Video Exposes What It's Like to Be a 'Leftover Woman' in China

April 10th 2016

Kylie Cheung

American women are waiting longer to tie the knot. Currently the median age for first marriage for women in the U.S. is 27, up from just 20 in 1960, according to the Pew Research Center. While this indicates that women in the U.S. are prioritizing others things — education, travel, financial stability, meeting the right partner — in places like China, unmarried women continue to face shame and intense societal pressure.

leftover women china

In this video from the skincare brand SK-II Chinese women opened up about what it's like to be a "leftover woman": someone who is older than 25 and unmarried.

The video also featured one mother attributing her daughter's status as a single woman to her "average looks," despite her "great personality."

leftover women china

The "leftover women" opened up about their feelings about being single. For some, the guilt of disappointing their parents is strong enough to make them give up on waiting to meet and marry someone they genuinely love.

"In Chinese society, people think that an unmarried woman is incomplete. You feel like an outsider," one woman in the video said.

However, the video ends on a note of empowerment, as the "leftover women" attend their local "marriage market" to replace their profiles with photos of themselves and powerful messages.

"Even if I’m alone, I will be happy, confident, and have a good life," one woman stated.

"As opposed to the term 'leftover woman' — I have a great career and there is another term called 'power woman'," another said.

The video has since been widely shared, even by actor Ashton Kutcher.

No one should feel forced into anything.

Posted by Ashton Kutcher on Saturday, April 9, 2016

There is intense pressure on Chinese women to marry.

Chinese marriage market

In their communities, "leftover women" are often shamed and gossiped about. Pressured by Chinese cultural traditions to honor their parents and marry early, they are frequently pestered by family members for not marrying at the "right age." Women's parents also take it upon themselves to go to designated "marriage markets" and post profiles of their daughters, detailing their ages and incomes, and how much property a male suitor should have, as if putting their daughters up for sale.

When a Refinery29 writer visited one of these marriage markets, she noted that there were about 70 percent more ads for women than for men. "On postings for female partners, it's not uncommon to spot demands like 'must be fair-skinned' or 'must be able to give birth'," Venus Wong wrote.

According to the New York Times, the Chinese government also tries to offer some matchmaking advice for "leftover women" through the All-China Women’s Federation, a state agency. Articles published on the agency's website include titles like “Overcoming the Big Four Emotional Blocks: Leftover Women Can Break out of Being Single.” “Eight Simple Moves to Escape the Leftover Women Trap” and “Do Leftover Women Really Deserve Our Sympathy?” The pieces blamed women for being single because they are too picky, too educated, or have standards that are "too progressive" such as the desire to "go to nightclubs and look for one-night stands."

The crushing societal pressure that too many Chinese women face from their communities and families continues to lead to loveless marriages and unhappy lives, especially in a society where divorce is not only deeply frowned upon but often disproportionately hurts women. "When couples divorce, the marital property now belongs solely to whomever took out the mortgage. In China, this is almost always the husband or the husband’s parents. This means that even if a woman makes substantial contributions towards the purchase of a house and its mortgage she could be left with nothing on divorcing," Business Insider explained.

In Western society, as we continue to celebrate the growing political power of single women, their many options, and their independence, the video serves as an important reminder to intersectional feminists of how drastically life differs for women around the world, who remain subjugated by cultural gender roles.