Make-up wipes ad pulled over victim-blaming claims in China

Man stalks woman in ad
A screenshot of the now-removed ad, which shows a woman wiping away her make-up to scare off a male stalker.

A Chinese company has apologised and pulled an advertisement for make-up remover wipes after it sparked outrage for allegedly victim-blaming women, the ad by Purcotton, which has gone viral, shows a woman wiping away her make-up to scare off a male stalker.

Social media users condemned it as it insinuated women were to blame for unwanted sexual attention, others said it was offensive as it suggested that women were unattractive without make-up. One person wrote on microblogging platform Weibo: “To make a commercial out of something that really scares or hurts women – do they have brain problems?” Calls for a boycott of the cotton products company followed as the backlash gained momentum online. Purcotton responded with apologies in two separate posts on its official Weibo account and said that it would review processes to prevent similar incidents from happening again. It also removed the ad from its social media pages, although it had already been widely shared by that time.

In the 26-second clip, a young woman is seen being followed by a man while walking alone at night, she starts removing her make-up with a facial wipe, and when the stalker grabs her from behind, she turns around and shows her bare face. At this point, her character is played by a male actor. The Chinese word for “vomit” then flashes onscreen, and the stalker appears to disappear. The criticism of the ad comes as online protest mounts against sexism and victim-blaming narratives in the country.

Man's face in ad
A male actor plays the woman without make-up

Last year, two Chinese colleges came under fire for making suggestions in their safety guides for how female students should look to avoid sexual assaults on campus. Guangxi University said that women should dress modestly by avoiding plunging necklines or exposing their backs to “avoid creating temptation”. Meanwhile, China Academy of Art in Hangzhou said that factors such as “having a pretty appearance” and “focusing too much on looks” could provoke unwanted sexual attention from men.

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