Dear Ms. Wai,
This isn’t exactly relationship-related but I was hoping you could give me some advice. These days sexual harassment and assault is all in the news. I haven’t had any major problems living in China, but I’ve had several uncomfortable situations and I’m not sure how to handle them.
Usually it’s nothing physical but rather guys asking me, “How much for a night?” Or sometimes a taxi driver might touch me on the leg and say something. I don’t speak Chinese so I only imagine it’s something along the lines of asking if I’m a prostitute. I’m a busty blond and friends have said foreign prostitutes are usually from Russia or the Ukraine and I kinda look like I could be from there, which is why I get asked this question.
This doesn’t happen late at night if I’m out clubbing or anything. When it’s happened it’s been in the daytime and I’m wearing just normal clothes. Obviously it makes me really uncomfortable but I can’t speak Chinese and don’t know what to say. I never felt unsafe or scared that I would be assaulted (the taxi driver only caressed my knee cap for a minute) but obviously I don’t like it. Do you have any advice what to do in that situation?
The #MeToo movement has spread around the world and China has not been completely silent on it. In Chinese it’s called “rice bunny” based on the Chinese characters for rice and bunny (米兔) which, when spoken, sound like “me too” in English. But China is still a patriarchal society and has a long way to go. (For instance marital rape is not illegal.)
I’m going to guess that, just as many men don’t see anything wrong with telling a female stranger “Smile honey,” those guys asking “How much?” or if you were a prostitute had no idea how rude it was. (And let’s be clear, it WAS rude. Even if you were dressed in a bikini and sloppy drunk, a stranger has no right to touch you.)
But your question is, how to react? Well, it depends on your personality. I know some women who have slapped the hand of anyone who touches them or yells at people who ask “How much?” That has the added benefit of really shocking the guy who said it and might make him think twice before saying it again to another women.
But that takes a lot of guts and some women don’t like confrontation. If someone touches you a stern “Bu!” (不 pronounced “boo”), which means “no”, should do the trick. You can also say the same thing to someone if they ask “How much?” Or just speak English like, “Don’t touch me,” and they should understand the tone if not the meaning.
I do think it is our responsibility as women to tell men when they are doing something that makes us feel uncomfortable. While more men in the West are becoming aware of what is inappropriate, men in China are more behind the times, simply because they don’t know any better. (I’m not making excuses, and it is still wrong, but I think many men don’t realize how hurtful and embarrassing certain comments are to women.)
Foreigners may not be able to change the culture at large. But as long as we say *something* and don’t let it pass without comment, then maybe one guy will think twice before making the comment to another woman. Of course, your safety is always first and if you feel like you are in danger then try to get out of the situation as soon as possible and don’t worry about saying something.
And if there is ever something more serious and you need emotional support, there is a hotline available in China called Lifeline for foreigners to talk to someone free and confidentially in English. The Lifeline number is (021) 6279 8990. They are open every day from 10am to 10pm (Shanghai time) and also have a WeChat account you can follow for more information.