In the US #MeToo became a movement of social and political consequence in effect overnight. However, replicating this phenomenon elsewhere in the world will be difficult or even impossible, at least for the foreseeable future.
China is an extreme case in point. Notwithstanding the ideology of equity, women in China are by and large second-class citizens. As reported recently in the New York Times, sexism and workplace discrimination are rampant; laws on harassment and even rape remain vague; employers don’t typically even investigate complaints of harassment or abuse; and men by and large are protected from charges of wrongdoing because they are the ones in positions of power and authority – in government and business.
Moreover, because the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) now fears no one so much as activists – as followers who fight – it has become in recent years extremely censorious. Which explains why in the case of #MeToo, the Party, the government, is going all out to hobble the campaign, to block the use of words and phrases that might incite, and to delete online petitions that call for others to join the cause. Chinese officials have gone so far as to warn #MeToo activists against speaking out, “suggesting that they may be seen as traitors colluding with foreigners if they persist.”* In short, the CCP is not taking #MeToo lightly. It is not kidding around.
Precisely because the effort to stifle dissent in China is so strenuous, it’s remarkable that dissent manages nevertheless to break through. Still, I harbor no illusions. History is kind for a time – sometimes a long time – to governments ready and willing to clamp down. Which is why none of us has any idea of how long it will take for male leaders in China to bow to female followers in China. What we do know though is that someday they will.