By Katie Nelson
A comment made by a Guangdong university professor about women’s role in the classroom has been making waves on the internet and is fueling criticism from students, netizens, and feminist scholars who say that the professor’s remark is but a small example of the prevalent but often ignored sexism on China’s college campuses.
The remark was made in class-and later posted on Weibo-by He Guangshun, an associate professor of literature at Guangdong University of Foreign Studies:
It’s cruel that girls have to come to class at 8:30 am. They should have more time to put on their makeup and enter the classroom elegantly. That way, encouraged and moved by their beauty, boys would have the drive to work hard.
He’s statement may have been commentary on China’s supposed “boy crisis”, a phrase coined due to recent trends in which female students have been academically outperforming their male counterparts. This trend has led to many universities accepting male students with lower test scores than female applicants.
In any case, He’s comment stirred up mixed reactions as it quickly spread online.
“I almost got into a fight with my roommates when we discussed He Guangshun’s remarks,” Guo Wenjun, a 23 year old student at Sun Yat-sen University said in a Global Times article. “They simply don’t think it matters or that it’s only natural for women to wear makeup.”
While He’s objectification of women drew in much attention and criticism from netizens, many students on campus, like Guo’s roommates, saw nothing to be offended by.
This has shed light on the issue at-large, which is that many students across China’s campuses, as well as society in general, are largely desensitized to sexism because of how often they are exposed to it, experts say.
“Some schools have been addressing the issue by promoting awareness among students. Over the years more and more students have taken a stand but it will still be a long time before the concept of gender equality fully takes hold,” says the Global Times.
The lack of access and interest in sex/gender education across China’s schools is part of the reason many well-educated students still cling to tired gender role stereotypes. As Leta Hong points out, attitudes towards women have actually regressed since Mao-era China, when equality between the sexes was emphasised.
“The concept of gender equality is not promoted as part of our basic education or as part of the common sense that every citizen should have,” said Ke Qianting, an associate professor at the very sex-friendly Sun Yat-sen Unviersity in Guangdong. Ke runs the university’s Sex/Gender Education Forum.
Sun Yat-sen University offers gender issue-focused electives, but only about 100 out of the 30,000 undergrads take the classes.
The recent focus on gender issues does leave Ke feeling somewhat positive. “I see in this generation of students a strong desire for equality, and a willingness to fight for that equality, so I am optimistic about the future”.