Looking at the news of the past few months, it’s easy to feel both optimistic and pessimistic about society, and the way it treats the 51 percent who are women. The revelations of sexual harassment in Hollywood and the subsequent #MeToo movement brought the world’s attention to what most of us already knew: gender-based discrimination, harassment and violence are endemic, normalised and blind to distinctions of colour, class or wealth.
But if sunlight is the best disinfectant, it looks like the rubber gloves have just come on. To find out what the situation is like in Beijing specifically, we asked Time Out readers about their experiences. Here’s an overview of what they had to say.
About the women
• 373 people answered our survey. 97 percent are women; 1 percent are non-binary and a mysterious 2 percent are male. 21 percent of respondents are Chinese nationals.
• 42 percent have lived in Beijing for between one and three years.
• 44 percent are aged between 26 and 33 years old; 26 percent are in the 18 to 25 bracket.
• 86 percent of respondents said they identify as heterosexual.
Beijing versus the world
75 percent said they felt ‘sorta happy’ or ‘amazing’ about living in Beijing, while only 5 percent said ‘get me out of here’. Just over half thought that Beijing overall was better than most cities to live in as a woman.
‘It’s easy to meet nice people,’ said one person, ‘but that doesn’t mean they’re going to be your friend. Fast meetings, fast friends, fast relationships, but you can still meet amazing people with an interesting story.’
71 percent of respondents agreed that women in Beijing can walk freely without fear of groping or harassment.
‘Beijing is one of the best [cities] for women because it’s really safe. I can walk home at night with no problem,’ said one woman. ‘I feel extremely safe in Beijing, I’ve never felt harassed,’ said another.
There’s still some bad news. Some women shared experiences of assault or rape and commented on lack of resources for victims: ‘If I were in a situation of rape or abuse, I don’t know where I would go.’ ‘I strongly disagree with general safety assumptions,’ said one woman. ‘It used to be like that, but the more I live here, the less safe it is.’
31 percent of women either disagree or strongly disagree with the statement ‘Employers in Beijing consider qualified applicants for job opportunities regardless of their gender’, which is unsurprising given that an even bigger proportion – 48 percent – reckon that workplaces in Beijing don’t have a ‘fair’ number of men and women in leadership positions.
Traditional gender roles factor into workplace environments, with one woman telling us about her company passing over young women for sales roles, ‘because it is believed that these can only be filled by men who can participate in the necessary drinking and carousing required’.
‘I have been explicitly told by multiple employers in Beijing that I didn’t need a raise because I had a male partner, who they insisted on calling my husband even though we’re not married,’ said another woman.
‘Sorta frustrating’ was the most popular verdict on the dating scene in Beijing, at 35 percent. 18 percent of people reckoned ‘really quite terrible’ was the most accurate summation of using dating apps, the most popular being Tinder, followed by Tan Tan and OKCupid.
According to one respondent: ‘Dating as a foreign woman in China is weird. I’ve dated both foreigners and locals. It’s hard to find guys interested in a serious relationship. Conflicting cultural ideas about gender roles and communication are a huge challenge.’
‘All foreign and Chinese men only want to date Chinese girls,’ said another, while one woman commented that ‘Dating [in Beijing] is difficult because people are transient.’
Ignorance seemed to be the main healthcare concern for women in Beijing. While 31 percent agreed that ‘Beijing is a city with adequate resources for your sexual health needs’, 21 percent disagreed and 7 percent strongly disagreed.
A shocking 58 percent of people answered ‘Don’t know’ to the question of if Beijing has necessary resources for helping victims of rape and domestic abuse, with 24 percent either disagreeing or strongly disagreeing, and only 7 percent agreeing that there is adequate help available.
One woman who works with a women’s rights NGO said that ‘Although China has recently criminalised domestic violence, the actual public resources for these women are quite limited.’ Many women also commented that some gynecologists or sexual health providers in Beijing will only assist married women.
Check out the results in full here (Part I) and here (Part II), and see below for more comments from respondents.