Young Chinese consumers are fed up with gender-biased ads
Apublic crisis recently struck Chinese e-commerce giant JD.com 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.