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Xiao Meili: A Young Feminist's Journey

Popularity 3Viewed 2834 times 2014-4-28 14:47 |System category:News

Xiao Meili: A Young Feminist's Journey
Xiao Meili, born Xiao Yue in southwest China's Sichuan Province in 1989, has been promoting feminist activities since she was a student in the Communication University of China in Beijing.[Women of China/Sophia Zhu]

Meili literally means beautiful in Chinese. After I read all the fascinating stories about the girl I was about to interview, I was, somewhat surprisingly, mostly curious about her name. [FZ1] With all this curiosity buzzing around inside my head, we met at the Yiyuan Commune, a public space for the young in Beijing to meet, talk and watch arty movies beyond the judgment of their peers or their elders. How suitable, I secretly thought.

Due to the loathsome, appalling traffic in Beijing, I was half an hour late for the interview, yet Meili waited patiently, cutting her friends' hair.

Without any hesitation, Meili immediately dragged me to a sofa and we started talking. She seemed to be used to the spot light and media by now, her barefoot journey from Beijing to Guangzhou in south China's Guangdong Province has had so much attention ever since it started.

My first impression of Xiao Meili was that she was tall and skinny, her face living up to her soubriquet, and that she looked surprisingly relaxed considering she had just finished her “long march” hike from Beijing to Guangzhou to raise awareness of sexual assault in China.

The Special Girl

Xiao Meili, born Xiao Yue in southwest China's Sichuan Province in 1989, has been promoting feminist activities since she was a student in the Communication University of China in Beijing.

"I became interested in feminism when I was in the second or third year in Uni. I read books like the Second Sex and other famous feminist musings, and began to come to Yiyuan Commune to watch movies (Yiyuan sometimes shows feminist movies). Then I thought about a lot of things I noticed when I grew up as a girl can be explained by feminism."

Xiao participaed in many feiminist activities, such as cutting off all her hair and occupying the men's toilets.

"I want to send out the message that women need respect and equality, these activities are designed to be strange so they can attract people's attention."

"I didn't really encounter any specific instances of sexual discrimination when I was growing up, but that doesn't mean I cannot notice that there is discrimination and inequality out there."

Some people came to talk to Xiao after her journey, some of them told her that they think "gender inequality doesn't exist".

"It is very hard to change how people think, much harder than to change policy."

The Origin of the Journey

Xiao explained the reason behind her “long march”: "There were a lot of reports on the sexual violence against school girls last year, then I thought about doing this,"

She mentioned that when she had this thought, the first thing that popped into her head was whether or not she would encounter any sexual violence. The fact that she would ask herself such question got her thinking deeper about sexual violence in China as a social issue.

Xiao began her 2,150-kilometer-long walk in September last year and returned to Beijing at the beginning of March.

The Way

"I got all the money for this trip from online personal donations, I didn't want to have anything to do with any organizations. There are already people on the Internet who have called me a traitor, and a pawn funded by foreign organizations," Xiao laughed.

Xiao needed to walk an average of 20-30 kilometers every day on the national highway. She stopped for a day or two in bigger places to promote her message and gather signatures.

"I was on the street and talked to people about sexual assault and I think they responded positively. A middle-aged man asked me about the famous play My Vagina Says (a Chinese play inspired by The Vagina Monologues), I was so surprised that he knew about it," Xiao said.

Another important task during the trip for Xiao was to send a letter to every local government and local education department she passed.

"In the letter I asked for their current regulations and methods in preventing sexual assault there. A list of suggestions of things they could be doing and a postcard that explains who I am and why I am doing this,"

Only 20 out of 132 governments responded to her letter. Many of them called her directly and questioned her intentions and identity.

"They kept asking who I was and why was I doing this. I think they didn't read my postcard, haha," Xiao laughed.

There was one government response that left Xiao feeling very impressed.

"It was from Xinzheng City in [central China's] Henan Province. They took my letter very seriously and listed their current measures against child sex abuse and pledged to study my suggestions."

Besides all the feminist work she has been doing over the years, there were other things she noticed during her trip

"The environment issue is really serious. I have seen garbage mountains in rural areas. No one does anything, [but] just leaves it there to rot. The air pollution is so bad in [north China's] Hebei Province, way worse than in Beijing," added Xiao.

A Feminist's Life

Xiao has been self-employed ever since she graduated from university.

"I am an art major, I have a lot of techniques to make money," she laughed.

Xiao used to run an online store selling retro clothes on Taobao.com, China largest online trading platform. She is now thinking about re-opening the store. She also teaches painting to adults.

"I have thought about getting a full time real job, I would like to work in a feminist organization like the voice of women, if they'd hire me, but not now, maybe in the future," Xiao explained about her career plans.

Xiao comes from a very normal family in Sichuan Province. She grew up with her grandmother while her parents worked somewhere else.

"My parents didn't know that I walked from Beijing to Guangzhou, I haven't told them about this trip. I was kind of hoping they would see it from the media, but they haven't yet."

"They probably wouldn't understand why I did it, but I am trying to communicate and explain why I am doing all this."

"I have to explain the term feminism all the time. People have pre-conceptions about what feminism is, they think it is about women taking over the world and dominating the men. It is not true, I have to keep telling them it is really about gender equality, the respect between the two genders and not stereotyping people just based on their gender roles." Xiao has been invited to many talks and seminars after her trip to talk about her trip and feminism.

Celebrity?

"I never thought of myself as a celebrity, I don't even think I am famous. I did all this to draw attention to the issues itself, not to me. If I wanted to be famous, why would I choose to be a feminist? People have strong partisan opinions on feminism, this is not a very sensible way to become famous and liked," Xiao explained, to counter claims that she is only interested in self-promotion.

http://www.womenofchina.cn/html/womenofchina/report/172496-1.htm

(Women of China

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)


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Comment Comment (3 comments)

Reply Report voice_cd 2014-4-29 09:51
Thanks for sharing your story here, we have highlighted your blog.
Reply Report thomas.wood 2014-4-29 11:19
A brilliant and heartwarming story, thank you for sharing it!
Reply Report Gprincessdiary 2014-4-30 08:50
  

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