A woman in Hangzhou said she was initially refused entry at a subway station in the city because her summer outfit was deemed “inappropriate” — a decision that provoked an immediate backlash online after she shared her experience on social media.
The incensed woman, who goes by the name Dūdūdūdūdūdūdū 嘟嘟嘟嘟嘟嘟嘟 on Douban, wrote in a post (in Chinese) on May 3 that a female employee at the station stopped her when she went through a security check, telling her that she could not take the subway because her slip dress was “too revealing.”
“It was 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) in Hangzhou. The incident made me feel like I was walking into a temple,” the woman wrote, while sharing a photo of the dress she was wearing.
In an interview (in Chinese) with the Metro Express, a Hangzhou-based newspaper, the woman said that she ended up borrowing a shirt from a friend who was with her so she could enter the station. “The staff member didn’t chastise me, but she was very resolute about not letting me in. The way she talked almost had me convinced that there was a ban on slip dresses issued by the Hangzhou subway.”
According to the dress code policy listed on the Hangzhou metro’s website, bare feet and nudity aren’t allowed. However, the policy has no mention of inappropriate attire, nor does it provide any details or examples about what is deemed revealing. Regardless, the passenger said her outfit was completely appropriate for the public.
The woman’s complaint has received mixed reactions on Weibo. While some people came to the subway employee’s defense, saying that she was actually protecting the passenger from potential sexual impropriety on public transportation, the vast majority of the comments were from people upset on the woman’s behalf, who argued that what happened to her was another example of how women’s clothing is often wrongly blamed for sexual assault, rather than the actions of the offenders.
“We are in the 21st century and there are still people who think they are entitled to tell women what to wear in public. I’m disgusted by their archaic views,” a Weibo user wrote.
In response to the controversy, a spokesperson for the Hangzhou subway said today that the ordeal was caused by the passenger’s misunderstanding of the employee’s intentions. “She wanted the passenger to put on some clothes because it was chilly inside the station,” the spokesperson said. “The pandemic hasn’t completely subsided. It would cause a lot of trouble if she caught a cold.” In an interview (in Chinese) with Fengmian News, the manager of the subway station noted that there were no rules about riders wearing slip dresses, saying that he wanted to personally apologize to the offended passenger for her unpleasant experience.
It’s not the first time Chinese women have been told to dress modestly to not provoke male attention and avoid sexual harassment. Last year, a college in Jilin Province became the subject of intense criticism after enforcing a dress code that banned students from wearing skirts above the knees and sleeveless tops on campus. The idea that revealing clothing invites unwanted sexual advances is only one aspect of a larger victim-blaming culture that has existed for a long time in Chinese society, where many people believe that female modesty is an indicator of self-respect and the true reflection of one’s character.