Young Chi­nese con­sumers are fed up with gen­der-bi­ased ads

Global Times – Metro Shanghai - - FRONT PAGE - By Wang Han The opin­ions ex­pressed in this ar­ti­cle are the au­thor’s own and do not nec­es­sar­ily re­flect the views of the Global Times. Page Ed­i­tor: chen­shasha@glob­al­

Apub­lic cri­sis re­cently struck Chi­nese e-com­merce gi­ant af­ter a ne­ti­zen posted a pic­ture of a gen­der-bi­ased ad­ver­tis­ing slo­gan on a pack­ag­ing box from the com­pany’s beauty depart­ment, which said, “What is the dif­fer­ence be­tween you and a man if you don’t wear lip­stick?”

The ad­ver­tis­ing slo­gan raised heated crit­i­cism among Chi­nese ne­ti­zens. Many fe­males who rarely use lip­sticks felt they were be­ing dis­crim­i­nated against. For in­stance, one wrote, “I am a woman and I don’t wear lip­stick. So now my gen­der is male?” Like­wise, an­other blog­ger sat­i­rized, “Wow, it seems just a lip­stick could trans­form a per­son’s gen­der! No trans­sex­ual op­er­a­tions any­more!”

The de­fi­ant slo­gan in­tended to pro­voke its tar­geted con­sumers (Chi­nese women) by claim­ing lip­stick can make a woman look more fem­i­nine and at­trac­tive. Sorry JD, but most Chi­nese women aren’t buy­ing this silly idea – or your lip­sticks!

Sim­i­lar to this ad, other ad­ver­tise­ments em­bed­ded with gen­der-stereo­types also failed in the Chi­nese mar­ket in re­cent years. For in­stance, an ad that Swedish com­pany IKEA launched in China in 2017 con­tains a scene where a mother tells her daugh­ter not to come home any­more with­out a boyfriend, Bei­jing Morn­ing Post re­ported in Oc­to­ber 2017.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, the ad was se­verely crit­i­cized for its idea that Chi­nese girls should not stay sin­gle by a cer­tain age lest they be­come “leftover women.” To win Chi­nese con­sumers’ hearts back, IKEA even­tu­ally had to apol­o­gize for the in­sult­ing ad.

The fail­ures of such bi­ased ads re­veal that Chi­nese women are no longer buy­ing the tra­di­tional myth that they should have to be­have in cer­tain ways or fol­low cer­tain life­styles due to their gen­der. On the con­trary, many are mak­ing greater ef­forts to break out of old Chi­nese gen­der stereo­types.

For in­stance, here in Shang­hai I see a grow­ing num­ber of Chi­nese women adopt­ing gen­der-neu­tral dress styles in­stead of wear­ing fem­i­nine skirts and blouses. I also see many Chi­nese women choos­ing to pur­sue higher lev­els of ed­u­ca­tion, and fight in the work­place for higher po­si­tions and in­come, rather than get mar­ried or give birth.

Take my­self as an ex­am­ple. I was born in Wen­zhou, a third-tier coastal city in East China’s Zhe­jiang Prov­ince. If I fol­lowed our tra­di­tional path for women – learn­ing house­work and mar­ry­ing some­one by my early 20s and giv­ing birth to a child right af­ter mar­riage – I would never have had the chance to pur­sue a higher ed­u­ca­tion far away from China, or later re­turn to Shang­hai for an ex­cit­ing ca­reer in jour­nal­ism.

Many young women all around me have like­wise cho­sen paths that chal­lenge tra­di­tional so­cial ex­pec­ta­tions for Chi­nese women. For ex­am­ple, my best friend Su­san set up her own cloth­ing and beauty stu­dio in­stead of get­ting a sta­ble job or get­ting mar­ried.

She started up her own busi­ness dur­ing her ju­nior year in uni­ver­sity. She then trav­eled to many dif­fer­ent Chi­nese cities to find sup­pli­ers, bar­gain­ing with lo­cal men much older and craftier than her. Af­ter five years of hard work, she now op­er­ates a very suc­cess­ful stu­dio, and is able to af­ford her own fancy car and big apart­ment with­out any fi­nan­cial sup­port from her fam­ily or a hus­band. “I en­joy the feel­ing of pay­ing all my bills my­self, in­stead of hav­ing to ask a man,” she told me.

As an in­creas­ing num­ber of Chi­nese women are fight­ing for their own des­tinies, it is ex­tremely un­wise for ad­ver­tise­ment cre­ators (usu­ally PR firms hired by mega­cor­po­ra­tions such as JD) to pro­mote old gen­der stereo­types. Young Chi­nese con­sumers want ads that en­cour­age them to break down the walls be­tween gen­ders, and will quickly turn against any com­pa­nies sug­gest­ing they do oth­er­wise.

Il­lus­tra­tion: Chen Xia/GT

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