Chinese internet reacts to woman complaining about boys in female changing rooms

Society & Culture

Should young boys be allowed to go into women’s changing rooms with their mothers at public swimming pools? The Chinese internet is divided.

swimming pool

Imagine you are a woman and you are in the female changing room at a public pool. In the middle of your post-swim shower, you notice an uncomfortable stare from a teenage boy, whose mother is just around the corner. You lodge a complaint with an employee at the facility. But instead of getting an apology, you are told that you are in the wrong here, for upsetting the child and being oversensitive. 

That’s the experience described in a viral post (in Chinese) on Chinese social media, in which an anonymous young woman described her annoyance at the mothers who took their sons to the female locker room at her local swimming pool. “That was not a single incident. All these boys are above 10 years of age,” she wrote.

Her story struck a nerve, igniting a string of related hashtags that have collectively garnered millions of views on Weibo, as well as a flurry of responses from commenters on both sides of the debate. 

Some internet users saw the woman’s situation in a very straightforward manner: Boys shouldn’t be in the women’s changing room, no matter how old they are. “The ladies’ room is for ladies. Period. It’s not even worth debating. If a mother can’t find someone else to take her son to the male changing room, then don’t go swimming,” a Weibo user wrote (in Chinese). Another agreed (in Chinese): “Why do I have to consider a boy’s convenience at the expense of my own sanity? It’s parents’ job to sort out a way that ensures their children’s safety without making other people uncomfortable.”

However, some people argued that it’s totally reasonable for mothers to let their boys tag along when using ladies’ locker rooms, mainly for safety reasons. “To be fair, most mothers bring their sons into female locker rooms not because they can’t change by themselves, but because they have safety concerns,” a person commented (in Chinese). 

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Those in the middle of the spectrum said that to find a middle ground, a line must eventually be drawn. “When puberty hits and boys start becoming sexually aware, that’s when they should be prohibited from entering ladies’ locker rooms,” an internet user suggested  (in Chinese). Others pointed out that the root of the issue was a lack of family changing rooms in public places like fitness facilities and malls. “No boys are allowed in the female locker room in my local pool, and when they arrive with their mothers, some male employees at the facility always offer to accompany them on their trips to the men’s locker room. I think that’s a viable solution,” another commenter wrote (in Chinese).

In an interview (in Chinese) with Sanlian Life Week magazine, Liú Wénlì 刘文利, a professor at Beijing Normal University and an expert in health and sex education, called for more attention on respecting children’s opinions and teaching them how to respect other people’s privacy. “In this scenario, if others in the female changing rooms start to make disapproving comments and looks, parents should apologize and make sure their children are not embarrassed,” Liu said. “Meanwhile, adults should have more tolerance and understanding. After all, these boys are young and they don’t have ill intentions.”

This debate followed hot on the heels of a high-profile dispute last month between a female shopper and a women’s apparel retailer over an incident in its store in Beijing, where a seven-year-old boy broke into a fitting room when she was trying on clothes. As she tried to confront the boy’s mother, the woman said that the store’s employees stopped her and took the parent’s side, accusing her of overreacting. “None of the employees saw me as a ‘victim’ and showed any empathy towards me. The way they handled the situation made me feel like I was the bad guy who was making a fuss out of nothing,” she wrote (in Chinese) in a Weibo post, which so far has received nearly 200,000 likes. In the face of a backlash, the company later apologized (in Chinese) to the customer on Weibo, saying that it had punished the employees involved and would improve security of its fitting rooms.