TV show Nowhere Girls is nasty name-calling dressed up as entertainment

Alice Wu says mocking the so-called 'have not' women in the name of television entertainment is crass and reflects poorly on society

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 August, 2014, 4:30am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 August, 2014, 4:30am

After local "reality" show Bride Wannabes ended in the spring of 2012, I breathed a sigh of relief. So, when the supposed sequel to that monstrosity, Nowhere Girls, aired this month, I was left hyperventilating.

Bride Wannabes was all about the "leftover women" (sheng nu) phenomenon - women who ask for too much, earn too much, and are too educated and too old, and have only themselves to blame for their "leftover" status. With Nowhere Girls (mei nu), we can add to the list: these women have their "have nots" - no money, no job, no education, no prospects, no looks, no friends, no sophistication (the stereotypical view of a recent mainland immigrant) - to blame for their unhappiness.

Consider the world these shows reinforce, and take a look at all the horrible euphemisms that are added to our social lexicon. We appear to be living in a lose-lose world: you lose if you have it, and you lose if you don't. Take education. You lose if you're uneducated, and you lose if you're too educated. Make enough money, but not too much or too little. There seems to be an infinite number of social measures that people must balance, lest they become the personification of a socially imposed "deadly sin" and be permanently locked up in their prison of unhappiness.

The problem is that we use the standards of our misplaced values to stigmatise people. Instead of blaming the victims, we should be looking at the increasingly mean world we live in, and the meanness that we allow popular culture, the media, and even ourselves to perpetuate.

It's deeply disturbing that the All-China Women's Federation published a series of articles that stigmatised unwed women in their late 20s. Statements like "Pretty girls do not need a lot of education to marry into a rich and powerful family. But girls with an average or ugly appearance will find it difficult" and "The tragedy is, [these girls] don't realise that as women age, they are worth less and less. So by the time they get their MA or PhD, they are already old - like yellowed pearls", are disgraceful. Even though these articles have been removed from the federation's website, the damage has been done.

This is the sort of assault we need to fight. The federation was encouraging mass deception designed to distract people from the real problem of a grossly imbalanced male-female ratio, itself a product of gender bias and the one-child policy.

How mean do we have to be when we allow ourselves to legitimise humiliating name-calling? Calling women mei nu means calling them women with nothing to be proud of. Why do we bemoan "mainlandisation" yet embrace the worst of the social bullying, discrimination and alienation the mainland coughs up?

How stupid do we have to be when we think makeovers, working with fitness trainers and life coaches are the answer to leading "better lives"? It is vile and pathetic that the "haves" are resorting to singling out and patronising the "have nots" to feel better about themselves. Wholesale schadenfreude is damaging and thoroughly disgusting.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA