Monday, April 12, 2021

A Road-Tripping Feminist in China

From the NYT:

She spends each night alone, curled up in a four-and-a-half by eight-foot rooftop tent, balanced on stilts above her car. She often eats her meals in parking lots. She has seen her daughter and grandchildren only once in the past six months, and her husband not at all.

Su Min, a 56-year-old retiree from Henan Province in central China, has never been happier.

“I’ve been a wife, a mother and a grandmother,” Ms. Su said. “I came out this time to find myself.”

After fulfilling her family’s expectations of dutiful Chinese womanhood, Ms. Su is embracing a new identity: fearless road-tripper and internet sensation. For six months, she has been on a solo drive across China, documenting her journey for more than 1.35 million followers across several social media platforms.

Her main appeal is not the scenic vistas she captures, though those are plentiful. It is the intimate revelations she mixes in with them, about her abusive marriage, dissatisfaction with domestic life and newfound freedom. Her blunt but vulnerable demeanor has made Ms. Su — a former factory worker with a high school education — an accidental feminist icon of a sort rarely seen in China.

Older women send her messages about how painfully familiar her story feels, and greet her at each destination bearing fruit and home-cooked meals. For younger women, she is a font of advice about marriage and child-rearing. “I wish my mother could be like Auntie Su and live for herself, instead of being trapped and locked in by life,” read a comment on one of her videos.

Her unexpected popularity speaks to the collision of two major forces in Chinese society: the rapid spread of the internet, and a flourishing awareness of gender equality in a country where traditional gender roles are still deeply rooted, especially among older generations.

Read more here.

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