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China Sex & Gender

Bold Breastfeeding Photos of Kyrgyzstan’s President’s Daughter Spark Debate on Weibo

The daughter of President Atambayev of Kyrgyzstan, Aliya Shagieva, recently sparked controversy for posting photos of breastfeeding her newborn son on Instagram. On Sina Weibo, Chinese netizens applaud Aliya for breaking taboos around breastfeeding in public – a recurring topic of debate on Chinese social media.

Manya Koetse

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The daughter of President Atambayev of Kyrgyzstan, Aliya Shagieva, recently sparked controversy for posting photos of breastfeeding her newborn son on Instagram. Aliya’s pictures are a bold statement in a country where the influence of religious ideology over how women should dress and act is considerable. On Sina Weibo, many netizens applaud Aliya for breaking taboos around breastfeeding – also a recurring topic of debate on Chinese social media.

Photos of the 20-year-old daughter of Kyrgyzstan President Almazbek Atambayev, Aliya Shagieva, breastfeeding her baby are being widely shared and discussed on Chinese social media this weekend.

Aliya Shagieva made headlines earlier this month after she posted multiple revealing photos on her Facebook and Instagram (@homesickbluess), sparking a storm of criticism in Kyrgyzstan, where an estimated 80 percent of the population is Muslim.

Aliya Shagieva is the youngest daughter of the leader of Kyrgyzstan. She got married last year and revealed her pregnancy in March, when she posted a picture of her baby bump.

After she gave birth to her son, Tagir, she posted multiple photos of her breastfeeding her baby.

The photos sparked controversy in Kyrgyzstan, with many saying it is wrong for a woman to show off her body and with people calling Aliya “shameless” and a “disgrace to her father.”

Aliya’s father, President Almazbek Atambayev, made international headlines last year when he attacked people who are critical of women who wear more revealing outfits. At a press conference, he stated that women are more prone to become radicalized if they put on Islamic dress, saying: “Women in mini-skirts don’t become suicide bombers.”

According to a report published by the Forum of Women’s NGOs of Kyrgyzstan, the influence of religious ideology in Kyrgyzstan “substantially contributes to discrimination against women.” Bermet Stakeeva, programme officer at the forum, previously told The Guardian: “Islam has a strong influence on women, how to dress and act and it’s now being discussed widely, in mosques and on television, that women should live moral lives.”

Aliya responded to the criticism online saying that it is not right to sexualize breasts this way and that “the most important purpose of female breasts is to breastfeed” and that it is “nothing to be ashamed of.” She emphasized that women’s breasts are not men’s pleasure objects.

Sina Hubei and other Chinese media accounts posted the photos and Aliya’s statements on Weibo on April 21, soon triggering thousands of reactions. The majority of netizens supported Aliya, saying that breastfeeding is nothing to be ashamed of and applauding her for her stance and braveness.

“Kyrgizstan is a country where the majority of people are Muslim (..),” one person commented: “It’s good that she’s the daughter of the President, otherwise she could’ve been killed for this,” one netizen wrote.

“I saw these photos on WeChat and I really admire Aliya’s bravery,” one girl wrote.

“Only human thoughts are dirty, not any part of the body,” a popular comment said.

Many Weibo users wrote comments such as: “She is completely right. Breasts are for feeding your baby, there’s nothing offensive about it.”

Breastfeeding is a recurring topic on Chinese social media. In 2015, an incident where a mother was shamed for breastfeeding on the Beijing subway caused huge controversy on Weibo, even attracting the attention of UNICEF and Beijing authorities.

One Weibo user at the time said the mother should “pay attention to her manners in public place” and that she should not “expose her sex organ.” Weibo netizens collectively responded to the issue; some agreeing that breastfeeding in public is inappropriate, while others defended the woman.

Although the majority of Weibo netizens show their support for Aliya Shagieva in normalizing breastfeeding, not all netizens were supportive: “It’s great that your motherly love is so big, but why do you need to show it off like this?”

Others agreed with this stance, saying: “We all know how mothers feed their babies, but you’re the daughter of the president, why do you want to show us? I don’t want to see it.”

“What is she doing not wearing any pants,” one female commenter said: “She’s shameless.”

As for the young mother Aliya Shagieva herself – it seems that she is no longer active on social media after her photos attracted the attention of national and international media. On April 23, her Instagram account @homesickbluess was no longer available.

– By Manya Koetse

©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Media

Online Outrage over Gansu Female Medical Workers Required to Shave Their Heads

Heroes of the coronavirus crisis or victims of visual propaganda? A video showing female medical workers having their heads shaved has triggered controversy.

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A Chinese media post praising female nurses for having their heads shaved has sparked outrage on Weibo and WeChat. Are these women heroes of the coronavirus crisis or victims of gendered visual propaganda?

A video showing tearful female medical workers having their head shaved before going to COVID-19 epicenter city Wuhan has sparked outrage on Chinese social media.

The video, originally posted by Gansu Daily (每日甘肃网) on February 15, shows how a group of female nurses is standing in line to have their hair shaved off in preparation of their mission to Hubei to assist during the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

In the short segment that has since gone viral on Weibo and WeChat, some women can be seen crying while having all of their hair shaved off.

According to Gansu Daily and other Chinese media, the fifteen nurses, including one man, are part of a medical aid group that was sent out to Wuhan this weekend. Their hair was reportedly shaved off “in accordance with requirements” to make their work more efficient and reduce the risk of infection.

The original news post praises the women as “the epidemic’s heroes in harm’s way” (“疫情中最美的逆行者”) – a term also used to describe brave firefighters during the 2015 Tianjin explosions (for more background on this term in Chinese, also see Xinhua and Zhihu).

Although the story praises the female medical workers as heroes and was soon reposted and promoted by many other (state) media, it was not just met with positive reactions from Chinese netizens.

On the contrary: it triggered waves of criticism over the medical team’s supervisors requiring the women to shave off their hair, with many deeming the measures unnecessary, humiliating, and sexist.

“Why do they need to shave all of their hair, the men don’t even need to do that?!”, some Weibo commenters wonder.

Many Weibo users wonder how necessary it actually is for the women to go completely bold for medical work purposes, wondering why the male workers do not need to shave their heads and why the women could not just opt for a shorter hairstyle instead – suggesting the media circus surrounding the shaving of the heads is more about visual propaganda than actually being a necessity.

“I am a medical worker myself,” one Weibo user writes: “I consulted an infection control doctor [on this matter] and they said it is not necessary at all to have a bald head. Short hair is convenient enough, and hair has a protective function too to reduce [skin] irritation from the friction of wearing hats and masks. It furthermore also has a function of catching sweat, preventing it from dripping to your eyes. A shaven head does more harm than good.”

“Why do people need to bleed and cry in order for them to become heroes?”, others say: “This is just cruel.”

Adding to the online fury was a photo showing the group of medical workers after their heads were shaved, as the one male nurse in the group not only seemed to wear a better quality face mask, but also appeared to have much more hair left than the female nurses.

The original Gansu Daily post has since been deleted from social media.

On WeChat account Epoch Story (“epochstory2017″/Epoch故事小馆), author Chen Mashu (陈麻薯) posted a critique on February 17th titled “Please Stop Using Female Bodies as Propaganda Tools” (“请停止用女性的身体,作为宣传的工具“).

Recent online Chinese visual propaganda in times of the coronavirus crisis has seen a strong focus on Wuhan medical workers.

This kind of visual propaganda often highlights the idea of “sacrificing,” especially when it comes to women as pretty girls, loving mothers, or good wives.

In the WeChat article, author Chen argues that Chinese state media always uses women’s bodies as a tool for propaganda, and argues that it should not be necessary for women to endure extra hardship or suffering (in this case, sacrifice their hair) in order to make them admirable ‘model workers.’ The fact that they are fighting on the front line should be more than enough reason to praise them, Chen writes.

While these women’s tears were “used to try to impress the audience” and become an example of some “collectivist spirit,” Chen argues, this kind of propaganda backfired because the individual needs and wishes of these women were completely ignored during the process.

Although the original story and visuals may have meant to be empowering in times of coronacrisis, they are actually counterproductive to female empowerment at large.

This is not the first time the role of women in Chinese state media propaganda become a big topic of discussion online.

In 2016, a photo series titled “100.000 soldier-loving girls” (十万恋军女孩) posted by China’s Military Web during the Wuhan flood also caused controversy. In the online media campaign, Chinese state media paid a ‘tribute’ to rescue workers by sharing pictures of girls holding the message “I wish to wash your uniform for you”. It triggered online discussions on the submissive female image propagated by Chinese state media.

At time of writing, various posts about the shaved heads of the Gansu medical workers have been taken offline.

For more COVID-19 related articles, please click here.

By Manya Koetse (@manyapan) and Bobby Fung (@bobbyfungmr), with contributions by Miranda Barnes

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©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Sex & Gender

Girls’ Charity Project Funds Boys Instead: Online Anger over ‘Spring Buds Program’

The ‘Spring Buds’ charity supposedly only focused on helping girls, but it turns out this is not the case.

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A charity fund that was supposedly dedicated to girls’ education in rural China has been found to fund the education of boys, triggering anger online.

The Chinese charity “Spring Buds Program” (春蕾计划), a project meant to advance girls’ education launched by the CCTF (China Children and Teenagers’ Fund 中国儿童少年基金) has come under fire for providing financial aid to schoolboys in China.

The “Spring Buds” project, which falls under the All-China Women’s Federation, has received the China Charity Award in the past for its efforts to promote girls’ education. The program was launched in 1989 to help girls in China’s impoverished rural areas to go to school, improve literacy rates among China’s young girls and women, and empower girls to strengthen their influence in their local communities.

This week, the charity’s focus has come under scrutiny after it became known that of the 1267 students receiving financial aid as part of one of ‘Spring Buds’ scholarship programs, there were 453 male students.

The topic triggered wider online discussions on Chinese social media on gender inequality in China.

Some commenters argued that boys, even in impoverished areas, are generally still better off than girls due to a persisting gender preference for boy children.

Weibo users also pointed out how there are multiple non-gender specific charity programs in China, and that ‘Spring Buds’ is one of the few focused on girls only – arguing that it should thus also really be assisting solely girls.

As the news about ‘Spring Buds’ coincided with this week’s launch of the Global Gender Gap Index report, some Weibo users also wondered why Chinese official media would quote this report and mention Japan’s worsening gender equality, while not mentioning anything about the status quo of gender equality in China.

The CCTF responded to the controversy via their official Weibo account on December 17th, stating that although its program was initially focused solely on girls, this year’s project funding was also allocated to impoverished male students who needed “urgent help.”

The organization further noted that they will be more transparent to charity donors in the future about how their funds are allocated.

Although the hashtag “Anger over Spring Bud Project Subsidizing School Boys” (#春蕾计划资助男生引质疑#) was used on social media by several Chinese media outlets to report the issue, the hashtag page is no longer accessible on Weibo at time of writing.

By Manya Koetse and Miranda Barnes
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Featured image photo by Ray Chan.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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