So apparently, along with having the lowest birthrate in the world, Taiwan also has one of the most serious gender disparities. I have to say that while I’d heard of this before, it never ceases to surprise and amaze me, considering how much better a place Taiwan is if youare a woman, compared to basically every other Asian country. The greater respect for women here, when you hold it up against other countries where I’ve lived (ahem CHINA, and in a somewhat different way, but still virulent and serious, India), is one of the reasons that I chose to stick around. That’s not even mentioning others that I’ve visited - including Japan and Korea.
I’ve been mulling over this article forawhile, trying to come up with some useful, non-obvious comments and observations. I think, though, that it was said best by two people in a Facebook status update (keeping it anonymous because I'd be annoyed if a status update meant for my friends ended up on a blog) when the topic came up: policing abortion clinics and trying to stop sex-selective abortion from happening at the clinic level is not the answer. Taking awaywomen’s freedom of reproductive choice – an important freedom, as much as anti-abortion activists would like to pretend it isn’t, or that it is not deserved – even for something as abhorrent as sex-selective abortion, does not really fix anything. All it does is use sexism in the name of battling sexism. All it does is try to control the result without trying to work on problems at the source.
The thing that needs to change is not the government meddling in women’s reproductive freedom - it needs to start far earlier and more comprehensively than that, through education and awareness programs aimed at ending ingrained sexism and anti-daughter sentiment in Taiwanese culture. While I still maintain that women enjoy better equality here than those in other Asian countries, not even I can deny the specter of deeply embedded sexism coming out in this most unfortunate of ways (and others – but this is the topic at hand).
I do think this ties into what I said before about how it’s more common to cave to one’s in-laws’ desires in Taiwan, whereas back home generally that wouldn’t happen, or at least not to such a degree. I have mentioned a student of mine a few times now who is trying to get pregnant despite not really knowing if she wants a child (and leaning towards not), because her mother-in-law expects it. She hopes that first baby is a boy – despite personally feeling that any gender is fine and maybe even leaning slightly towards having a girl – because if she has a daughter, her mother-in-law will expect her to try again, for a boy. And she will. Which I really can’t wrap my head around – she truly believes that if this is the case, her only option is to just do it, because it’s preferable to the misery of an unhappy mother-in-law.
Can I just say that this has made me even more grateful to have awesome in-laws who don’t pull this crap?
If a strong, successful woman like my student can find herself making decisions based on somebody else’s expectations for a grandson, it’s not such a leap to come to the conclusion that some of these sex-selective abortions are done under family pressure to have a son: maybe the pressure isn’t always direct, but rather than listen to whining in-laws or being expected to try again, a couple decides it’s the best choice (which, I’m sorry to get all objectivist and moral hard-ass, but it’s not. It’s just not. No. Wrong). And, of course, there are certainly cases of direct pressure.
As things change – as the younger generation starts to become parents and their children start marrying – I do think that this will become less of an issue. My experience in Taiwan has been that the older folks still seem to hold to tired, clichéd and dated ideas about gender preference (at least some of them do – by no means do all of them hold such beliefs) but those who are raising kids now and might eventually be grandparents don’t feel the same way. My impression is that this generation isa pivotal one, rather like my parents’ generation shook the ground and toppled many gender-based assumptions in the USA.
Of course, parental and in-law meddling is just one of the issues – I chose to highlight it because I brought it up in a recent post, so it was worth touching on again. Obviously, plenty of women and couples choose abortion for gender selection without their parents’ or in-laws’ input.
What really needs to happen is that society as a whole will have to start realizing that a daughter is as good as a son, can succeed as well as a son, is as valuable and lovable as a son, and that a son is not necessary – that those dated beliefs have no place and no use in the modern world, where there aren’t such strict gender roles and a daughter can do everything a son can do. Education is the only way this can happen – that or just plain suffering from the result of a million bad decisions by a million individuals, and a sudden dearth of available women. I know that typically, foreign brides (often from Vietnam or China) are thought to fill this gap, but if the gap becomes too big, that won’t be a workable solution for everyone – and yes, I have my own opinions on this type of foreign brides (the mail-order, “I don’t even know you but I want a wife” type), but that’s for another post. Maybe then, and with the next generation thinking differently, things will start to change.
And not soon enough.