Monday, March 26, 2012

Can't even think of a title, something about women or something

Here's where I honestly say that I'm thinking of taking a blogging break of a few weeks - not sure if I'll do it yet, we'll see. I've been working so hard that I got sick, even though the hours I work are still far less insane than - well, than most Taiwanese with office jobs. Blogging has fallen by the wayside, which you might have noticed as I've been opening almost every post with "sorry" or "need to blog more often" or "so much to say, no time" or "I'm really tired / have a headache".

And then this comes along, including an editorial here and some stats here in the China Post which I normally never read (can't stand the thing), complete with comments on "leftover women" and the resulting hate from both sides, and I know I should be blogging on it, but all I can summon over the whole thing is a resounding "WTF". And while occasionally "WTF" makes a perfectly acceptable blog post, I would normally want to do more with this story than leave it there.

That's when I realize I'm dropping a ball that, maybe, I have no business for the time being of carrying. I've got, to put it in the filthiest terms possible, enough balls it seems.

So, we'll see. I may or may not blog again for the rest of this week and next and see how I feel, and if I need more time off.

For what it's worth, I'll do my halfhearted best here.

As for the person who originally made the "leftover women" comments, Zhang Xiaofeng (張曉風, or Chang Show-foong or however you want to spell it) - she just makes me sad. We hear enough of this bullshit from men - it's really not OK for a woman to be attacking other women in this way. I'm used to hearing sexist crap from guys. I mean, I'm from the USA after all, and while we may seem to lead the world in progressivism, the vicious bile spewed by so many American men - hate speech really - and the recent contraception debate have really put that into question. It's sad when an American woman, who ostensibly comes from one of the most egalitarian countries on Earth, feels that she hears more of this crap from her own country than from less progressive and egalitarian places.

But when a woman makes comments that make it clear that being married is the only measure of value for adult women...that's just insane. Aren't we supposed to be in this together? Married or not? Rich or poor? Whatever our race or background? Can't we women all just please get together and agree that being married is not only not the sole measure of value of a woman, but not any measure of value whatsoever? Please, can all of womankind - and preferably all of humankind - please agree on this one simple thing, that it's OK to be female and not to marry?

What's sad in Taiwan is that I hear the opposite - that a woman's only worth is as a wife and mother - from women more than I do from men (although I am sure plenty of men secretly believe it). I hear it from this idiot Chang lady, from grandmas obasans and moms and aunties and frenemies. I don't hear it from men, although maybe they're just quiet around me. Back home, I hear it from men (and I tune them out as best I can).

As for the rest of it, I generally agree with the editorial linked above. First, she's just wrong about "leftover women" - the stats prove it. Second, the writer is absolutely right: even if some of the Taiwanese men who've married foreign women (and by "foreign" I mean "Chinese, Southeast Asian", not "white" - that still seems to be not very common) hadn't done so, that doesn't mean Taiwanese women would choose to marry them.

Of course, my problem is not with interracial marriage. I have no issue with that, and obviously this is regardless of where the two people come from. I am sure plenty of Taiwanese guy/SE Asian woman matches are actually marriages based on love and partnership.

I *do* have an issue with mail-order marriage: the problem isn't marrying foreigners per se. It's more the idea of picking a woman out of a catalogue and having her shipped over. It's sad to say that these marriages are almost always Taiwanese man/SE Asian or Chinese woman, but there you have it.

Since I, at a glance, can't necessarily tell the two apart, I generally try to give people the benefit of the doubt. I have my views, but in the end someone else's marriage is not my business.

And with those men - the ones who think "a wife is a cleaner and bed-warmer that I can pay to have sent here" - yeah, no, who would want to marry someone like that? The problem isn't foreigners, interracial marriage or whatever: it's sexism. It's the mail order bride industry, but more than that, it's the attitudes of the men who obtain such wives that make the mail-order bride industry viable. "I need a wife so I'm going to pay an agent to ship a woman over from Vietnam" is very, very different from "I love and want to marry this person who happens to be a foreigner". It is sexism, and it is an attitude problem, and I daresay it's with the men.

"Leftover women" remarks aside, Taiwan is still a place where, if you can avoid the occasional barb, you can choose not to marry (in that regard, it's not all that different from the USA) without too much of a problem. My impression, gained from observations from friends and students, is that Taiwanese women who don't marry either:

a.) Have actively chosen not to, because they prefer being single; or
b.) Would like to marry, but really do want to meet someone they can love and be a partner with and haven't met that person yet.
c.) Would like to marry, but, something like (b), have been disappointed time and time again by what prospective marriage partners would expect out of a marriage (doing the bulk of the housework if not all of it, kowtowing to mom-in-law, doing most if not all of the child-rearing) and have decided that being single is better than that.

Because as much as I like to say that Taiwan is pretty good in terms of women's status when compared to the rest of Asia, it's still got some serious problems.

I have never met a woman in Taiwan who is old enough to marry but is single because:

c.) The good, available guys don't want her; or
d.) Her standards are impossibly high, including demands on income and home ownership

...of course, women who do have these issues or standards aren't likely to admit to them, or even necessarily be conscious of them. I am sure there are women out there who feel this way, and I've just done a good job of avoiding them.

I know my friends pretty well, though, and they're super cool people (not the type to have insane standards and insist on diamonds or owning a nice apartment before marriage) and lovely ladies, and my students seem similarly down-to-earth. I think if (c) or (d) were issues, I'd be able to intuit that.

And yet, so many people seem to point to those reasons, and blame the women, for not marrying. Not long ago I was at a gathering of expats where the general consensus was that Taiwanese women were impossible, clingy and materialistic. I had to ask myself - do they actually know any Taiwanese women that they didn't pick up in a bar or in English class? Because that certainly doesn't describe my female friends.

I've even heard them blamed for men marrying foreign brides ("if you weren't so opinionated and didn't  overachieve so much, you'd get a man but instead they're marrying Chinese girls because the Chinese girl will let him be the head of the household! Shame on you!") - to which I'd say, if the prize is a guy who'd marry a woman he barely knows because he wants a warm body that happens to include a vagina, then that's not a competition worth entering (sort of like when a Western guy says "well if Western women want to compete with Asian women, they'd better..." - compete? For what prize again? No thanks). (Just making clear again that my issue isn't with marrying foreigners: it's with the mail-order bride industry).

I've heard them blamed for insisting on men who earn as much as or more than they do (which I admit is a problematic social belief, and I have met women who have admitted to this) or otherwise being their professional and social equals. Other than the whole income thing - because money shouldn't really matter that much when it comes to love - I don't see why wanting to marry someone who is on roughly equal footing with you in those areas is deserving of such scorn.

I also don't think it's really all that true: my observation has been that many Taiwanese women are holding out for an egalitarian partnership, not a relationship with a guy who always feels he has to be "in charge". They're holding out for love, for a guy who isn't as likely to cheat or see cheating as his birthright, for a guy who won't try to order them around and who will do his share at home and not always prioritize work. I think that's a good thing, and honestly, if there were a dearth of men who fit that description, even if the country was full of single men, I'd stay single too. Better single than hitched to someone I don't respect, love or trust or who tries to exert control based on sexist values.

But then I've covered all this before. More than once. 

I'm not going to cover the Westerner angle too much - it's been done, and anyway, as a foreign woman married to another foreign guy, I have very little to say on the subject. The best I can come up with are that plenty of Taiwanese woman/foreign guy couples are legit: they genuinely like each other, they're a good match, and it's not skeezy or weird.

Then there are also plenty that, well, do carry a whiff of "undesireable white guy picking up anything Asian in a skirt at a bar that'll have him" ickiness. Since I don't hang around the latter, all I'll say on that is that a.) if you get to know a person or a couple, you can usually tell which it is and b.) even if you can tell which it is, it's generally speaking not your business who a person chooses to couple up with and why, so does it really matter if it's a bit creepy? I mean, it's not like you'd want that guy (I know I wouldn't), and the girl must know what she's getting into - her choice, after all - so whatever.

And I have to admit, I find guys anywhere who'll hook up with any ol' warm body - including a Taiwanese (or Western) man marrying one that's just arrived from Southeast Asia whom he barely knows - to be icky. They're free to do what they like, but that's not who I want to spend my time with.


So, how was that for halfhearted?

Now I'm going to go curl up somewhere.

1 comment:

OsakaJack said...

Sorry, Jenna, I don't really have a comment on this post.

But I don't see where I can email you a question. Could you shoot me a note so I can ask? (FYI, I am a fellow American expat in Taipei and I saw your link from Views From Taiwan.)