Sexist Ikea TV commercial runs into trouble

By Cui Bowen Source:Global Times Published: 2017/10/26 22:13:38

Illustration: Peter C. Espina/GT

Swedish furniture giant Ikea is to take a TV commercial off the air in China after it sparked a major controversy for being sexist.

The nearly 30-second commercial depicts a Chinese mother warning her daughter, "don't call me your mom if you cannot bring back a boyfriend" at the dinner table, after which the girl is shown bringing a man who claims to be her boyfriend to the family. Her parents are delighted and get busy decorating their dining table with various Ikea items.

The girls' parents even put on new clothes to welcome their daughter's boyfriend. A caption at the end of the advert says, "celebrate everyday easily."

The commercial drew a torrent of condemnation and ridicule for its sexist depiction of women. Ikea later apologized for the advert, promising to replace it with a new version that will focus on the solution.

Even as a man, I was irritated after watching this advert. Hadn't the company foreseen the commercial would trigger a massive uproar after release? Hadn't they found the idea offensive in the advert?

The controversial video reminds me of an unpleasant experience my sister and I went through while visiting our relatives during the Spring Festival holidays this year.

Because my elder sister turned 30 yet remained single, all my aunts and uncles started asking about her personal life when we stepped into their home. Learning she was still a singleton, these "warmhearted" relatives had a litany of concerns and implored my sister to look for the root cause, all the while nagging her about how important a man and marriage are to a woman.

My sister pretended to follow their earnest words and told me she had got used to such situations. Although they also persuaded me to end my bachelorhood as soon as possible, my elder sister unfortunately caught more attention.

Compared with men, women are more likely to suffer discrimination over marital status. Single females are often stigmatized as "leftover women" and become the laughing stock of their acquaintances.

Despite progress in gender parity since the reform and opening up, a lack of respect for women exists in China. Chinese women's social status in terms of health, income, employment and political participation has witnessed little improvement in recent years.

In addition, the issue of inappropriate gender ratios in public toilets, sexual harassment and domestic violence also pose a hazard to the Chinese society. This indicates the barrier to recognize and protect women's basic human rights remains huge in China.

A Chinese TV series Nothing Gold Can Stay recently became a sensation. It narrates how a widow in Northwest China's Shaanxi Province started from scratch and rose to be a business superstar at the turn of the 20th century. In this process, she was admired by many men including her apprentice, business rival and the local official.

It is men who were infatuated with the protagonist that ensured her success. It seems the show conveys an idea that a woman is worthless if no man likes or helps her. This kind of Mary Sue plot can also be found in the previously-aired The First Half of My Life, where a housewife in Shanghai made a thorough change with the help of many men around her and finally secured one better than her ex-husband. Such stories are often seen in modern Chinese films and literature.

As men and women walk shoulder to shoulder in all spheres of life in modern China, they are supposed to enjoy the same rights. However, Chinese women are not truly equal to their male counterparts. It takes time and effort to achieve gender equality in a society where women's rights violations occur from time to time. The road ahead to eliminate sexism is long.

The author is a postgraduate student of translation at Beijing Language and Culture University.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

blog comments powered by Disqus