BEIJING – For women in Shanghai looking to beat the heat this summer with skimpier clothes, the city’s subway authorities have a message: dress appropriately or be ready to deal with the inevitable sexual harassment.
The controversy online started on June 20 when someone posted on the Shanghai Number 2 Subway Line official Weibo account – Chinese version of Twitter – a picture of a female passenger wearing a revealing dress with the comment: “If that’s what you wear on the subway, then no wonder you will be sexually harassed! There are perverts riding the subway every day and we can’t catch them all. Girls, you’ve got to respect yourself!”
Outrage over the comment was swift and voluminous, quickly becoming the second-most discussed topic on Weibo with nearly 16,000 forwards and 7,000 comments tagged to the original post alone.
No right to judge!
The overwhelming number of comments condemned the message and its insinuation that revealing dress could be viewed as an invitation for harassment; branding it blatant gender discrimination.
"It's a woman’s business to choose what to wear, if laws or your regulations do not forbid her from dressing like this, you [the Metro] have no right to chastise them,” wrote one commentator. “If your logic were right, then all men would harass women in the swimming pool.”
“You have the right to judge whether people are dressing elegantly or not. And you have the right to like it or not,” wrote another critic of the Shanghai Metro. “But you have no right to harass anyone!”
Some people also raised questions about the fact that the Shanghai Metro staff took a photo of the unwitting passenger in the first place, and, adding insult to injury, used the photo in its controversial public service announcement.
“First I think the Metro has no right to insult others, especially their passengers. It's a matter of professional decency,” wrote Hao Junbo, a lawyer on Weibo. “If the Metro published this person's picture without approval beforehand, it violates the passenger's rights.”
Responding to the criticism, Lan Tian, a press officer for Shanghai Shentong Metro Group, the authority that runs the Shanghai subway, justified the company’s comments to the Chinese state newspaper Global Times.
"As the city's subway operator, we have the responsibility to warn women of the potential danger of sexual harassment on the subway," he told the Global Times. "At the same time, we are not justifying any kind of sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior."
Nevertheless, perhaps inspired by the general sentiment expressed online, a couple days later on June 24, several women went to another subway station in Shanghai to protest the Weibo post by the Shanghai Metro.
Donning black veils that covered their faces and holding signs that said things like, “Just because I'm slutty doesn't mean you can be dirty,” the girls rode the subway in an attempt to call attention to the issue.
Interestingly, this time though, online sentiment was against the protestors, with many arguing that women should in fact dress more conservatively while riding the subway. A recent online poll by Sina Weibo found that 55 percent of over 10,000 people agreed with that sentiment.
Elaborate diagrams to thwart harassment
By all accounts, reports of sexual harassment on the Shanghai metro have been on the rise this year. An editorial in Wednesday’s edition of China’s People’s Daily noted that there had been seven cases of sexual harassment since May of this year.
There has been a greater emphasis nationally to raise awareness about sexual harassment and to educate Chinese women on how to protect themselves. But some of the recent articles on how to avoid becoming a victim of sexual harassment verge on the ridiculous.
A recent article by the popular Chinese web portal, QQ, includes a number of graphics showing how men attempt to harass women by looking up skirts on elevators or even when women try on shoes at department stores.
But this diagram put out on the Zhejiang province police department’s official Weibo account earlier this year was perhaps the most puzzling. It looks like an elaborate SAT math question requiring a thorough grounding in geometry. For example, the second and third illustrations are designed to help women understand the angles at which men can position their heads or bodies to look up their skirts while riding the subway.
If the diagram is confusing already with its multiple diagrams, consider the English translation of the explanation:
“If the eyes of the ‘observer’, i.e. the point E, is right on the extension of segment BC, then point B would fall into his eyesight. Then, let's make another line of DE which goes through E and is perpendicular to the extension of AC, then the right triangle of DEC is similar to the right triangle of ABC. So clearly, the length of DC is the horizontal distance between the man's eye and the lady’s skirt. Ladies, have you figured that out?”
Unsure if you have figured out whether that man is looking up your skirt? Consult the closest math teacher in your subway car.
NBC News’ Horace Lu contributed to this report.
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