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Sexist, maybe? Extra wide, pink parking spots for women in China

Sexist, maybe? Extra wide, pink parking spots for women in China
A screenshot from Weibo.com shows a parking spot for women only in China. (weibo.com)

The Chinese Internet was awash in debate over sexism Monday, spurred on by an unlikely subject: parking lots.

On Saturday night, the Qianjiang Evening News, a state-run newspaper, reported that since March, a highway service area in the eastern metropolis of Hangzhou had been offering extra-large parking spaces specifically for women. The women's-only spots -- 1.5 times the size of normal spaces –  are framed in pink, and marked by icons representing a skirt-wearing woman.

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"The bigger parking spaces are for women drivers whose driving skills are not superb," Pan Tietong, the service area's manager, told the newspaper. He said he had encountered female drivers who were unskilled at backing up into spots, and sometimes asked security guards to help them park.

The spots "are especially designed for women drivers," he said. "It's a humane measure."

The report aroused accusations of sexism on Sina Weibo, China's version of Twitter. Many users said that the spaces perpetuated the stereotype that women are worse drivers than men.

"This is sexism under the name of showing concern -- whether one can park well depends on driving skills, not gender," said one user. "They should be called newbie drivers' spaces instead," said another.

Yet a vocal group of Internet users was on board with the plan. According to a survey on Weibo, 63.7% of 1,700 respondents called that the provision of women-only parking spots a good idea. (On site, at least, the spots appear to be well-received: Eight out of 370 total parking spaces in the area are for women only, according to the Qianjiang Evening News, and each is used about 15 times per day.)

Many women counted among the supporters: "Although I can park in normal parking spaces, my other female friends may need bigger spaces to park," said Lin Zhuzi, a 34-year-old woman in Quanzhou, a city in southeastern China's Fujian province, who has been driving for eight years.

Women's rights activists in China were also divided over the scheme. "It's a stereotype that women drivers are less skillful than men drivers -- no one has proved that so far," said Li Sipan, director of the Women Awakening Network, a Guangzhou-based women's rights NGO.

This wasn't the first time that a Chinese business offered women's-only parking. In 2014, a shopping center in the northeastern city Dalian also found itself in hot water when it introduced extra-wide parking spaces that read "respectfully reserved for ladies." ("Women make up most of our customers," a female manager at the mall reportedly said in defense).

Nor was it even the first time this year that a Chinese organization's female-friendly service has sparked controversy. Early this month, the Beijing Capital International Airport officially launched female-only security lines after a three-month trial. The lines boast pink boards that read "female only," as well as extra baggage-checkers; officials have claimed that it would reduce harassment from male passengers, as well as protect women's privacy if they're asked to remove clothing or open their bags.

Although many Internet users called the female-only line discrimination -- some called for male-only lines, to protect their privacy as well – an airport employee defended the service.

"Female passengers have more cosmetics with them, so it's more likely that their luggage needs to be examined," the Beijing Morning Post quoted an unidentified security employee as saying. "With more checkers, the female-only lines are 25% more efficient than normal lines."

Yang is a special correspondent

Follow @JRKaiman on Twitter for news from Asia

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