Friday, March 23, 2012

In Defense of Taiwanese Men, Part I: or, Did I Really Move to Taiwan to Escape Sexism?

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.


cj said...

Thanks for your thoughtful and heartfelt commentary. I have to say, as a Taiwanese in the US, this recent primaries season has been through-the-looking-glass mind-boggling. I was just telling a friend how, back in the day, when I read Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale in middle school or so, I thought it far too heavy-handed and more or less dismissed it as a vestige of bygone times. Apparently, 'twas not to be so quickly dismissed!

That said, as we spoke before, I do worry that misogyny/sexism and homophobia in Taiwan, precisely because it is of a less virulent strain, people just shrug it off as no big deal, and we get no progress.

Readin said...

"...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..l"

Contraception and abortion are already accessible, and while legalized killing of unborn infants is still opposed by many people, legalized contraception is not an issue for any serious political party or politician.

As for "affordable", that's really a matter of technology and economics, not rights.

Or do you mean the supposed right to point a gun in someone's face (violence being the base on which government power rests) and force them to pay for your recreational activities. I don't think men have that right either - so I don't see any question of equal rights in that.

Jenna Cody said...

Contraception is not accessible to women who can't afford it, and sex is a part of a healthy life, not recreation. Unless you believe that only women with money should be able to have sex? Even when married if they don't want kids? And poor women shouldn't? (Yes, there are condoms, but there is also a thing called 'latex allergy' and they're not quite as effective. In fact, I'd say a double barrier method is best anyway because it is in everyone's best interest to reduce the abortion rate). Are you saying that a poor woman married to a man who rapes her, or pressures her for sex until she gives in (which is difficult to parse but I'd say falls on the side of 'rape') and refuses to wear a condom - that she should just carry the resulting pregnancy? How about the woman with health problems who needs the Pill for those and can't afford it (although I don't really want to get into that, because I do not want to hide behind an excuse for an argument that I am not ashamed to say *is* about sex)?

And if this is such a big deal, why is nobody raising a stink about Viagra being covered? Should people with plant allergies just stay indoors and never go hiking because that's recreational and we don't want to pay for their allergy meds?

As for your feelings on abortion, I just don't care what you think. I disagree, but I'm not going to change your mind (and you are not going to change mine). So you can stop right there with being Morality Police. I don't believe a fetus is a human being, I don't believe in God and I do believe a woman's bodily autonomy takes precedence over a ball of cellular goo. Any further discussion of abortion will be deleted, because that's not what this post is about and I'm not interested in discussing it with you.

Point is, we have TONS of medications that are ostensibly for "recreation" - so if birth control is up for debate, why not those?

Besides, YOU'RE not paying for anyone's birth control (which is not all the same and not all affordable: I personally have had to change pills to more expensive ones because the cheaper ones made me sick). It's a health benefit just like other health coverage - women are earning it as a benefit of employment just like they are earning other health coverage, other benefits and their salary. Unless you are opposed to all employer or government covered health insurance, then why this and not other things? Your morality does not determine what is and is not a "health issue".

As for paying for things you don't like: Jon Stewart said it best: "Join the fucking club." If we don't have to pay for things we don't like, when can I get my tax money that was spent on the Iraq war? I didn't like that, but I had to help finance it. So I just don't have any sympathy for you there. My moral code includes not attacking people who did nothing to us, and yet my money went toward that atrocity.

It was decided long ago - rightly - that birth control is basic health care. That's what it is - and nobody, not religion and not you, get to decide that it isn't.

All stopping insurance coverage of it would do would be to increase unwanted pregnancy and abortion. If you are so against abortion, what on earth makes you think this is a good idea? I'm pro-choice, and *I* think that's bad.

You have presumably seen the stats. You presumably know that most people have sex - married and not. You presumably know that poor women - married or not - might want to have sex and might not agree with your moral code.

And, you know, you have every right to that moral code, but you have NO RIGHT WHATSOEVER to try and force it on me.

J said...

I'm not sure the lack of vitriol means Taiwan is less sexist, per se. I've heard of a lot of well-educated, non-religious Taiwanese men having attitudes that would not be socially acceptable among people I know in the US, things like once a woman sleeps with her boyfriend she belongs to him, or that a boyfriend has the right to control who his girlfriend hangs out with, or that husbands can control how their wives spend money. You even recently had that female legislator who called unmarried women "剩女"- leftover women.

Jenna Cody said...

Very true, and good point.

But I have to say I enjoy not being attacked online and treated badly (or being ignored) out in the world - I couldn't say the same in the USA.

What's sad is that the things you hear those idiots say in Taiwan were not socially acceptable in the US five years ago, but these days...I wonder.

Jenna Cody said...

CJ - I feel like we're getting no progress in the USA either. I like to hope that this like when you are sick and take medicine, and you feel worse for awhile even though you're getting better, because your body is working harder to kill the sickness. I hope this is the last gasp of the reactionaries and their moral strictures dying, like a virus we've taken medicine for, before we can all take one big progressive step forward.

J said...

I think what we're seeing in the US is men reacting to an attack on their social power. I think it's important to remember that this is mostly a reaction to Obama's policy of requiring employers to cover contraception, which is a larger step forward than Arizona's law would be a step backward, and if I'm not mistaken is also more progressive than Taiwan, which still doesn't cover contraception. In other words, my guess is that the people spouting this shit always believed it, but didn't feel the need to say anything until Obama announced that rule, rather than the spread of sexism.

Jenna Cody said...

I dunno, Arizona's proposed laws (as well as Virginia's) are pretty damn huge steps back.

The thing is, contraception debate aside, this has actually been a problem in the US since long before the sad fat man in a tiny room called someone a "slut" for wanting basic health care coverage (and nobody in the party he allies with repudiated him, not really).

Just to be clear, I have been planning to write this post since long before the contraception "debate". The anger and hate speech, especially online but also manifesting itself in real life interactions, have been around basically forever. It just got amplified with the current debate, which is why I was finally pushed to write this (because, honestly, I'd been avoiding it).

Yes, those guys always believed it, and Taiwanese guys can at times be pretty bad in this regard too (someone was telling me today that a lot of ABCs come back to Taiwan because dating white girls meant accepting equality in a relationship and deep down, they wanted to be just a little bit above their partner: so they come back looking for a Taiwanese girlfriend).

My point is, at least here I don't have to hear the hate speech and it doesn't manifest itself the same way in social interaction...which was true long before the recent outpouring of sexist thought in the USA.

Taiwan's system does not cover contraception, but if the government made a push to cover it, while you'd hear some whining about the birth rate (which is total bullshit, which I wrote about in a previous post) but few - if any - people would say "no, we shouldn't cover it because it just encourages women to have sex". They'd be sane about it, generally, with just a few nutcase outliers, and not frame it as "those sluts just want free sex pills" or "boo hoo our religious beliefs don't match up with what most of the country believes, poor us waaah waaah we're expected to be good employers like everyone else *whine*" but rather discuss it as the women's health and public health issue that it is. You would hear a few old folks say things about chaste girls controlling themselves but most people would quite rightly admit the truth about the statistics of who is having sex and why rather than trying to force outdated, sexist morality down others' throats.

Catherine Shu said...

cj brings up a great point here: "I do worry that misogyny/sexism and homophobia in Taiwan, precisely because it is of a less virulent strain, people just shrug it off as no big deal, and we get no progress."

One of the things I enjoy about living in Taipei City is that it is one of the gay-friendliest cities I can think of. And yet there is so little discussion of topics like same-sex marriage. It is like society tacitly enforces a "don't ask, don't tell" policy about homosexuality.

Michael Turton said...

I just. don't. hear. it.

I do.

Jenna Cody said...

It's not that I don't hear sexist opinions being voiced - I do. I don't like it, and I'm not pretending Taiwan is some perfect world of perfect treatment towards women.

It's the outright *hate* that I don't hear.

Although it bothers me a lot that much of the hate speech towards women comes from other women (ie that "leftover women" commenter). On the other hand, the US has Michelle Bachmann, Sarah Palin and Phyllis Schlafly.

blobOfNeurons said...

I just. don't. hear. it.

For the most part*, neither do I but maybe I'm just not listening hard enough.

*Some indirect references to the friend zone but it's not called that here.