WHY DID I START THIS RESEARCH? • Growing social concern about the large number of unmarried middle-aged women (but not that of unmarried middle-aged men). Population aged 30-49 by age group and sex (Thousands) Age group 30-44 35-39 40-44 45-49 Sex F M F M F M F M Total Never married 255.2 104.8 227.8 120.7 270.5 61.7 233.6 74.0 292.9 53.2 240.5 54.0 328.3 45.2 285.5 45.8 Source: Census and Statistics Department (2013) • A list of slang expressions to refer to this group of women e.g.剩女 (spinster),盛女 (blossomed women) etc. • A hot media topic. Bride Wannabes A 10-episode reality show produced by Television Broadcasts Limited (TVB). Broadcast in 2012 in Hong Kong and Southern China (also available online) Chinese name: 盛女愛作戰, literally meaning “blossomed women love to fight (for their Mr. Right)” – not totally identical to its English name. Five middle-aged women were given advice by professionals to improve their appearance and manners, e.g. having cosmetic surgery, learning how to talk with men and made to participate in matchmaking activities, e.g. speed dating so as to find their Mr. Right. Strongly criticised for fostering sexism. A hot topic in online forums. • Aims: (1) to compare how Bride Wannabes, which is widely regarded as sexist, is received by Hong Kong and Chinese audiences, as shown in online forums; (2) to identify some discourses surrounding unmarried middle-aged women. RESEARCH ON SEXISM AND AGEISM • • • • Different dimensions of sexism and ageism have been explored, but mostly targeting older women (e.g. Hatch, 2005; Munch, 2004; Kane, 2008). Gullette (1995) introduced the concept of middle-ageism to conceptualise discriminations against middle-aged people. The middle-age group appears underexplored. Only four linguistic studies focusing on middle-aged women can be found (Coupland & Williams, 2002; Sefcovic, 1996; CaldasCoulthard, 2010; E, 2010). Research gaps: • There seems a lack of linguistic research related to middle-aged women. • There does not seem any such research in the context of Hong Kong or China. METHODOLOGY Data: Audience responses to Bride Wannabes in one Hong Kong forum (TVB) and two Mainland Chinese forums (Baidu and Dianping) Rationale: Van Leeuwen (2006) sees discourse as a recontextualisation of social practice. Audience forum responses enable me to examine how the two societies consume (Fairclough, 1995) Bride Wannabes, which is thought to be sexist by different parties, and hence identify some discourses surrounding unmarried middle-aged women. Selection of audience responses from the two groups of forums • Only threads in relation to Florence, a participant in Bride Wannabes. • Repeated posts are excluded. • All simplified Chinese posts in the Hong Kong forum are excluded. No. of threads No. of posts No. of references to Florence Hong Kong forum 43 286 288 Chinese forums 19 266 85 Reason for choosing threads concerning Florence: • Considered a 3-high woman, i.e. high in education level, income and job ranking (3high women are often thought to be potential spinsters) Background about Florence: • Age: 39 • Education: Master • Occupation: Accountant • In a romantic relationship once at the age of 29 • Looking for her ‘prince’ who appreciates her inner self • Found troublesome by different ‘experts’ in the show • Strongly criticised for rejecting a suitor in a matchmaking activity because of his appearance Linguistic framework: Van Leeuwen’s (2006) social actor theory • Social actor representation plays a vital role in how unmarried middle-aged women are represented. • It would be interesting to see how Florence is referred to, whether with her name or her identities/roles, or via impersonalisation. • The framework is a useful tool to examine how Florence is represented and recontextualised by audiences from different societies. Findings Nomination Florence F / F小姐 (Miss F) Others Categorisation Functionalisation Identification Appraisement Impersonalisation Objectivation Abstraction Hong Kong forum 170 (59.0%) 27 (9.4%) Chinese forums 38 (44.7%) 12 (4.2%) 6 (2.1%) 43 (14.9%) 50 (17.4%) 17 (5.9%) 7 (2.4%) 0 (0%) 2 (2.4%) 21 (24.7%) 15 (17.6%) 9 (10.6%) 4 (4.7%) 7 (8.2%) Nomination • Florence is most frequently referred to as Florence in both groups (Hong Kong forum: 59.0%; Chinese forums: 44.7%), followed by F or F小姐 (Miss F) (Hong Kong forum: 9.4%; Chinese forum: 8.2%). • There are 12 cases of ‘Others’ in the Hong Kong group, but not in the Chinese one: In 9 out of the 12 cases, Florence is nominated with addressing terms for relatives, all negatively pointing to her age. E.g. 1. 要人發掘你內在美??算吧la你(啊嬋) (You want others to explore your inner beauty? You just forget about it (Auntie)) 2. 婚姻介紹都話冇機,咁你就咪咁算la~啊婆 (The dating agent said you have no choice. You just give it up, Grandma.) Categorisation Functionalisation • Functionalisation references only account for a small proportion in the two groups – Hong Kong forum: 2.4%; Chinese forums: 2.1% • Florence is either represented as an accountant or a participant in the reality show. Identification • Identification references appear more frequently in the Chinese forums (24.7%) than in the Hong Kong forum (14.9%), but the representations are rather similar. • In both groups, Florence is mostly represented in terms of her gender, often in combination with her other identity(ies) or carrying appraisements (Hong Kong group: 12.2%; Chinese group: 14.1%). E.g. (Hong Kong) 1. Florence is a almost 40 old lady with a mind of a little girl. [sic] (China) 2. 女硕士减肥之后变得好索！！ (The female master’s degree holder has become very pretty after losing weight.) • 6.3% and 9.4% of the references in the Hong Kong and Chinese forums foreground Florence’s age. E.g. (Hong Kong) 1. …但最弊阿姐你宜家已經係三十九歲既阿 姨呢 (…The most serious problem is that Sister, you have been a 39-year-old auntie.) 2. 近乎負資產(加上接近高齡產婦)...... (Negative asset (worse, almost a woman of the advanced maternal age)) E.g. (China) 3. …以上5个女唔可以用女仔形容，尤其依 个39岁噶阿姨 (The above 5 females shouldn’t be referred to as girls, especially that 39year-old auntie.) 4. florence实在好寸好沙尘，自己都40岁人 啦，仲好意思嫌人地50岁老添 (Florence is so arrogant. She herself is a 40-year-old person, but still has the nerve to find the 50-year-old suitor old.) • 2.4% and 3.5% of the references in the Hong Kong and Chinese forums refer to Florence as a spinster. E.g.(Hong Kong) 1. 其實五名參加者, 只有Florence一人是真剩女 (Actually, among the 5 participants, only Florence is a real spinster.) E.g. (China) 1. Florence注定老姑婆。。。 (Florence is doomed to be a spinster.) [Note: 老 means old and 姑婆 means father’s aunt.] • Unique feature of the Chinese group: foregrounding Florence’s identity as a master’s degree holder (mostly in combination with her gender) (5.9%) E.g. 1. …但是哩件事就搞到女硕士被人闹爆… (…but this incident has made the female master’s degree holder come under fire…) 2. 女硕士减肥之后变得好索！！ (The female master’s degree holder has become very pretty after losing weight.) E.g. 3. 果个39岁硕士好极品！ (That 39-year-old master’s degree holder is such a nonpareil.) Such representations seem to suggest that high education levels are marked and undesirable for women. Appraisements • Despite similar proportions, the appraisement references in the two groups are rather different. • In the Hong Kong forum, there are 50 appraisements (17.4%). - Dominantly negative - 13 negative appraisements against Florence for claiming to want a man who appreciates her inner self but later rejecting a suitor because of his appearance. E.g. 1. Yes we are "poor" taste because we disapprove someone with double standard… [sic] - 7 counter arguments against such negative appraisements. E.g. 1. 一個遲拍拖的人,…一接觸就CK敎授的歲 數…係我都會咁驁喎. (A person who started her dating at a late age saw a man of Prof. CK’s age. If I had been in such a situation, I would have been afraid.) - In 8 cases, Florence is negatively represented in relation to her appearance (mostly ageing appearance). E.g. 1. 佢係找都找個20幾的玩啦又点會找個39歲 冇樣冇身材又老又三角眼既姑婆… (He would flirt with a girl in her 20s rather than a 39-year-old old spinster with neither good appearance nor good body shape, but triangular eyes…) 2. 個塊油到咩咁 睇落去成個五十幾歲既呀婆 (Her face is so oily. Looking like an old woman of fifty something.) - 4 positive appraisements. E.g. 1. 點講佢屬於唔憂冇男人的高薪專業女性 一族 (After all, she belongs to the group of professional women who have a high salary and do not need to depend on men) 2. …因為你屬於高學歷分子 (…because you’re a highly educated person) • In the Chinese forums, there are 15 appraisements (17.6%). -All negative -What is appraised is always unclear. E.g. 1. 唔知极品硕士10年前条仔见到依出嘢会点 (Don’t know how the ex-boyfriend of the nonpareil master’s degree holder would react when watching the reality show.) Impersonalisation • Florence is impersonalised more often in the Chinese forums (objectivation: 10.6%; abstraction: 4.7%) than in the Hong Kong forum (objectivation: 5.9%; abstraction: 2.4%). Objectivation • Both groups of audiences mainly semi-objectivise Florence, i.e. representing her in terms of her body parts. • Mainly to pinpoint the ‘defect’, especially ageing signs, in her appearance. E.g. (Hong Kong) 1. … F既皮膚真係出賣哂佢年齡之餘仲要報大數 (… F’s skin really betrays her age and even exaggerates it…) 2. 我喺Johnny 都唔揀佢個恐怖樣啦 (If I were Johnny, I wouldn’t choose her terrible face either.) E.g. (China) 1. 距读心理对白噶果段，内容系好感人的，但系 我见到距哭的丑样，我就睇唔落去了 (The content of her reading of what it’s in her heart was really touching, but when seeing her ugly crying face, I couldn’t stand watching it.) 2. 她个样残到无人有 (Her face is so aged that there’s no equal.) Abstraction • Audiences in both groups represent Florence as being unwanted. E.g. (Hong Kong) 1. 你重話落老蘭都有市場??人地尋快樂不是 尋驚嚇^^. (You said you would have a market in Lan Kwai Fong?? People there are looking for happiness, not terror.) E.g. (China) 1. 既然屋企条件感好咯，感米系屋企住佢间姑 婆屋咯 (Since her family is wealthy, she should live at her home, her spinster house.) Traces of wine/XO • In both groups, traces of wine/XO can be found in some impersonalised and categorised references, sarcastically comparing Florence to wine, i.e. the older, the more valuable/attractive. • In many cases, realised by ‘極品’ (things of a very high quality, without equal) Similar to ‘nonpareil’ in English, but they are different in the sense that ‘極品’ is normally used for objects. Very often a collocation of wine/XO. When used for humans, it is mainly for sarcastic purposes and the meaning becomes just the opposite. The traces in the Hong Kong forum seem more explicit: E.g. 1. 咁佢上呢個節目仲乜呢???等大家認識乜野係極 品之中既xo??? (What’s her purpose of joining this show?? To show us what is xo among nonpareils?) 2. 其實FLORANCE係咪覺得自己似茶葉放得越久 越值錢或酒越長時間越香醇? 醇酒美人 (Does Florence think she’s like tea leaves, i.e. the older, the more expensive, or like wine, i.e. the older, the more mellow?? Wine woman) In the Chinese group: 1. Florence这件极品就算了，从一开始看见她 就觉得她找不着了 (Just forget about the nonpareil Florence. Starting from the beginning, I have thought she couldn’t find her Mr. Right.) 2. 唔知极品硕士10年前条仔见到依出嘢会点 (Don’t know how the ex-boyfriend of the nonpareil master’s degree holder would react when watching the reality show.) Conclusion • Hong Kong and Chinese audiences’ social actor representations share many similarities: Many traces of age and appearance, e.g. classifying Florence in terms of her age (in a negative sense), objectivising her in terms of her body parts to pinpoint the defects in her appearance, often ageing signs etc. Discourses of ‘Privileging of appearance−in women’ (Sunderland, 2004, p.91) and ‘Ageing−especially women’s−being equal to bodily ageing’ (Coupland, 2009) • The representations of Florence by the two groups are different in some respects: In the Hong Kong forum, a few references appraise Florence positively (e.g. pointing to her independence), which seems to articulate resistance to the abovementioned dominant discourses. In the Chinese forums, Florence’s master’s degree holder identity is sometimes foregrounded, often in combination with her gender, which seems to suggest that high education levels are marked and undesirable for women. References Caldas-Coulthard, C. R. 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