China’s Extra Wide Ladies-Only Parking Spaces Sparked a Backlash Over Sexism

The mall that created the women-only spaces meant well, but their reasoning is indicative of a bigger problem

A mall in Beijing. Photo: Guo Jian She / Redlink/Redlink/Corbis

A Chinese mall in Dalian came under fire this weekend when it unveiled a new feature: ten parking spaces outlined in pink and marked "respectfully reserved for women," the AFP reports. The spaces are 30 centimeters wider than the usual spots and intended to make parking easier to maneuver. The mall management apparently decided to create the spaces after finding that women struggled to park their cars in the normal-sized spots, AFP continues. 

While the mall seems to have intended well, its assumption that women are the only ones who occasionally have trouble finagling their SUV into a tight space has sparked a debate about sexism. In Dalian, some women say they appreciate the spots, adding that it has nothing to do with sexism but with the fact that "women have a few issues with vision when parking," AFP reports. Men, too, were quick to pipe up. Here's AFP: 

“Women don’t really know how to park,” said Wu Zhicun, a male customer at the mall.

“The few times I’ve come close to crashing was basically with women driving the other car. I’ve noticed they’re a bit rough at the wheel, they only look forwards, too often they ignore their mirrors,” he said.

And an Internet user claimed: “The two most dangerous things in the world are men who cook and women who drive.”

Others cried foul, insisting that the parking spaces are an insult to all women. While this may be true, the parking spaces, AFP points out, are indicative of a wider culture of sexism when it comes to women behind the wheel. Last year, the Beijing Police released official tips for women drivers, providing advice such as "release the hand break before you drive" and "don't panic if you realize you took a wrong turn." Among other things, the documents called female drivers indecisive and lacking a sense of direction. 

Dalian isn't the first city in China to unveil plus-sized parking spots for women, the Wall Street Journal points out. Hebei did so in 2010 (as a bonus, animals were also painted on the parking spaces instead of numbers, the reasoning being that women can't remember numbers). 

Female-only spaces exist in other countries, too, such as courtesy spots for pregnant women. In some shopping centers in South Korea and Germany, female only spaces are reserved around store entrances, the Wall Street Journal continues. In South Korea, the idea is to spare a long walk for women wearing high heels, while Germany says that its spaces were created to enhance safety, so lone women won't have to walk far through dark parking lots. However, a shop in Triberg, Germany, also marked two "tricky" spots as men-only, the Wall Street Journal continues, presumably because finagling those spots would require superior navigational abilities. So stereotypes don't only play out on China's roads. 

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