Personal Voices: Chinese Women in the 1980's

By Emily Honig; Gail Hershatter | Go to book overview
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Feminist Voices

OVER THE seven-year period covered in this book, the status of women increasingly came to be recognized as a social issue. Most of the problems faced by women in 1985 existed in 1979, yet in the late 1970's, few women thought about gender discrimination. The female Chinese friends we made in 1979-81 usually insisted that "men and women are equal." When we talked to them about inequalities we saw, they not only rejected our observations, but often added, "You sound just like those Cultural Revolution radicals!" To them, an emphasis on women's equality was associated with a period of extreme political repression and brutality.1 Instead, they focused on the damage wrought by the Cultural Revolution, opportunities in the new educational system, the economic reforms, and the increasing availability of consumer goods. Those who thought about gender discrimination at all usually denied its relevance to their lives. By 1985, however, many of these same women were speaking angrily about the multiple forms of discrimination they faced.

This new visibility of women's status as a social issue was not confined to private conversations, but extended to the press as well. In the late 1970's and early 1980's, little overt discussion of gender discrimination found its way into the press. Only in the context of reports of rape and marriage arrangements did it come up at all, and even then the term "discrimination" was never employed. And there was almost no discussion of unequal treatment in the workforce. By the mid-1980's, though, the plethora of newly founded women's magazines explicitly discussed women's problems at work and in the family. The pages of China Women's News were filled with exposés and denunciations of discrimination faced by women. "Feminist outcries" began to appear with some regularity in print. This recognition of gender inequality also found expression in the emergence of separate women's organizations--schools, professional societies, and women's studies groups.

The increased attention to gender discrimination, the appearance of "feminist outcries," and the emergence of women's organizations can be explained in several ways. Though gender discrimination was by no


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