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Gender Equality Backslides in China: The Broadsheet

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! CES tries to make up for its sex toy controversy, Theresa May says farewell, and gender equality takes a step back in China. Have a terrific Thursday. 

EVERYONE’S TALKING

– What China wants from women. When covering gender equality (and the lack thereof) you often find yourself chafing at just how slowly the world seems to be progressing. Yet the key word there is progress—the idea that things are indeed getting better, if at a glacial pace.

That’s what makes this New York Times story on the status of women in China so chilling. It reveals a dramatic regression in women’s opportunity in the nation, a shift that’s all the more painful for happening at a time when China is becoming more powerful and prosperous than ever before.

Consider these stats: According to the NYT, 30 years ago, Chinese women earned just under 80% of what men made. Now, the wage gap has ballooned to 67% in cities and 56% in the countryside. In 1990, nearly 75% of women worked. Now, that number is down to 61%.

The anecdotes are no better. The Times’ article is packed with stories of women forced to sign agreements that they would be fired without compensation if they got pregnant and jobs that are advertised “for men only.”

The driving force behind the reversal seems to be the revocation of the “one-child” rule and a Communist Party-led push to return to traditional gender roles in order to spur a baby boom and transform the country’s greying population.

“When the state policymakers needed women’s hands, they sent them to do labor,” Wang Zheng, professor of women’s studies and history at the University of Michigan tells the NYT. “Now they want to push women into marriage and have a bunch of babies.”

Chinese women have been pushing back with protests and feminist social media campaigns, as well as in more subtle ways—the country’s divorce rate is climbing and its birth rate recently hit a new low.

Let’s hope they succeed in calling attention to their plight and forcing change. The women of China deserve to share in their country’s success—and the world needs the ever-more influential nation to return to its history of being a leader on gender equality. 

Kristen Bellstrom
kristen.bellstrom@fortune.com
@kayelbee

ALSO IN THE HEADLINES

– So long, farewell. In her farewell speech before stepping down as U.K. prime minister, Theresa May offered some subtle criticism of her potential replacement, Boris Johnson. An inability to compromise has led Britain to absolutism, that “if you simply assert your view loud enough and long enough you will get your way in the end,” she said. May’s last day is expected to be next week. Guardian

– Away from Amazon. At Fortune‘s Brainstorm Tech, Away co-founder Jen Rubio says the key to the luggage brand’s success is not selling on Amazon. “That’s a differentiator,” the chief brand officer says. Fortune 

– Mom says. Also at Brainstorm Tech, pro-cryptocurrency SEC commissioner Hester Peirce weighed in on her nickname: “crypto mom.” “You always get kids that you don’t expect, so here we are,” she joked. Fortune 

– Parsing privilege. We strongly recommend this nuanced essay by poet, playwright, and professor Claudia Rankine, who writes about her attempts—some successful, many less so—to talk to white men about their white privilege. New York Times

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: France’s transport minister Elisabeth Borne was named environment and energy minister after François de Rugy resigned from the post amid a scandal over extravagant spending with taxpayer money. Caryl Stern will step down as president and CEO of UNICEF USA. KKR named Northwestern Mutual’s Emilia Sherifova member and chief information and innovation officer. Former Workday CIO Diana McKenzie joins the board of Change Healthcare. Weber Shandwick president Gail Heimann takes over as CEO.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

– CES showcase. After a year of criticism over an award being taken away from a sex toy startup at the Consumer Electronics Show, CES will give sex toys their very own showcase at the event this January. Fortune

– Carrying on. Do men not carry bags just so they can avoid the “women’s work” of cleaning up spills with supplies from their purse? Writer Lisa Miller examines what it means that women’s fashion offers the ability to lug around what we need to tidy up after others. The Cut

– A toxic Bachelor? There are some disturbing allegations against the creator of the Bachelor franchise, Mike Fleiss. He wanted his wife, Laura Fleiss, to get an abortion; when she refused, he allegedly verbally and physically attacked her and threatened divorce and to cut off Laura financially. A judge granted a domestic violence temporary restraining order. A Warner Bros. representative said the studio is looking into the allegations. Vanity Fair

– Pharma analogy. Bloomberg Businessweek digs into Emma Walmsley’s tenure at GlaxoSmithKline, where she’s replaced more than 100 managers and focused the pharmaceutical giant on cancer treatment. She’s not a fan of the huge deals sought by many of her competitors. “Companies can die of indigestion just as easily as they can die of starvation,” she says. Bloomberg

Today’s Broadsheet was produced by Emma Hinchliffe. Share it with a friend. Looking for previous Broadsheets? Click here.

ON MY RADAR

Could Lulu Wang’s The Farewell be this summer’s biggest indie success story? Fortune

To make it to the moon, women have to escape Earth’s gender bias New York Times

How Nailed It! host Nicole Byer became the funniest person in reality TV The Daily Beast

QUOTE

“We are the at edge of another kind of technology frontier, and this time around, it is not happening in San Francisco.” 

-Omoju Miller, Github head of machine learning, at Fortune‘s Brainstorm Tech