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Body Policing in China; victim blaming, sexism, and more staring

Popularity 2Viewed 1064 times 2017-9-12 09:00 |System category:News

Even middle school dress code policies seem to be too much for China. The standard fingertip length shorts and dresses are met with staring. Three fingers width shirt straps garner scandalized glances and unsolicited comments. Accidentally revealed bra straps on shoulders get pointed looks. China, one of the most populous countries in the world, seems to be fairly uniform, leaning on those who stand out to blend in. The policing of women’s bodies is one such issue that stems from this conformity. 

Once when I wore jean shorts out of the house to the wet market, I was stared at and followed by two older men. Older women stared at me like I was prancing down the street in lingerie.  

Regardless of whether or not one supports feminism (which one absolutely should), one has to acknowledge that women and their bodies are frequently sexualized. People’s bodies are policed, to a degree, by society’s expectations and norms. Body policing manifests through a variety of ways, some of which include staring, unsolicited remarks or comments, and shaming. When society disapproves of and shames individuals through micro-aggressions, because of their bodies and the clothing they wear, the individuals may gradually conform.

Women are the primary targets for body policing. Outside of the constant staring from both men and women alike, body policing often works through family and friends. My female teachers always wore long sleeved shirts and long skirts or jeans, even when the weather began to climb into the high nineties. I felt worn down, sick of being glared down, watching everyone’s gazes slowly gobble me up, running across every inch of bare skin like steel wool on soft flesh. The change was gradual. I found myself wearing longer clothing, veering away from shorter dresses or shorts; I did everything I could to help with the staring. After five months in China, I too become surprised at the sight of other women who wear more revealing outfits. 
My roommate in Nanjing was a graduate student with whom I got along exceptionally well. There were however, some cultural differences that made things uncomfortable between us. My roommate would frequently comment and remark on my choice of dress. A plain baby-doll dress, jean shorts, and even red lipstick all received pointed comments. 
The baby-doll dress, which showed off my shoulders and my knees, was far too “sexy” for the ninety-degree day. The shorts I wore under my dress, was apparently not a personal choice, but a mandatory part of any outfit where one dared wear a dress. Makeup should never be applied too “thickly” because men preferred a natural “look,” even though I frequently left my skin bare and used none of the pale BB creams or foundations frequently used here. She seemed not to quite understand when I told her that I dressed up for myself and not for anybody else's benefit.

When we spotted another woman wearing a skirt that came down to a few inches above her knees, my roommate stared at her like she had never seen that much skin on display in her life. Other people stared at her in much the same way. “She must be a foreigner,” she stated, as if this stereotype were a fact instead of a biased assumption. When I asked why she thought that, she stated that no Chinese woman would wear something so short. I do not pretend to understand the collective Chinese identity, but I absolutely cannot imagine so presumptuously speaking for such a large group of individuals.
Victim blaming is another large problem in China, an issue intimately intertwined with body policing. When I spoke with my roommate to try and understand why she thought Chinese people were so against women wearing more revealing clothes, she claimed that it was an issue of safety. According to her, women who wore more revealing clothes would have a higher chance of attracting the “wrong type of attention.” She seemed confused by my outrage when I stated that sexual assault was never the victim’s fault – no matter what they might be wearing.

Sexual education is lacking in China, with many parents fearing that their children would be “taught” bad habits. But this has not stopped China or its people from sexualizing the human body. Shoulders and knees and skin are seemingly seen as innately sexual rather than natural parts of human anatomy. As men parade down the street shirtless, or with their shirts folded upwards to bare their stomach and chest in the heat, women are stared at for wearing shorts. A body is exactly that, a body. 

The body is not innately sexual, and the perceived indecency of skin, especially that of a woman’s, only speaks to the sexism and the lack of understanding of the body in China.

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




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Reply Report Liononthehunt 2017-9-15 17:19
Are you sure you talk about China?

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    Recent comments

    • Getting stared at in China 2017-11-6 16:42

      If you feel irked by just being stared, then you probably is too petulant. However, I think it is pretty irritating that people take pictures of you without asking for your permission, it is utterly unpolite and offensive.

      However, I don't think that foreigners would be harassed wherever they go, what you cited as annoying incidents are apparently just episodic occurrences, it could happen everywhere in the world, attributing it to culture has obviously gone overboard.

    • Body Policing in China; victim blaming, sexism, and more staring 2017-9-15 17:19

      Are you sure you talk about China?

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