The Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966-76) has long been characterized as a period of ‘gender erasure’. Indeed, many researchers have argued that gender and sexuality were essentially disavowed within Chinese society during the revolution in the name of equality between the sexes and the proletarianization of the majority.
Mao’s slogan ”The times have changed, men and women are the same” was propagated as a powerful message to millions of Chinese women, in particular, that men and women were equal. Furthermore, women’s public roles as proletarian fighters and revolutionaries were glorified. For example, the image of Iron Girls – strong, robust, muscular women who boldly performed physically demanding jobs traditionally done by men, such as repairing high-voltage electric wires-was widely promoted as a symbol of the Maoist slogan: ‘Whatever men comrades can accomplish, women comrades can too.
Traditionally ‘feminine, imagery was essentially banished from public discourse to such an extent that discussions of sexuality became almost ascetic during the Cultural Revolution. Women were publicly reconfigured and reimagined as gender-neutral persons’ without a marked gender because there were no longer any permissible means to ‘express the softness of [women’s] femininity’.