China has a masculinity crisis. Here’s the satirical rundown: the world’s most powerful authoritarian regime is afraid that men with ear piercings and tattoos will tarnish their immense international clout. Crazy, right? When examining the power dynamic of a historically conservative nation like China, it is no surprise that male dominance has been existing since the founding of its basic government institutions.
Since the birth of the CCP, China has operated in the form of a patriarchal society, meaning the way young men act inevitably influences the image of China on an international stage. While the role of women in China is to stay home, cook, take care of kids, and remain uninvolved with political affairs, young men are expected to get near perfect grades, appear emotionless, and remain all-dominant over their women counterparts. Undeniably, the easier route to an elite status and high paying jobs is a unique privilege often only accessible to men. But the more China focuses on maintaining its global influence and spreading authoritarian ideals, the more burden is placed upon the shoulders of young men who often divert from traditional gender norms.
There are plenty of articles out there that scrutinize the fundamental lack of political and social power of women in China. However, the mainstream media often neglects the pressure Chinese men feel to fit a corrupt, traditional mold of toxic masculinity. Up until the past decade, these gender norms went virtually unchallenged, as there was little societal push for liberalism and progressive policies in Chinese society.
However, the recent rise in “effeminate” men has prompted harsh government crackdowns on media and education. Foreseeably, government officials scapegoat women for the “downfall” of masculine men, claiming that the excessive pampering from mothers, pervasiveness of women teachers, and even an increased presence of Korean celebrities in the media prevent China from becoming the world’s most predominant hegemon.
Photo Illustration by Emil Lendof/The Daily Beast
Recent Government Crackdowns
Government officials have resorted to drastic measures to enforce what Xi Jinping, China’s current president, describes as “national rejuvenation”. In hopes of forming an even more economically prosperous and dominant regime, Xi Jinping seeks to tighten the Communist Party’s control in ways that align with his strategic goals. However, given Xi Jinping’s past of passing legislation without regard to his constituents’ best interests, “national rejuvenation” is a scheme bound to divide and destroy the nation. The overarching problem with Xi’s plan is that it inherently prioritizes a nation’s well being over the individuality of its citizens, which translates to harming those who do not fit conservative customs — less feminine men.
The Chinese government banned some news channels from publicly broadcasting “effeminate” males, claiming that they are too “vulgar” for young children to see. The propaganda department of the Chinese Communist Party even went so far as to accuse feminine-appearing men of “severely polluting the social atmosphere”. After China's National Radio and Television Administration classified more feminine-appearing men as a form of “poor moral conduct”, certain shows have been banned from further production as a whole, while other productions blurred colored hair, painted nails, and earrings on males. Conversely, the exact same genre of shows that showcase more masculine men are still widely broadcasted by the CCP’s administration.
Unfortunately, relentless government crackdowns on feminine-appearing men extended far beyond censoring media outlets. Not only does Xi Jinping actively seek to promote masculine men as the golden standard through national television, but he has integrated harmful, conservative ways of thinking in education. In February of 2021, the Chinese Education Ministry implemented programs that strived to cultivate a stronger sense of masculinity that has been “lacking” among present-day men. These programs are designed to revamp gym classes, promote more male coaches, and place a greater emphasis on sports — all under the guise of “protecting the country”, when it is merely another corrupt route toward fueling male superiority.
Is it just about feminine men?
Superficially, it seems as if CCP authorities believe feminine men are the root cause of a national security crisis. Although that is not an entirely false characterization, the CCP likely perceives the rise in female gains, both politically and socially, as a threat to China’s paternalistic power structure and male ascendancy. Chinese women in the status quo are challenging the very premise that China thrives upon: the nation is built by men, for men. Hence, Xi Jinping strives to divert the focus from women’s achievements by bringing the masculinity crisis into the limelight.
Despite the malicious nature of these repressions, China’s masculinity crisis has fortunately highlighted the voices of progressive activists nationwide and kindled debates around the subject matter. While countless citizens contend that feminine men are fundamentally incapable of defending the nation, others believe that recent legislations merely reinforce traditional gender stereotypes that marginalize individuals who do not conform with the masses.
At the end of the day, feminine-appearing men are as deserving and competent as those with masculine features. Prejudicial laws that inherently harm the minority and fuel the corrupt influence of elites beg for a society where the concept of gender norms is demolished once and for all.
Credit photo: Official Weibo account of Our Street Style
Written by Sophia Li
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