‘Leftover Women’: Breaking Down The Stigma Over China’s Unmarried 20-Somethings

China's leftover women are women over the age of 25 who aren't married yet. Now people are working to break that stigma

'Leftover Women': Breaking Down The Stigma Over China's Unmarried 20-Somethings

by Jess Commons |

In China, there's something called 'sheng nu'. Literally translated, it means 'leftover women'. It refers to women over 25 who aren't married yet.

The term 'sheng nu' came about in reaction to the country's one child policy which has skewed the ratio of men to women. By 2020, China is expected to have 24 million men than women - something the State Council are keen to rectify. Any unmarried woman then, is not contributing. Just one in five women aged 25-29 are not married. After 30, that number drops even further.

Huang Yuanyuan, a 'leftover woman' at 29 who works in radio, told PRI last year that men tend to marry down the socio-economic ladder. The women that are 'left' behind then, she said, tend to be at the top of the ladder; the educated women with good jobs. Exactly the kind the government want to be reproducing. That's double the stigma.

Now, a new advert for skincare brand SK-II is tackling this issue with their campaign #ChangeDestiny. The advert, which takes the form of a documentary, interviews some of Shanghai's so-called 'leftover women' and their families.

'You become a subject that people talk about and you get so much social pressure,' One of the women says. 'People think that in Chinese society an unmarried woman is incomplete.' Says another.

The video then flicks to the Shanghai Marriage Market in People's Park. It's where parents post profiles of their sons and daughters in the hope that they'll find a match. The profiles detail what the childrens' incomes and jobs are, whether they have a house or a car. 'It's like you're selling your daughter,' one of the women says.

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'Respecting your parents is the most important quality and not getting married is like the biggest sign of disrespect.' Says one of the women.

Heartbreakingly, the parents in the film aren't shy about expressing their disappointment in front of their children. 'We always thought our daughter had a great personality.' One mother says, 'She's average looking - not too pretty. That's why she's leftover.' Her daughter meanwhile, sits next to her on the couch, tears streaming down her face.

The big crux of the film is that the girls take their parents to the marriage market but, instead of looking for husbands, they've posted profiles of themselves expressing why they're OK with being 'leftover'.

'I don't want to get married just for the sake of marriage. I won't live happily that way. ' Says one. 'Instead of the term "leftover woman" I have a great career and there is another term called "power woman"'. Says another.

The parents, for their part, seem chastened. They cry and hug their daughters, saying how proud they are. One even says 'The leftover women are outstanding, it's the leftover men who need to try harder.' And, while it's tough to believe that particpating in the video though has changed the parents' entire ethos, it at least opens up the floor for debate. Which, as we know, is the first step to change.

SK-II encourage you to share the video to further the conversation in the hope that one day, the stigma will be forgotten.

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Follow Jess on Twitter @Jess_Commons

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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