Our meeting with the Media Monitor for Women Network helped introduce me to the landscape of grassroots Chinese feminism, as well as how Chinese nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) function in conjunction with the government and its policy agenda. Media Monitor, which is a women’s rights non-governmental organization (NGO) based in Beijing, mostly focuses on increasing the presence of women’s rights and gender equality in the media, as well as reducing prevalent gender stereotypes that negatively affect those identifying as women. In particular, Media Monitor focuses more on broad value and cultural changes as they pertain to gender and women’s issues (such as not expecting women to get married at an early age) as opposed to focusing on more specific policy changes, as they view the broader issues as less controversial, but as powerful tools to be able to get people talking and thinking about the issues. In the past they have also been known to use performance art and other forms of artwork to help voice their messages.
** LEFT: Painting and poem of a historic Chinese feminist icon RIGHT: Mural on Media Monitor’s wall that symbolizes various gender/women’s issues**
Although women and men are equal under Chinese law, this feminist organization, among other “non-mainstream” grassroots organizations, has faced many challenges in its work, such as having several of its members arrested at demonstrations. Interestingly, women’s rights have become an increasing focus of the Chinese government’s policy agenda as it has become clear that gender issues are important to both the Chinese and international communities. For example, there is even a government-organized non-governmental organization (GONGO) focused on women’s rights that is affiliated with the Chinese government. However, the government’s work on gender equality could still arguably be viewed as conservative in regards to what many progressive grassroots feminist organization want (both in China and the international community), still suggesting a need for the grassroots organizations to work in tandem with the government and to help guide and inform policy changes. For example, last March China passed a domestic violence law, which was mostly created/pushed for by grassroots organization, but it was done in conjunction with the government (i.e. the government reached out to NGOs for policy and issue expertise to help pass the law).
It was really interesting to compare the feminist landscape of China to that of the United States or other western countries. In a sense, many of the struggles are similar as the focus on working to dismantle patriarchal systems (such as asking people to question the traditional values of “family” and “marriage,” or recognizing domestic violence and allowing survivors a platform to speak about their experiences, etc.) However, both China’s historical and present political, social, and economic context adds further complexity to these issues, such as the monitoring of activities or not receiving government funding for programs. Further, in China there is a social norm to not discuss politics, therefore making it difficult to discuss “rights” without others assuming you have an anti-government purpose, which is very different from the way grassroots organizing is framed in the west, as it is almost always “rights based.” Due to this, Media Monitor works mostly to get people to recognize gender inequality, as it exists in their own lives as opposed to just using “rights” language. In this realm, I also really appreciated how participatory Media Monitor is, in that is really works to amplify its followers issues and/or points of concern as a frame for its work and the gender inequality present in Chinese society and the world at large. In conclusion, as someone who is active in feminist spaces in the United States, it was really inspiring to see the work that Media Monitor is doing in China, as well as to learn about the specific challenges (and successes) they face in their daily work.
— Michelle Rubin