Xi’an woman in quarantine begs for period products in viral video, gets bashed by men for being ‘dramatic’

Society & Culture

Are period products necessities or luxuries? Should women be blamed if they are trapped in a quarantine facility without sanitary pads because they should be keeping track of their menstruation cycles? A COVID-19 lockdown and viral video have launched a debate on Chinese social media.

Screenshot from video: A quarantine worker looks up a woman’s details as she complains about lack of sanitary pads during her enforced isolation.

The fish continue to swim in the sea, the wolf continues to howl at the moon, and internet misogynists in China continue to get unreasonably upset when a woman — this time a young mother undergoing centralized quarantine in the locked-down city of Xi’an — dares to suggest that access to menstrual products is a fundamental human necessity.

The woman found herself at the center of a social media firestorm this week after a video (in Chinese) of her tearfully begging a COVID control worker for menstrual pads went viral on the Chinese internet. “I just want to know if my request for sanitary pads will ever be accommodated,” the woman can be heard saying in the four-minute clip filmed by herself. When the anti-epidemic worker at her quarantine hotel said there was nothing he could do to help her because he was forbidden from leaving the facility, the woman asked, “So what? Does that mean I have to bleed a river of blood?”

Elsewhere in the video, the woman vented her frustration over a lack of food and heat at the facility, saying that her calls to multiple health departments and COVID hotlines all went unanswered. Confronted by an unsympathetic response from the quarantine worker, she started crying uncontrollably towards the end of the conversation, saying that the staff should at least send more toilet paper to her room so that she could make alternatives to actual pads. 

Xi’an, home to 13 million people, has been in a strict lockdown since December 23 after 1,800 cases of local COVID-19 transmission were identified. In the past two weeks, there has been an outpouring of complaints  on social media by Xi’an residents about the difficulties of getting food, basic supplies, and even medical care.

Unsympathetic men 

The woman in the video was among many locals who were sent to centralized quarantine facilities on short notice. Most stories on the internet about poor living conditions and lax COVID protocols at these quarantine residencies have received an overwhelming amount of sympathy on the Chinese internet. But this woman’s video attracted a good deal of negative attention, with critics, who were mostly men, castigating her for being “dramatic” and “self-centered.”

“It sounds like she wants the entire team of quarantine workers to revolve around her. Who does she think she is?” a Weibo user wrote (in Chinese). Others blamed the woman for her “insufficient preparation” for the quarantine, with one writing (in Chinese), “I think she’s trying to stir up anti-government sentiment by posting this video. It’s entirely her fault for not keeping track of her menstruation cycle and not packing properly for the quarantine.”

Joining the chorus of condemnation was Wú Kèjìng 吴克敬, a prolific author and the chairman of of Xi’an Writers’ Association. In an article (in Chinese) published on January 4 and entitled “The rubber gloves tied onto long hair,” Wu thanked Xi’an’s quarantine workers for their services during the outbreak and discussed the woman’s situation. “I know it was an awkward situation for her when she was on her period but she had no menstrual pads with her. She had the right to complain, but it was rude of her to be angry at the quarantine staff,” Ke wrote. “How could she not know when her period would come and prepare those things in advance. It’s pointless to be so dramatic and act like a princess in the midst of a pandemic. No one will spoil you and allow you to yell.”

A feminist backlash 

Once Wu’s article made the rounds on Weibo, the backlash was swift and furious. In a major shift of public opinion, critics — who were, obviously, mostly women — blasted Wu for his lack of empathy and his view that asking for menstrual hygiene products in quarantine is an act of selfishness.

“Period products are necessities, not luxuries, and should be treated as such,” one person wrote (in Chinese), while another one commented (in Chinese), “His ignorance is baffling and apparently he’s not the only person who thought this way. Chinese men have so many misconceptions about menstruation and they have no desire to educate themselves on this subject.” Using the same line of thinking employed in Wu’s argument, a Weibo user wrote (in Chinese), “Does Xu carry toilet paper with him all the time? Is he able to predict when he has to use the bathroom?”

Wu responded to the controversy on Thursday, saying that what he meant to say in the original article was that everyone in Xi’an should be more grateful for the hard work done by anti-epidemic workers during the ongoing outbreak. “I don’t want to say my message was misunderstood. It’s people’s right to criticize me. I respect that,” he told Red Star News (in Chinese), adding that he would stop sharing his opinion on the internet from now on. 

Menstruation is, of course, a natural function that should not be a subject of taboos. Yet, due to cultural reasons and the conservative nature of the society, Chinese women have long been made to feel ashamed or embarrassed simply because they bleed. But in recent years, thanks to the spread of feminist ideas and movements in the country, Chinese women have grow more and more comfortable talking about mensturaiton in public and asserting their belief that it’s a human rights to have access to affordable and safe menstrual products. 

In 2020, a viral post about period poverty, the inability for low-income women and girls to purchase safe sanitary products, gained traction on Chinese social media, and ignited numerous calls online for a lower sales tax on feminine hygiene products. This led to a grassroots campaign where students and teachers placed free menstrual products outside bathrooms at their schools. Last year, an ad campaign for sanitary pads was widely criticized online for using antiquated euphemisms for the product.