In China, the state is trying to censor it. In India, it faces steep infrastructural problems. We cover the global movement that is #MeToo.
Recent reports have made it clear that although many in China are willing to speak up and denounce sexual harassment, there are systematic barriers in the way of a cultural change. Indeed, in many ways the government is trying to squash the movement.
Perhaps it’s not surprising. Having women in leadership has proven to be an effective way to improve attitudes, but women only make up about a quarter of the membership of China’s ruling Communist Party. And they are less represented the higher up in the party structure you go.
According to the BBC, they only make up 24 per cent of the National Congress, nine per cent of the Central Committee (who elect the Politburo), and of the 25 members of the Politburo, only two are women. And at the very top, in the Politburo Standing Committee – the peak of China’s leadership – they are completely unrepresented.
The Chinese government owns all news media, so there hasn’t been any investigative journalism on the topic. The state also has a great deal of control over the Internet, and frequently censors material it considers likely to cause unrest.
According to the New York Times, that has included removing many #MeToo posts and deleting things as mild as an online petition calling on Peking University to offer seminars on improper conduct and to investigate claims of abuse.
So you can imagine how they might react to more inflammatory content. When Xu Yalu, a marketing specialist in her twenties, went on social media to explain how she had been repeatedly groped on the streets of Shanghai she was also censored – but not before her post was “inundated with misogynistic comments”.
Focusing on the workplace, China’s laws don’t deal effectively with rape and harassment. Few victims win lawsuits, and when they do they don’t receive much compensation.
There is a movement to combat all this. Donning the name “silence breakers” they are calling for claims of workplace harassment to be investigated. Since the media isn’t likely to help them, they’ve been telling their own stories.
But while the movement has had some success – several abusive university officials have been fired – it’s been mostly limited to educated women who live in cities. There is a a pernicious narrative in China that sexual lisenctious – and therefore sexual harassment – is a Western import.
Much like the Weinstein scandal became a turning point in 2017, in 2012 the gang-rape and death of a 23-year old student in New Delhi sparked a national movement, led by young people, demanding sweeping changes.
India has cultural impediments to change that the West doesn’t. These include child marriage, sex-selective abortion and dowry-related violence. Street harassment is also arguably more normalised – it’s given the euphemism “Eve teasing”, which suggests that its the women who tempt the men (as Eve is a reference to the biblical figure). There have been several calls to change the term.
When #MeToo went viral in the US, millions of women in India also shared their stories of sexual harassment and many have used the moment to call for further changes to the culture. However, India does have infrastructure problems. The internet has been crucial to the propagation of anti-harassment movements, and in India only a quarter of the population have access.
The recent Presidents Club scandal in London revealed the class divisions inherent in predatory sexual behaviour – with guests who were both wealthy and privileged feeling they could treat lowly-paid women anyway they wanted.
The secretive annual Presidents Club Charity Dinner, whose purpose it is to raise money for various causes, was held in January. Thanks to an undercover investigation reported in the Financial Times, we know the event was for men only (a throwback to the 1950s), where 130 hostesses were selected by a criteria of “tall, thin and pretty”.
Besides the openly sexist nature of the entertainment and items that were auctioned (visit to a strip club, for example), many of the hostesses reported groping and similar abuse. The fallout has already involved financial and professional repercussions for the organisers and their defenders.
The belief that this kind of behaviour is no longer tolerable has persisted and grown since the upswell of publicity around #MeToo. Women are increasingly confident enough to speak out, and the media eagerly reports on incidents.