A couple of weeks ago I shared my thoughts on experiencing an episode of the Chinese dating show, If You Are The One (IYATO).
When experiencing the show it was difficult to set aside biases. The dating culture depicted on IYATO is completely different to that what I am used to and there are sharp differences that I kept revisiting between Chinese culture and Australian/Western culture. I think when watching IYATO it is difficult to not compare it to what I’m familiar with. I automatically made comparisons between IYATO and dating shows like The Bachelor and Love Island. I also was quick to draw comparisons between the overall culture and expectations that Chinese have for relationships with what is valued in Australia and what I myself value.
It’s also interesting to note why it has become the largest and most-viewed dating show, not only in China, but worldwide its viewing statistics beat any other dating show. In my last post I constantly drew comparisons but also emphasised the humour of the show – it’s bizarre, unusual, blunt and just entertaining. Sure, entertainment is probably the key purpose of the show but I began to wonder about some of the more interesting cultural aspects that lay below the surface.
The way I have reflected on the show I think I will approach the rest of my autoethnography as what Ellis et al. describes as ‘layered accounts’ where there is “a focus on the author’s experience alongside data, abstract analysis, and relevant literature.” (Ellis et al., 2010). Ellis reiterates the importance of reflection to “illustrate new perspectives on personal experience—on epiphanies—by finding and filling a “gap” in existing, related storylines.” (Ellis et al., 2010) The more I’ve reflected on IYATO the predominant epiphany I’ve had is the cultural and social impact of the show, specifically in relation to social constructs of gender. Watching the show it is difficult whether to determine if the show has feminist traits; the women on the show are very outspoken yet the show is very much shaped by inherent Chinese sociocultural norms that are very traditional when it comes to gender.
I’d like to further explore whether it empowers women or perpetuates the patriarchy. IYATO hinges on the patriarchal and heteronormative discourse of love and marriage. Whilst in Western society it’s expected that people get married and have kids it’s not forced upon us to necessarily do these things (anymore). Gender norms are changing. Chinese traditions remain very strong, even in the 21st century, there are certain roles and expectations for people otherwise they are often thought to bring shame and dishonour to their family. In Chinese culture there is a derogatory term ‘sheng nu’ which translates to ‘leftover women’. This refers to the stigma attached to women who remain unmarried beyond 25. Men are also sometimes described as leftover men or ‘shengnan’. Whilst in Australia there is also some pressure to get married, this has decreased significantly in recent times. In my cultural framework, I do not feel these pressures. I’m still only 21 so wouldn’t be considered a ‘leftover woman’ yet, however I’m not in a serious relationship and I’m totally okay with that. I’ve never had any pressure from my parents to get married or date people from a certain background. The show’s producer Gang Wang has said that the show was largely inspired by the ‘leftover women’ phenomenon (Li, 2014). Does the program constantly rely on the social pressure Chinese women feel to find a husband before becoming ‘leftover’?
My positioning is this; I lack very little knowledge of Chinese culture in general, and whilst I have some blanket ideas of the traditions when it comes to relationships and other aspects of Chinese tradition explored on IYATO they are not very well-informed, rather what I’ve gathered from the show and other media that might have touched the topic. The idea of ‘leftover women’ was something I was unfamiliar with until I watched this advert last year. Watching IYATO I was reminded of the emotional video that advertises Shanghai’s marriage market that explores the pressure and shame directed at these leftover women. Whilst the women on IYATO often come across as empowered and strong-willed, I can’t help but think that the show represents the same idea of a ‘marriage market’ for leftover women to meet potential bachelors.
I have found some research that draws on these ideas and will continue to explore in-depth evaluations of the show in relation to social and cultural constructs as well as why its has garnered such a large amount of popularity. The research into Chinese culture will give me a framework to better understand IYATO. Through a combination of both academic sources and analysis of my own experience of viewing the show I will hopefully be able to explore in-depth the social and cultural constructs in China that are perpetuated in If You Are The One.
Ellis, C., Adams, T. and Bochner, A., 2010. Autoethnography: An overview. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, [online] 12(1). Available at: <http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095>>
Li, L., 2014. If You Are the One: Dating shows and feminist politics in contemporary China. International Journal of Cultural Studies, 18(5), pp.519-535.