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Constructive Advocacy for Women's Equal Rights

Measured and thoughtful advocacy make greater impact.

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gender equality
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By Zixuan Yang and Ye Zhang Pogue

Zixuan (first author) is a 12th-grade high school female student in China. In the 10th grade, she began playing canoe polo, a water sport. The team is inclusive of all genders. During training, she once felt discriminated against because of her gender. The team had a competition to prepare for, but not enough time. Boys and girls were given different training plans by the coach. The coach assigned boys the task of learning both offensive and defensive techniques, while girls were only assigned defensive techniques.

Zixuan is the team's captain. Her coach recognized her technical ability, but he did not provide her with the same opportunities as the boys to learn new techniques. She was instead asked to teach basic skills to other girls. Her frustration led her to doubt herself, thinking she was not skilled enough to be the captain. It seemed as if the coach assumed girls were weaker than boys. As she felt mistreated, she hoped to resolve this problem constructively.

Looking for solutions through conversations

In China, the discussion of gender discrimination is very polarized. Ziyuan and Ye (second author) interviewed 6 high school students, 3 males, and 3 females, with a hypothetical situation: A coach gave men more technical training than women on a mixed-gender rugby team. Our interview asked respondents what they would do in this situation.

The interview results are very interesting. All six students opposed the differential treatment of team members by gender. They all believed that coaches should give the whole team the same technical teaching, rather than selective teaching based on gender. There were also thoughtful discussions about what constituted gender discrimination, and if discrimination existed in this case at all. All the respondents gave sincere suggestions, which were very specific and operational. We excerpted the answers of two students, one male, and one female.

Male student Joe provided a unique point of view to explain the coach's behavior. To quickly improve the capacity of the team in a short period, training males who in general have greater physical strength may be the most effective and practical approach. After all, the purpose of the game is to win. He agreed with the coach to some extent. We appreciated his perspective.

Female student Wendy said that in such a situation, she would ask the coach why she was treated unfairly. She proposed to find a well-respected female coach of the same sport, consult her, and then show her male coach that female athletes can also learn difficult skills well.

We (the authors) acknowledge that men and women have differences in hormone levels, muscle strength, and other physiological aspects. In some sports, women may need extra effort to be as competitive as men. However, this cannot be a reason for coaches to treat them differently solely by gender.

Zixuan concluded that the girls on her canoe polo team must have direct communication with the coach and clearly express their hope that the coach can treat them fairly.

Measured and thoughtful advocacy are more effective

Gender inequality has historical roots in Chinese society and the impact is systemic. On social media, many feminist advocates make remarks that all Chinese men are sexist. Our survey revealed a different picture of what is happening on social media: We saw measured and thoughtful advocacy. The radical remarks on social media now seem to be mainstream, which has discouraged many people who want to participate in the feminist movement, especially men. They feel at loss in this harsh speech environment suggesting “all Chinese men are sexist," which makes them less likely to become contributors. During our interview with the three male students, they all offered constructive suggestions sincerely. If we had made an assumption that they were sexist, it would have been more challenging to engage them in this conversation.

The feminist movement in China has been stigmatized, causing resentment among many men. According to some activists, this reaction represents resistance to women's equality. We believe there is complicity in it. The method of advocating for gender equality matters. When more men and women can sit down and communicate honestly instead of blaming each other, there will be less resistance. Our current environment makes this kind of open-hearted dialogue difficult, but we should have dialogue and treat each other with respect regardless of gender.

Zixuan Yang is a student at Ningbo Foreign Language School.

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