Lipstick Messages, Bunny Massages, and Marathon Manicures: Sexist Stereotypes Hit Chinese Headlines


China’s biggest shopping festival, November 11, is around the corner. First appearing on Alibaba platforms Taobao and Tmall, the vaguely cynical “Singles’ Day” is now an intense battlefield for all e-commerce platforms, and even brick and mortar stores across China. Maybe this is why JD.com, the primary competitor of Alibaba’s shopping sites, prepared 300,000 packing boxes with this slogan in a questionable effort to attract their female (or male?) customers:

“You’re no different from a man if you don’t use lipstick.”

Chinese social media site Weibo was flooded with repostings of this picture and accompanying outraged comments on October 30. That afternoon, JD Cosmetics’ official account apologized for the “inappropriate copywriting,” and promised to compensate some of the customers who received the boxes with free cosmetics. However, the damage was done — netizens cited the slogan as an insult against both men and women:

“It’s already the year 8012, but when will you be kind to females? Hope it’s going to get better…” – Yi Ye Qing He_

“Is this discrimination against males? Is ‘slovenly’ the tag for men?” – Luan Luan Luan g

“I’m pregnant, so I avoid using too many cosmetics. Now I want to ask them — is a pregnant person who doesn’t wear make-up counted as a woman? Or a man?” – MUMA_Nuan Yang

Good questions. Adding fuel to the fire, some netizens brought up the recent sexual assault allegations against Liu Qiangdong — JD’s co-founder, Chairman and CEO — who was accused of assaulting a Chinese PhD candidate in Minneapolis at the end of August.


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Sexist stereotypes have made recent headlines elsewhere in the Chinese tech world, as well. On October 24 — aka Programmers’ Day — to award their hard-working (mostly male) programmers, some companies invited so-called gulishi (鼓励师, “encouraging masters,” i.e. bunny girls or female masseuses) into their offices:

It’s hard to tell how many programmers were really enjoying the “celebration.” As an outsider, I had complicated feelings about this — although some of the rare female programmers did get massages from male gulishi as well.

Even some recent events that were supposed to be tailored for women — such as Shanghai’s Jing’an International Women’s Marathon, which gathered 3,500 women in Shanghai on October 14 — couldn’t shake the cliché of what is deemed suitable for women. I mean, look at the medal:

Water-drop shape, floral design, crystal. Additionally, the marathon featured a manicure area, plus a picture-taking zone near the finish line.

Most recently, and tragically, 15 people died in a dreadful car crash on a bridge over the Yangtze River in Wangzhou, Chongqing on October 28. After fighting back against a passenger who missed her stop and confronted him when refusing to pull over between stops, the (male) driver surnamed Ran wheeled the bus around to the left, hit a red vehicle on the bridge, then crashed into the river, sinking the bus and killing all on board. Before the recovered surveillance video was released, many online commenters (and even some news reports) focused on an old stereotype about women being bad drivers, since the driver of the red car was female.

According to the Huike News database, from January 2016 to October 2018, the number of news headlines that include both “road killer” and “female driver” was 1,395, while the combination of “road killer” and “male driver” only appeared 38 times over the same period.

However, the actual accident rate for male (in blue below) vs female (orange) drivers in Nanjing, Jinan and Hangzhou tells a different story:

On November 2, Xi Jinping held a meeting with the new leaders of the National Federation of Women in Beijing, emphasizing the group’s “Socialist path with Chinese characteristics for women’s development.” The Chinese leader acknowledged that there is still discrimination against women in China, and encouraged the Federation to “speak up for women when their rights are infringed upon,” as well as “to create an environment, clear away obstacles, [and] offer conditions for women’s full development.”


Long way to go, fellas.

Cover image: Chinese Burn (source)


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Fan Shuhong
    Shuhong (aka Rita) is a language instructor, English/Chinese translator, writer, and proud bunny owner based in Beijing. She's previously worked in Washington D.C. and IUP at Tsinghua University. She loves Chinese language, Japanese arts, post-rock music and good English TV series. Instagram: rita_van
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