Tonight a perfect storm of headache and a long seminar for a third straight week (at least this one doesn't carry over to Saturday) has made it hard to make good on my promise to myself to blog at least three times this week. My job is not quite the work-and-stress factory that most jobs in Taiwan are - you might think I'm killing myself, but actually I only taught for 2 hours on Tuesday and 3.5 on Wednesday: I was just still recovering from all the seminars so I didn't do much (and on Wednesday I got locked out of my apartment for a few hours).
Anyway, personal asides aside, here is where I humbly present the first part of my defense of Taiwanese men (more to follow), along with another observation on why living in Taiwan is probably the best a woman could hope for in Asia.
Unless you, to quote the great Ani DiFranco, have "put a bucket over [your] head, and a marshmallow in each ear", you've been following (or heard about and blocked out by sticking your ears in your fingers and going 'LA LA LA I CAN'T HEAR YOOOOO!!!!!') the "contraception debate" (as though there's anything to debate) and resulting slut shaming by not only undifferentiated meat sacks* who were, for some reason, given their own radio show but also, scarily, by a lot of people who, despite the generally negative reaction of much of the nation, actually agreed with him. You've heard the slightly less inflammatory but still sexist rhetoric ("those weren't the words I would have used", birth control is "not OK", and a lovely quote about how hogs have to carry stillborn fetuses to term so why not women) from other public figures. You've heard about how birth control somehow doesn't count, in people's minds, as a facet of health care important to women (regardless of their sex lives: I'm not going to hide behind the "it's also used for other therapeutic purposes, too!" argument because I do not believe that sex, premarital or just for fun, not for makin' babies, is bad or wrong and won't kowtow to anyone else's morality) and therefore doesn't deserve the same coverage as other medications that are to some degree elective*.
And you've known, deep in your heart of hearts, that this isn't some big scary new thing that's happened. You've known that this sick virus has lived in America's almost-but-not-quite mainstream culture for, well, for as long as we've had true women's rights, and even before that.
It manifests itself in its most virulent form on the Internet: I can't even scroll the comment sections in The Washington Post or Slate, both of which I read near daily, on any article having to do with women without coming across comments that range from "thar be a whiff of sexism" to "seriously? The Washington Post allows this sort of hate speech?". I hear denigrations of curvy or fat women, I hear denigrations of average-looking women, average-intelligence women, unattractive women, as well as slender, pretty women who, because they aren't interested in whatever guy is posting his bilious tripe, are, well, b-bombs, or some equivalent. I hear ridiculous defenses of why it's OK for men not to help with housework, why whatever thing is bothering women or plaguing women's rights progress is either a figment of our imaginations, the result of our constant whining or not being attractive or trying hard enough to get a man (or liking the men who post this crap), denigrations of jobs mostly held by women (teachers, nurses, secretaries), and hilarious caterwauling that we "won the fight for equal rights!" - which, of course, we haven't. Not while accessible and affordable contraception and abortion are still being discussed, not while the vast majority of our political representation is male, not while a female presidential candidate is subject to the insults that Hillary and Sarah Palin endured (to be clear: I can't stand Sarah Palin, but I will admit she was on the receiving end of a lot of sexism, too), not while we don't earn equal pay for equal work (and no, it's not because we generally work jobs that offer lower salaries, and even if it were, how is it fair that typically female industries offer such low salaries in the first place?).
And not while our society is still one that allows, even condones, such hate speech directed at women. To be clear, I'm not saying we should restrict freedom of speech, more that I'd like for the US to be a society that condemns the attitudes and hate spewed out against women - and others, but my focus here is women - to such a degree that it's just not thought of, let alone said. I'd like us to be a society that better educates people in a way that discourages such thinking.
You could say "yes, but most of that stuff is being said on the Internet, and there are CRAZIES on the Internet." Yes, yes there are. But those crazies aren't bots, and they aren't aliens, and only a few are trolls. Many of these posters are real live humans, humans that other people presumably interact with, and actually believe this crap. And they're people who exist, in your country, probably around you. You almost certainly personally know one or two of these crazies. You might not know it, though, because generally speaking it only comes out online, in some degree of anonymity. Plus, you know what? I do see it subtly and not so subtly acted upon in every day life: from politicians who think we're livestock to some douchebags sitting around making "fat jokes" in a bar to quietly being treated as though you're invisible if you don't meet some unspoken criteria of female attractiveness (and I'm not talking about being invisible romantically, I mean literally, people don't look at you, smile at you or extend courtesies to you that you've seen them extend to attractive women).
Of course there are good guys out there - it's not all a wasteland of these jokers - I'm just pointing to one particularly vicious undercurrent that I see in American society.
And to all of that I'd say, well, I haven't seen it in Taiwan. Maybe it's because I don't read enough blogs or comment on enough forums, or haven't seen enough examples - but for now, my impression of how Taiwanese men view women is that, however imperfect, at least they're not so hateful. They're not full of vicious remarks and spitting out of sexist, unfounded "facts". They're just not so goddamned mean. As far as I can tell, they don't sit around on online forums saying the terrible things I see on American forums. They don't sit around with their buddies and denigrate women for sport. They don't subtly or openly act out their prejudices. I don't see the open ogling of attractive women and the complete ignoring - including basic courtesy - of average or unattractive women. I don't hear the crass jokes. I don't hear the "friend zone" comments. I've never come across the Taiwanese version of the "ladder theory", because, honestly, I doubt it exists. I don't hear the backlash, the "quit yer whinin', you won the fight for equality!" or "you have nobody to blame but yourselves, you dumb cows", or the other comments from men that certainly stem from a lifetime of pretty girls not liking them.
I just. don't. hear. it.
And then I venture into online American life - because that's the only way I really participate in it beyond yearly visits home - and I'm saddened and more deeply affected, because I don't have to live with it every day. Imperfect as gender relations are in Taiwan - and trust me, they are imperfect - I have never felt as disrespected as a woman in Taiwan than I did in the USA.
I have to conclude that, while there's a lot of progress that needs to be made in terms of women's rights and equality acceptance in Taiwan, that Taiwanese men just don't have the anger, the bile, the vitriol, lurking in them, just waiting to hurl it at the women who so threaten them.
In that way, the American boors (not all men, to be sure) could really learn from Taiwanese men.
So, when I hear some doofus online going on about how America's such a great place for women, and we should feel lucky that we're in America with our equal rights and the respect we get, these days, I can't help but laugh. Because we don't really get respect at all.
Not to say that Taiwan is some women's equality utopia: it's not. It's just that in this one area, I have to say that it's the American men who come up short.
*totally stole this from someone's comment on Jezebel
*to which I'd say, if we're not arguing about allergy pills, Viagra or Imigran: all important medicines that are the result of the modern health care we'd like to enjoy, but JUST contraception, then it clearly is about controlling women's bodies, as much as people would like to pretend it isn't.