Where is feminism in the Hong Kong protests? Issues in the context of the anti-extradition movement

Online platforms and electronic communication have facilitated the spontaneous, dispersed, democratic forms of protest characterising the movement in Hong Kong. A variety of different forms of protest can thus be promoted and organised from the grassroots of a leaderless movement. Thus on any given weekend in Hong Kong, while those trashing symbols of "red capital" (Chinese banks and companies) and "blue" (pro-government) businesses and engaging in running battles with the police hit the headlines, other democracy activists will be peacefully making paper cranes or holding singing protests. This decentred online organising, however, also has a darker side in that the same platforms and means of communication can be used spread fake news, promote hatred and to harass others – not only opponents of the movement but also those who break with the ethos of unconditional support for the "Valiant" ideology. The movement does not have identifiable leaders but it does have a hegemonic ideology, so that supporters of the movement who oppose violence are left without a legitimate voice. This has particular consequences on the kind of feminist interventions that can be made.  

Feminists can and have spoken out against police brutality and sexual assaults on and harassment of women protesters. Some have appropriated traditional feminine roles, for example as mothers positioned as protecting the young, as housewives demonstrating that they are part of society and have a political voice. Young women on the front lines can also, of course, be seen as a valuable part of the struggle; they are among the Valiant, no longer materialistic "Kong girls" but brave fighters. In these respects, women in general and feminism in particular can be seen as useful to the movement, as helping to advance the struggle.

There are, however, more uncomfortable issues on which feminists keep silent, particularly about violence and misogyny within the movement. Feminists should be able to develop a critical stance on this – not necessarily one of outright pacifism or opposition to any political violence – but it ought to be possible to raise questions about violence and its wider gendered effects as well as its consequences for disadvantaged minorities and society as a whole. Using sexist and sexual slurs against political opponents and to police women has become almost routine. Police women are called whores and receive threats of rape. Shouldn’t feminists have something to say about this? Is it acceptable, for example, for the justifiable anger towards the police to be extended to threats against the wives of policemen? (Note that the husbands of police women seem to escape this). Isn’t this to treat wives as mere appendages of or property of men? Is it feminist to accept or even endorse this? Is a slogan threatening death to the families of police, positioning them, again, as mere property, acceptable to feminists?

Continue reading at GenderIT.org.

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