A reality television show has become the target of feminist fury after portraying several Chinese celebrities as spinsters and urging them to get married.
Though “My Little One” was intended to give viewers a peek into the personal lives of celebrities, it has largely devolved into preaching to its female stars about outmoded gender roles. Since the premiere of the second season on Jan. 5 on state-owned Hunan Satellite TV, the show casts a spotlight on TV personality Wu Xin, swimmer Fu Yuanhui, trampoline gymnast He Wenna, and actress Yuan Shanshan for remaining single.
Yuan — known for her role in the 2015 film “Jian Bing Man” — is portrayed as being incapable of doing housework or finding a boyfriend. The 31-year-old actress was also set up on a date that was chaperoned by her friend. In an episode aired Saturday, the show invited Yuan’s contemporary — a married actress — to remind her of a woman’s duties, including “cleaning rooms” and “packing luggage” for her future boyfriend.
Chen Rong, a gender rights advocate and writer for feminist media platform Huisheng Project, criticized the program for perpetuating gender stereotypes and glorifying traditional feminine virtues. “The main theme of the show is matchmaking for the female celebrities,” she told Sixth Tone. “The program cannot conceive of women choosing to be single. [The producers] cannot imagine any possibilities for a woman other than having a husband and a child,” Chen added.
Increasingly, young Chinese are breaking away from traditional views of marriage. According to the most recent figures from 2016, there are over 200 million single adults in China, and the country’s divorce rate is 14 times higher than it was in 1980. However, parental pressure to get married and have children remains a common concern for many young adults, with some renting “girlfriends” and “boyfriends” to preclude relationship-related questions from family members during the Lunar New Year holiday.
“My Little One” incorporates parents into the show as well, with each aiming to coax their celebrity child into a relationship. When the producers invited the fathers of the four participants to comment on their children’s life choices, all of the men expressed anxiety over their daughters’ unwed status and childlessness. “I think it’s a matter of filial piety,” said Yuan’s father, referring to marriage and child-rearing. “In giving birth to a child, you are fulfilling your responsibility not only to your family, but also to your country.”
Online, many viewers are questioning the show’s approach to its current stars — especially in comparison with last year’s season featuring male celebrities. Entertainment writer Luo Beibei dismissed recent episodes of “My Little One” as “full of malevolence toward single females,” while other netizens have similarly slammed the show for adopting a misogynist posture.
“Why is it that male celebrities on the show are described as motivation-driven, while female celebrities are depicted as incapable of handling their lives alone and in need of a partner?” wrote one user on microblogging platform Weibo. “These women are obviously leading happy lives, aren’t they? [They] have goals and plans and are enjoying their lives — why should they get married?”
Chen, the gender rights advocate, told Sixth Tone that the show represents the dilemmas many women face, such as the expectation to do household chores, raise their children, and shoulder myriad other domestic responsibilities. “People also tend to have strong opinions about pressuring women [to marry],” she said. “They think that if they push hard enough, women will capitulate.”
Editor: Bibek Bhandari.
(Header image: A screenshot from the reality TV program “My Little One” shows celebrity actress Yuan Shanshan with two dogs.)