Representations of unmarried women in the Hong Kong reality television series Bride Wannabes

Yu, Hoi Man (2017) Representations of unmarried women in the Hong Kong reality television series Bride Wannabes. PhD thesis, UNSPECIFIED.

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Over the past decade, with the increasing gender imbalance in Hong Kong, unmarried women in their 30s and 40s are often stigmatised as ‘leftover women’. Despite being a popular media topic, this phenomenon has attracted little scholarly attention. My research illuminates this under-researched topic by unmasking ideologies through which unmarried women are stigmatised and the media’s role in reproducing such ideologies. Informed by feminist theories, especially Gill (2007a, b), and critical discourse studies, especially van Dijk (1998a), I examine representations of unmarried women in the Hong Kong reality television series Bride Wannabes (all ten episodes), in which five single women look for a boyfriend under some ‘experts’’ guidance. First, I look at how they are talked about in relation to how they are referred to and the types of actions involving them using van Leeuwen’s social actor framework (2008) and the transitivity system in systemic-functional grammar (Halliday and Matthiessen, 2014), respectively. Second, I investigate how they talk about themselves in terms of self-appraisals using Martin and White’s appraisal framework (2005). Last, I explore how they are talked to in terms of impoliteness using Culpeper’s impoliteness model (2011). The analysis demonstrates that the series characterises the participants as different kinds of women and shapes views on them vis-à-vis their marriageability. The only participant who could find a partner in the show is characterised as a ‘hyperfeminine’ woman and a success story, whereas the other participants, who deviate from traditional femininity differently, are represented as undesirable for men. Concerning how unmarried women talk about themselves, while some mainly express their worries about their marriage prospects or problematise themselves according to traditional gender expectations, some articulate resistance to traditional gender norms. As regards how unmarried women are talked to, the analysis indicates that impoliteness is mainly used by the ‘experts’ to transform the participants. However, Bride Wannabes is exploitative in that only several participants are targeted for humiliation, and the show seems to deliberately include only impolite exchanges leading to the participant’s submission, in which case impoliteness also functions to foster traditional femininity and promote the beauty centre involved. The findings suggest that representations of unmarried women in Bride Wannabes are underpinned by the ideologies of patriarchy, postfeminism and ageism. While egalitarianism can be identified in the self-representations of the participants higher on the socio-economic ladder, it is clearly suppressed. The programme fosters sexism against social changes favouring women. I think the stigmatisation of unmarried women in Bride Wannabes relates to (1) women’s shrinking ‘marriage market’; (2) the enduring force of the conventional heterosexual life script, despite its waning influence; and (3) the impact of cultural globalisation.

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Thesis (PhD)
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23 Oct 2017 10:02
Last Modified:
08 Oct 2023 00:36