DIANA CASTILLO WRITES- On October 3, 2019, the feminist, scholar, journalist and author Leta Hong Fincher, based in New York, came to Loyola Marymount University to discuss the feminist movement in China. She is deeply passionate about the subject, which inspired her standing-room only audience of university faculty, staff and, above all, students. Feminism, she says, is a threat to the Chinese government; as a result, feminists constantly face persecution, harassment, mistreatment, and incarceration. Some are forced to escape abroad. Many are censored. Still, the struggle continues. These individuals give each other strength and have established a global community to which anyone can contribute by sending information that is commonly censored in China.
Ms. Fincher discussed how feminists engage in the art of performance to draw attention to injustices. One performance, titled “Occupy Men’s Toilets,” involved women activists asking men not to use their designated public toilets and instead inviting women to use them. The point: To draw attention to the unequal ratio of women to men toilets, with the obvious remedy that more public toilets must be provided women. This campaign was chosen for its searing symbolism as well as obvious public utility.
She also discussed the detainment of five feminists for 37 days for simply planning to hand out sexual harassment stickers to celebrate International Women’s Day. Supporters posted pictures of themselves on social media wearing masks of the five feminists on their faces, assumed carefree poses and acted as if enjoying freedoms of which the detainees are obviously deprived. Overnight, the feminist five became internationally noted.
This accomplished author whose latest international bestseller ‘Betraying Big Brother’ (2018) was preceded by the bestseller ‘Leftover Women’ (2014) argues that Chinese population control depends on perpetuating hierarchal roles inside the family. This is the feminist perspective that Dr Fincher brings uniquely to our understanding of contemporary China. Women are expected to be subservient if not servile. More important to the Chinese government than the fact of slowing economic growth is the falling marriage rate and birth rates. She writes in her book Leftover Women, “The very people the Chinese government would like to see having babies are highly educated urban women, who would be able to produce children with ‘superior’ genetic make-up, and provide these children with the most nurturing environment possible.”
This official propaganda campaign pressures educated Han Chinese women to hurry into marriage and motherhood. To illustrate, she displayed an article in the People’s Daily erroneously promoting the good sense of women having babies — while still in college. This is how the state opposes the feminist opposition.
Leta Hong Fincher’s presentation captivated the audience at LMU, in part because her views are so strikingly fresh and fully thought through, rather than peppered with the usual anti-China popular clichés. As she has written in Leftover Women, “Feminism allows for more possibilities as a person; it lets women see that we can make a different kind of choice.” Dr Fincher is anything but an anti-China ideologue; she is a pro-woman humanitarian, deep and sincere and uniquely informed.
Editor’s Note: Fluent in Mandarin, Leta was the first American to receive a Ph.D. from Tsinghua University’s Department of Sociology and is currently teaching a course at Columbia University in New York. Her many accomplishments include degrees from Stanford and Harvard; and, as of this month, this distinguished writer, thinker and journalist added another grace note to her astonishing resume: she is the newest member of LMU’s Asia Media International Committee of Advisors.
Below: Dr Fincher with LMU Professor Stella Oh, who introduced the author at the presentation event on campus.