Zheng Churan, famous as one of the Feminist Five arrested in China in 2015, made headlines last week for sending a letter warning Donald Trump that he and his administration are under scrutiny for sexist behavior, even from across the world. She outlines the signs of “Straight Man Cancer,” a term that has newly entered Chinese youth vocabulary and concludes, “We wish you to watch out, the feminists worldwide are speaking, and we are watching you.”
The letter was posted on a blog post last Tuesday (in Chinese; scroll down for the English version of the letter at the end), following the results of a poll she conducted on the Chinese social media sites WeChat and Weibo regarding the definition or best examples of “Straight Man Cancer.” The poll was inspired by another American scandal: that of the Harvard Men’s soccer team, which had its season cancelled after the discovery of a sexist and cruel document rating the freshmen of their women’s team counterparts on their physical appearance and sex appeal.
The poll was meant to be a direct “counter attack” towards such chauvinistic behavior from a school generally idolized by the Chinese population for its academic merit as well as a reaction to Chinese men who thought the term “Straight Man Cancer” was merely a cry against boyfriends who do not buy enough gifts, dress poorly, or are “penniless losers.”
The votes cast by over ten thousand participants, primarily female, show instead that the issues of concern to women are not the materialistic trivial ones listed above, but rather issues of sexual violence, double standards, discrimination, etc.
Following the definition “Straight Man Cancer” and a list of its top ten examples as determined by the poll, Zheng had this to say to Trump:
“Even across the Pacific, in the faraway land of China, there are constantly reports of you and your government’s involvement in sexual discrimination. It is the reason why we attach this mass survey to you.
Hopefully, the message we try to deliver will get through to you:
We wish to tell you that, Gender Equality is already a global issue. Female Movement will definitely not stagnate with the inference of straight-man-cancer group. Feminists across the world will resolutely stand up to defend our triumph in history and fight against the obsolete patriarchal order, under which men enslave women women serve men.
We wish you know that, women in every corner of the world is winning back their rights of subsistence and development. They are always taking action on the front-line for the recognition of their economic status and political rights.
We wish to warn you that, straight-man-cancer will inevitably pay their price for the contemptible comments or violent remarks on women, for actions of sexualizing women.
We wish you to watch out, the feminists worldwide are speaking, and we are watching you.” [sic]
Zheng has previously focused on more local issues, from sexual harassment on public transportation to the need for employers to offer menstrual leave to employees with severe period pain, but as she alludes in her letter above, Trump’s precedent for normalizing chauvinistic behavior is an issue for feminists everywhere. When a world leader like the American President-Elect faces no consequences for making light of sexual assault and constantly issuing disparaging and/or sexual comments about women’s appearances, it is indeed a sign of sexism spreading like a cancer.
For decades, Americans have professed the higher ground when it comes to human rights, especially women’s rights. There is a sense of superiority and a bit of a savior complex as America issues report after report of human rights violations in China. Recently, China has begun to stand up and point out the US’s hypocrisy. Along similar lines, I already see people in the comments sections of the Buzzfeed and Shanghaiist coverage of Zheng’s letter suggesting that her critique is invalid if her own country has human rights issues.
This sort of “you can’t say my country has problems if your own country also has problems” argument is illogical and unproductive. Many of the examples Zheng highlights of “Straight Man Cancer” are problems here in the US as well, such as #1, the double standard used to judge the same behavior by a woman or by a man, whether it be cheating in a relationship or running for office, and #3: the tendency to “condemn victims of sexual violence for sowing the seeds themselves.”
Perhaps it is time we stop using each other’s flaws as a distraction from our own and instead listen to each other and hold ourselves accountable as well.