Two years ago, Chinese actress and filmmaker Zhao Wei 赵薇 (zhào wēi) watched Snatches: Moments from Women’s Lives. The short film series came from BBC Studios in Great Britain.

The issues displayed were all too familiar—those of woman being silenced.

Inspired by their efforts, Zhao Wei launched and produced a nine episode tv mini-series. “Hear Her 听见她说” (tīng jiàn tā shuō) came out in 2020 and blew up in mainland China.

For those who don’t know her, Zhao Wei has many roles. Not only is she one of China’s most popular actresses, but she is also a director in her own right.

“”Hear Her” however, is her first TV series. Its objective is simple: to bring the hardships of ordinary women to the screen.

Although women in stand-up comedy have recently gained traction in China, millions of women are still  muffled by society. An invisible chain shackles women to unforgiving standards, while their grievances remain unseen and unheard.

“Hear Her” is China’s first feminist monologue. Each 15 minute episode features one actress, one story, and one social prejudice against women.

These characters come from all walks of life. Episodes feature anyone from a beauty guru to an eighty-year-old artist, from a full-time mother to an AI robot.

Using long-takes, quick cuts, and cinematic approaches, this show speaks for the women who are too afraid to defy expectations.

What is Expected of a Woman?

The first episode tackles unrealistic expectations of beauty for women. Qi Xi plays a beauty guru who is deeply insecure about her appearances. 

She spends hours perfecting her look. Still, she finds that the standards for female beauty are narrow and unforgiving. 

In a heartbreaking monologue that took over the internet, she removes her makeup, making room for vulnerability and self-acceptance. 

The third episode features a stay-at-home mother who sacrifices her sense of self in marriage. Anchored by her responsibilities as a wife and mother, she becomes an insomniac and loses her ability to dream. 

Other episodes feature topics like domestic violence, divorce, “leftover women,” and the complicated relationships between parents.

In this show, every fifteen minutes is a war between the self and society. Unfortunately, as is the case with reality, the winner isn’t always clear. 

But every episode is a testimony to the women who fight against misogyny . 

The last episode is a perfect illustration of this struggle. Titled “The Flawless Girl,” it spawned a hashtag that trended for days on Weibo. 

The episode sparked a national discussion about abuse and objectification. 

Taking place in the future, the protagonist of this episode is a robot called NOVO300080. The ideal maid, cook—or really, slave—she never complains. She never makes mistakes and always obeys. 

One day, she is bought by a rich client. Every day, he physically abuses her until she breaks. Again and again she is fixed. 

Again and again he lashes out. The cycle continues because she will never object. As a “woman,” she is “flawless.”

The Perfect Victim

In recent years following the #metoo movement in China, more and more women have been speaking up against sexual harassment and assault. However, the term “完美受害者” (wán mêi shòu hài zhê) or “perfect victim” has become a necessary premise for any confession. 

As a comment on Zhihu says, “there are all kinds of victims. But spectators always unconsciously demand that the victim be perfect” or the motive for their accusations are questioned. 

“You can’t be poor, or they’ll say you just want money. Can’t make a scene, or they’ll say you’re shameful. Can’t be too rational, or they’ll say you weren’t ever abused.”  

NOVO, with her absolute submission, is an ironic twist on the “perfect victim.” However, as she repeatedly says in the video, “even if the body can always be repaired, does that mean the damage does not exist?” 

As an experimental series, "Hear Her" has many flaws. But the bravery and sincerity of the cast comes through. Nine women define their own womanhood, giving women all over the world the courage to do so as well. 

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Emilie Zhang

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