Last Thursday, a female student at China University of Political Science and Law lit two on-campus banners on fire. The banners were put up by her male peers at school in celebration of Girl’s Day, an unofficial Chinese holiday that falls on March 7, a day ahead of International Women’s Day. Both banners carried affectionate messages dedicated to no specific person, but instead the whole community of female students at the college. One reads, “I have made a lifelong commitment to you. My love for you can be proved by my heart.” The other one declares, “All acts of investigation doing no good for women are against the rules.”
The radical act quickly gained traction on the Chinese internet after photos of burning banners went viral. Facing mounting criticism about the violent nature of her behavior, the perpetrator, who hasn’t disclosed her real identity, took to WeChat to explain her intentions. She wrote (in Chinese):
“My goal was to prompt the public to question and form a reflective dialogue about Girl’s Day. International Women’s Day has it roots in the 1910 Chicago garment workers’ strike, which was established and led by women who marched in demand of equal pay, divorce rights, and abortion rights. It’s not created for you to reinforce gender stereotypes. And it’s dumb for some women to think that they are reaping the benefits that come along with being a female.”
The student in trouble said that a school official had excoriated her in private, adding that all the backlash had made her aware of how problematic her progressive approach was.
“It was dangerous to set the banners on fire. I apologized to the school. I should have cut them with scissors,” she went on. “Happy International Women’s Day to the woke girls!”
The student’s cheeky apology, however, did little to shut down criticism from many internet users, who rushed to call her a “self-absorbed, angry, and unhinged feminist.” A typical hate comment reads (in Chinese), “This person is sick. She is a misandrist suffering from severe mental disorders.”
But leaving aside the question of violence for a moment, and focusing only on the messages to which the the students were strongly opposed, Girl’s Day and its culture has been a contentious subject that has captivated the Chinese internet for many years.
The origin of the holiday is up for debate. According to Shandong University, birthplace of the holiday, Girl’s Day was created by its students to “foster healthy communication between male and female students at universities,” and it is supposed to be an event where “college boys express their appreciation for female students and college girls showcase their beauty.” But this official narrative is constantly challenged by its critics, who claim that the seemingly pro-girls holiday has its roots in a dirty joke based on an offensive pun, which reads, “A girl will become a woman through one f**k.” 女孩和女人只差一日 (“日” in Chinese means “day” or, in vulgar language, “sex act.”)
The way it’s celebrated has also gained some critical attention in recent years. Far from authentically empowering female students, it has become a common practice (in Chinese) for college boys to place love-confessing banners on campus that bear no actual meaning. Worse, some of them are even borderline sexual harassment, which achieve nothing but to satisfy male students’ bizzare desire to publicly display their horniness. Outside campus, the holiday has been widely hijacked by ecommerce sites and big corporations to encourage women to unleash their buying power. In the eyes of its critics, however, though it seems innocuous on the surface, Girl’s Day is a weird product of sexism, consumerism, and capitalism, which takes attention away from the real important issues of gender equality and women’s rights.
This year, the conflict between two sides came to a head in the comments section of a cringe-worthy since-deleted Weibo post by Shandong University on March 7, in which the school wrote, “Three plus seven equals 10. Your sweetness is 10 out of 10.” In rebuttal, a Weibo user wrote, “Four plus six also equals 10. Why don’t you celebrate June 4 every year?”
Màishāo 卖烧, who helped Xiánzǐ 弦子, alleged victim of sexual harassment by CCTV host Zhū Jūn 朱军, to share her story and is currently facing a lawsuit filed by the celebrity, who accused her of spreading rumors, also weighed in on the controversial post, writing that “Girls don’t have to be sweet. They can be sweet and aggressive, just like boys. They can be whatever they want. No one is entitled to create an image that they have to embrace.”
According to Maishao, the comment was almost immediately deleted by Shandong University, which further asked Weibo authorities to ban her from commenting for three days. Moreover, the punishment was followed by an intense wave (in Chinese) of cyberbullying, intimidation, and death threats initiated by Shandong University alumni and misogynists.