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“I can be sexy but you can’t harass me!”

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Shanghai – Shanghai’s municipal subway authority is claiming that “scantily clad women attract molesters”—and the women of the city are not having it! Thousands have taken to the media, blogs and websites to fight against the officials’ blatantly sexist and chauvinistic remarks.

“By this logic, a man can harass a woman at a swimming pool!”posted Internet user Dajiangjoejiu. “Can it be that I’m doomed to be robbed if I drive a BMW? That’s the same thing, isn’t it?” questioned Zhu Xueqin, a professional psychological counsellor who works on gender studies.

The brouhaha started on 20th June when subway operators posted on Weibo pictures of an unidentified woman at an unspecified station wearing what appeared to be a see-through dress. A warning came with the picture, cautioning “girls, please be dignified to avoid perverts”.

The post also blamed the sex-offence squarely on the victim, adding “it would be strange if you dress like this on the subway and not get harassed”.

Two women were so riled up by the comments that they went down to the station, covered themselves in black hoods and robes, and held up protest signs against the subway operators. The signs read, “I can be sexy but you can’t harass me!” and “Yes to cool dresses! No to dirty men!”

“How women dress should never be an excuse for sexual harassment. We have the freedom to wear whatever we want,” said the protester named Xiangqi, as other passengers offered their support to the women’s cause.

One office worker and regular subway user said no amount of clothing would deter a molester. “I was once sexually harassed on a bus when I was in high school—and I was wearing winter clothes!” said 26-year-old Tian Wei. “It has nothing to do with what a woman wears, most people will agree.”

Another Shanghai resident named Wang added that sexual harassment should include any type of behaviour that makes the other person uncomfortable and not just actions like fondling or accosting. “I feel sick when a man looks me up and down in that way when I’m on the subway—and I don’t wear anything improper,” she said.

Some people have gone to the municipal authority’s defence, saying their statements were simply a goodwill gesture. But a senior officer from the Beijing-based non-government organisation that works for women’s issues, Media Monitor for Women Network, isn’t buying it.

“The tone is far from being courteous,” said Xiong Jing. “It’s improper for the company as the manager and maintainer of order in the subway to criticise their female passengers. They are the victims, not the perpetrators.”

Meanwhile, several Shanghai men have come forward to say they’re the ones who feel harassed by these women dressed to thrill. “It’s embarrassing if a scantily clad woman happens to stand in front of me in a crowded train,” said Shao Yuru, a 25-year-old civil servant. “Sometimes I can only bend my head to look away or take out my phone and look at it.”

Source: China Daily/Agencies