The ‘Zhinan’ Stereotype: Teasing the ‘Straight Guy’ is an Online Game

For many women, makeup is part of their day-to-day life. But what happens when they test their boyfriend’s knowledge about their makeup items? A new popular game on WeChat and Sina Weibo does not only reveal men’s ignorance on cosmetics, it also reiterates China’s ‘Zhinan’ [‘Straight Guy’] stereotype.

How much are your makeup items worth according to your boyfriend? This question is at the center of a new online test that has drawn hundreds of thousands of participants on China’s social media overnight.

The ‘test’ entails that girls present their boyfriends with their many different cosmetics while filming, and ask them to guess their functions and prices. The video is then later shared on social media under the hashtag “How much is your makeup according to your BF? (#男朋友觉得你的化妆品多少钱) – the ‘game’ instantly became a top trending topic on Weibo.

Teasing the ‘ignorant’ boyfriend

Many girls are eager to participate in the game. Those without boyfriends invite their male friends to take part. In most cases, the men are completely confused about women’s cosmetics; they mistake eyeliner for lipstick, and have somewhat peculiar excuses to explain their incorrect answers – when asked why a “foundation” would be black (actually an eye-shadow), one young man answered it was “because some people like looking like South-East Asian beach style”. As for prices, many boys simply adopt the ’35-yuan strategy’, where everything is guessed to be 35 RMB (±5,4$), randomly attaching low prices to their girlfriends fancy cosmetics. Although most men seemingly know nothing about their girlfriend’s makeup, they often appear dead serious in the video’s, and seem quite confident that they have the situation under control – to much amusement of Weibo’s female netizens.

China is not the first country where this game became a hype. A similar test “Guys guessing the price of makeup” was popular on English social media in 2014. But in China, there’s more to the game than teasing the ignorant boyfriend; it is about making fun of ‘zhinan’ (直男, literally “straight guys”) in general.

China’s zhinan stereotype

‘Zhinan’ (直男) in Chinese originally referred to ‘straight’ heterosexual males. But throughout the years, the word has derived in meaning, and instead of just pointing to sexual orientation, it has now come to refer to an entire category of men in China.

According to common stereotype, the zhinan generally lacks good taste in clothing. He tends to be chauvinistic (大男子主义) and has an almost excessive level of self-confidence. A more precise term that entails the negative connotations of zhinan is ‘zhinan ai’ (直男癌, ‘straight male cancer’), a term that has triggered many discussions on social media in recent years, where being a zhinan is compared to having a disease.

What exactly is zhinan ai? According to online question-and-answer platform Zhihu, these are some famous ‘zhinan‘ quotes:

 – “Giving birth is the born duty of women. Not doing so is anti-human.”
 – “A woman is not a complete human being if she is not married. Arguing against this is arguing against Darwin.”
 – “You, a woman, knows who Beckham is? You know about cars and politics? Tat, tat, you’re not a good woman.”

The zhinan stereotype can be traced back to some old beliefs rooted in China’s paternalistic society, where males are believed to be superior to women both in status and intelligence. In this view, marriage is believed to be essential to individual lives, with a strict division of labour; men are the breadwinners, dealing with the external world, while women take care of the household and the ‘inside’ world. As the supporting column (顶梁柱) of the family, men have absolute authority with what they say and what they do. According to this male stereotype, men are not supposed to spend too much attention on their looks – which is considered a women’s issue.

Traces of this male-dominated conception way can still be found everywhere in today’s China. A recent Xinhua article claimed that 40% of Chinese men show serious symptoms of zhinan ai.

More than just a laugh?

But along with China’s fast modernization, the social discourse on gender issues is also gradually changing. It has made the idea of the dominant and controlling pater familias outdated. Zhinan, in this sense, embodies this concept of the archaic view on gender dichotomy and male power.

Teasing your boyfriend by testing his knowledge on cosmetics can be just a laugh between lovers. But there is also a more serious message to guys underneath the game: sticking head-strong to a traditional male ideal and old-fashioned gender divisions does not make you more of a ‘real man’ in a romantic relationship in today’s China.

But not all Weibo netizens think the cosmetics test is representative of gender divisions. “I’m a girl, and I don’t understand cosmetics at all,” one commenter says.

– By Diandian Guo, additional editing by Manya Koetse

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