A Chinese sociologist has responded to a petition calling for him to apologize for sexist remarks he directed toward female graduate students years ago on social media.
“History has proved that academia is not the domain of women,” Feng Gang wrote Monday on his Weibo microblog.
“I have no prejudice against women,” Feng wrote in a follow-up post. “It’s just that I cannot bear prejudiced women.”
Feng’s Weibo account was no longer accessible on Tuesday evening.
In October 2013, Feng, a professor at Zhejiang University, one of eastern China’s most prestigious institutions, recounted his experience interviewing candidates for a master’s degree program. “Unexpectedly, there were five women and one man — an imbalanced sex ratio,” he wrote. “What’s more, the top three students were actually female!”
Also in the post, Feng complained that in his experience, less than one-tenth of women continue in scientific research after completing advanced degrees. “And during the program, they rarely focus on studying — most of them only care about getting a job after completing their degrees,” Feng continued. “I’m worried about other students who have real ambition to progress academically.”
Some online condemned Feng’s words at the time, but the posts were largely forgotten until doctoral students in Taiwan uncovered them and called for Feng to apologize in an article published Monday on social media platforms WeChat and Douban.
Both articles were offline by Tuesday morning. But according to a cached version of the Douban article, Wu Xinyue, a student pursuing a Ph.D. in sociology at Tunghai University in Taiwan and the author of the petition, argued that as a sociologist, Feng of all people should be more sensitive to issues of gender. Wu described Feng’s words as “malevolent” toward women and capable of causing “real discrimination and real damage.”
Wu wrote that like most educated women she knew, she often encountered those who questioned her commitment to academics, expressing sentiments like: “What are women doing studying so much? Just a little is enough.” It is unconscionable, she added, for such doubts to be voiced by professors, who are responsible for shaping the minds of others.
The cached article had 24 signatures, three from men. Signatories contacted by Sixth Tone had not responded by time of publication.
In January 2016, a survey of over 40 academic institutions in China found that 60 percent of female scholars had felt discriminated against because of their gender; meanwhile, 67 percent of men surveyed affirmed that both genders are treated equally in academia. Overall, 39 percent of instructors at Chinese universities are women. At engineering schools, this figure drops to just 10 percent.
Chen Dan, a female doctoral student in demography economics at Fudan University in Shanghai, told Sixth Tone that the belief that women are inferior to men remains deeply rooted in the minds of many Chinese people, and the fact that it’s being encouraged by academics isn’t helping. “There is indeed gender discrimination in academia,” Chen said, adding that she and some of her female peers had been treated unfairly during interviews because of their gender due to the stereotype that women prioritize their families over their careers.
“Before the two-child policy, it was easier for women who were married with kids to find jobs than it was for single women,” Chen said. “But now, a woman with one child has also been put at a disadvantage.”
Feng is not the only well-known teacher in China to have made offensive remarks about women. In April 2013, an associate professor at Guangdong University of Foreign Studies in southern China argued that women should not have to take morning classes because they require more time to dress and get ready. Besides, the professor reasoned, their dedication to beauty would give their male classmates greater motivation to study.
And in January 2014, Luo Biliang, a high-ranking official in Guangdong refused to apologize for describing women as commercial goods that depreciate in value with the addition of an advanced degree.
As for why more men don’t see women as their professional equals, doctoral student Chen explained that it’s a matter of personal interest. “Fighting for gender equality would affect the benefits for men,” she said, “who feel threatened by such exceptional women.”
Editor: David Paulk.
(Header image: A young woman wearing a graduation gown poses for a photo at a university library in Beijing, June 13, 2015. VCG)