Unmarried Women Are Called 'Leftovers' in China: Viral Ad Combats That Sexist Message

Women in China are expected to marry by the time they’re about 27, or else they’re considered incomplete and a disappointment or embarrassment to their families. That sexist sentiment doesn’t just come in the form of insidious advertisements or those not-so-subtle hints from mom during the holidays (the way it often arrives here). In China, there's a special shaming term, “sheng nu,” designed to rub singledom in women’s faces. It literally translates to “leftover woman.”

Can we take a second to think about the social implications of that label? If you happen to be born with a vagina in China and haven’t tied the knot by the time society says you should, you’re told you’re a leftover. Little girls grow up hearing the term, likely fearing it might someday come to label them, too. Worse still, they grow up measuring their worth based on the way men respond to them. 

The Chinese skincare brand SK-II was fed up with this rotten sheng nu business and recently launched a commercial aimed to combat the idea that unmarried  women are incomplete.

The video, which has gone viral, begins with snapshots of parents explaining why they are ashamed of their unmarried daughters. One father says, "If she can't find the one, it will be heart disease for me.” The video hints at the way social pressures on women to marry young can spiral into women being discouraged to explore the world, focus on their careers or have their own adventures, rather than settling into a lifelong relationship before they’re even 30.

The story shifts when the parents in the video visit a matchmaking "marriage market" and read a bulletin full of messages from their daughters. The messages are self-affirmations, like one that states, "I don't want to get married just for the sake of marriage, I won’t be happy that way.” The parents appear moved and the video ends with a single woman who states, "I'm confident. I'm independent. I love life. I'm a pretty outstanding woman.”

Watch the video below:


Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

alternet logo

Tough Times

Demand honest news. Help support AlterNet and our mission to keep you informed during this crisis.