Women in Protest: Gender and Social Movements in East Asia

Title: 1185 | Women in Protest: Gender and Social Movements in East Asia
Area: Northeast Asia
Stream: Sociology
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Yuen Shan Lai, Lingnan University, Hong Kong (organizer, chair)
Susanne Choi, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong (presenter)
Chang-Ling Huang, National Taiwan University, Taiwan (presenter)
Pin Lü, University at Albany, State University of New York, United States (presenter)


The past two decades have witnessed many major social movements in Asia. Women participated actively in these movements. In spite of this, their roles have not been fully acknowledged. The gender dimension of social movements is often overlooked by the existing scholarship of social activism in contemporary Asia. This panel explores the intersection of gender and social movement by connecting the experiences of women activists in East Asian countries.  It aims to illustrate how gender shapes and is being shaped by non-institutional political participation. The presenters draw on social movements including the MeToo movements in Japan and South Korea, the Ciongzo in Taiwan, the feminist movement in China, and the recent Anti-extradition Law Movement in Hong Kong, to exemplify how women activists actively utilize their gender identities and transgress stereotypical gender boundaries to achieve their political agenda. It shows that gender, as an identity and a social system, may simultaneously constrain and empower women to participate in social movements, whether they are protesting at the front line or advocating through grassroots organizations. It also reveals the ongoing tension between feminist ideologies and the patriarchal culture entrenched in the mainstream social movements, and illustrates the means deployed by the women activists to reconcile these ideological and strategic conflicts.

Panel Abstracts:
Gender and Leaderless Protest: Mothers and Female Fighters in Hong Kong's 2019 Pro-Democracy Movement
In the summer of 2019, Hong Kong’s mass movement against a bill that would allow the extradition of criminal suspects to China has morphed into a pro-democracy movement. It has also become China’s biggest political crisis since the 1989 Tiananmen Square student protest.  Unlike many social movements, this movement is leaderless. This is extraordinary when we consider its scale of involving more than two million people, its intensity of encompassing citizens from secondary school students to retired elderly, and its geographical reach to Hong Kong’s diaspora in most major Western cities.  This movement is extraordinary also because women have participated in nearly equal numbers as men. In this paper, I examine how this leaderless pro-democracy movement has provided women with distinct opportunities to overcome traditional barriers to participate, to gain a central place, and to be seen in social movements.  I also examine how state intensification of repression and the militarism of protest tactics gradually inhibited women’s participation.

The Changing Ciongzo: Young Female Protesters in Taiwan in the 2010s
Social protests are usually gendered, in its internal division of labor and in protest scenes. When protesters confront the state, and when state violence took place, gender differences exist in kind and in degree. Male protesters are physically more confrontational against the police and more punished by state violence. Taiwan is no different until the 2010s, when some highly educated young female protesters appeared at the front lines of the social protests and were no less physically confrontational, if not more, than their male counterparts against the police. These female protesters became part of the ciongzo, loosely translated as “the rushing team”, a Taiwanese expression referring to the small number of protesters who confront the police without reservation, usually at the front line, at the protests. Ciongzo was a term emerged in social protests in the late 1980s and early 1990s when Taiwan was democratizing. Those who were ciongzo at that time were usually less educated middle-aged men. How such a role twenty years later was played or joined by a very different social group—highly educated young women—is the topic this paper aims to explore. Based on the research of the lineage of the term ciongzo and interviews of protesters of the 1990s and 2010s, this paper illustrates how the nature of state violence and social protests and the relation between them have changed along the path of Taiwan’s democratization.

Proud, Radical, And 'Cool': The Form and Function of Collective Identity of Chinese Young Feminist Movement Since 2012
This essay examines the form and function of collective identity to explain the mobilization mechanism of Chinese young feminist movement emerged in 2012 and has been persisting through the increasingly harsh political circumstance to date. In-depth interviews with the core activists and case analysis of their activities provide evidence about how the collective identity of “young feminist activist” empowers these young women to be proud, radical, and “cool” pioneers of social change. The multiple identity work channels the strategic mobilizing and organizing choices with individuals’ intrinsic incentive. For instance, fleeing out of the suppressive patriarchal establishments such as the family, university, and workplace, these young women create alternative spaces where they consciously shape and strengthen the contentious awareness as women with oppressed experience. The successful publicity and advocacy encourage and award them to pursue the feeling of showing passion and courage before the public. Frequent debates with opponents inside and outside the civil society further the consciousness that young feminists are distinctive and more critical compared to the others. In face of the severe persecution after 2015, these activists have been experiencing a certain degree of self-doubt and unwilling self-isolation. However, on the other side, their proud selfawareness was also reinforced and kept engaging new supporters who were seeking for the passion of resistance. In conclusion, the perspective of collective identity and identity work can shed light on the dynamics of the feminist movement in China which is constituted by the political determinization of the activists

This panel is on Wednesday - Session 01 - Room 9
This panel is not available on Catch-Up

Go to Room 9