Women's rights or women's reign?

Updated: 2012-02-27 14:59


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An art show staged by four performance artists in Wuhan, capital of Central China's Hubei province, has created much public controversy. Held on February 8, 2012, the show involved three chained men crawling on the ground while their fellow woman artist held their chains. While meant to be a call for more women's rights and gender equality, the show has led many to question if it has gone too far.

Women's rights or women's reign?

Three men crawl on the ground while chained by a woman during a publicity stunt in Wuhan, capital of Central China's Hubei province, on Feb 8, 2012. The art majors called for respect for women by the performance. [Photo/CFP] 

Spectators expressed different opinions about the performance, but most thought that the artists were being deliberately controversial in order to create a sensation and generate publicity.

One of the artists, 25-year old Kang Yi, is originally from Hengyang, a city in China's Hunan Province, and had majored in oil painting during his college years. Since 2005, he has devoted himself to contemporary art creation and has staged various performance shows across China, including some featuring patients with facial paralysis and sanitation workers. This is the first time that he and his team have come to Wuhan.

During the performance, Kang and his two fellow male artists were chained around the neck with dog leashes while Ms. Liu, his fellow woman artist, 'walked' them for about 100 meters. Later, Kang even crept up to Ms. Liu and licked her shoes.

Kang explained that as a vulnerable group, women often fall victim to domestic violence, gender discrimination and other social abuses. Their performance was aimed at overturning the patriarchy and calling for the protection of the legitimate rights and interests of women.

The performance attracted a polarized reaction from viewers. Many of the more elderly bystanders either could not understand the underlying message or was disgusted by the medium through which it was expressed. One older gentleman said bluntly that it was a disgusting show of grandstanding.

In stark contrast, college teacher Ms. Huang was appreciative of the performance and signed her name on the banner that Kang and his fellows had prepared for signatures of support.

"Woman is the mother of the whole of society. I think that the performance reflects the return of the dominant female spirit," she said.

The performance also attracted the attention of an elderly foreign gentleman named Richard, who had just arrived in China from the UK. He said that discrimination against women is a worldwide problem and agreed that women should be treated fairly. However, he had never seen an activity like this before even in his own country.

While the feminist movement has fought for equality between men and women for over a century, there is still severe gender discrimination, disrespect for women and serious domestic violence in China's current society.

According to 2011 survey data released by the All-China Women's Federation and the State Statistics Bureau, up to 24.7% of Chinese women have encountered domestic violence in different forms.

The phenomenon has lately taken center-stage as a few prominent men in society have been accused of domestic violence, most recently Li Yang, the founder of popular English training school Crazy English. From the perspective of gender equality and social progress, there is undeniably a need for people to question the existing patriarchy and to begin inculcating respect for women.

However, are such extreme measures really the wisest way to go about it? Some of China's more outspoken netizens have proffered their views on the incident.

"It is just another way of creating hype to try and get people's attention, I guess," a netizen commented. Many agree with her views.

"Chaining men like dogs and licking women's shoes? This ridiculous performance sends out the message that it's okay to use violent means to achieve gender equality and that we should seek our rights by infringing on those of others," one indignant netizen said.

Some netizens also said that it departed from the core values of gender equality and was in opposition with the basic tenets of humanity.

"Not only are men insulted and humiliated, but women will not get their due respect either in this way. It ultimately leads to the double victimization of both women and men," another netizen commented in anger.

Others have also said that respect should be mutual and that the prerequisite for respect towards women is gender equality. "Men deserve respect too. We want equal respect for women, not the dominance of women over men. There is no reason to sacrifice men's rights on our way to gender equality," said one netizen.

"A woman chaining three men as 'dogs' who lick the shoes of their 'master' is definitely a blatant insult to men, not the call for respect to women that it claims to be. There is a big difference," reasoned another netizen. "Besides, the so-called performance art show had no artistic value or aesthetic qualities at all. It was just vulgar. It only made people feel sick and had no educational significance whatsoever."

Kang later admitted in a media interview that their performance was exaggerated in order to draw a crowd.