How female Chinese comedian Yang Li became public enemy number one for China’s army of online male misogynists and exposed the country’s women problem

Alice Yan
·3-min read

The repeated boycotts by male internet users towards stand-up comedian Yang Li, famous for her biting jokes about men, shows female comedians in China are fighting an uphill battle against sexism.

Many men said they were offended by Yang’s barbs, such as “Why are men so mediocre but still so confident?” that she made at the Rock and Roast comedy show last year.

Yang has been constantly targeted by internet users, with some saying she is too ugly to perform in public and others calling her a “female hooligan”.

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Last month, when US computer giant Intel promoted a laptop advertisement featuring Yang, the backlash from internet users, most of them male, led to the company pulling the ad after just two days.

Yang was boycotted again during a live stream to sell a sanitary towel product on shopping platform JD.com on March 24. The negative commentary was so overwhelming that Yang had to suspend the stream for a brief period.

“Yang Li is bad,” wrote one person on the website. “She has provoked gender confrontation. You let her be your ambassador. I won’t buy any of your products.”

“She has affected my shopping experience. Please forward my message to your company,” another person told a customer service worker at JD.

The backlash against Yang Li has been so severe it has affected her work and ability to earn a living from comedy. Photo: Yang Li
The backlash against Yang Li has been so severe it has affected her work and ability to earn a living from comedy. Photo: Yang Li

Feng Yuan, a co-founder of Beijing Equality, an NGO for gender equality and women’s rights, said the attacks and verbal abuse directed at Yang reflected the misogyny held by many people who believe in male superiority.

“Facing challenging judgment from the public, female comedians are like doing wire-walking – they have to obey society’s principle for a woman while needing to meet the expectation from the audiences for a comic performer,” Feng said. “But for male comedians, there is no contradiction between these two expectations.”

Yang Xueyan, a professor of gender studies from Xian Jiao Tong University in China’s city of Xian, said people have double standards for female comedians but not for male ones. This is because Chinese society has different expectations for males and females, she said.

“For example, men should take important tasks while women should stay back, be tender and considerate,” she said. “Men have been used to be looked up to by women and don’t want to see women stay in an equal status with them.”

As stand-up comedian Yang Li has grown more famous she has attracted enemies online. Photo: Weibo
As stand-up comedian Yang Li has grown more famous she has attracted enemies online. Photo: Weibo

She said people are tolerant towards male comedians, but for female comedians, audiences are often sensitive and tend to overreact towards their humour.

“I don’t understand why men can’t accept what Yang Li said. She only talked about the phenomenon of some men, not all men. I guess the backlash came from those men who look confident but feel inferior in their heart,” she said.

Yang Li is not the only female comedian to be treated like this. Years ago, Si Wen, with her signature identity of “independent woman”, was criticised as “too capable” and bets were placed that she would “definitely divorce”.

Fu Shouer, another female comedian, supported Yang Li by writing on Weibo: “I think Yang Li has never thought of picking a gender confrontation. She was just making a joke.”

In a video posted online in support of Yang Li, male comedian Xi Rui said talk shows are meant to be an “offending” form of humour, where people from lower classes offend higher ones.

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