Chinese company skewered for sexist ad that victim-blames women for wearing makeup

Society & Culture

In the widely panned advertisement, a young woman uses a PurCotton cleansing towelette to remove her makeup and scare off a stalker with her naked face.

purcotton ad

PurCotton, a Chinese manufacturer of cotton products, has apologized for a video advertisement on its social media that shows a woman wiping off her makeup to “scare off” a strange man who follows her at night.

“A lot of people have been paying attention to a short video published by us recently, which was to promote our makeup-remover cleansing towelettes. We are aware of the backlash and we are incredibly sorry for any discomfort it has caused,” the company said in a statement (in Chinese) issued on January 8. “We respect and care for women. Our mission is to produce comfortable, healthy, and environmentally friendly cotton products for women.”

The 26-second video (in Chinese), which is no longer available on the brand’s social media pages, features a young woman being followed by a suspicious-looking man down a dark city street. As the stalker gets closer, the woman starts taking off her makeup with a face towelette. As soon as the man grabs her from behind, she turns around to show her naked face, which makes the stalker visibly disgusted and causes him to run away.

Shortly after it appeared on social media sites, the ad sparked widespread backlash, especially from women, who accused PurCotton of making light of a dangerous situation that’s almost every woman’s nightmare, and reinforcing the false idea that women wear makeup solely to attract and deceive the male gaze. 

“The ad is wrong on so many levels. Shaming makeup wearers is sexist. Suggesting that a woman is more likely to be sexually harassed or assaulted if she wears makeup is totally absurd,” a Weibo user commented (in Chinese).

Another woman wrote (in Chinese), “A company like PurCotton that asks us to spend money on its product should be ashamed of promoting these stereotypes. The ignorance and disrespect exhibited in the ad is unforgivable. I am so offended by it.”

Others pointed out that the ad basically portrayed a crime scene without passing judgment on the offender. “Stop blaming women’s beauty for sexual harassment and assault. Women are entitled to dress up and paint their faces for whatever reason they want,” a Weibo user wrote (in Chinese). 

The idea that a woman’s outfit and makeup can make her in part responsible for her own assault has a wide reach in China. Statements like “She was asking for it” in relation to someone’s appearance and their rape have been swirling around in the country for many years, and this sort of language has put Chinese women’s bodies and clothing choices under constant scrutiny. 

However, the criticism of PurCotton’s ad is a manifestation of a larger backlash against the victim-blaming narrative. Last year, two Chinese universities came under fire after making what many perceived to be “sexist” suggestions about how female students should dress and act to avoid sexual assault on campus. Meanwhile, there have been growing calls from Chinese women to end slut-shaming, mandate sexual consent education, and pin the blame for men’s sexual misconduct squarely on men themselves.