Many Chinese women are starting to celebrate Girl’s Day instead of International Women’s Day, but the new holiday comes with a new set of questions and controversies.
What is Girl’s Day?
Girl’s Day is celebrated on Mar. 7 in China, the day right before International Women’s day. First invented by students of Shandong University in 1986 to hold a party between Journalism and Communications department and Economics Department, at first the holiday was celebrated mainly by college students. In recent years, although Girl’s Day is not an official holiday yet, it already become widely accepted by society and celebrated by young working females as well.
In Girl’s Day, one of the core tasks for college guys is to hang banners with creative blessings in white with red background in campus. The blessings are usually related to their majors. For example, some students in Hunan province major in Software Development designed a banner says “my whole life is for programming, but my today is for girls”. And another one from students who study aviation in Beijing says “girls, do you want to go to sky? We are professional”.
It becomes a competition and phenomenon in school and social media on the most creative blessing every year. Extra “tasks” for college guys will be preparing breakfast and buying flowers for girls in class. Some shy people use this holiday to pass love message to their crush — it’s a good day to express their love, which helps avoid awkwardness if they get rejected.
Why Girl’s Day?
More and more young females in China are beginning to celebrate Girl’s Day rather than Women’s Day even if they are no long young girls by strict age definition. Why? We have to understand it from a linguistic perspective.
In Chinese, there are several words with the meaning of“woman”. For example, “funü”, “nüren”, “nüxing” and “nüzi”. And International Women’s Day is translated into “sanba funü jie”. Although “sanba” gradually became a curse word in modern times, the word “Funü” no longer represents a positive and independent image of women in twenty-first century.
Linguist Geoffrey Leech categorises semantics into seven types: conceptual meaning, thematic meaning, connotative meaning, social meaning, affective meaning, reflected meaning, and collective meaning, in which the last five are all associative meaning. It tests how a term is understood by its listeners according to the emotion and thoughts the term provoked, social relationship it describes, particular usage and the order of words. The semantic meaning of a term might be different from the literal meaning in dictionary. It is more personal, subjective, unstable, and changeable from different culture and historical period.
“Funü” in Chinese means adult female in the dictionary. However, in real life, “funü” always refers to women with kids. In people’s stereotypes, it passes a message that a woman’s golden age is gone. Thus, calling somebody “funü” is not a compliment — no female want to be called an “old woman” and admit that she’s no longer young.
Age is not the only reason that the word “funü” is unwelcome. According to the search result of “n funü” (n means noun) in BLCU Corpus Centre(BBC), the top one is “rural woman”(nongcun funü) out of 16065 results. It reflects the associative meaning of the word “funü” in people’s mind as undeveloped and disadvantaged.
The semantic changes in linguistics make the word “funü” become an unwelcome and even some what offensive term, and it further influences the International Women’s Day gradually to be less popular than before. However, the associative meaning of girl(nüsheng) as young, energetic and pretty fulfil what many young adult females want to be defined as. And the invention of “Girl’s Day” fills the gap for women who do not want to be called funü but still want to celebrate a holiday for females.
Girl’s Day: Feminism, Consumerism or Anti- Feminism?
“Funü” can be regarded as a political and feminist symbol in China while “girls” just means girl. As mentioned in the second section of this article, associative meaning is something unstable and changeable over time. We’ve discussed that the meaning of ”funü” provokes is old and undeveloped in people’s mind. So what about the associative meaning of “funü” in last century?
The first establishment of “Women’s Day” in Soviet Russia in 1917 as national holiday was to mark the women’s strike event which successfully won women’s right to vote (another saying is due to the women’s strike in New York organised by the Socialist Party of America in 1857). Whichever way it’s been created, the holiday is closely related with women’s fight for their own independence and socialism.
When Women’s Day was first introduced in China in 1924, it was the time that China’s government started celebrating women’s contribution in the revolution. And later on, to mobilise women for the revolution during 1950s, even Chairman Mao raised the propaganda that “women hold up half the sky”. During this era, collective usage of “funü” like “iron women”(tieniangzi) and “woman party member”(nüdangyuan) draws a vivid image of “strength”, “liberation”, “courage” and “passion”. They represent the model of working class women who do great work just as men do. However, those models are usually describing women who do labor work.
Because the word “funü” can no longer accurately describe women who contribute to so many different fields in society nowadays, how people celebrate women’s day is changing too. The deep meaning of feminism contained in this holiday is declining in China. Some believe Women’s Day or Girl’s Day is gradually becoming a holiday for females to expect gifts from their husbands or boyfriends. It does show male’s respect to females in a sense, but also shows female’s dependence on males. Anxious Chinese female want to be loved and cared for by the opposite gender rather than being independent.
Women’s Day and Girl’s Day are also used by companies to sell their products by giving a discount on Mar. 8, stating it’s a sign of feminism. Females materializes in advertisements and becomes a symbol of consumption. One of the advertisements in the Century Avenue Subway station directly writes “Spoil yourself” to encourage females buy more clothes and makeup.
Girl’s Day also becomes a chance for some guys to insult females publicly without fear. Among the college banners we mentioned in the first section, not all of them are full of blessings. Some of the banners use words and phrases that are offensive or even sexually assaulting.Or maybe they don’t mean to insult girls; the words in banners are just a reflection of their minds which still treat women as objects.
Compared to Women’s Day, Girl’s Day doesn’t carry that much political and social meaning. It is more about purely celebrating young females themselves: not about their achievements, not about their social or family roles, but simply a girl’s identity as a person. Although some of the ways that people celebrate it are controversial, Girl’s Day is slowly building up its own conventions just like other important holidays.
This article was written by Wenqian Hu. Please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch.
Photo Credit: China Daily