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Chinese TV drama of Covid-19 frontline nurses decried as sexist

Viewers slam new show as falsely portraying female frontline health workers.

Staff Writers
2 minute read
The pilot of 'Heroes in Harm's Way' premiered on China's main TV channel on Sept 17.
The pilot of 'Heroes in Harm's Way' premiered on China's main TV channel on Sept 17.

The first TV drama based on real life stories about front-line workers in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the centre of the first coronavirus outbreak, was eagerly anticipated by viewers across China.

The show’s title, “Heroes in Harm’s Way”, is what female medical staff are often described as and indicated it would be a positive portrayal of strong women on the disease frontline.

However, some guessed that this might not be the case as the Chinese name of the show translates more literally as “Beauties who go against the tide”.

This insinuates that women in front-line medical roles are rare rather than the great majority.

The show’s pilot premiered on China’s main TV channel on Sept 17.

Almost immediately, viewers were upset by how the show portrayed women on the coronavirus frontline. Some were quick to describe the show as sexist.

Despite the promise to highlight the important role of women, most female characters were shown in roles junior to men. Nurses were portrayed as only being interested in gossiping about male doctors.

Online, the show received many critical comments. Viewers took particular offence over its depiction of women as submissive.

Social media users felt that this was a derogatory and untrue depiction of women in healthcare, making it look like they were reluctant to go to the frontline and had to obtain the consent of their husbands if they did want to go.

The reality, as many are pointing out, is that women not only played a decisive role in Wuhan hospitals, they constituted the overwhelming majority of staff.

In Wuhan, where there were more than 46,000 cases of Covid-19, around 75% of front-line medical workers in the city were women.

The Chinese government has done a lot in recent months to highlight the role of women during the Covid-19 outbreak.

Xinhua, the official state-run press agency, has focused on how female medical workers fought on the frontline while their husbands took responsibility for the home.

Online, many have quoted Mao Zedong, saying that “women hold up half the sky”.

Perhaps the show’s producers will take note and ensure that future episodes portray women on the frontline more accurately.