Essays on the True Meaning of March 8, International Women’s Day

March 8 is International Women’s Day (IWD), a global holiday focusing on gender equality, the rights of working women, reproductive rights, and the reduction of violence against women, among other issues. This year’s United Nations theme for IWD is “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality,” highlighting gender gaps in STEM education and careers, as well as the online harassment that many women face. A recent article from AP News quoted U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, who sounded the alarm that women’s rights are being “abused, threatened and violated” around the globe, and noted that in the absence of urgent action, gender equality won’t be achieved for 300 years

In China, International Women’s Day overlaps with the “Two Sessions,” the annual joint meeting of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). While delegates this year have proposed a number of measures intended to help working women and their families, most of these proposals focus on boosting the fertility rate rather than advancing women’s economic, social, or political equality. A survey by recruitment portal Zhaopin found that over 60% of female job interviewees were asked about their marital status or plans to have children (while only about 20% of male interviewees were asked the same), and 23% percent of working women said they had been sidelined for promotions due to their gender, marital status, or being of childbearing age. Against this backdrop, it is worth noting that women make up only one quarter of the roughly 3000 NPC delegates, and a mere 11% of the NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC). Women are similarly underrepresented in the CPPCC, which had only 441 female members in 2021, approximately 20% of the total membership.

CDT Chinese editors have collected a range of articles and essays, drawn from the Chinese internet and social media, on topics related to International Women’s Day. A selection of these are presented below.

International Women’s Day has been celebrated in various areas of China since 1922, and has been an official Chinese holiday since 1949—women receive a half-day off work. An article from WeChat account 世界之敌的敌人 (Shijie zhi Di de Diren, “Enemy of the Enemy of the World”) explains the holiday’s roots in the international Socialist labor movement, the ways in which it has been co-opted and commercialized, and the nuances of the many Chinese names by which the holiday is now known: “Women’s Day” (妇女节, Funüjie), “Girls’ Day” (女生节, Nüshengjie), “Goddess Day” (女神节, Nüshenjie), and “Queens’ Day” (女王节, Nüwangjie). “Women’s Day” is the usual terminology, but has a decidedly old-fashioned ring to it, evoking married women and housework. “Girls’ Day” has a younger, more modern flavor, although some feel that it is dismissive of women. The latter two monikers are recent inventions strongly associated with online shopping and commercialization.

In China, due to the social transformations brought about by reform and opening, authorities have consciously watered down the political hue of “Women’s Day,” so that over time, young people have become less likely to associate March 8 with the anniversary of a labor strike by working women.

[…] Furthermore, in the Southern Min (Minnan) dialect of China’s Fujian province, “Three-Eight” is an obscenity used specifically to insult women. Because this swear word has spread across the country, people naturally associate it with Women’s Day, further fueling [some] women’s resistance to celebrating the holiday on March 8. [Chinese]

An article from WeChat account 小再的荒原 (Xiao Zai de Huangyuan, “Xiao Zai’s Wilderness”) sounds a similar theme, reflecting on the true meaning of Women’s Day, drawing parallels to the women’s movement in Iran, and urging readers not to be distracted by false promises, but to continue fighting for the political, economic, and social rights of women everywhere.

The term “Goddess Day” seems to emphasize female beauty and charm, but in the final analysis, it still treats women as some sort of deity or commodity—objectifying them, subjecting them to the [male] gaze, and overlooking the true meaning of Women’s Day.

[…] We need to be cognizant that Women’s Day is a political festival that grew out of opposition to social, political, and economic oppression and injustice against women. Its purpose is to forge the path to women’s liberation and to fight for the rights and interests of women. Even today, we have yet to attain the rights that our female predecessors fought so hard for. All over the world, women of all ages and from all walks of life are still suffering from varying degrees of oppression. Women’s Day is a reminder not to forget what we are fighting and striving for. We don’t need to be “spoiled” with cheap favors or caught up in the sweet trappings of modern consumerism—we need genuine rights. [Chinese]

“March 8 Women’s Day is Not a Day for Celebration,” an essay from WeChat account 唐一水 (Tang Yishui), characterizes the holiday as a reminder of how much remains to be done, and cautions against being taken in by petty gains and false “privileges”:

Those bouquets of fresh flowers are not what you think they are. Nor are those “special privileges” special privileges at all.

[…] Do these flowers and “special privileges” actually equate to equal pay for equal work? Do they reduce gender-based violence? Do they help women to achieve genuine social equality with men?

If you’re taken in by these trifling gains, you’ll never see the real problem. What you thought was a gift was nothing more than a trap. Don’t fall into the trap just because someone has planted some pretty grass and flowers on top.

Women’s Day is not a day for celebration, but a reminder. [Chinese]

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