Examples of singlism – the stereotyping, stigmatizing, and discrimination against single people – are pervasive. I track them, I write about them, and I protest them. But the practice is so relentless, I sometimes feel discouraged.

The single women of China, however, have inspired me and buoyed my confidence. Ikea (a Swedish furniture store) aired a TV ad in China that was dripping with singlism. The women inundated the company with complaints. Ikea responded by pulling back all ads and issuing an apology.

I don’t understand Chinese, so my information is coming from this story, which includes a video of the ad. Here’s how that article describes the ad:

The 30-second advert showed a family dinner scene in which a Chinese mother declared sternly to her somber-looking daughter: “If you cannot bring back a boyfriend, don’t call me Mum.”

A young man then appeared at the door with flowers and the delighted parents set up their dining table with Ikea tableware and decorations. The scene ended with the tagline “celebrate everyday’s life”.

Even after the Chinese single women got the ad taken down, they still weren’t finished protesting. When Ikea’s apology was posted on the Chinese equivalent of Twitter (Weibo), it drew more than 1,500 comments. The ad was criticized as sexist, disgusting, old-fashioned, and as an insult to single women.

As the article noted, Chinese single women are routinely treated disparagingly, as, for example, when they are called “leftover women” if they are not married by their late twenties.

The Ikea protest is not the only example, or even the most impressive one, of Chinese single women resisting the singlism that is slung at them. In her book, Option B, Sheryl Sandberg described several other examples (discussed here), such as creating a play, The Leftover Monologues, and joining Lean In circles.

Here’s hoping the resistance to singlism continues, by women and men, in China and all around the world.


[Thanks to my older brother, Peter DePaulo, for the heads-up about this story.]

Photo by Jonathan Kos-Read