KATELYNN BARKLEY WRITES–March 8 was International Women’s Day (#IWD17). And while other economically advanced countries celebrated with lectures, public gatherings and high-profile acknowledgement of the role women play in society, China suspended feminist social media accounts and encouraged women to go on a spending spree.

To my XX-chromosome friends: Don’t look to “the next world superpower” to recognize you as fully human any time soon. As Human Rights Watch notes, “Government boasts of equality ring hollow.” Of course, if you’re Chinese you won’t hear that from HRW itself, as the organization’s website is blocked in China.

Instead of sober recognition of IWD, or god forbid a celebration of the growing societal clout women do/should have, China exalted females by encouraging them to “reward their inner goddess.” The popular e-commerce portal Alibaba Tmall rebranded IWD as “Queen Day,” in which women should “Live your beauty.” Another site, Jumei, used a woman draped in red, “staring longingly at a red high-heel shoe” to motivate women to “look good [on] Goddess Day.” Much like Black Friday in the United States, International Women’s Day has become mostly a day to celebrate shopping.

Which in and of itself, might not be the worst possible outcome, even if it misses the point of the day entirely. But while Chairman Mao declared famously that “Women hold up half the sky,” they don’t stand on even footing with men in his country. The trend globally has been toward greater equality of pay between the sexes, but in China women are losing ground.

Setting aside the pocketbook, even a brightly sequined one bearing a Gucci label, it’s evident that mainland Chinese women’s sociopolitical power needs help.

In Hong Kong things are a little better. IWD17 saw street demonstrations of the sort the so-called Feminist Five had planned two years earlier, before being arrested. But even there, the island’s equality chief said in remarks about the day that women’s role in the household cannot be replaced by men — for example, men cannot fulfill the women’s role of doing house chores. Face-palm.

China’s official stance is that it already gives women equality as it “implements equal rights as a basic state policy.” The proof is in the pudding. China cannot be faulted for having less than total political and economic equality among the sexes; few if any nations do. But when efforts like IWD are met with a sincere government embrace, rather than shopping distractions or worse, that’s when Chairman’s Mao’s adage will truly mean something. The future is in large part female; the future is rooted in equality. Sooner or later, China’s government will embrace this notion or suffer from the hypocrisy.

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