The video is jarring. It shows a team of female medics in China having their heads shaved in preparation for going to the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak Hubei province. Some women are seen crying.
It was posted Saturday to the Twitter-like Chinese social media platform Weibo by Gansu Daily—one of a barrage of pieces about the sacrifice and bravery of doctors and nurses fighting the COVID-19 outbreak that has infected more than 75,000 people and killed more than 2,000 in mainland China.
Reaction to the clip was swift—and negative. The news package was blasted for humiliating women and using them as tools for propaganda.
“How can such an act of violating women’s bodies be used to promote merits and achievements?” a Weibo user commented, using the hashtag “please respect female medical workers.”
“As a woman, I feel very angry seeing the video,” wrote another Weibo user. “I understand the need to shave heads in certain work situations…But please stop the excessive formalism. Please stop consuming women.”
By Tuesday afternoon, it was no longer available on Gansu Daily’s Weibo. Coverage of other sacrifices by female medical workers in China’s state media in recent days has drawn similar criticism by Chinese social media users.
More than half of the doctors and more than 90% of the nurses on the frontlines of the COVID-19 battle in Hubei are women, according to the Shanghai Women’s Federation. And as Chinese state media increasingly push positive stories to tell about the outbreak, women are increasingly speaking up about the treatment and portrayal of female medical workers.
As part of this, a period products donation campaign that started earlier this month calls to attention the needs and contributions of frontline female medical workers. The campaign’s founder Liang Yu Stacey has shared on her Weibo that while donations for medical supplies are prioritized, the demand for feminine hygiene products is often overlooked and volunteers have to jump through hoops to get them delivered.
Even the Chinese government’s mouthpiece People’s Daily chimed in on the gender discussion in a commentary Tuesday, asking for more respect for women in media coverage. It argues that a normal, safe and welcoming society is one where people can openly talk about frontline medics’ menstrual needs.
It also called the Gansu Daily head shaving video “unsympathetic.”
Women in China have been more vocal after #MeToo incidents in the country ignited online conversations in 2018 on sexual assault. Despite strict censorship, survivors have come forward to share their stories and netizens have discussed sexism and sexual abuse more openly.