Emily Tan
Sep 11, 2012

Treat women as individuals, not as a category: McCann

ASIA-PACIFIC: The rapid pace of development in the region has created a generation of swiftly evolving women who defy easy stereotypes and compartmentalisation.

Asian women regard the internet as another forum to build an identity
Asian women regard the internet as another forum to build an identity

In an attempt to identify ‘truths’ about Asian women’s attitudes to life, McCann Worldgroup’s Truth Central interviewed 5,000 women in over 60 focus groups over the past year. These groups were also interviewed as part of its reports on youth, privacy, beauty and mothers and come from Japan, China, India, Korea, the Phillipines, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia.

Following are some of the top insights from the ‘Truths about Asian Women’ report.

The unisex identity
Younger generations of Asian women are questioning traditional roles while challenging themselves. The study found that 13 per cent more Chinese women in their twenties than men agree with the statement, "Sometimes, you do things just to prove to yourself that you can".

In India and Indonesia, having a girl included in a group lends legitimacy and interest value to acts of defiance that might otherwise be considered ‘over the top’ or banal. These women are recognised as valuable members of the group, without overt sexual overtones, found the report.

It’s also about acceptance, which matters to young women seeking to be accepted for who they are on an individual basis rather than be pigeon-holed into an expected role. More than eight in 10 Chinese women strongly agree that “it’s important to always welcome people to come as they are”, compared with 72 per cent of Chinese men.

In McCann’s Truth about Youth study, researchers found that 16-29 year old Asian women place a higher importance on the motivation of ‘becoming’ as opposed to Asian men and the global norm.
‘Becoming’ is defined as the need for personal development, greater independence and self-expression. It is important for these women to be seen as making their own decisions.

This is enabled by a reduction in family size, coupled with education opportunities and employment roles that were once only open to men. In 1997, for the first time ever, women were the majority of Japanese university graduates

In China, 47 per cent of young women are asking themselves, “Who am I, and what do I want?” compared with 34 per cent of their male peers.

Measures of success
Getting married and having children are two priorities that are being delayed by Asian women as they determine what they really want in life. For Singaporean women, life goals are more often expressed in terms of financial success. Japanese women on the other hand, want careers and a marriage that will allow them to maintain a unique personality.

The study on mums found that they too wanted to retain their individuality and not become "just a mum".

Beauty is another factor that Asian women are more overt in associating with success, more aggressively so than Western women. McCann’s study on Beauty found that while 35 per cent of women globally feel that “everyone is beautiful”, only 15 per cent of Chinese women agree. Nearly 60 per cent “want to look as young as possible”, compared with 21 per cent from the rest of the world.

But Chinese women apparently follow Coco Chanel's belief that “there are no ugly women, only lazy ones”, with 50 per cent stating that “everyone can be beautiful, with a little help” compared to 30 per cent globally. In China, parents encourage high school girls to get surgery as a reward for good grades and as a means of topping up their chances of getting better jobs and attracting a better looking man.

“It may seem politically incorrect in the West but Asian women will aggressively chase and acknowledge that being beautiful is a social and career advantage,” pointed out the study. So it’s unsurprising that Korea is the world leader in the open use of surgery to perfect beauty and Asian women region-wide, and particularly in Thailand, desire a beauty that will turn heads.

“Times are tough but that doesn’t mean being beautiful is negotiable,” said one Filipino respondent.
The desire to search for new opportunities to be lovelier is constant. More than six in 10 Chinese women switch their beauty routines about once every couple of months or more. In the US, only a third of women do so and the figure is 29 per cent in the UK.

Beauty regiments in Asia range from products to consumable beauty aids with teas, fruit and supplements seen as natural pathways to beauty.

Bargaining with marketers
Asian women are willing to barter even private information, for a better deal, found McCann’s report on Privacy. Globally, 37 per cent fall into a consumer type called ‘savvy shoppers’ who are likely to sign up for store loyalty cards and trade limited personal and shopping behaviour data for special offers and rewards. But in Asia, the number of people in this group shoots up particularly in Japan (60 per cent) and Hong Kong (54 per cent).

For mothers in Japan, being a ‘clever shopper’ is a goal in the face of a flat economy. But even in countries where growth is rapid, like Indonesia, mums are very ‘deal savvy’, said the report. Retailers have helped create a generation who always expect something extra.

Don’t take away their tech
The myth that women are not technologically savvy is even more misplaced in Asia than anywhere else in the world. Overall, 56 per cent of 16-22 year-old Asians would rather give up their sense of smell than their personal tech. In India and China this number rockets up to 70 per cent. Of course, for these women, losing their social media accounts would be a calamity.

The online is yet another means for Asian women to assert their personal identities.  For 40 per cent of people all over the world, it’s “important to build a positive image of yourself online”. In India, that number is 70 per cent. In developing Asia, women overwhelmingly say that creating an online life was key to grabbing opportunities.

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