One of China’s most popular regional tea shops — the incredibly-named Sexy Tea — is increasingly finding itself under fire on social media, following accusations over sexually inappropriate language in its advertising that objectifies women and encourages rape culture.
On February 19, a micro-influencer who has been flagging gender equality issues on the Twitter-like microblogging platform Weibo, called out the tea shop for the use of disturbingly offensive advertisements in a number of its products.
“There are many pretty girls who come to us to buy milk tea. If you meet one by accident, you can whisper to us quietly that you had just jian lou zi (捡篓子),” reads one tea mug of the brand according to the pictures posted.
Jian lou zi is a regional slang term that means “get a bargain” in the city of Changsha, where the tea chain is largely based.
(Image: from the Weibo account of 厌女文化观察室)
According to local people, while jian lou zi means a bargain purchase and usually refers to getting lucky, it has always been used to describe objects not humans.
Yet this is just one example of a product from the chain that has netizens expressing outrage.
The derogatory gendered term ma zi (马子) is used on the packaging of another spin-off mug. The original meaning of ma zi is chamber pot, and the term was later used as a sexist slur.
For the packaging on a condom-shaped tea bag, the lines “Master, I want you” and “Mouth says no, but the body is very honest” are seen together with icons of sperm-like tadpoles.
In addition, one tea explainer includes sexually suggestive language that many commenters feel implies women are meant to be taken advantage of.
In response to the growing PR crisis, Sexy Tea quickly apologized. However, after many netizens seemingly remained unimpressed, the brand apologized again a few hours later with a more wide-ranging post.
The hashtag #Sexy Tea Apologizes# has garnered more than 660 million views on Weibo at time of writing.
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“I am very disappointed to see this happen as a loyal fan of Sexy Tea,” writes one user. “Please reflect thoroughly and make adjustments accordingly. You cannot talk about corporate culture without respecting women.”
According to a recent tea industry report by data research company CBNData, women are the majority group of tea consumers in all age groups in China.
Founded in Changsha in 2015, Sexy Tea is a very popular tea shop brand that has since gained fame nationwide. Its latest branch in Wuhan reportedly required an 8-hour wait to get in during its initial opening period.
While discussions around gender equality are increasingly visible in TV shows and social media in China, insensitive gender stereotyping and offensive language in advertising is unfortunately nothing new. Just a few weeks ago, Chinese cotton product brand PurCotton was accused of victim-blaming in a makeup wipe ad.
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Cover image: Rosalind Chang via Unsplash
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