Life isn't easy as a single woman in China. Colloquially known as "leftover women", women who happen not to be in relationships face familial, cultural and social pressure to settle down and start a family from their mid-20s onwards, and are considered "incomplete" until they do so. The term looms large in Chinese culture.
But, there has been a backlash against it in recent years and many single women have had enough of being pitied and patronized – as Ikea learned this week. The Swedish furniture giant has been forced to apologize for and remove a TV ad that was "insensitive" towards single women, reported the BBC.
The short commercial shows a mother giving her daughter a good telling off for not "bringing home a boyfriend" to meet her hopeful parents. It's no longer being shown on Chinese TV but can still be viewed online.
It begins with the young woman saying wearily, "Mum..." before her mother puts down her chopsticks and replies harshly: "If you don't bring home a boyfriend next time, then don't call me Mum!"
A dashing, well-dressed young man then turns up at the door with a bouquet of flowers and the tense atmosphere magically evaporates. The daughter introduces him as her boyfriend, and her overjoyed parents bring out their best Ikea utensils and homeware for the occasion. The end sees the parents happily piling food into Prince Charming's rice bowl.
Many people in China took to social media to criticise the ad as sexist. One Weibo user wrote: "This discriminates against singles and single women. No boyfriend, so your own family members look down on you, what kind of values does this transmit?" the BBC reported. While another said it was "not suitable to make advertisements" about such a situation, despite it being commonplace, "because it's wrong".
In a public apology on its Weibo account in Chinese and English on Tuesday, Ikea said it was "thankful for the candid feedback" and sorry for "giving the wrong perception". It added that the company "encourages people to live many different lifestyles". It also reassured customers that "gender equality is a fundamental part of the Ikea culture and values".
Not all social media users were satisfied by the statement, however, with many pointing out the irony of a Swedish company portraying women in such an outdated way. One commenter said: "It comes from a country that values women's rights, yet Ikea can actually come up with such an advertisement," reported the BBC.