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Can Online Activism enhance Women's Rights in Authoritarian Society? Open Access

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The US-born anti-sexual harassment campaign, the #MeToo movement, has received attention around the globe, and has made its way from West to East. However, in China, #MeToo faces unique social-political challenges, and has turned into a different animal compare to its counterparts elsewhere. This research investigates the three major features of #MeToo in China, and attempts to offer explanations of the unique #MeToo phenomena, which are contextualized in the Chinese authoritarian environment. The movement in China is a (1) social media initiative, (2) an activist-led effort, and (3) a women's movement. Although Chinese activists aim to improve women's rights through anti-sexual harassment campaign, #MeToo authors often consciously disassociate themselves from other feminist and activist groups, and some #MeToo women even issued open letter to denounce feminism. This presents a paradox, which has been largely neglected by mainstream Western media and scholars, such as the Washington Post. The lack of cultural contextualization based on Western presumption led to report bias and created undue burden to the victims. In addition, #MeToo in China rejects the approach of intersectionality. The government divides and isolates these marginalized groups from one another, in the same way the paradox has been created that advocating for sexual harassment prevention is no longer even considered a feminist issue. Chinese #MeToo activists have to employ various tactics to overcome state oppositions to reconcile with the authoritarian government, such as claiming-patriotism, self-censoring, and using creative hashtags. The movement has been facing the double down pressure for being a feminist, activist, and online movement all-in-one. The action of the #MeToo activists, therefore, is a process of empowerment but also of making concession. As a result, Chinese #MeToo deploys a different type of rhetoric outside the traditional feminist narrative, and resonates with a niche audience. #MeToo in China provides a case study for examining the contemporary form of civic engagement. It shows evidence of women's active participation in the online protest, as well as the process in which grassroots campaigns find its narrow surviving space in the negotiation with the state.

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