Nearly a century ago, China first commemorated International Women’s Day with a political rally against female oppression. Yesterday, China recognized the contribution of half of humanity with shared boyfriends and online discounts.
Ever since the pioneering Chinese feminist He Xiangning addressed a 2,000-strong rally in the southern city of Guangzhou in 1922, the country has spent March 8th celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. But in the past few years, a growing number of pink-themed gimmicks and targeted discounts have some Chinese women questioning whether the holiday has become more about commercialization and less about women’s issues.
While eye-catching stunts popped up all over the country, those who wanted to discuss the more serious side of the day found themselves left in the dark. A campaign that started before International Women’s Day rallying against female harassment was no longer online on the day itself.
“The celebration of Women’s Day is inextricably linked to China’s modern history,” Zhang Leilei, a Guangzhou-based feminist activist, told Sixth Tone. “But in the last few years … a number of concepts have emerged that are based around material consumption.”
“The influence of consumerism, including the tendency to depoliticize Women’s Day, makes people avoid discussing the political issues involved. What feminists have been doing in the last few years is to raise once again Women’s Day’s values of revolution and struggle,” Zhang added.
“Every year, a few anti-women banners appear on [China’s] college campuses. But news of them spreads widely, and people talk about them,” Zhang concluded. “So I don’t think that Women’s Day has lost its meaning; it’s just been put into a more complex context — a context that requires people to constantly bring up the genuine values of Women’s Day.”
Mao Zedong once proclaimed that women hold up half the sky, but in China they continue to do so for less pay. A report by Zhaopin.com, a major recruitment website, found that women earned 22 percent less than men on average — on par with the United Kingdom and the United States. The country ranked 100th out of 144 countries profiled in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2017. Women also do the lion’s share of the country’s child-raising and domestic chores.
Yesterday, creative Chinese companies commemorated the women’s movement by getting to the bottom of what women really want: pink credit cards and discount beauty products. Here we’ve rounded up some of the more interesting examples.
1. A boyfriend who will do your bidding
In another coup for the sharing economy, a number of Beijing shopping malls advertised “shared boyfriends” for bargain-hunting women, the Beijing Youth Daily reported.
Photographs showed besuited, flower-toting male models lingering in the makeup sections of various shopping centers, often on makeshift pedestals. Female customers were encouraged to scan a QR code and pay 1 yuan ($0.16) in return for 15 minutes of the gentleman’s company.
2. Tone-deaf brands
Condom manufacturer Durex drew gasps of exasperation after posting on its official Weibo microblog an image of the English word “women” above a pinyin transliteration of the Chinese word women, meaning “we” or “us.” The company followed up with the slogan: “Ladies first. Then, everyone else.”
Elsewhere, Shanghai Pudong Development Bank offered female customers limited-edition credit cards in pink and pastel blue, under the slogan “Today, you’re the most beautiful”; state media outlet People’s Daily issued a poster featuring a pink ballerina and the words “All of you are incomparably beautiful”; and Taqu, a brand chastised by the central government last year for its plan to market shared sex dolls, issued an ad featuring a drawing of a closed fist with the index and middle fingers extended, alongside the slogan: “Today, give her what she wants.”
3. Giving Women’s Day a makeover
The Chinese translation of “Women’s Day,” funüjie, evokes images of older, somewhat dowdy women. In an effort to boost sales among younger female consumers, brands came up with all sorts of new monikers. Tmall, Alibaba’s e-commerce spinoff, offered discounts on beauty products and leisurewear as part of “Queens’ Day.” Bike-sharing app Ofo issued posters showing the Statue of Liberty and Athena, the ancient Greek goddess of wisdom, leaning against its signature yellow bikes and wishing women “Happy Goddess Day.” From March 1 to March 9, JD.com’s homepage is advertising cut-price high heels, haircare products, and household cleaning supplies as part of “Butterfly Day.”
Editor: Julia Hollingsworth.
(Header image: A woman takes a photo of her ‘shared boyfriend’ at a shopping mall in Binzhou, Shandong province, March 8, 2018. IC)