One of the magical things about Chinese is the linguistic density of its script. In just a few characters, you can describe a complex concept, evoke an ancient proverb, or allude to a historical event.
‘Straight man cancer’ (直男癌, our translation) is a good example of this. There is no equivalent in English. You could try to summarize it as ‘male chauvinism’ but straight man cancer is much more than that. If you’ve been diagnosed with straight man cancer, it not only means that you’re sexist, but that you’re stubbornly sexist. You get defensive easily. You don’t like being challenged on your views and, like cancer, something drastic needs to happen – kind of like chemotherapy – for your views to change.
It’s a great word for pointing out all kinds of sexist behavior, from slut shaming to sneering remarks on female political leaders (link in Chinese). As one netizen said, “The person who made up the term ‘straight man cancer’ has made a great contribution to society.”
Is Straight Man Cancer Contagious?
Unfortunately, unlike actual cancer, ‘straight man cancer’ is contagious and can be passed from person to person, such as parents to their children. Straight man cancer doesn’t discriminate either – women can get it too, as can non-heterosexual men.
China’s IT industry is particularly rife with straight man cancer. Earlier this month, for example, Liu Chao, the head of user experience at Baidu, was fired after making blatantly sexist and offensive comments at the IXDC International Experience Design Conference in Beijing.
Just this Tuesday, the Hong Kong Information Technology Joint Council tried to throw an IT beauty pageant to ‘celebrate’ accomplished women in tech, before organizers realized how insulting and sexist the event was.
‘Lost In Translation’ is a weekly column that covers netizen-speak from China’s Interwebs. China’s internet slang is a fast-moving linguistic phenomenon and staying fresh has never been harder. Here, you’ll find new words or phrases every week with a breakdown of what they mean, how they’re used, and how they came to be.