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China Sex & Gender

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

For many girls, makeup is part of their day to day life. But what happens when girls 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.

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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

©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Diandian Guo is a China-born Master student of transdisciplinary and global society, politics & culture at the University of Groningen with a special interest for new media in China. She has a BA in International Relations from Beijing Foreign Language University, and is specialized in China's cultural memory.

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China Media

Online Outrage over Gansu Female Medical Workers Required to Shave Their Heads

Heroes of the coronavirus crisis or victims of visual propaganda? A video showing female medical workers having their heads shaved has triggered controversy.

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A Chinese media post praising female nurses for having their heads shaved has sparked outrage on Weibo and WeChat. Are these women heroes of the coronavirus crisis or victims of gendered visual propaganda?

A video showing tearful female medical workers having their head shaved before going to COVID-19 epicenter city Wuhan has sparked outrage on Chinese social media.

The video, originally posted by Gansu Daily (每日甘肃网) on February 15, shows how a group of female nurses is standing in line to have their hair shaved off in preparation of their mission to Hubei to assist during the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

In the short segment that has since gone viral on Weibo and WeChat, some women can be seen crying while having all of their hair shaved off.

According to Gansu Daily and other Chinese media, the fifteen nurses, including one man, are part of a medical aid group that was sent out to Wuhan this weekend. Their hair was reportedly shaved off “in accordance with requirements” to make their work more efficient and reduce the risk of infection.

The original news post praises the women as “the epidemic’s heroes in harm’s way” (“疫情中最美的逆行者”) – a term also used to describe brave firefighters during the 2015 Tianjin explosions (for more background on this term in Chinese, also see Xinhua and Zhihu).

Although the story praises the female medical workers as heroes and was soon reposted and promoted by many other (state) media, it was not just met with positive reactions from Chinese netizens.

On the contrary: it triggered waves of criticism over the medical team’s supervisors requiring the women to shave off their hair, with many deeming the measures unnecessary, humiliating, and sexist.

“Why do they need to shave all of their hair, the men don’t even need to do that?!”, some Weibo commenters wonder.

Many Weibo users wonder how necessary it actually is for the women to go completely bold for medical work purposes, wondering why the male workers do not need to shave their heads and why the women could not just opt for a shorter hairstyle instead – suggesting the media circus surrounding the shaving of the heads is more about visual propaganda than actually being a necessity.

“I am a medical worker myself,” one Weibo user writes: “I consulted an infection control doctor [on this matter] and they said it is not necessary at all to have a bald head. Short hair is convenient enough, and hair has a protective function too to reduce [skin] irritation from the friction of wearing hats and masks. It furthermore also has a function of catching sweat, preventing it from dripping to your eyes. A shaven head does more harm than good.”

“Why do people need to bleed and cry in order for them to become heroes?”, others say: “This is just cruel.”

Adding to the online fury was a photo showing the group of medical workers after their heads were shaved, as the one male nurse in the group not only seemed to wear a better quality face mask, but also appeared to have much more hair left than the female nurses.

The original Gansu Daily post has since been deleted from social media.

On WeChat account Epoch Story (“epochstory2017″/Epoch故事小馆), author Chen Mashu (陈麻薯) posted a critique on February 17th titled “Please Stop Using Female Bodies as Propaganda Tools” (“请停止用女性的身体,作为宣传的工具“).

Recent online Chinese visual propaganda in times of the coronavirus crisis has seen a strong focus on Wuhan medical workers.

This kind of visual propaganda often highlights the idea of “sacrificing,” especially when it comes to women as pretty girls, loving mothers, or good wives.

In the WeChat article, author Chen argues that Chinese state media always uses women’s bodies as a tool for propaganda, and argues that it should not be necessary for women to endure extra hardship or suffering (in this case, sacrifice their hair) in order to make them admirable ‘model workers.’ The fact that they are fighting on the front line should be more than enough reason to praise them, Chen writes.

While these women’s tears were “used to try to impress the audience” and become an example of some “collectivist spirit,” Chen argues, this kind of propaganda backfired because the individual needs and wishes of these women were completely ignored during the process.

Although the original story and visuals may have meant to be empowering in times of coronacrisis, they are actually counterproductive to female empowerment at large.

This is not the first time the role of women in Chinese state media propaganda become a big topic of discussion online.

In 2016, a photo series titled “100.000 soldier-loving girls” (十万恋军女孩) posted by China’s Military Web during the Wuhan flood also caused controversy. In the online media campaign, Chinese state media paid a ‘tribute’ to rescue workers by sharing pictures of girls holding the message “I wish to wash your uniform for you”. It triggered online discussions on the submissive female image propagated by Chinese state media.

At time of writing, various posts about the shaved heads of the Gansu medical workers have been taken offline.

For more COVID-19 related articles, please click here.

By Manya Koetse (@manyapan) and Bobby Fung (@bobbyfungmr), with contributions by Miranda Barnes

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©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Sex & Gender

Girls’ Charity Project Funds Boys Instead: Online Anger over ‘Spring Buds Program’

The ‘Spring Buds’ charity supposedly only focused on helping girls, but it turns out this is not the case.

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A charity fund that was supposedly dedicated to girls’ education in rural China has been found to fund the education of boys, triggering anger online.

The Chinese charity “Spring Buds Program” (春蕾计划), a project meant to advance girls’ education launched by the CCTF (China Children and Teenagers’ Fund 中国儿童少年基金) has come under fire for providing financial aid to schoolboys in China.

The “Spring Buds” project, which falls under the All-China Women’s Federation, has received the China Charity Award in the past for its efforts to promote girls’ education. The program was launched in 1989 to help girls in China’s impoverished rural areas to go to school, improve literacy rates among China’s young girls and women, and empower girls to strengthen their influence in their local communities.

This week, the charity’s focus has come under scrutiny after it became known that of the 1267 students receiving financial aid as part of one of ‘Spring Buds’ scholarship programs, there were 453 male students.

The topic triggered wider online discussions on Chinese social media on gender inequality in China.

Some commenters argued that boys, even in impoverished areas, are generally still better off than girls due to a persisting gender preference for boy children.

Weibo users also pointed out how there are multiple non-gender specific charity programs in China, and that ‘Spring Buds’ is one of the few focused on girls only – arguing that it should thus also really be assisting solely girls.

As the news about ‘Spring Buds’ coincided with this week’s launch of the Global Gender Gap Index report, some Weibo users also wondered why Chinese official media would quote this report and mention Japan’s worsening gender equality, while not mentioning anything about the status quo of gender equality in China.

The CCTF responded to the controversy via their official Weibo account on December 17th, stating that although its program was initially focused solely on girls, this year’s project funding was also allocated to impoverished male students who needed “urgent help.”

The organization further noted that they will be more transparent to charity donors in the future about how their funds are allocated.

Although the hashtag “Anger over Spring Bud Project Subsidizing School Boys” (#春蕾计划资助男生引质疑#) was used on social media by several Chinese media outlets to report the issue, the hashtag page is no longer accessible on Weibo at time of writing.

By Manya Koetse and Miranda Barnes
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Featured image photo by Ray Chan.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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