Niangpao directive all good and well, but what about naturally 'sissy' men?

Andy Boreham
Cleaning up the entertainment industry is all very well, but we need to keep in mind that life can't necessarily always imitate art.
Andy Boreham

The term niangpao (娘炮), a slang term for "sissy boys" which literally translates as "girly guns," has come into the spotlight recently after China's National Radio and Television Administration (NRTA) released a directive calling for an end to pretty boys in entertainment. Unfortunately, though, it seems to also cast a shadow on average citizens who may naturally fall short of socially "acceptable" standards of masculinity.

Anyone who has been following the controversy around xiaoxianrou (小鲜肉), a term to describe younger men who don't necessarily follow traditional masculine norms, for the past few years won't be surprised. It's been a long time coming.

What did take me back, though, was the use of a slang term in an official document, especially one that many find to be quite offensive. I'll get into that shortly.

But let's first take a quick look at the document in question. It was released on September 2 and consists of eight points around issues such as ensuring talent selected for projects are ethical and upright people, ending online voting for "idols," especially those which require purchases in order to cast votes, and the "resolute" end of niangpao and other "abnormal aesthetics" in entertainment.

To be honest, I agree with the directive in principal (apart from the use of slang terms) as it relates specifically to the entertainment industry. My concern, however, is for men in China who may naturally, and through no choice of their own, fall under the category of "sissy" and may now be feeling that who they are is not good enough for society.

The propensity for young male celebrities in China over the past few years to be completely made over with full faces of make-up, long, preened hairstyles, and clothing that may be better suited to an androgynous Paris fashion runway than your average Chinese male has been one that mainly served an economic purpose: their "weak," "soft" appearance appealed to a new generation of young Chinese women who felt the need to nurture and protect such young men, spending copious amounts of money in the process.

That's what the NRTA and other entertainment industry bodies had a problem with: this unhealthy obsession with a certain type of celebrities and the insane amounts of money thrown at them. Putting an end to this practice was really something that was inevitable.

But what about the young Chinese men who naturally, and without any influence from entertainment, have always somehow fallen short of what it means to be a "man" in today's society? They have unwittingly ended up in the cross hairs of this entertainment crackdown, and they're feeling the pressure.

A friend of mine, who wishes not to be named, had to cut his long hair recently after the tides started to turn against his "aesthetic."

He said he really feels more comfortable with longer hair, and that it just "feels right" to him. "But I had to cut it off, to make everyone else happy."

A lot of the negative impact, he argued, comes from the wide use of offensive slang terms that have come to stereotypically – and derogatorily – describe who he is in society's eyes.

"The word niangpao is meant to belittle people," he told me. "It is a very disrespectful way to describe a man using female stereotypes."

Cleaning up the entertainment industry is all very well, but we need to keep in mind that life can't necessarily always imitate art. Turning otherwise very ordinary male Chinese celebrities into hyper-feminine objects of consumption in TV and cinema is something that can be reined in easily enough, but we need to keep in mind that there are people who may fit under certain categories in real life and should be allowed to express themselves however they feel comfortable.

Where can we start? By being cognitive of the words we use, and how they make others feel, whether we're ordinary people or those writing official documents.

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