Sexual Harassment & Sexual Assault in the U.S. and China


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Jasmine Xu, a Chinese student studying at Boston University, thinks that few people back home ever talk about sexual harassment and assault.

“It is a shame for girls to talk about they are being sexually assaulted,” Xu said. “They would think it is a shame for them, and a shame for their families.

So, she thinks that it would be unlikely for a strong #Metoo campaign to emerge in China.

The movement against sexual harassment and assault linked to the hashtag #Metoo, has been a major topic of conversation in the US since the Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misconduct allegations in October 2017.

While the awareness of sexual harassment is growing internationally, the pace of the movement in China is slow. The Communist government has reportedly censored terms related to the movement and taken petitions off the line.

So what do Chinese student studying in the US think of the movement?

Several thousand attend Boston University, including Hannah Huang, a freshman who describes herself as a “Queer feminist”.

“It is a very good movement that helps women speak up for themselves and promotes equality,” she said.

She believes that there was progress being made in promoting gender equality in China, but the #Metoo movement was repressed by the government. Still, Huang thinks it is worth noting that the Chinese government took it seriously.

Zilin Wang, a sophomore in International Relations major, said gender inequality is part of Chinese society.

 “Those social norms are still prevailing in Chinese society now, so the only way to promote gender equality is to understand why and how those norms form,” he said.

One student from China, Audrey, who asked that her last name not be used, said she had an unwanted sexual experience with a boy from her high school.

“I knew he liked me, but I never agreed to be with him,” she said. When she was a freshman, he came to visit her in Boston.

She said she woke up after drinking with him in a hotel room. She did not remember anything, but he told her they had sex. 

Audrey never talked to him or anyone else about it. She said she never thought he was that kind of person. She said was not familiar with the #Metoo movement and said she never realized that was sexual harassment or an assault.

Emma Chen-Banas, the first Committee Chairwomen for MassMutual Women Leaders Network, and Founder and Chairwomen of Asian Employee Resource Group, said that gender issues are global issues. Born and raised in China, and living in the U.S. now, she thinks gender equality has improved in the past decade.

American girls were brought up in a freer environment to speak up, compared to girls in China, she said. Chinese women have some advantages that women in the US do not.

“Many relatives will come to help you during and after you have babies, doing everything to take care of you. But in the U.S., women have to depend on themselves more. They have to cook, buy groceries, etc. Then women will have so much pressure, leading to depression physically and mentally.”

She also talked about the idea of gender equality varied in different settings. In the U.S., she said that people were more neutral in solving problems compared to those in China. They have instilled ideas like paying bills or doing works separately. But in China, the patriarchy and feminism went too extreme, Chen-Banas said.

 A boy who grew up in rural part would be very conservative. They would think that women were responsible for having babies, doing laundry, and obeying to their husbands. But for a girl from urban parts, they were somehow too independent and looked down on men.

In China, shortly after Harvey Weinstein’s incident, several students in China stood up and said that they were sexually harassed or assaulted by their professors. A former Ph.D. student, Xixi Luo at Beihang University in Beijing, posted a long letter describing how her advisor Xiaowu Chen had sexually harassed her when she was in school in 2004. After coming to the US, she decided to post the story online. She organized a group called “Candy Hard” with several other women who have been harassed. They were threatened by the professor, but fortunately, in the end, the university decided to dismiss the advisor.

 Luo wrote that she posted her letter in the U.S. where laws and institution organizations, universities, and the government had comparatively complete systems can protect women from being sexually harassed. But in China, though the situation was improving, there were no certain laws to punish harassers.

While the #Metoo movement may not be surging in China, the push for gender equality often comes down to individual women.

Jasmine Xu told me about her family at the end of our interview. Xu’s parents told her that she could work not so hard because marrying the right man was more important. Educated mostly in the Western way, Xu did not agree with her parents. When she came to Boston University, she chose journalism as her major. Her parents were furious when knowing it because they think the job is dangerous and exhausting for a woman.

But Xu did not conform, encouraged by the movement, “it is very relatable to my own life,” she said. “My value has been changing by studying abroad and realizing my own value. I love to be part of it.”