Gender stereotypes under the “Clean and Healthy Cyberspace Initiative”

Issued by the National Administration of Radio and Television of China, on September 2nd, the “Notice on Strengthening the Management of Cultural and Artistic Programs and Industry Professionals” defines eight points that aim to correct the immorality of the entertainment industry.


Among the eight points, the third point stated that, “to establish a correct aesthetic orientation of programs, with a restricted selection of actors and guests, performances, clothing and make-up, putting an end to abnormal representations, like 'effeminate men'”. This point created a great debate at national and international level.


The word "effeminate" appearing in an official document

Although the term “effeminate” wasn’t defined properly, in 2019, there were already cases of blurring out earrings of male artists in mainland Chinese entertainment programs. From the list of banned artists, we can also understand that the term “effeminate” is related to their clothing most likely. When a guy does something that is considered feminine, like wearing makeup, earrings, or a skirt, it is seen as an attack on his "masculinity".


The publication caused controversy, in large part due to the use of the term “effeminate” in an official document, raising criticisms about gender discrimination and the promotion of social stereotypes. According to the “United Nations Guidelines for Inclusive Language”, “due to the essential role that language plays in shaping culture and attitudes in our society, the use of inclusive language is an effective way to promote gender equality and fight discrimination.” This includes avoiding the use of expressions that imply the superiority of one gender over another, including the term "effeminate”. On National Women's Day, the Chinese Women's Daily newspaper also published a series of “sexist words to avoid”, where “effeminate” is considered a discriminatory word against men too.


Thinking from a cultural perspective

In popular culture, the public behaviour of men and women is a small reflection of the society in which they live. The traditional concept of male superiority is still prevalent in many Asian countries. In the case of China, it is rooted in our way of thinking due to Confucianism. Men are usually portrayed as strong and brave, and women as gentle and gracious. When several male celebrities come up with a different image, it creates a certain culture shock, an offense or a challenge to conservative people’s values. Some officials even claim that the “effeminacy” of men could “jeopardize the development of the population”.


The “appropriate” behavior of men and women is defined through cultural and social constructs. Different cultures have different gender stereotypes, including matriarchal societies around the world. In New Guinea, for example, the role of women and men in Chambri tribe is completely different from that of Chinese society: women, full of vigor, do not wear any accessories, and are the ones who support the family; men are more emotional and bear the responsibility of taking care of children. If “effeminacy men” also happened in their society, wouldn't it still be jeopardizing the development of their population?


It’s reasonable for people to worry about how “unhealthy” behaviors of a public figure could have a negative impact on young followers. However, could we view change in male appearance as development of different standards of beauty? The decision on whether or not a celebrity reflects the excellence of Chinese culture, should focuses more on this person’s inner character, including kindness, dedication, responsibility, motivation, respect for women and a positive impact on society.


As the famous sociologist Li Yinhe once said: "Human nature is rich, we all have the right to be anywhere between the two extremes of masculinity and femininity, rather than being limited to the extremes." We all have a different conception of the balance between Yin and Yang, in terms of appearance, words or actions. So why not define our own boundaries for these concepts? These are important questions to explore.


This article is also publish on a local bilingual newspaper Plataforma (in Chinese & Portuguese): https://cutt.ly/FEX6ZmR


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