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HomeWorldWhy China doesn't want women to apply make-up on trains

Why China doesn’t want women to apply make-up on trains

A woman applies make-up as she waits during the job fair for China Eastern Airlines flight attendants in Shanghai in 2012. Reuters (Image for representational purposes only)

China’s state-owned railway is under fire for a video asking women not to put on make-up during train journeys. The promotional video posted by the official account of China Railway on Douyin, TikTok’s counterpart in the mainland, has been accused of sexism.

The clip became the “most read and most debated” post on Weibo – China’s Twitter-like microblogging site – on Saturday (16 September), two months after it was originally posted, reported CNN.

What did the video show? Why has it raked up controversy? Let’s take a closer look.

The controversial video

The clip released in July shows a woman sitting on a high-speed train recording herself while getting ready to apply lotion and foundation, as per the CNN report.

A man seated adjacent to her, whose face gets covered in her foundation, taps her and says: “I don’t need to put on make-up, beauty”.

She apologises and helps him remove the make-up.

Later, the video flashes “tips” on how to behave on trains such as “Respect others”, “Respect public spaces”, and “Don’t let your uncivilised behaviour affect the beauty that the train ride deserves”, as per Chinese Communist Party-owned Global Times newspaper.

The video titled ‘A make-up blogger’s beautiful trip’ sparked controversy and has now been taken down, according to the newspaper report.

It was a part of China Railway’s initiative to curb anti-social behaviour by passengers. Since July, the Railway has published several videos, including asking people not to take others’ seats, not to litter, talk too loudly, or play loud music on high-speed trains.

Outrage in China

The nearly one-minute clip generated a lot of angry reactions on Weibo.

As per CNN, a user asked, “Why does it have to be such a gender-focused case, of women putting on make-up, to illustrate uncivilised behaviour?”

Some pointed out that applying make-up on trains is “not something to be considered uncivilised” or as “affecting others”, as compared to other instances such as taking other passengers’ seats, talking loudly on phones and so on.

“Will the next move involve banning women on trains once and for all?” CNN quoted another Weibo user as saying.

Why China doesnt want women to apply makeup on trains
A woman walks at the new Fengtai Railway Station in Beijing in January. Reuters File Photo

The backlash comes amid a call for more gender equality in China where men still dominate several arenas, including top government bodies, the American broadcaster noted.

Does this mean no make-up on trains?

As the controversy escalated, China Railway has clarified that putting make-up during commute is not banned.

“As long as you don’t affect other passengers, like overturning cosmetics on them for example, you can do your make-up on the train,” a Railway employee told Global Times.

“We’re aware of the controversy caused by this video… yet it was not our intention to insult nor disrespect women,” the employee added.

By Saturday, the hashtag related to the clip had amassed 340 million views and 20,000 comments, with most deeming the video offensive.

Why China doesnt want women to apply makeup on trains
Amid the controversy, China Railway has said putting makeup on trains is not banned. Reuters (Representational Image)

As per the CNN report, Chinese officials defended the video, asking people not to “over interpret” it. In the commentary first published by Nanfang Daily, the officials claimed that make-up incidents as shown in the video were among the “most common” complaints.

“The publisher of the video is not asking people not to put on make-up on the train but to advocate a civilised form of commuting and to consider the feelings of other passengers,” it said.

ALSO READ: The row over China’s plans to ban speech, clothes that ‘hurt nation’s feelings’

Not just China

A similar controversy occurred in Japan a few years back. In 2016, a rail company in Japan faced backlash over a video discouraging women from applying make-up during their commute.

The video showed two women putting on mascara and lipstick, which led to a third woman commenting “Mittomonai” or “ugly to see”, as per the BBC report.

Later in the 30-second clip, Japanese actress Sawa Nimura can be seen reproving the women applying make-up after which a phrase is heard: “Please refrain from putting on make-up on the train”.

The video generated criticism on social media as users called it out for commenting on women’s appearances. “People are angry not because ‘they want to put make-up on in trains’. Absolutely not. They’re resisting ‘this society that comes up with so many different reasons to justify misogyny and to oppress women,” a user said at the time.

However, some defended the advert, even comparing putting on make-up in public to defecating, reported BBC.

Tokyu corp had defended the video saying its intention was to educate passengers on “rules and etiquette” while travelling on trains.

With inputs from agencies

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