Leftover Women? Outstanding Women.

SK II’s commercial about single women in China who are labeled “leftover women” went viral the past few days. The emotional video revealed the stigma that unmarried women in their late 20s and over face in China. Many independent women who look for fulfillments in all areas of life are struggling under the pressure from family and society. They are shamed for being single.

I spent 2/3 of my life in China. All of my peers back home have either already given in to the pressure or are being titled “Leftover Women” right this moment. This is a social norm that is very hard to break out of. Single women are put into tiers based on their age where their “worth” decreases as they get older. As most of the society still follows the traditional belief that, marriage is one of the key milestones in life, and true happiness doesn’t come until you achieve it. Parents, with a good intention wanting the best for their children, are terrified that their daughters’ chance of obtaining happiness is decreasing quickly as they age. Influenced by filial piety, a key Confucian teaching that dominates Chinese society for thousands of years, children feel obliged to respect their parents’ wishes.

‘Maybe I should give up on someone I love for someone who’s suitable.’

It certainly didn’t help the case the fact that there is also a huge gender imbalance in China. Men under 30 outnumbered women by 20 million, therefore it is also the state’s interest to decrease the number of bachelors. You’d see photos and cartoons that stigmatize single women in their late 20s and beyond from state-run media, and usually associating the cause with higher educations and higher-income careers. In 2007, the Ministry of Education added the word Sheng Nu (“Leftover Women”) to the national lexicon and defined it as “unmarried women over the age of 27”. In the same year, another derogatory slang was also created, “3S women”: single, seventies (born in the seventies), stuck, to refer to the same group of women.

Growing up, my parents were liberal enough that they almost raised me like a boy and really wanted me to not fall into a stereotypical women’s role formed for the society. However, when it came to my own age to marry, they were no exception. They, too, can’t seem to escape the social pressure and judgement after receiving dozens of wedding and baby shower invitations from other people’s children.

This problem, however, isn’t unique to China. Many countries in the world including Singapore, Japan and India have all faced similar issues. As women are getting higher education and taking higher positions in the workplace, many choose to marry later or not marry. Sadly, their choices are often not treated with the respect they deserve.

I applaud SK II for coming up with this campaign, but I also wonder why we waited this long in silence until a skincare company needed materials for an ad campaign. I’m inspired and want to do my part to help. I think a powerful way is to have more women speak up and share their stories. Women should not feel ashamed for following their heart. If you or if you know anyone who might be in similar situation, please send me an email. I’d love to talk :)