‘Me too’

Women of Bei­jing speak up about sex­ual ha­rass­ment in the work­place

Global Times – Metro Beijing - - FRONT PAGE - By Ka­trin Büchen­bacher

While the al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual ha­rass­ment and rape against Hol­ly­wood mogul Har­vey We­in­stein ac­cu­mu­lated, thou­sands have joined the

cam­paign #MeToo on Face­book and Twit­ter, which is meant to high­light and em­power vic­tims of sex­ual as­sault. Sud­denly, so­cial me­dia is full of women tes­ti­fy­ing about be­ing mo­lested by men. In the wake of the scan­dal, the wave of protests has pro­voked only a weak echo on Chi­nese so­cial me­dia.

Are sex­ual crimes not a ram­pant prob­lem in the Chi­nese work­place?

Go­ing by the num­bers it is hard to say, as there are no of­fi­cial na­tional sta­tis­tics.

But sur­vey-based re­search by the UN, the In­sti­tute of Sex­u­al­ity and Gen­der Stud­ies at the Bei­jing Forestry Univer­sity and the Anti-Do­mes­tic Vi­o­lence Net­work of 2013 show that one in seven women ex­pe­ri­enced ha­rass­ment in the work­place in China and that ha­rass­ment from co­work­ers is the most fre­quent form of sex­ual as­sault.

Mae (pseu­do­nym), a 26-year old woman from the UK who has been liv­ing in China for over two years, spoke to the Metropoli­tan about how she has per­ceived sex­ual ha­rass­ment in the Chi­nese work­place as an out­sider.

Mae thinks that Western ex­pat women may be­long to a par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble group be­cause they are of­ten stereo­typed as sex­u­ally lib­eral among Chi­nese men and called kaifang (open). She feels very un­com­fort­able with the

kaifang la­bel. “Open means slutty. I hate that; I re­ally, re­ally hate that be­cause they think that our cul­ture has fewer mo­rals and that we should be ashamed,” she said.

At Mae’s work­place, for­eign fe­male in­terns have been ha­rassed by male co­work­ers tak­ing pictures of them and say­ing things like, “I’m go­ing to leave my wife for this girl,” and “Oh, I have a sec­ond wife now.”

Mae said, “They wouldn’t have made th­ese jokes with Chi­nese women. Some­times they re­ally crossed a line for me.”

Sex­ist sys­tems

For Chi­nese women, un­wel­come sex­ual ad­vances might be more sub­tle but not less com­mon.

Su­san (pseu­do­nym), a 28-year-old Chi­nese HR pro­fes­sional work­ing at a big IT com­pany, has ex­pe­ri­enced mi­nor forms of sex­ual ha­rass­ment by col­leagues us­ing Chi­nese mes­sag­ing apps such as WeChat and QQ.

“My fe­male col­leagues and I have all ex­pe­ri­enced this. Col­leagues ask­ing us, ‘I saw that you are wear­ing trousers ev­ery day, why don’t you wear a skirt next time?’ or re­ceiv­ing un­so­licited com­pli­ments from male col­leagues. It can make women feel very un­com­fort­able,” she said.

More­over, those men are too shy to greet them in per­son.

“It’s not phys­i­cal, but it’s still creepy,” Su­san said.

It also hap­pened that male col­leagues or bosses would text her fe­male co­work­ers dur­ing the evening or on week­ends, ask­ing whether they were al­ready asleep, what they were do­ing and if they could bring over some doc­u­ments.

Su­san said, “I think in China, the ob­vi­ous kinds of sex­ual ha­rass­ment are rare, the in­vis­i­ble ones are the real prob­lem.”

Su­san de­scribes the help­less feel­ing while fac­ing th­ese in­tru­sions and why most young women play along with­out telling any­one.

“When you are a re­cent grad­u­ate you don’t want to de­cline your boss’ or their boss’ re­quests. You worry a lot about what other peo­ple might think,” she ex­plained. Then, the boss might see this sub­mis­sive at­ti­tude as an op­por­tu­nity to go fur­ther, she added.

Mae has ex­pe­ri­enced a gen­dered or­ga­ni­za­tional struc­ture first­hand when work­ing for a Chi­nese con­sult­ing firm in Guangzhou, Guang­dong Prov­ince. She de­scribes the of­fice en­vi­ron­ment as “clas­sic,” since most of the bosses were men and the sec­re­taries were women.

She said, “The women were treated very much as sec­ond class. There would be con­stant jokes about them get­ting drunk, wear­ing short skirts, all their boyfriends and awk­ward flirt­ing at ev­ery sit­u­a­tion.”

Mae’s for­eign col­league, who she said “ob­vi­ously didn’t know what he was do­ing,” would re­ceive more con­sid­er­a­tion for his views than she, which frus­trated her.

Af­ter six months, she left the com­pany to go to Bei­jing. Work­ing in an NGO sec­tor, she thought things would im­prove. And they did – her team is dom­i­nated by women.

How­ever, in the mixed team, prob­lems quickly reemerged as she re­ceived ver­bal ag­gres­sion from a co­worker who treated his fe­male col­leagues as sub­or­di­nates.

Mae re­ported it to her su­pe­rior. He apol­o­gized to Mae on her col­league’s be­half, but there were no fur­ther con­se­quences.

Mae does not know what to do if she ever gets se­ri­ously sex­u­ally ha­rassed in the work­place. “There is no sup­port struc­ture,” she said.

Su­san, an HR pro­fes­sional, doubts that the com­pa­nies will take re­spon­si­bil­ity.

“The re­al­ity is that in many Chi­nese com­pa­nies, the dif­fer­ent depart­ment func- tions are not com­plete, so you may have nowhere to com­plain to. Also, if the ha­rasser is a very im­por­tant per­son who has a lot of re­sources that the com­pany needs and can bring large eco­nomic ben­e­fits to the com­pany, even if he sex­u­ally ha­rassed some­one, who do you think the com­pany is go­ing to pro­tect? I don’t think they will pro­tect the weak ones and let go of their eco­nomic in­ter­ests.”

So­cial stig­mas

China has a le­gal ba­sis to act against sex­ual ha­rass­ment in the work­place. The Law on the Pro­tec­tion of Women’s Rights and In­ter­ests (LPWRI) was es­tab­lished in 2005 and fully im­ple­mented in 2007. Its 40th Ar­ti­cle pro­hibits sex­ual ha­rass­ment:

“Sex­ual ha­rass­ment against a woman is pro­hib­ited. The vic­tims have the right to lodge complaint to the unit or or­gan con­cerned,” it says. It, there­fore, en­cour­ages women to make use of their right of complaint and file a suit at the Peo­ple’s Court.

Some lawyers ar­gue that the law is too vague be­cause it fails to de­fine sex­ual ha­rass­ment, the types of reme­dies women can seek and the sanc­tions ha­rassers, and even­tu­ally the em­ploy­ers, would have to face. Other lawyers ar­gue that the so­cial stigma­ti­za­tion of vic­tims pre­vents them from seek­ing jus­tice. Women of­ten choose to stay silent since they don’t know how to prove that they have been ha­rassed, Xue Ninglan wrote in her book Pre­ven­tion and Pro­hi­bi­tion of Sex­ual Ha­rass­ment in Em­ploy­ment: Le­gal Re­form in China.

Past cases have shown that women fil­ing a suit or even speak­ing up to the em­ployer about the ha­rass­ment of­ten lose the case and their job. This is why many women

might be re--

luc­tant to act against sex­ual ha­rass­ment in the work­place, Ran­gita de Silva de Al­wis from the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia wrote in her sci­en­tific ar­ti­cle.

Lawyer Li Ying, one of China’s most prom­i­nent ad­vo­cates for women’s rights and director of the Bei­jing Yuanzhong Gen­der De­vel­op­ment Cen­ter, was a driv­ing force be­hind the draft and re­vi­sion of the LPWRI.

But she be­lieves, too, that the ha­rass ment ar­ti­cle is still not uti­lized enough, taken into ac­count that sur­vey data im­plies that 30 to 40 per­cent of Chi­nese women have been vic­tims of sex­ual ha­rass­ment, a rel­a­tively high oc­cur­rence rate.

“Not many women re­port sex­ual ha­rass­ment, fear­ing mis­un­der­stand­ings and dis­crim­i­na­tion from peo­ple around them such as their co­work­ers or boyfriends,” Li said, adding that Chi­nese so­ci­ety has long been dom­i­nated by pa­tri­archy and there­fore women who ex­pe­ri­ence sex­ual ha­rass­ment eas­ily get blamed or dis­crim­i­nated.

She said that most in­ci­dents at the work­place oc­cur when su­pe­ri­ors hara their sub­or­di­nates, be­tween co­work­ers or clients and with email or text mes­sages con­tain­ing sex­ual im­pli­ca­tions.

Li en­cour­ages women to de­fend them­selves against sex­ual ha­rass­ment at three in­stances: the com­pany, the po­lice and the court of law in or­der to hold the ha­rasser ad­min­is­tra­tively and crim­i­nally re­spon­si­ble for their ac­tions and to re­ceive com­pen­sa­tion.

When to say no

But women can also act pre­ven­tively. “Avoid any sit­u­a­tion of two peo­ple stay­ing to­gether in a closed room,” Li said. “And stand up firmly to say no to stop such be­hav­iors.”

Fi­nally, she ad­vises vic­tims of sex­ual ha­rass­ment to col­lect ev­i­dence of text mes­sages and to record voice or video ma­te­rial.

Another rea­son be­hind the low re­port rate of sex crimes might be the lack of aware­ness. Ed­u­ca­tion could change this.

Fan Yib­ing, 23, is a teacher. Her mis­sion is to ed­u­cate her stu­dents on sex­ual ha­rass­ment so they can pro­tect them­selves from be­com­ing vic­tims.

“As a teacher, it is im­por­tant that we teach the chil­dren about sex­ual ha­rass­ment. If they en­counter a sit­u­a­tion where some­one

wants to touch

them, they have to say no loudly and with­out hes­i­ta­tion,” she said.

Knowl­edge­able chil­dren will be­come am­bas­sadors for change when they are older. Fan be­lieves the big­gest is­sue in China is the lack of knowl­edge about sex­ual ha­rass­ment and aware­ness about per­sonal rights.

“When a woman en­coun­ters a sit­u­a­tion where she is sex­u­ally as­saulted, she might not want the mat­ter to go pub­lic and fight against it be­cause of the pres­sure in life and pub­lic opin­ions,” Fan said.

To­day’s women in China need to learn more about what it means to be sex­u­ally ha­rassed too, ac­cord­ing to Mae. “They would not say they’re not equal to men, but they al­ways make cof­fee for them, clean up af­ter them and ac­cept it when they yell at them and make jokes about them,” she said.

She be­lieves that China’s women still need to con­fi­dently claim their equal po­si­tion to men in the work­place and know when they ex­pe­ri­ence sex­ism and gen­dered stereo­types at work, which lay the ground­work for sex­ual ha­rass­ment.

“The We­in­stein in­ci­dent is not an iso­lated case. Gen­dered work en­v­i­ron- ment struc­tures make it pos­si­ble to ex­ploit women and of course it is hap­pen­ing in China,” she said. “Maybe they think that is some­thing that only hap­pens in Amer­ica. In fact, it hap­pens to them ev­ery day and they don’t rec­og­nize it.”

Fan Yib­ing, 23, a teacher Mae, 26, works in an NGO Su­san, 28, HR

Photo: IC

Chi­nese women are of­ten re­luc­tant to re­port cases of sex­ual ha­rass­ment be­cause they fear so­cial stigma­ti­za­tion, ex­perts say.

Pho­tos: Ka­trin Büchen­bacher/GT, IC

Lawyers sug­gest women stand up firmly to say no to stop im­proper be­hav­iors.

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