Damage to the Chinese #MeToo movement

The #MeToo movement is not new. It’s been around for a number of years now, and has encouraged women all over the world to speak up about their experiences of sexual harassment and assault. It’s been a beacon of light for those struggling, and a symbol of solidarity for women everywhere. It went from being a handful of accounts to a global movement, and it has opened the eyes of so many all around the world

Sadly, however, some countries have taken longer to appreciate the gravity of the situation and have only recently accepted the movement within their borders; China is one of them. People are no longer accepting Ignorance thinly veiled by ‘traditionalism’. And it’s time that countries such as China stand up and take responsibility for the shortcomings of their societies. 

This article explores ways in which women have been treated as less worthy and less valuable than men throughout China’s history. It looks at Zhou Xiaoxuan’s landmark legal case, and the impacts on the #MeToo movement in China by dismissing this case.

The Treatment of Women in China

Historically, women in China have been treated as second-class citizens compared to men. The society has forced them into arranged marriages at young ages. Their bodies are mutilated in the name of ‘beauty’. They have less access to education compared with their male counterparts. And often lack proper healthcare access. The female gender is generally considered less worthy than the male gender. You only have to look at the presence of sex-selective abortions to see the preference for males. Some choose to abort a healthy baby and put their wife through the trauma of multiple and unnecessary pregnancies, simply to avoid having a daughter. The minute a girl child is born, we tell her she comes second to men. And that women are less desirable to society. 

On top of this, the legal protection women have is questionable. It was only recently that China passed the legislation clearly defining what constitutes sexual harassment, assault, or rape. Placing the burden of proof on the plaintiff – not the defendant – in sexual harassment cases. It’s experiences like this that cause people to leave their home nations and seek a better life elsewhere – one where they have equal rights and equal opportunities. 

Women have had it hard enough in China. But, to have their traumatic experiences invalidated and challenged by those who made their lives more difficult in the first place is unacceptable.

Zhou Xiaoxuan’s case

Zhou Xiaoxuan, a former intern of prominent TV personality Zhu Jun, came forward to bring sexual harassment charges against Zhu. She experienced sexual harassment while a member of his staff. Remarkably, the Chinese courts agreed to hear her case. In doing so gave hope to the countless women who stood with Zhou. However, the courts have now dismissed Zhou’s case due to a lack of evidence against Zhu. 

Zhou has vowed to appeal the dismissal and to fight back against the unfair treatment the courts showed her. It’s not a matter of Zhou throwing her toys out of the pram because she didn’t receive the verdict she was hoping for. But, it is rather a plea for carrying out basic and unbiased level of legal procedure.

This was a landmark legal case in China’s history, and ignited the #MeToo movement in China. It was a signal to those who were struggling with their own traumas that things were improving. And that there was light at the end of the tunnel. So, to have the case thrown away and dismissed just like that must have devastated women all over China.

The impact on #MeToo

The ripple effect that the dismissal of Zhou’s case has had on the #MeToo movement in China is incredibly sad. Just when they thought that they might have hope, China’s women are now realising once again how steep the climb they face is. And that they may likely never live in a country that will afford them justice against their attackers. With a legal system so clearly stacked against them it must feel impossible to imagine a world in which they can receive closure for their traumas. And it’s just not good enough.

This case was monumental for China’s societal progression with regards to gender equality. However, I can’t help but feel that it’s unfortunately quite surface level. Scores of women could come forward and share their own stories. But until the people in charge – primarily men who see no issue with the status quo – decide that things should change, it’s hard to see how they will. We need to change the system from the inside out. And with a history as gender-biased as China’s is, sadly the future doesn’t look bright. 

Sexual harassment cases, especially if brought forward some years after the harassment took place, are notoriously difficult to try. All too often they result in a ‘he-said-she-said’ scenario. The victim is shamed and torn apart simply because the truth is so difficult to prove. The fact that the Chinese legal system places the burden of proof on the plaintiff only adds to this difficulty. Until we change the system, victims will never receive the justice or protection that they deserve. 

I sincerely hope that the women who fought with Zhou don’t give up. And, that this is not the end of the #MeToo movement in China. Instead of one step forward two steps back, hopefully the citizens can make it one step back, two steps forward. The out-dated views that China holds regarding women need to come to an end. #MeToo might just be the platform that triggers the men in charge to step back and re-evaluate the long-held prejudices against the female gender, for the better. 

About The Author

Olivia Eriksen is a writer and correspondent for the Immigration Advice Service, an organisation of immigration solicitors that provides legal aid to forcibly displaced persons