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Women don’t hold up half the sky

July 5, 2012

Indian women know how to arm themselves when they see a lewd man approaching in the opposite direction, they don’t carry pepper spray but years of eve teasing have prepared them for the most unpleasant experiences while just walking down the road. As China grows and her modern women assert their individuality, hemlines are getting shorter and lewd comments louder.

Recently, picture of a young woman in a see-through dress with the text “please be self-dignified to avoid perverts” was pasted on Shanghai’s metro’s warning women to dress decently so as not to attract the wrong kind of attention. However vociferous city women who have are basking in their new found independence, and haven’t been harassed before are now taking to the streets.

40 years after Chairman Mao famously said women hold up half the sky, Chinese women have begun their flight for feminism. On June 24th, two young women draped in black robes and holding placards took to the metro in protest. They uploaded their photos onto microblogs. “I can be flirtatious, but you can’t harass”, one placard read. “We want to feel cool! We don’t want dirty hands”, went the other. The photos, which have been retweeted tens of thousands of times, are a reaction to an online poll. Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, asked some 45,000 people what they thought of Shanghai Metro’s call for modest dressing. Almost 70% said that women should be careful to dress in such a way as to avoid sexual harassment. This is not the reaction the protesters in ersatz burkas were hoping to inspire.

China’s social revolution can take a few pages out of India’s manual for women, who have always covered themselves so as not to be preyed upon.A few years ago when a prominent political figure commented on the clothes young women from India’s software capital wore, he received thousands of lacy pink panties in his mail as a reminder of the independence of Indian women.

Similar small-scale feminist protests have been popping up lately. In February, a group of university students gathered in Guangzhou to occupy men’s toilets, calling for greater consideration of women’s needs. During a conference at Shanghai Pride earlier this month, a woman stripped to raise awareness for lesbian rights during an otherwise male-dominated festival.

Nonetheless, it’s a huge social move for young, urban Chinese girls who have worn short shorts in summer and not thought twice about sexual harassment. Being young and independant in China means being able to asset your individuality and wear what you please, its more than a style statement, it’s a personality message to the world. So when the moral police tell Shanghai women how to dress, it goes down like a bitter pill.

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