There’s been a lot of discussion about gender stereotypes and tropes – and that’s been in part thanks to films like romantic comedy Love off the Cuff and shows like My Unfair Lady on TVB.
The first episode of My Unfair Lady racked up viewing figures of more than two million, and Love off the Cuff has been hailed as a major box-office success. The former talks about how women in Hong Kong, who seem to have permanent scowls on their faces, can’t compare to those from Taiwan and the mainland for cuteness. The film, on the other hand, emphasises how Hong Kong women, like the main character played by Miriam Yeung, deserve to be married.
It might look as if while one is praising the qualities of a “Kong girl”, the other is criticising them, but both are actually bad, because they reinforce long-held, and unfair, stereotypes of women.
In My Unfair Lady, women are constantly assessed by men for their “market value”, for example, qualities such as whether they can cook, which means they can prepare food for the family. Other qualities include having a good physique; whether they smile – proving that they’re friendly and affectionate; and whether they can tie a tie. All these show that they can help their partner in all the small things as well as the big things in life. Apparently, if you can answer “yes” to all of the above, then it means you’re deserving of marriage. Basically, the overarching message from the show seems to be that women have to be gentle, charming, and understanding of men to win the love of one – and if you don’t, you run the risk of becoming a “leftover woman” (an unmarried, single woman in her late 20s or above).
In Love off the Cuff, too, there’s an emphasis on the “market value” of a woman – and that value decreases as they grow older. It feels as if female viewers are being told that we have to be like the protagonist Cherie, who learns to tolerate and accept the flaws of her boyfriend Jimmy, before she gets him.
Both the film and the show pit women against each other as they compete for men. In My Unfair Lady, one character says: “China is so big and has so many provinces. Sichuan girls are hot, and Suzhou girls have smooth skin; there are lots of women to choose from. But Hong Kong only has 19 districts, and everyone wears a scowl and we have small breasts – these are our disadvantages.”
Love off the Cuff also compares Hong Kong women and Chinese women elsewhere, and talks about how men will choose someone from the mainland over a Hongkonger because they’re younger, sexier, and prettier. How is this not reinforcing the horrible idea that one woman’s failure is another woman’s gain? We’re led to believe that our lives boil down to one giant competition, in which we battle other women in a race to see who gets the man. Our complex, multifaceted personalities are stripped down to two things – we’re either a “desirable woman”, or an “undesirable woman”, and which one we are is decided by men.
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In real life, outside of TV shows and films, women have personalities and dreams, and we should be allowed to do whatever we want without criticism or sympathy. Marriage shouldn’t be used to restrict a woman’s life choices. Most importantly of all, there shouldn’t be some golden standard by which we define what a “good woman” or what a “bad woman” is. Just because a woman doesn’t smile doesn’t mean that she isn’t a good woman, so let’s get rid of that sort of thinking or reasoning.
Not all movies or shows about women properly reflect what women truly think or want. Some make things worse, reinforcing gender stereotypes, and even stigmatising women. Let’s enjoy these shows, but take them for what they are – fiction and not reality.