In a country famous for censorship, they talked, freely, of fighting the patriarchy. They questioned everyday sexism at workplaces and in mass media. They promised never to marry men or sleep with them, let alone bearing their children.
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.
But for some of the country’s feminists, the good times may soon be over.
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.
Douban did not respond to a request for comments.
While the vows against sex or marriage have gained little mainstream traction, the closure of the groups have prompted an outcry among female internet users. On the microblogging site Weibo, many women said the radical feminists deserved to be heard, even though they did not agree with the beliefs.
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.
“I think this is a way to tell men that women can live in a world without them,” she told VICE World News. “As long as the feminist fighters are here, we will be able to find new spaces.”
Geogriana Lee, a 24-year-old translator in Guangdong, said she would visit the Douban groups to read about others’ struggles in male-dominated society, and the crackdown has demonstrated how conservative China is.
“6B4T is a passive way of resistance and self-protection under the current gender equality situation in East Asia,” she said, adding she has no immediate plan to date or get married.
Gender discrimination is prevalent in China. But compared with other political topics, gender issues are generally allowed more space for discussions on the tightly controlled internet. Intense arguments often break out between young feminists and men who accused them of being “corrupted” by Western values, often using misogynistic language.
Kailing Xie, a researcher on gender and politics at the University of Warwick, said although authorities had traditionally seen feminist movements as trivial and less threatening than other kinds of activism, the growing voices from young, educated women are coming under more official scrutiny.
“China’s governing model is still pretty much relying upon heterosexual marriages as the stabilizer,” Xie said. “These feminist groups, especially the ones against marriage, against childbirth, are touching the nerves of the fundamental governing structure.”
The Communist Party leadership, which places great emphasis on stable families, has recently made divorce more difficult to protect marriages. China’s plummeting birth rates have led to worries among feminists that the government will step up efforts to push women into having children.
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