Tuesday, May 17, 2016
WILDLY SPECULATING about the lack of women in the Tsai cabinet
Please enjoy this random photo I took that I happen to like
The difficult thing about trying to have something of a niche in the Taiwan blogging world is that sometimes you don't necessarily have a lot to say about the latest news in your niche other than "well that sucks".
I mean, I could try to salvage a bright side and note that when the highest office in the land is occupied for a woman, that's a victory no matter what, but I'm not feelin' it and you probably aren't either. We do expect more, for good reason.
It happened with Hung Hsiu-chu's short-lived candidacy and it's happening again with the Tsai administration's new "no girls allowed" cabinet, which people are pointing out mostly because, as Taiwan's first female president, they expected a little more gender equality in said cabinet because they expected an administration to be sensitive to such things (if President Ma had a cabinet with very few women, many people would probably just chalk it up to Ma being an asshat and be done with it).
Can I just note in that podcast, which starts talking about gender imbalances at about the 28-29 minute mark, I was a little annoyed by a female speaker call it the worst "Mother's Day present to women"? Not all women are mothers. What does Mother's Day have to do with women generally? Not much.
All I really have to say is "well that sucks"- and the cabinet overall, in terms of age and education, also kinda sucks.
Of course, from my memory of the Tsai campaign, although the first time around I came across stickers and other promotional materials touting her as "Taiwan's first female president" in the 2012 campaign she lost, I just don't remember seeing much about her campaigning specifically on that idea or drawing attention to her gender much at all. Certainly I don't remember her promising a gender-equitable cabinet.
Or did she, and I just missed that? Please do remember I spent a huge chunk of 2015 in the US for family reasons, and returning I was so busy I didn't have time to catch up on the political scene, so I missed a lot. If so, it's a straight-up broken promise.
But, then again, maybe I didn't miss anything. It seems to me her gender, and not her words, created that expectation and when she went and acted like any ol' politician with a penis, it was that expectation, the ones we created, that were dashed. I'm not sure she herself gave any indication that she would specifically be a force for gender equality beyond being a woman herself. The podcast says something like "we expected she could break the glass ceiling for all women", but did Tsai ever say she was going to do that, make an effort on that or focus on that?
I'm genuinely asking, because, as I said, I wasn't here for much of 2015 and paying more attention to family than Taiwan.
That's not meant as a defense - I happen to think any presidential candidate regardless of gender should have a gender equitable cabinet. Tsai is not exempt from that because or despite the fact that she's female. While I would hope a president who understands the obstacles women face just for being women would be more sensitive to the issue, I hold male politicians just as accountable.
Well, I say that, but I didn't write any of this when Ma was elected and re-elected, even though (while Tsai's cabinet has an even bigger gender imbalance) it's not like the Ma administration was this huge pro-women revolution or seemed to care much about women's representation in government. So maybe I'm a hypocrite.
I'm not sure why, and while a lot has been reported on it, nobody else seems to really know why either. I haven't heard much in the way of reasons for this, even in the podcast where there is criticism, and dismay, but almost nothing deeper, nothing in the way of analysis for how this happened - perhaps because nobody knows.
But not knowing never stopped me from shooting off my mouth before, so I'll speculate wildly and inexpertly because what the hell.
1.) Edited to add: the most obvious possibility, which I didn't really consider because (thanks to my own biases) I just sort of assumed Tsai would have a strong hand in who went into the cabinet. But, she may well have just rubber-stamped Lin Chuan's choices. I didn't really consider this one because I assumed (possibly wrongly?) that if Tsai is ultimately appoints the cabinet that the final responsibility and blame for who is in that cabinet rests with her (also I tend to ignore Lin Chuan because I feel like he's setting himself up to do a bad job...perhaps I just wish he didn't exist?). Or perhaps - despite my earlier claim to try and not have any biases and to hold male and female elected officials equally accountable for gender parity in government, in fact I did automatically lay blame on the woman rather than the (can I say kind of terrible? Is it too early for that? I really don't like him) man.
2.)As a former policy wonk without much executive experience, perhaps she just didn't think this one through. That sounds lightweight, but in fact it's pretty damning. A good leader must think these things through.
3.) As a woman fighting against an overwhelmingly pro-man, anti-woman sexist system, perhaps she has developed a mindset in which, well, she acts like the men around her. It's not that uncommon, especially for women in power, to try to secure and establish their positions by, at times subconsciously, acting and thinking more like the men around them. Not because it's particularly natural for women to follow men (it's not) but because it's natural for people to want to fit into their environs, and when the environment is such a damn sausage fest, perhaps you start to think like you have some sausage yourself.
4.) Perhaps, unlike the somewhat unconscious 'gotta fit in, gotta think like them' mentality above, this is a conscious effort to take emphasis off her gender and establish herself as an authority, to even maybe distance herself from 'women's issues'? Like "they'll all expect me to be 'women this and women that' rather than listening to me on the 1992 consensus, the Senkakus, international organization participation, the economy and more so I'll cut that off early by not showing women any special consideration." If so, it backfired spectacularly!
5.) Some combination of (4) and (5) or landing somewhere in between has led her to a slightly askance viewpoint in which insisting to the point of going beyond logic that only credentials matter and gender never does - which of course is true, or is true in a perfect world, but as this points out (in Chinese), so often 'gender doesn't matter, only credentials matter, if the most qualified people are men then the majority of the cabinet will be men' is taken as a launch point not to fight for greater equality because credentialed people exist in diverse and less-privileged populations, but to keep the patriarchy firmly in place and let the system run as usual.
Seeing as previous cabinets (under men!) had more women than this one, clearly women with the right credentials exist. This cabinet could have been more gender-equal. Saying "well they got the most qualified people they could and they happen to be men" papers over that with, well, illogic and falsehood.
Also worth noting is that this can't possibly be the 'most qualified cabinet' to run Taiwan as it exists today: a country that is finally starting to listen to its youth. When the average age of your cabinet is closer to my father's than it is to mine (and I'm not particularly young though I like to pretend otherwise) in a country where student activists are a big effin' deal, then your cabinet is not qualified to properly represent the country.
(I'm not quite as worried about the lack of PhDs compared to previous cabinets, in part because I don't think education is necessarily the only way to become a great statesperson, in part because Taiwan already has a lot of respect, and quite a few, very highly educated people making high-level decisions - they do love their scholar-leaders - and in part because we all remember what happened when MENSA tried to run Springfield).
Though that brings me to a pretty solid silver lining that my previous contemplations failed to provide: at least the public discourse surrounding this issue is pretty solid in Taiwan. Taiwan civil society for the win! I'm not sure I'd expect discourse like this to be the rule rather than the exception in many other countries (I thought of Asia when I said that but I have to be honest - including my own. The USA is full of man-children).
So, I guess I'll end on that.
Come on Tsai. Do better.