weibo user wrote. “Otherwise ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ will be our tomorrow.”

China says it seeks to empower women and protect their rights, but it does not tolerate activities and discourse – online or offline – that it feels could agitate social order or signify defiance to its authority. [Source]

While not immune to censorship, Chinese social networking platform Douban has long been a popular venue for discussion of social issues. At VICE, Viola Zhou further outlined the idea of 6B4T, noting that adherents had come to rely on their community on the platform. Zhou also relays further examples of online backlash against the shutdown:

The group of women on the fringes of China’s nascent feminist movement had for years been able to have unfettered discussions on Douban, a book and movie review site that doubles as a message board for mostly young, educated Chinese internet users.

This week, several popular feminist groups were abruptly shut down. Many of the groups had members who adhere to an idea known as 6B4T, which originated from South Korea’s radical feminism movement and rejects heterosexual sex, marriage, and child-rearing.

To evade oppression by the male-dominated society, 6B4T also encourages women to abandon tight-fitting dresses, religions, and idols.

In screenshots shared online, Douban told administrators of the banned groups that the forums contained “extremism, radical politics, and ideologies.” On Tuesday, users were also banned from posting the phrase “6B4T” on the site’s public message board.

Cindy, a 21-year-old student in the central province of Henan, who declined to give her full name, said she visited two of the now-closed groups almost every day to read about gender discrimination and the fight for equality. One group had more than 40,000 members. She said she would like to stay single, citing posts she read on Douban about society’s exploitation of women. […] [Source]

Zhou also noted that while gender discrimination is rampant in China, it has been allowed a relatively large amount of space for free discussion when compared to other social issues, but that “intense arguments often break out between young feminists and men who accused them of being ‘corrupted’ by Western values, often using misogynistic language.”

Last week, just prior to the crackdown on Douban, Sixth Tone’s Zou Manyun wrote about a years-long battle that has unfolded on the “feminism” entry at the Q&A site Zhihu, which clearly shows how reactions to feminism on the platform have become increasingly fierce in recent years:

For example, prior to 2018, most related topics — such as gender discrimination, family fertility issues, and so on — were closely related to gender and women’s issues.

But after 2018, as feminism became more visible, newly added related topics began to deviate significantly from those proposed in the past. Instead of issues, more and more notable events and specific public figures were added and subsequently deleted by netizens on either side of an increasingly polarized debate. Some of the names added as examples of prominent historical feminists, for instance, were successful, powerful women; others those widely seen in China as deceitful or driven by vanity, like the Tang dynasty (618-907) empress Wu Zetian or the controversial socialite Guo Meimei.

[…M]isunderstandings and divisions over the term have only deepened in recent years, as have personal attacks on feminists. The black circles on the chart above represent pejorative terms added to the feminism page, including “princess syndrome,” “straight female cancer,” and “Chinese-style pseudo-feminism.” These terms and others like them mostly began popping up around 2018 and afterward. [Source]

At What’s on Weibo, Manya Koetse reported further on the hashtag that emerged to resist the crackdown, and also supplemented the definition of 6B4T with explanations from online commentary by adherents and supporters—noting that the crackdown and banning of the term “6B4T” did much to spread awareness of the movement. Koetse also includes comment from Xianzi (aka Zhou Xiaoxuan) who doesn’t live a 6B4T life, but hotly contests that it is a radical outlook:

“I am not a follower of 6b4t at all, but I firmly support my Douban sisters and oppose how the feminist Douban groups have been shut out. First, 6B4T clearly is an important branch of contemporary online feminism – shutting these groups out is shutting out discussions on female topics. Seconds, the viewpoint of 6B4T is not radical at all, it just asserts that women do not need to enter heterosexual relationships and can break away from masculine control. This is completely up to women themselves and has nothing to do with anyone else. When even such a viewpoint is banned, and women insisting on being single are still seen as rebellious — this is the fundamental reason why we have to firmly support our Douban sisters.”

Many people support Xianzi’s statement, and meanwhile, the hashtag “Women Let’s Unite” (#女性们团结吧#) also took off on Weibo, with many commenters calling on women to let their voices be heard.

[…] The ‘Women Unite’ hashtag page had received over 47 million views by late Tuesday night. Another relating hashtag, ‘Douban Feminism’ (#豆瓣女权#) was viewed over 40,000 times

[… In February, Douban user “Blossom” wrote]  “In the context of patriarchal society, women are sexually objectified while male sexuality equals power. Under this premise, marriage, childbearing, romantic love, and sexual activity are all about reinforcing the power of men and benefiting them. So we advocate 4b, which essentially is a non-violent and non-cooperative struggle mode, with the same characteristics as workers’ and slaves’ strikes.” [Source]

CDT Chinese editors have archived further online discussion around the crackdown and 6B4T.

The Douban crackdown came after an incident of cyberbullying and disciplinary action against feminist activists, itself part of a swell in the mobilization of online Chinese nationalism against social and political activism. The incident in question began with prominent feminists Xiao Meili and “Feminist Five” member Zheng Churan, and affected many of their supporters. At Apple Daily, journalist Chang Ping situates the harassment campaign into the increasing threat that feminism is posing to the authorities in China, where “[s]ince Xi Jinping, the patriarchal system has been further strengthened”:

A woman and her friend were eating at a restaurant when she noticed the man next to her smoking and intervened, but the man hurled insults at them and splashed them with some unknown liquid. The woman captured the incident on video and posted it to social media, where it immediately became a trending topic. As a result, the woman and her friend, as well as other friends who were not there, were severely punished; they were attacked by countless netizens, and their WeChat accounts were removed.

[…] It was no coincidence that “historical issues” were unearthed. This woman is Xiao Meili, a well-known figure in China’s feminist activism. The friend with whom she had dined is Zheng Churan, one of the “Feminist Five” who received global solidarity after their arrest in 2015. The other women whose Weibo accounts were deleted are their fellow feminist activists.

[…] At the same time, some of the women who grew up in only-child families and received a human rights education from the West have taken up various initiatives to promote gender equality. Their advocacy resonated widely among women and has posed a challenge to the “Chinese patriarchal dream.” Like dissident critics and human rights lawyers, feminists have become the target of official suppression. In public opinion, tacitly sanctioned and endorsed by the government, their advocacy of gender equality has been perceived as inciting “gender antagonism,” hatred of men, and destruction of family dynamics. Feminism has been called “women’s boxing.”

[…] Patriotism is nothing more than a patriarchal discourse. As the British writer Virginia Woolf declared more than 80 years ago, “As a woman, I have no country. As a woman, I want no country. As a woman, my country is the whole world.” [Source]


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