Women’s rights in China: A growing frustration

By Nour-Jihane Dahman

Like many of you, I rushed to watch the highly anticipated “Barbie” movie as soon as it hit the theaters. I have to admit, I thoroughly enjoyed the film and found it to be a refreshing take on the iconic doll’s universe. However, what surprised me was the stark contrast in reactions among the audience, particularly among some people, mostly men, who labeled it as an “anti-men” movie and criticized its feminist themes.

From the very beginning, “Barbie” drew me in with its colorful visuals, witty humor, and empowering storyline. The movie showcased a strong and independent female protagonist who defied stereotypes and charted her own path, sending an essential message of self-belief and embracing one’s uniqueness.

However, as I discussed the movie with friends and scoured social media platforms, it became apparent that the reaction was not universally positive. Some men, and even a few women, were quick to label “Barbie” as an “anti-men” film that sought to undermine traditional gender roles. I found myself intrigued by this divide in opinions and decided to explore further to understand the underlying reasons for such reactions.

As I delved deeper into the reactions to “Barbie,” I couldn’t help but notice the unique context of China, which added an additional layer of complexity to the discussions on gender equality and societal norms.

China, like many other countries, has seen a significant shift in attitudes toward gender roles and women’s empowerment in recent years. The country has experienced rapid modernization and economic growth, leading to increased educational and professional opportunities for women. As a result, Chinese women have become more assertive in pursuing their dreams and challenging traditional gender expectations.

The arrival of “Barbie” in China served as a timely reflection of these societal changes. The movie resonated with educated, working professional women in their 20s and 30s, who are highly aware of gender inequality and receptive to feminist messages. It provided them with a relatable portrayal of female empowerment and inspired them to embrace their individuality and ambitions.

However, as much as the film found an enthusiastic audience among women, it also sparked polarizing reactions from some men in China. The concept of a “normal guy” test, which emerged on Chinese social media, seemed to heighten the tension. While some men appreciated the film’s themes of inclusivity, others perceived it as an affront to traditional masculinity and a promotion of “anti-men” sentiments.

This division in opinions reflects the broader discourse on gender equality in China. While significant progress has been made in empowering women, there remain deeply ingrained societal norms and expectations that continue to perpetuate gender stereotypes. As China navigates its way toward a more inclusive society, movies like “Barbie” serve as catalysts for open conversations about gender dynamics, the importance of empathy, and the need to challenge existing norms.

The misogyny-fueled pushback against “Barbie” is not isolated to China alone. In the United States, some conservative figures have also criticized the film for being too “woke” and promoting a feminist agenda. The backlash against the movie reflects the ongoing tensions surrounding feminism and gender-related issues globally.

For China, the film’s release came at a time when the feminist movement in the country has made significant strides. Young, educated Chinese women have been rallying around issues of sexism and patriarchy, fueling one of the most impactful #MeToo movements in Asia. Despite these advances, feminism remains a contentious subject, with the government censoring discussions about gender-related issues on the internet and anti-feminists engaging in harassment campaigns against those they perceive as radical men-haters.

“Barbie” may have been met with resistance, but it has also ignited conversations about gender dynamics, empowering women, and societal change. As it continues to make an impact in China and around the world, the film serves as a reminder of the challenges that lie ahead in the pursuit of gender equality and the need for open dialogue and understanding.

In conclusion, “Barbie” has proven to be a thought-provoking and impactful movie, not only in China but worldwide. It has become a mirror reflecting the changing attitudes toward gender equality and women’s empowerment in contemporary society. While some view it as an “anti-men” movie, its core message of unity, inclusivity, and embracing one’s true self stands strong. The movie has the power to inspire productive discussions, leading to a better understanding of gender dynamics and the journey towards a more equitable and just world for all. As we continue to engage in these conversations, I hope that China and the rest of the world will progress together toward a future where gender equality is truly embraced and celebrated.


Hi!! My name is Nour-Jihane and I’m a French law student. Throughout my life, I always had a deep connection to social justice issues. Growing up, I was raised in an environment that emphasized the significance of tackling human rights violations. Writing for WIP allows me to explore and contribute to important conversations about social issues.

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