Saturday, March 31, 2012

Divorce and Family Dynamics in Taiwanese News

This has nothing to do with the post. I just like the photo.
I know this China-style forced-eviction-and-demolition in Shilin is the big news across Taiwan, or at least Taipei, this weekend (for the record, I'm all in favor of kicking out Hau Lung-bin, just as much because he's an idiot generally as because of this), but another article caught my eye.

This is a perfect example of why no-fault divorce should be legal everywhere in the world. I'm not entirely familiar with Taiwan's divorce laws. I know they used to be ridiculously sexist (a man could leave his wife if she refused to move with him for his work, but a wife couldn't leave her husband over his refusal to move for her work, the idea being that a wife should move for her husband's career but not the other way around) and have since been somewhat reformed, but I'm not sure to what extent. Clearly no-fault divorce with only one spouse consenting to divorce is not permissible, or else this woman would have gotten one.

What bothers me is that the court didn't think that the mother-in-law unlocking the couple's bedroom door at all hours of the night to "check on them" was sufficiently emotionally distressing or a violation of privacy. That says a lot about the power of mothers-in-law (especially the husband's mother) in Taiwan, and yes, while a case could be made that a court might have said the same to a man whose wife's mother was doing the same thing, it's hard not to see this ruling as a sexist one. It makes it quite clear that in the court's eyes, a wife needs to just deal with nosy mothers-in-law, and not listening to objections and having a spouse who does nothing to stop his own mother is not enough reason to terminate a marriage.   

I feel that, well, how could any court possibly be the final decision maker regarding what is and is not intolerable stress or privacy violation? What court has the right to tell you that you must or must not stick it out in a bad marriage based on your circumstances? No court - that's a very personal decision and I don't believe it's something a third party can rule on.   

That said, the wife sort of made her own bed: her husband did offer to send his mother back down south to live, and the wife apparently refused, thinking that others would judge her poorly.

I just wonder why they didn't change the bedroom door lock and not give the mother-in-law a key. I also wonder what the mother-in-law hoped to accomplish. If it was the propagation of grandchildren, barging in on them at random times was obviously not the way to go about it!

It's surprisingly common not just for couples to live with one set of parents (usually the husband's) or near them, or to feel pressured into visiting them every single weekend, or to even give in to in-law pressure to procreate - which, from a cultural standpoint, horrifies me, but it's not my culture. Plenty of Taiwanese people I know seem horrified that my sister lives in Taiwan, I have a spare room, and yet she does not live with me and my husband. Of course, to us, it's perfectly natural that a 25-year-old single woman living abroad with her own set of friends and her own life would want the independence of her own place or roommates her age - to them, it's how can you make your sister live alone like that, all by herself like she's in prison, and paying so much for rent?! Ha. Haha. Well.         

It's also fairly common for the in-laws to have a set of keys to your apartment and to visit unannounced whenever they please, and objecting is not allowed or socially condoned. I love my parents and in-laws, but no. Just no.

And all this ruling says is that:

 a.) A woman's unhappiness in her marriage is not her own decision. She can basically be told that her feelings are "wrong". (A man could be told this too, but somehow I suspect that a lack of initiated-by-one-spouse no-fault divorce means the law is in favor of men, and that husbands would be more likely to be granted the divorce;

b.) A woman has no right to the final decision of what is unbearable in a marriage if it can't be proven to be abuse, adultery or something else that could instigate divorce with fault;

c.) Mothers-in-law have the right to make their childrens' spouses miserable (especially wives);

d.) Taiwanese society doesn't seem to expect the husband to stand up against his mother for his wife.

All of these point to a sore spot of continued sexism in Taiwan that could be easily fixed with single-spouse initiated no-fault divorce. No need to prove anything, no need to obtain consent, if you want out, you can get out. I would trust those who exercise that option to do it wisely and with much forethought and attempted reconciliation, but in the end I'd respect their decision based on their experience in that marriage. I don't feel anyone has the right to rule on that for them. Male or female, but women are especially hurt by a lack of such a divorce provision.

But, ah, the power of mothers-in-law...

I'm reminded of an incident a few weeks ago when we were running to catch a train to Ruifang to take my in-laws to Jiufen - the next train wasn't for another hour and, due to an issue with my EasyCard, we were about to miss this one. It was far down on the track from where we entered - local trains don't take up the entire platform - and my mother-in-law couldn't possibly have run that far that quickly due to health issues. I went flying up the platform to the attendant, who tried to usher me on-board, and with fake tears in my eyes (I'm a very good actress, apparently) I bawled that we needed to be on this train because I was taking care of my mother-in-law who was visiting Taiwan, oh please sir, would you please help me make sure we get on this train?! *sniff*.

And you know what? He held the train. He kept it on the platform for at least 1-2 minutes longer than it should have been just so we could all make it onboard and not have to wait for the next one. 

I highly doubt he would have done that for two young people (although two whippersnappers such as Brendan and myself could have just made it at a sprint). But for a (foreign) mother-in-law, hold that train!!

Similarly, while they were here our water heater crapped out. I called a plumber on Saturday morning. He said he'd be there "in an hour or so".
"Oh no, but my mother-in-law is here!"
"Oh. In that case, I'll come immediately!"


Samuel Ho said...

You throw in the sexism word so easily here, but what I see is you apply your American standards too much in this case. Lot of the reasoning behind roots in Traditional Chinese culture. I've no problem, if you judge this case through your American eyes, but it would be good to explain, why some things are the way they are. You make Taiwan look bad and backwards without explaining the cultural connotations. That's pretty weak for a blogger of your calibre! (Best blog 2011 or something...)

Jenna Cody said...

Well, no: I tend to be very critical of the USA as well. I'm throwing around sexism based on what I personally feel is sexist, not based on American standards. If you read my post on sexism in the USA not long before I wrote this one, you'd see that I'm pretty angry at the status of women in the American public discourse these days as well. I do not think Taiwan is backward: I just happen to disagree with this cultural issue and yes, I do think it's sexist not because it's not American, but because it is simply sexist! In this particular case I am an objectivist, although in most other cases I tend to be more cultural relativist. Just not women's rights and the status of women: to me that's more cut and dried.

By the way, the winner wasn't me, it was another blogger.

blobOfNeurons said...

The mother-in-law has also agreed to move out, which would settle the dispute, the ruling said.

That's an important reason as well.

Jenna Cody said...

Yes, but it doesn't settle two things:

1.) Gender relations as regards family (especially after marriage) - the husband offered to move his mother out but seemed to make no other attempts to stop the mother from her actions, and disregarded his wife's unhappiness to the point where she filed for divorce. I would say there's a problem there. Does she really want to stay married to a man like that?

2.) The fact that whether or not the woman could legally divorce her husband should not have been the court's decision. Yes, reconciliation when possible is always best (again, **when possible**, not in all situations) but at the end, that shouldn't be up to the court. If someone wants out of a marriage, they should be allowed out of a marriage. Period.

And that's my point, regardless of how this case turned out. Taiwan needs one-sided no fault divorce.