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Dressing up for Gender Equality: Taiwanese “Men’s Skirt Week” Becomes a Viral Hit on Weibo

“Men’s Skirt Week” was organized to stand up for gender equality and support freedom of dress.

Gabi Verberg

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A “Men’s Skirt Week” initiative at various Taiwanese schools to raise awareness on gender discrimination has become a social media hit.

Male students from both the New Taipei Municipal Banqiao Senior High School (台湾新北市板桥中学) and the National Taiwan University (国立台湾大学) were spotted wearing skirts to class last week. Photos of their outfit soon made their rounds on social media.

It was the student committee of the New Taipei Municipal Banqiao Senior High School that first came with the initiative of a “Men’s Skirt Week” from May 6-12, in an effort to fight for gender equality, break down existing gender stereotypes, and support freedom of dress.

To give male students extra motivation to participate in the event, the student committee provided thirty skirts in different sizes for their male peers to wear.

The hashtags “Taiwanese High School Boys Collectively Wear Skirts to School” (#台湾高中男生集体穿裙上学#) and “Breaking Gender Stereotypes: Taiwan High School Boys Wearing Skirts to School” (#打破性别刻板:台湾高中男生集体穿裙上学#) were already viewed over 235 million times on Weibo by Wednesday morning.

According to the Weibo page of magazine Gay Voice (同志之声), the organizers of the ‘Men Skirt Week’ said:

Having men wearing skirts is just a statement. Our aim is to bring about real change in society regarding gender issues. Through this activity, we want students to feel they can be whoever they like to be, and at the same time, create an opportunity for people to support them.”

The organizers further stated that they did not want anyone to feel pressured to participate in the activities. They also asked people not to ridicule those taking part in the event, but to respect their freedom to wear what they want.

The initiative received much praise, not just on social media, but also from authorities. Gay Voice quoted the director of the New Taipei City Education Bureau, Zhang Mingwen (张明文), who stated: “This is a student-based activity promoting gender equality. Its intention is positive. The Education Bureau also feels this comes from a good place, and therefore we support [respect] it.”

Following the success of the initial initiative, student members from the Political Department of the National Taiwan University also decided to organize a ‘Men’s Skirt Day’ on May 13.

In a video produced by the Taiwanese news platform ETtoday, Ms. Lin (林), one of the organizers, explained that the event also supports those men who receive criticism for wearing ‘feminine’ clothes. Through events such as these, Lin says, they hope to convey the message that “not only girls can wear skirts,” adding: “Men can also wear skirts if they want to, and moreover, they can look beautiful in doing so.”

On Weibo, many who expressed their support for the activities wrote: “Every person should have the right to be whoever they want to be,” with others writing simple statements such as: “I support this” or “I’m against gender discrimination.”

While supporting the men’s skirt initiative, some netizens also expressed their admiration for Taiwan. “Inclusiveness and diversity are important conditions for social and cultural prosperity. Taiwan is so cool,” one Weibo user wrote. Another commenter wondered how long it would take before such an event would be acceptable in mainland China.

Despite the general praise for ‘Men’s Skirt Week,’ there are also those who attach little importance to the initiative or who straight out reject the idea of men wearing skirts. Especially under the Weibo post by Sina Military (新浪军事) on this news, the majority of commenters denounce the activities. Reactions range from people saying they are against gender discrimination but also feel that “this kind of behavior should not be encouraged” to people even calling it “unhealthy” and “sick.”

There are also plenty of people who just find the event funny or admire the beautiful long legs of the men wearing skirts. One netizen jokingly wrote: “I can’t support this. The skirts look better on these boys than on me!” Another Weibo user wondered how it was even possible for the boys in the pictures to have skinnier legs than her.

Although news of the event has gone trending on Chinese social media, few PRC state media reported on the issue.

In May of 2018, an event in which people gave out rainbow buttons at Beijing’s 798 park to celebrate International Day Against Homophobia (May 17/国际不再恐同日) was stopped by local guards who accused the organizers of holding an “illegal gathering.”

By Gabi Verberg

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

Gabi Verberg is a Business graduate from the University of Amsterdam who has worked and studied in Shanghai and Beijing. She now lives in Amsterdam and works as a part-time translator, with a particular interest in Chinese modern culture and politics.

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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.

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

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