‘Leftover Women’ don’t want to wear stereotyped labels, even proudly

By Cecily Huang Source:Global Times Published: 2016-4-21 22:33:02

I got goose bumps watching one mother saying "Being a 'leftover woman' is an honor" at the end of the emotional advert recently commissioned by cosmetics brand SK-II that has gone viral online. As an unmarried woman over 27, or "leftover woman," I don't think there's necessarily anything to be proud of, but nor should we be discriminated against. It's simply a personal choice.

SK-II has certainly got its money's worth from the video, which has gained over 1.7 million Youtube views, not because of the video, but because of the hotness of the topic.  It wins SK-II more support from "leftover women," who are usually well-educated and have good jobs. It is a wise business strategy, since they have enough disposable income to afford such luxurious products.

But I think this video drags this social issue from one extreme to another.  It sounds like all so-called "leftover women" should be proud of this stigmatized name, and proud of not getting married.  But that's not really how many feel.

I interviewed several "leftover women" when working on my documentary on the issue. From close friends to strangers on the street, I never met any "leftover woman" who does not desire to love or to be loved. When I asked whether they thought "leftover women" was a fair name, most of them answered that they did not mind it, with a somewhat sarcastic tone or "whatever" attitude.

The issue is not how they should feel, but how society makes them feel.

The challenge for the "leftover women" is that they do not feel free to make their own decision on their marriage, the most important life choice. Under parental and social pressure, they are not allowed to decide on when they want to get married.

I admire how the SK-II production media team borrowed journalistic techniques and used in this commercial advert. It boasts that none of the women telling the story in tears are actresses. As the president of SK-II, Markus Strobel said in a recent interview, it "touched a nerve." Certainly, he hopes to "keep the conversation going" to attract more attention.

Instead of questioning the reasons behind the term, the advert stays on the surface of the issue and focuses. One mother said in the interview, "We always thought our daughter had a great personality. She's just average looking. Not too pretty. That's why she's leftover." Perhaps, if her daughter used SK-II, she would be prettier and married earlier, the video implies.

At the end of the video, it hints the issue could be resolved by convincing the parents to be proud of their "leftover" daughters. Yet the pressure is not only from our parents, but friends, neighbors, colleagues, and the whole of society. Gender equality is complicated by traditional Chinese culture.

I can be proud of who I am, but it is hard to struggle with my parents given Chinese standards of "filial piety." Even if my parents regard me as an excellent woman and support my choice, it is still difficult for them to resist the prejudices from people around. It makes them feel embarrassed to have a mature but unmarried daughter.

I wonder what SK-II is really trying to tell us: that we should be proud of being leftover women or that we are not pretty enough?

The author worked for the Guardian Beijing office as a researcher and news assistant, and is currently studying for a Master of Arts in Journalism in University of Technology, Sydney. huang.cecily@gmail.com

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