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Cover up, Shanghai women told, to avoid unwanted attention on metro

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It had the makings of Slutwalk, the sequel.

Last Wednesday, the Shanghai No.2 Railway Company posted an online advisory that women should wear more conservative clothing or risk sexual harassment while riding the trains.

A photo that accompanied the post showed the back of a young woman waiting on the platform dressed in a see-through dress that revealed the outlines of her undergarments. It's unclear whether she was doing this for attention or whether she was just unaware of the transparent fabric.

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But the notice has generated significant traffic on the Chinese microblogging site Sina Weibo with reactions divided between those in agreement with the recommendation – that the onus is on women to dress conservatively – to outrage that summer-weight clothing could be misconstrued as provocation.

By Sunday, two women, concealing their faces behind black scarves, protested in a Shanghai station by holding signs that read, "I can be sexy; you cannot harass."

But while the warning may come across as prudish, it is not unsubstantiated. The web site China Buzz reported that a man was arrested on June 13 in Shanghai on suspicion of molesting a woman riding the subway during morning rush hour. He ejaculated on her leg before trying to take her picture.

According to a report by BBC, a spokesman for the company insisted the post was intended as a "kind reminder to women."

If decency and conservative values still pervade Chinese culture, the pattern of subway "perverts" (the term used by Chinese media) is also more foreign to North American riders. It certainly raises a few questions: Do incidents of subway harassment occur more frequently because the men there are not yet accustomed to riding alongside women in tube tops? Moreover, do the men not realize that such behaviour is gross?

Yet when Sina Weibo – which combines social media elements of Twitter and Facebook – polled users on the matter, many responders defended the warning.

Which suggests that Shanghai women won't be staging a Slutwalk – the series of worldwide rallies last spring prompted by a Toronto police officer's similar recommendation – anytime soon.

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