Young men in Chinese colleges have an annual tradition ahead of the International Women’s Day that has precious little to do with women’s rights.
Every year on March 7, the so-called Girls’ Day, college men in China hang banners around campuses that carry flirty messages expressing their affection for their female classmates.
The origin story of Girls’ Day is contested. One story says some young women in China were unhappy with the Chinese translation of the Women’s Day – Day of Funü. The term “funü” reminds them of older, married, working women, and the younger generation preferred to be called girls.
Another theory is that the festival was derived from the internet saying “there is only one day’s difference between a girl and a woman.” Day, or ri in Mandarin, is also a slang for “fuck.”
Even as the festival is getting more and more criticism over the years, some universities, both the students and management, are standing by the tradition.
On Sunday, the prestigious Tsinghua University and Tianjin University are among the schools that posted photos of Girls’ Day banners on their official social media accounts.
What’s written on the banners is a combination of academic puns, stereotypes, and borderline harassments.
“I fail at doing an analysis into your attractiveness,” says a banner from Tsinghua University’s civil engineering majors.
“The world is pink every day you are here,” says another one at the school.
Although some women do take the messages as compliments, others are boycotting Girls’ Day for perpetuating sexism and masking the Women’s Day’s significance in empowering women.
“Women’s Day is for commemorating women’s protests for equal pay, not for men to express their lust,” said the most liked comment under Tsinghua University’s Girls’ Day post.
Feminist critics have also criticized businesses for turning Women’s Day into a shopping festival. Popular shopping sites like Tmall and JD.com have offered special March 8 discounts. Many businesses refer to Women’s Day as “Goddess’ Day” or “Queen’s Day” in an attempt to please female consumers.
Young women in China have become more vocal in advocating for gender equality.
On Women’s Day, many women shared posts highlighting women’s achievements in workplaces, while challenging the expectation that women should take care of their families and produce offspring. This social pressure has contributed to a large gender gap in China’s PhD programs.
Over the weekend, some female college students put up their own banners against Girls’ Day, carrying slogans such as “say no to age-shaming” and “smash the patriarchy,” according to photos posted online.
But protests offline carry great risk due to the state’s suppression of activism. Five activists, later known as the “Feminist Five,” were detained for a month in March 2015 for planning to demonstrate against sexual harassment on public transport on International Women’s Day.
China ranked 106th out of 153 countries in the World Economic Forum Global Gender gap Index 2020, which cited the country’s male-dominated political landscape and skewed sex ratio at birth as the biggest problems.
Only one woman sits in the 25-member Politburo, the Communist Party’s leadership body. About 25% of the delegates who are attending China’s annual parliamentary session in Beijing this week are women.
Follow Viola Zhou on Twitter.