Saturday, March 5, 2011

Why are there so few expat women in Asia?

Female friendship, as Lindsey Craig noted, can be hard to come by in Asia. But it is possible to find if you hang in there.
There's been a lot bouncing around blogs, newspapers and other social media about this article by Lindsey Craig (which I did mistakenly spell as "Lindsay Craig" at first) - about culture shock and not being able to adjust to Taiwan:

Teaching English: Culture Shock

Now, I agree with one commenter on Michael Turton's post that this isn't really journalism and was fine for a blog but has no place in a newspaper, but that's not why I'm writing about it here.

I've decided to examine - again, with no real answers because there are so rarely nifty solutions to these things - why there are so few female expats living in Asia, starting with this quote from the article:

Dealing with it all may have been easier if I’d been able to build a stronger network of support. Although I was there with my boyfriend, I longed for female friendship. I’d met a handful of foreign women, but we didn’t have much in common. I did become friends with an Aussie named Kate, but we lived far apart and didn’t see each other that often.
Foreign guys seemed to be having an easier time. Insects and chaotic streets didn’t seem to bother them as much, and Taiwanese women treated Caucasian men like Hollywood stars. The bigger the nose, the more handsome the man, they said.


I haven’t seen one Caucasian female yet ... is there a reason?

Well, there isn't a clear reason but there is a lot of speculation and a few likely culprits. So...why aren't there more foreign expat women in Taiwan? Or in Asia, in general?

I'm coming at this from years of firsthand experience living in Asia - in India, China and now Taiwan. I can confirm that the general perception that fewer Western women come to Asia than men is entirely true. There are fewer of us across the board, although as vacationing goes I'd say the numbers are more equal (and skewed somewhat towards women in India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka).
So why is this so? I am specifically trying to expand the issue to encompass the rest of Asia - at least East and Southeast Asia, although my experience in SE Asia is more tourist-based than expat-based.
From my (Taiwanese) friend Roy:

"It's because they prefer to stay home and don't want to deal with the problems of traveling overseas, because they'd rather be near their loved ones, isn't it?"

From several folks on Forumosa, suggesting that it's about the dating prospects:

Pardon me asking the obvious question, but why come to Asia at all if you aren't interested in the men? Why voluntarily choose to live in a culture and society in which you have no interest in the people? That's what I don't understand about many foreign women in Asia - they whine about how their dating life sucks, yet snub their noses up at 99.999% of the population. Why just not move to Sweden or Brazil or wherever, where you actually like the men? 

Which is echoed here, too:

Single "western" women don't have a very good chance of dating here. Single foreign men tend to date local women and there aren't many chances to date the local men either. If you're a single woman in your late 20's or older and want to date, then you may be disappointed while in Taipei. This is the case for every single foreign woman I have met in Taiwan.

(The sentiment of this quote has appeared elsewhere but I was so offended by the context of it on those other sites - implying that women should 'lower their standards' - that I'm not linking it).
There's also the "women can't handle it" approach (in the comments):

Western women or people coming from the a developed world with good social systems less likely to tolerate living in a place as the Mainland, rude people spitting, jumping queue enough to turn them off. Many men tolerate the place simply because they could save up more money by living in a 3rd world country.


Men can easily adapt to foreign countries. Maybe.

From a student:

"Maybe they're just not that interested in traveling, or they don't want to learn Chinese or they want to travel to countries in Europe or easier places?"

I look awful in this photo but I'll add it anyway - I stand by the idea that the best way to have a good time as a single female expat in Asia is to find a mixed group - male and female, local and foreign - in which to socialize

So, to this cacaphony, I'll add my own two cents.

First, the folks who say it's because women can't adjust to living abroad, or we're more disgusted by the roaches, the spitting, the dirt and the pollution? That's just bollocks. Complete and utter BS. Lindsey Craig's complaint about the giant roaches of Taiwan aside, I've found this to be exactly not the case. There is a fairly equal gender ratio of men and women who serve in the Peace Corps, despite the fact that female volunteers are at disproportionate risk of threats and sexual violence. We wouldn't see as many women excited about Peace Corps if "women couldn't handle life in a third world country".

We are adaptable, we can be tough when necessary and we are good at forming the social networks necessary at getting us through trying situations, something that some researchers say men often have trouble with. We are not the shrinking violets of yore who can't handle
some spit 'n bugs.

Western women in Asia (China to be exact), handling the spit, the bugs, the toilets and the pollution just fine.

While studying in India, I was in a group of 9 American students, and there was another student group in the same town. Our group was made of 7 women and 2 men, and their group was
slightly more equal but still seemed to be skewed towards women. The women were the ones cracking up telling "Did I ever tell you about the time my Amma fed me so much idli that I puked on the table?" stories.

Years later, when I traveled alone around India and Bangladesh for two months, the independent travelers I met were disproportionally women. Sure, we didn't stay in truck stops or flea pits for basic safety, but we were the ones laughing ourselves red over pooping in a ditch only to realize that a dog was trying to lick your butt (true story), or making up insane recipes for some of the more horrific smells we encountered (two parts deceased, fetid cow, three parts urine, six parts moldy food, four parts dog droppings, one part vomit), puking at inopportune times, or trading stories about the largest cockroaches and worst bathrooms.

Adding to this is the fact that plenty of holiday destinations attract more women than men - you're more likely to meet groups of women vacationing in Bali or a mixed group in Goa, and just as likely to find women as men traveling across Vietnam, the beaches of Thailand or rural China - there are entire volumes of stories and compiled articles from women writing about their travels abroad.

If anything, the reaction I've heard to most female expats who do stick it out to Lindsey's article is along the lines of "wow...she's not very tough, is she" and my own "well, she's going to need an all-inclusive bracelet if she ever decides to travel outside of Europe - most of the world is worse than her complaints about Taiwan."

Trust me, we can handle it. In fact, here's a warning: don't ever get into a pissing contest (pun intended) over the "worst bathroom story" with me. I'll win.

For those who say it's that we "miss our families", "don't want adventure" or "prefer to stay home", well, that's not entirely true either (sorry, Roy). There is some truth to it - more women than men are starting to get Master's degrees, so it makes sense that a higher proportion of women who might otherwise consider life abroad instead decide to invest in graduate school, dodgy investment though that can be.

It's also true that if there is a romantic prospect back home, a woman is fairly likely to decide to see where it's going rather than picking up and moving abroad - although this is not always true. I have two firsthand accounts to draw from on this: my expat friend who lives in Japan (and is getting married in ten days, yay!) moved to Japan despite being in a relationship. She moved just because she wanted to and had been planning to, and trusted life to work things out on the "I want to be with this guy" and "I want to live abroad" fronts. Life did work itself out, though it doesn't always. She ended up staying for years because life was better than back home, and he eventually moved to Japan to be with her. That said, she waited a year after her initial planned departure date to let her relationship grow a bit before making the move and committing to long-distance love - which makes perfect sense.

Expats in Asia - UNITE! See, foreign women live in Asia, too.
(Japan 2009)
Another friend who did two stints in Taiwan returned to Australia for her boyfriend, whom she'd officially gotten together with at a distance, while he was in Australia and she was in Taiwan, but there were other reasons for the return (namely, graduate school).

I do understand this - if there is one specific person, and you are in a serious relationship with them (not just faffing around), and want/need to make some sacrifices because it's important to you to see where things are going with that person, then it makes sense to give up expat life for that, at least temporarily. That goes for men too, though: sometime sacrifices are necessary in life and when it comes to making a relationship work, both parties are on the hook.

In the absence of higher education or a specific relationship, though, I have seen absolutely no evidence in favor of "women generally prefer to live closer to home so they don't move abroad". As such, I'm calling BS on that one, too. I have found that parents of women living abroad tend to worry more or want their daughters to come home more strongly, or at least to visit home more often, but that doesn't seem to affect whether the women go in the first place.

I don't know if I can even seriously consider "women just aren't as interested in learning Chinese". (Note: or Thai, or Indonesian, or Japanese or Korean or Tamil or Tibetan). I don't think it's true at all, although I have no evidence to back it up. While studying Chinese formally, I met just as many foreign women as men. Women are often - not always, I refuse to over-generalize - more language-oriented and Chinese is a fascinating language to learn. It makes no sense to say that women are simply not interested in it or in other languages they could study in Asia, and at the student level I've seen nothing to support this.

In fact, if I had to pick one area in which expat numbers are roughly equal, I'd say it's among students. Nowhere else in Taiwan have I seen a more equal distribution of foreign men and women than in the various Chinese schools around Taipei. For the record, I've attended both TLI and Shi-da. The same has held true in my experience for students in other countries, including my stint studying in southern India.

Now onto the hot-button topic - dating prospects.

Sadly, I have to admit that there's some truth to this. There always has been, ever since moving abroad and not being an explorer was something one could conceivably do (and something women could also do) - which basically came about in Victorian times if you don't count the American colonial period (which was entirely different kind of "living abroad"). If you've read The Map of Love or seen Lagaan you'll know that unmarried or widowed Victorian and Edwardian women were at times encouraged to travel a bit in "the colonies", but even then it was far less likely that a woman would do so than a man, and also far less acceptable for a white woman to marry a local man than for a white man to marry a local woman. I think we all know why this was in the light of the status of women in their household. (In those days marriage was a real issue; we can substitute "dating" in the modern context).

It is true that, excepting some older foreign service officers, "I came, I loved it, I opened a backpacker cafe and I never left" types and businesspeople, the average age of a Western expat in Asia and elsewhere is between 20 and 40. It is true that this is the time when most people find a life partner (if they do at all). It is also true - as much as I hate to say it - that it is harder for Western women to date in Asia than back home. A lot harder, although not quite impossible.

I refuse to get into any tripe about how our "standards are too high" or we're "bitter and fat" or "we won't even look at what's available" or "we're not interested in local men" - a few anecdotes does not make a body of evidence and these are all unfair stereotypes. I have met very few (if any, come to think of it) Western women abroad who conform to them - it's almost as though this White Harridan is some sort of projection of a collective knock-kneed male subconscious. I certainly haven't met her in the flesh.

As for the reasons why, it's hard for me to say, and I'll have to stick to heterosexual couples for now. Someone more qualified than me can write about gay dating in Asia.

My college crush moved to Taiwan, we started dating, and now we're married. I don't really have firsthand experience with this issue to share. It seems to me, though, that the issue is not what most people assume: that Western women don't want to date Asian men, so they stay single. Only a small minority of Western women I've met in Asia feel that way - most are quite open to it, or have dated (or married) Asian men. However, I do think it's likely harder. The culture barrier to dating doesn't work in our favor, as Asian men are often less likely to be clear about their feelings and ask for concrete dates, or don't show interest in the ways we've come to expect. It's easier to be a very clear Western man asking a local woman out than it is for a Western woman to figure out if an Asian man likes her.

Of course, I'm the sort of woman who once asked men out. It doesn't shock me - I think more women should do it! Again, however, that's a contentious topic in the West, though I'm not sure why. In Asia it's even more rare and is more likely to put men off. Take that even further, and it means there are fewer local men who possess the feminist chops many Western women deem a dealbreaker: I wouldn't date a man who would be put off by my asking him out.

After that, the culture barrier vis-a-vis traditional families also tends not to work in Western women's favor. If you are dating the son of Asian parents, while it's not certain that they'll expect him to run his family the way they tell him to, live nearby or use your shared financial resources to support his parents, it is certainly more likely than in the West. The expectations of male and female roles in marriage are also more likely to be traditional (though, again, this is far from universal: feminist Asian men do exist. I count some among my friends). Some Western women might see this as a difficult adjustment. Others, like me, view it as a dealbreaker.

This is not meant to be a blanket statement on the state of Western woman-Asian man dating in Asia, of course. Differing stories and successful and happy couples abound. It's just an issue worth considering. However, if the obstacles to that sort of partnership are greater, fewer women are likely to meet, date, marry and set up a home with a local man. This means fewer have that particular pull to stay (though, again, there are many success stories).

And, of course, there aren't that many Western men to date and the ones that are here might - see below - be oddly hostile to Western women. 

Does it really keep Western women away from life abroad, though, or is the correlation entirely spurious?

A little of both. For women who want to travel, the dating issue (which has no easy answer) is not likely to keep them away, though it may cause them to choose shorter-term trips: a one-year stint as a student or one year abroad teaching instead of staying long-term, for example.
It is absolutely true that the nightlife, as well as any of the avenues by which single women generally meet men, is stacked against us. In India, with the exceptions of a few cosmopolitan cities, women do not go to bars. They just don't, and you better not either. Not that bars have ever been the best way to meet people with whom one might actually start a relationship!

In Bangkok, where I spent a few weeks once cooling my heels as I waited for a visa to come through, there is plenty of nightlife and it's mostly safe for the Western woman, but that doesn't mean the average Western woman wants to partake of it (go check out Soi Cowboy sometime - you'll see what I mean). Why go to a bar or club where you don't know anyone, you're quite possibly the only foreign woman there, and neither the men (foreign or local) nor the local women want to talk to you? The situation is a little better in Taiwan, fortunately, but I'm not sure I'd say it's appreciably better. I can't give an accurate viewpoint on that as I was single for less than a year while living in Taiwan and never went out to bars or clubs specifically seeking a dating life. Not that I ever did that normally - I am a firm believer that one most likely meets quality partners through mutual friends or shared interest groups. I did have one date in Taiwan before my now-husband moved here - it was a disaster.
In other areas there are chances for women to socialize, mostly in backpacker cafes and bars, although those are geared toward more transient traveler types.

Don't even get me started on expat bars or places like Carnegie's, by the way. Just don't. A visit to some of them (not all) is just as depressing as a visit to Soi Cowboy.

Actively trying to make local female friends, as well as coordinating larger friend groups, is one way to feel less isolated as a female expat. Making local female friends helps, too.

It is also true that a woman contemplating moving abroad might well do some advance research - something Lindsey Craig should have done more of - realize how few other foreign women she was likely to meet, and be less inclined to go (not saying she wouldn't go) than a single man of a similar demographic whose head is filled with stories of how easy it is to date the local women. She's hearing stories of woe and he's getting pumped up on a dating pool skewed in his favor. Who's more likely to go, and who's more likely to stay long-term? I'd say though that it is more a case of men being more inclined to go after hearing the stories rather than women being less's not less women, but more men. Add to that how much BS the average Western woman abroad hears about how all Western women are bad, bad, bad and that's why the men date the locals, and yes, she might be somewhat less inclined to go than the man who is told "you can date soooo many girls! It's a feast!"
Of the women who do stay long-term, I can't help but note that the vast majority of them are in serious relationships or married - count me among them. The friend I mentioned above has been in a relationship, at first long-distance and then not, since she set foot in Japan five years ago. When I lived in China, there was another female teacher when I arrived - she was married and teaching along with her husband and two teenage daughters.

Yet another woman, now a good friend, showed up halfway through my stay - she ended up dating and eventually marrying the only other expat in town, a British guy. (Well, there was a haughty girl who never talked to us and eventually moved to Tibet, but she doesn't count). They stayed in China for a bit and then spent almost a year in Thailand before returning to England, and then the USA, to live. She now frequently travels to Guatemala for field work and he visits. Other long-termers tend to be married. The foreign women in my various Chinese classes? Mostly married or not planning to stay long term. Every foreign woman who's stayed even remotely long term at my company? In a serious relationship or married. Every. Single. One.

Of course, as I said, some anecdotes does not a body of evidence make, but it does present a strong case for we can handle life abroad, we are interested in it, and the second that the specter of dating is lifted from our shoulders it makes it easier for us to contemplate staying. It has nothing to do with having a man there (disclaimer: I do make my husband kill the cockroaches. I know, I am a disgrace to the feminist cause). It has everything to do with not having to deal with the complicated world of dating and relationships in a market stacked against you at a time when one's love life tends to be the most active and when people generally meet their partners.

I can't speak for anyone else, but I still would have come to Taiwan and likely stayed a year or two even if Brendan had never existed, but it is absolutely true that after two years I'd have just as likely moved home for awhile.

But, as I said, the dating issue isn't the entire reason. It is merely one important element, and I think better explains why women are less likely to stay, rather than why they're less likely to come. I am curious if the clear dearth of female expats is caused in part by the fact that the women go home sooner (for graduate school or dating prospects or whatever, or because the anti-woman expat scene depresses them), not that less women overall come in the first place.
Some other ideas I've come up with?

First, that once they get here, women are so inundated with complaints about them on expat forums online as well as in expat or traveler bars and cafes that they get a bit deflated about the whole thing - why even try to make friends if there aren't many other women staying long-term and the men they meet complain about how the Western women are "bitter and fat" - who wants to form a social network with people like that?

It is rarely remarked upon yet absolutely true that the expat world is man-oriented and, to an extent, anti-woman, or at least anti-Western woman. While I've found a space for myself and been welcomed by the better among male long-term expats here, at times it is clear that the overall state of things is inexplicably hostile to Western women. You would think men who'd traveled around the world would be more egalitarian and less sexist, but that seems not to be the case. The number of Neanderthalic opinions I've come across in the expat community here that expressly devalue women is shocking. It makes me not want to hang around such people (so I don't).

Consider Forumosa before it got cleaned up a bit and they started a Women's Forum - it was very discouraging for any woman posting there. TEALIT? Full of people looking for hookups, even in the "just friends" and "language exchange" sections. Between the nightlife issues, the complaints about foreign women and the lack of other women, I can see why female expats might get discouraged and go home. Consider too how many times I've been mansplained to, talked down to or ignored because at expat events - at times feeling that quick appraisal of my (eh) looks and then completely dismissed. Why would any woman find that appealing? 

I would like to add here two things: one, that just because some parts of the foreigner scene (at least in Taiwan) can be discouraging for female expats, it doesn't mean the entire scene is bleak. There are book clubs, sports pickup game leagues, happy hours and plenty of friendly faces - both male and female (though mostly male) - and not every male expat out there bashes Western women - far from it. I'd say most don't but the ones who do are prevalent enough that it is all too easy to generalize and get discouraged or feel lonely. It's not all bad: there is just one very vocal segment of that population that can sometimes cast a discouraging pall over everyone.

Second, that it's a vicious circle: women move abroad, realize how few other women there are, how hard it is to create female friendship (though there is always the option of sticking it out and making local female friends), and leave earlier than they otherwise might. The support networks are just not there, and they need to be. That's why I do go out of my way to cover women's issues in Taiwan and, to some extent, in Asia. There needs to be more support for women abroad online and in real life.

Chances are, if you are looking for female friendship, other female expats are, too.

Third, that women abroad feel challenged by basic tasks that men have no problem with, such as haircuts and shopping for clothes or shoes, and have to deal with cultural differences and expectations regarding weight that are unfairly (ahem) weighted against them - as though saying no to a French fry is going to make them as petite as the average Asian woman. As though it's their fault that Western women have body types that Asian women often (not always!) don't. We have to deal with the Old Taiwanese Lady weight and appearance comments, the forthrightness about size and the absence of basic necessities (tampons, gynecologists who speak English, clothes, shoes) in a way that men don't, and it can get very discouraging. When you are challenged with everything from personal care to clothes to shoes to hair, and made to feel gargantuan in the process, even if you aren't, it wears a woman down. 

A few thoughts from a friend provide Nos. Four and Five:

Fourth, that women looking into moving abroad are aware of the fact that sexism is far more of an issue in Asia (not nearly as much in Taiwan, though it's definitely there), just in terms of local culture. That likely keeps some women away, and for those who come anyway, it may be a reason for those women to go home earlier: imagine how much greater the culture shock is for a foreign woman in a country with traditional (and therefore, by Western standards, sexist) values than for a man. Foreign women do get trump cards in many cases - basically, "It's OK that you're weird and you don't share our social values because you're foreign" - but there are still some real issues here, and the ensuing culture shock is likely a huge factor. It is tiring to work for a sexist boss, have to address sexist beliefs even among friends, go out and meet people only to find that you are again being judged through the lens of gender, asked yet again about marriage and family, having children, having your appearance commented on and treated as the most important part of who you are. Always wondering if you are being paid less, and if so, because you happen to have a vagina. Always wondering if you are offered the fluffier classes (e.g. "Baking in English!") and work teaching children rather than the more challenging work (e.g. "Presenting in English") because you are female. Always questioning why, exactly, most of your colleagues are male, especially if you teach corporate English, IELTS or other adult classes.

Sexism is also a problem in the West - the hate and vitriol I see from some American men is astounding - but coming up against older-school forms of it in Asia is tiring. 

All I can say is that I hope someday, our daughters will grow up in a world where this isn't an issue and people won't hide behind bogus science or ridiculous claims of "it's our CULTURE to treat women badly".

...and fifth, as suggested by a friend, there is the idea that Western women aren't expected to be as adventurous as their brothers - that the urge to go out and explore the world isn't something people generally associate with women, even in the USA (or other Western countries) - women are more encouraged to nest rather than hunt (as one commenter below said - though I think that is just as 'nurture' as it is 'nature'), and as a result fewer women decide to live abroad.

I'm not sure I buy this, but then I'm from the liberal Northeast US and raised in an environment where I was absolutely just as encouraged to travel as I would have been had I been born male. However, I will say honestly that once abroad more permanently I felt more pressure to visit often (at my expense) and move home from my family than my husband has felt from his. That could be a difference between families, or it could be that I am a daughter and he is a son. It is possible that this is an issue as you head to more conservative parts of the USA, though I can't say I buy it regarding Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and other countries that lack America's rural conservative fervor. I can dismiss it regarding my own cultural background, but I don't have enough experience in rural American culture to definitively call BS.

That said, one friend and (former) expat, B., is female and from that part of the country, and despite being heavily pressured to stay home and follow a traditional (and religious) life path, she managed to spend a year in Shanghai and two stints of a few months each in Taiwan. Another comrade from the road, T., was someone I met in 2000 while studying in India. From a small South/Midwestern town, she too came from that background and yet not only studied in India but came back as a program counselor. These two examples show that if this social pressure is real (and it may well be), that it clearly doesn't work on every woman, and I'd say that men from these backgrounds, while possibly not as actively encouraged to "stay home", are passively not encouraged from moving abroad for long periods.

I want to add a few more points here to expand this piece. I focused mainly on expats like me above: women who came here on their own as students or independently in search of work. However, there is a whole class of expat that I don't interact with much - nothing personal, we just inhabit different worlds - the corporate expat here on a fancy package. In Taiwan this means the ones who have luxury apartments rented for them, drivers and live-in help, who send their children to international schools we couldn't hope to afford. That sort of money would be nice, though I'm not sure I'd like the life very much. In any case, corporate sexism is a huge issue, and as a result most of the employees being offered these stellar packages are male. They might bring their wives, but they are the ones drawing the salaries. When women are offered something like this, they may find they're in a tiny minority and that when they arrive, the non-Western corporate world is even more hostile and sexist than what they left behind. Professional Taiwanese women have more advantages than almost all of their counterparts in the rest of Asia, but corporate sexism here is no better, and likely worse, than what you'll find in the West.

And, finally, I'm going to add something that may anger a few people, but here we go. It is my personal opinion from observation that women tend to be less tolerant of mediocrity. What I mean by that is, those of us who don't come as students or well-paid, cosseted expatriates often start out teaching English. Few of us are qualified, and we are given a title ("teacher") that we don't exactly deserve. I don't exempt myself from this: I was once this sort of so-called "teacher". Most "English teachers" in Taiwan know this (though some don't seem to have figured it out). Some, like me, decide the work is meaningful and fulfilling and eventually become professional educators. Most don't. Some leave after awhile, others decide that teaching without any real qualification is good enough and stay. Guess which group I have noticed is more likely to not be content being an unqualified "teacher"? If you guessed women, then you get where I'm going. And guess which group I've noticed is more likely to decide that what they're doing is fine?

Yup. Men. In my personal observation.

So which group, if this is true, is more likely to stay longer?


For the record:
Good haircuts in Taiwan for Western women - no more Japanese femullets!
Shopping in Taiwan - sorry, but you're probably stuck with Plus Size stores, as annoying as that is, or getting clothes made in Yongle Market
As always, just some thoughts. Like everyone else, I don't have the answers - just a lot of questions and opinions. :)
Expat women of Asia, if you're reading this - your thoughts and comments are welcome (and men too)!


Kath said...

I love this post and I love you. Thanks for posting this. I was actually already on my way over here to give you this award One Lovely Blog Award anyway but this kind of thing that you write is exactly why. Finding female friendship is so important and something that's more challenging but not impossible. I'm so lucky to have found friends here, both expat and local. Being at The Community Services Center is definitely helpful and a great source of support and opportunities to meet people.

Anyway, you rock. Hope you like the award :) Thanks for the shout out in the post too!

Lai Wongbao said...

Hi Jenna. A very insightful take on living/teaching abroad--much more in-depth than the muckraking that is going on over Ms. Craig's article. As a student of immigration history, reasons behind the 'male sojourner', both to and from Asia, has been a topic of hot debate. This really gave me an appreciation of the practical 'female side' of living in Taiwan. I posted a link to your article on my blog at Taiwan Introspective. Hope that's okay!

Pommygirl said...

Wow, I really like how you've covered a lot of the aspects of the single female overseas.

I don't mind at all that you've mentioned me, and I'd like to add my two cents on dating-

Even if I was interested in a local guy (and there were some!) I didn't know how to show that. I've grown up with a process of liking a person, making an effort to go out socially and be around that person, hang out together, then getting together as a couple.

The other avenue available is to ask the guy out on a date, but I got the impression that wasn't the done thing either. Plus my own lack of experience made me shy of the idea.

I wondered sometimes if expat women are intimidating to local men, or that we are too far outside the norm for them. I don't think it's "She's foreign and she'll be going home anyway, so why bother?' because that doesn't seem to stop local girl and foreign guy couplings.

In my own situation, the big thing that made me return home was the need to have someone to share it all with. I do love travelling, but the company makes a massive difference to me. I've been incredibly lucky to have that in Taiwan, and I'm hoping to continue that in other countries too.

TG said...

There is a very simple answer:

It's because women nest and men hunt.

Anonymous said...

Truthfully, I haven't finished reading this post yet because it's so long! But it's incredibly thorough, and I want to thank you for taking the time to write something so insightful.

I have been here for almost three years, and even as a American born Taiwanese, I am only beginning to enjoy my time in Taiwan, but I am also beginning to understand how especially challenging it had been for me to adapt to the culture and environment here when I first started teaching. The majority of westerners I see in Kaohsiung are men, and they all rave about how wonderful it is here, and for the longest time, I thought that my misery and hardships were a special case. The attitude among Taiwanese, and even other Western men that one should simply like it or leave obviously didn't help me. I pushed through my three years year, convincing myself that I'd eventually get past the culture shock and begin to embrace this place, which I did, but those were a very difficult three years.

Thank you for sharing the woman's perspective on living in Taiwan. Reading your post has truly made me feel supported, understood and less alone.

Anonymous said...

Hey! Great post.

I'm a newb (woman from California, have only spent two months in Taiwan so far). My experience thus far has been much better than Ms. Craig's - I'm actually surprised I'm not more culture-shocked, and I suspect it will hit me once I stop expecting it. Of course I know some Mandarin, which helps.

I feel I am rather fortunate. I have made one female ex-pat e friend, and two female local friends thus far. I also have some female acquaintances which could turn into friendships. I also have some male ex-pat friends too, who have also been very helpful.

I am also fortunate in that I am not looking for romance right now, regardless of where I live. Thus I think it's quite convenient that the men, local or not, are unlikely to make a move on me - one less hassle than I had in the United States. Likewise, my physique is not so different from that of local women, so clothes shopping shouldn't me much of a problem. Shoes, I'm sure, will be an entirely different matter, but I did my research and brought extra shoes so I can put off my shoe-buying as long as possible.

*This next section discusses female bodily functions; if you don't want to read about it, don't*

The availability of tampons, or menstrual pads, is almost entirely irrelevant to me. I brought my menstrual cup, which takes care of most of my menstrual needs (I use the Lunette from Finland by the way), as well cloth pads for the rest of my menstrual needs. I'll only need menstrual supplies if/when my current ones break, get lost, etc. I've checked, and it is possible (though I imagine a bit of a pain) to buy Lunettes in Taiwan, and if necessary I can make my own cloth pads.

Anyway, I'll be sure to come back here just for the resources you listed (I think I'll need to use the haircut one - though my male ex-pat friends have also complained about local hair cuts), and thanks for shedding some light on when there are less ex-pat women than ex-pat men around. I was wondering, and a lot of the explanations from Western men sounded like BS to me.


Catherine Shu said...

I took a look at the Lindsey Craig article and, honestly, you can apply most of her complaints to life in any big city (the roaches here have nothing on the roaches in NYC, let me tell you [shudder]). She just comes off as very naive... and I just feel really sad for her because I know what it feels like to feel so isolated that your loneliness turns into feelings of bitterness and anger.

I shared my personal experience on your FB, so I won't repeat it here, but I think a lot of women have the same concerns I did about becoming an expat. If you are a woman in a male-dominated industry (which is most industries), you feel like you have to work extra-hard in order to solidify your professional standing. I have a lot of female friends who want to move abroad for a few years, but simply don't feel like they can unless they find a way to use their time in Asia (or wherever) as a resume builder. If they can't, they'd rather stay in the US and spend that time earning a promotion or earning a graduate degree.

It's not even necessarily about making time to have children. It's about not wanting to be seen as a directionless, feckless, flaky ditz.

For the women I know, the dating scene in whatever country they want to go to is a smaller concern. I mean, yeah, they'd like some sort of love life, but they aren't planning to date the entire country... just hoping to find one (or a few) guy(s) they like spending time with.

"It is rarely remarked upon yet absolutely true that the expat world is man-oriented and, to an extent, anti-woman, or at least anti-Western woman."

I agree that there is a lot of sexism in the expat community, period, not just toward Western women. I've read and heard plenty of comments basically painting all Taiwanese women as brain-dead sex objects. That kind of stuff is not just upsetting to women. I know guys who avoid certain Web sites because they find the misogyny and stereotyping extremely irritating.

MKL: "It's because women nest and men hunt."

Oh dear. I think you are getting women confused with oviparous animals, and men confused with Dick Cheney (who, rumor has it, is also a type of oviparous animal).

Jenna Lynn Cody said...

Aww, Kath - thanks! I love reading your own posts and book reviews, too!

@MKL - I think we disagree in that you say that is a "simple" answer, whereas I say it is a "simplistic" answer. First, I do not accept as fact that "women nest, men hunt" - as a woman who prefers hunting to nesting. While general trends in these directions can be found in large populations, a.) I think they are more societal conditioning than biological and b.) generalizations break down at the individual level anyway.

While you make a very valid point, and one worth exploring, it can't be boiled down into a sentence like that without inviting a lot of sexism-tinged assumptions to come into play: it allows for excuses like "we don't need to change anything or worry about discouraging and misogynist tendencies in the expat scene, women just ARE that way so it's innate that they don't want to live abroad", which is like finding a slimy rock to hide under rather than reckoning with some real issues. It says "it's OK that various cultures in Asia are deeply sexist, because women 'nest' anyway so it doesn't matter that Western women feel a disproportionate sense of culture shock when the truth about the status of women in Old World cultures is made clear - no need to fix that problem!"

Overly simplistic nuggets of "wisdom" such as these were applied to women for generations, used to justify/explain away the continuation of oppression of said women. "Oh but women should stay home because they're more suited to it" etc..

Also, as a woman who is friends to plenty of women who do not "nest", I can say that I feel statements like these oversimplify what women abroad deal with and dumb down general perception of women (by men and other women who don't question these assumptions).

Basically, there is a reason my posts tend to be long: because stuff is complicated. Even simple stuff. I refuse to be simplistic, and I refuse to gloss over an issue like this with a simplistic answer.

Like I said, your thought is worth examination but I cannot and will not take such a clunky bit of reasoning as a full explanation.

@Anonymous - there are plenty of regular pads out there, though I haven't seen cloth. For tampons OB is all there is. They're sold at 7-11 and in bigger, less expensive packs at Carrefour. I don't have a Costco card, but I have been told that larger size tampons are sold there.

For shoes, do try Sandy Ho (linked in my post).

Freddy, the hair stylist linked to in my post also does great men's cuts. He studied and worked in London and is quite good with Western hair, both male and female. He's also a dyeing and highlights genius. I mention him specifically for women because most foreign men I know in Taiwan (my husband included) are happy to get their hair cut at the 100 kuai places!

TG said...

"Women nest, men hunt" is a quote from Seinfeld and that was the first thing that popped into my head when I finished reading your post. I just think I'm no expert on this particular issue, so that's all I'm capable to add here. But I see you ladies have written some good comments and it was a pleasure for me to read.

Jenna Lynn Cody said...

@MKL - no worries!

@Catherine - it is absolutely true that there is a lot of sexism aimed at local women too (not just Taiwanese - we're talking expat communities across Asia here). I should have more clearly stated that the local women are included in the community as potential dating partners in a way that the Western women (often - not always) are not. Of course, this is almost a blessing in disguise as honestly, it helps weed out the bad'uns: why would any self-respecting Western woman (or non-Western woman for that matter) want to date a guy with obtusely racist and sexist views along the lines of "I only date the local women! No more Western women for me!"?

But you're right, the women who do come are not necessarily concerned about dating. When I came, I wasn't (I was fresh out of a short but difficult relationship and not on the market)...but those who are even interested in one or two potential partners during their time here are so often (not always!) disappointed. As I said, I don't think this keeps the women from coming, rather, it may keep them from staying.

I do find that women in the West have been navigating a tricky road in the past few decades: third wave feminism, the Mommy Wars (ugh), the need to overachieve, ever-present pressure to settle down. At the moment I do feel that "need to overachieve" is slightly in the lead, and just as it may cause some women who might move abroad to instead take a promising career opportunity or go to graduate school, it may cause others who can't think of a clear-life-plan-based reason to go abroad to decide not to.

That said, as "that woman" who took off the second she had the ability with not much thought as to how it would fit into my life plan, I can say that back home I wasn't (and am not) seen as feckless or ungrounded: I'm the adventurer, the "follow a different path" girl - but then as someone who is generally known for being good with languages, it was a given that I'd be studying the language of any country in which I ended up, so I'd never just faff around without any personal development.

I generally eschew labels but that's a label I don't mind. :)

Jenna Lynn Cody said...

@Emily -

Good points about issues with dating the local men. That's something I'll definitely incorporate into a possible (maybe!) future post on advice on/exploration of the dating world for expat women. I already know that such a post would be advice-based rather than taking the usual tack that posts and discussions online do - nobody needs more extrapolation of the reasons, what we need is some constructive advice on how to handle the situation.

Anonymous said...

Another issue that doesn't affect all expat women, but does affect me, is the need to care for the elderly. I don't know how long I want to stay in Taiwan, but I know that my time will be limited by my parents' status (health and otherwise). As an only child, I am obligated to return to care for them regardless of my gender. But a disproportionate amount of elder care is done by females. If I had a brother who was also an expat, and my parents were more conventional, guess who would be expected to come home to care for them. It's another thing which could make female expats stay in Asia for a shorter period than their male counterparts.


Michael Turton said...

Rockin' great post, Jenna. If it can stimulate more posts like this, I see I will have to post a lot of controversial stuff about femmes abroad!


Jenna Lynn Cody said...

Thanks, Michael!

One thing I wanted to add:

It really saddened me that there is basically nothing else on the Internet addressing this issue. I Google-fu'd the crap out of it, and came up with scant discussions on the topic - barely enough to fill out the quotes at the beginning of this post.

There is tons of info on the dating dilemma, though...and that saddens me. The fact that it's hard for Western women to date in Taiwan is a topic of hot debate, and yet few seem to care that there aren't that many Western women abroad in the first place, let alone wonder at the reasons why.

xiao_ma said...

I don't think there's a huge imbalance in new arrivals, just that the women tend to stay here for a shorter time, and far fewer - at least where I live [Tainan, 13 years] end up marrying a local and making a permanent home here. Over time this skews things.

As for the reasons, I'd put the dating thing high on the list - being in your vigorous twenties - when most people first come - and feeling starved of attention sucks. As you note, details of this are spelled out to various degrees of offensiveness in many places, with this offensiveness another good reason why a casual female visitor [over to pay off some debt / see the world] might choose to move on at the end of their contract.

The women I know who've stayed and thrived have - as you suggest - learned Chinese, have a wide group of Western and local friends, and pursue leisure time interests that aren't limited to hanging out in bars.

FWIW, I'm male [obv]

Marc said...

Jenna, what a fantastic article to coincide with Taiwan's Women's Day (March 8). There is practically no commentary on this issue, and I find it enlightening and necessary. Perhaps you could follow up with some interviews with some "western" women who've lived in Taiwan for years and are single. I know several, and I'd put you in touch with them. Also, I'd like to forward your article to a teacher training institute in San Francisco that would put your insights into good use, since many of its graduates are women who want to teach abroad.

Jenna Lynn Cody said...

Marc: thanks for the kind words. I have to admit every expat female I know either in real life or from blogging is partnered, and I definitely would run a piece chronicling the experiences and thoughts of single female expats. I have lived as a single female expat but that was years ago, and as I've been partnered for most of my time in Taiwan there's only so much insight I can provide on the single life. I can be reached at channamasala (at) gmail (dot) com.

As long as my name is actually on the piece as a byline, feel free to forward it to the teacher training institute. I'm all about open information sharing!

You're right that this issue is little remarked upon: search after search brings up posts and articles on dating, but very little on the disparity itself and reasons behind it. This post is already on the first page of search results for most terms regarding female/women expats in Asia, and it hasn't even been around for a week. It shares search result space with a bunch of "dating in Asia is hard!" pieces, and not one other "why are there so few foreign women" post.

...and that's just sad. Do people really not care? Are they really not concerned? It didn't even occur to me until I wrote the post that it was a void waiting to be filled.

Jenna Lynn Cody said...

There is this, but it is a rather basic article:

From this site: which seems to focus on Japan. We women in China, Taiwan, S. Korea, India and SE Asia have precious little else in terms of online presence.

Cahleen @ The Alt Story said...

Great, well-written, meaty post! I don't have enough brain power to add to the great things you've already said, but I did want to thank you for the shout-out and let you know that you've given me much to chew on.

I pretty much agree with what you've said about the dating situation for Western women here, but at the same time, sometimes I think it's not as difficult as everyone is saying (but still not easy, don't get me wrong). I only say this because I know quite a few women who have come to Taiwan single, dated Taiwanese men, and then married them and are currently raising their families here. I didn't even know these women existed until I started taking my son to various play groups and stuff! But most of these women don't have blogs, and you won't find them on Forumosa (actually, you won't find me on Forumosa either since I'm afraid someone will get really mad at me if I accidentally ask a question that was discussed 10 years ago or something).

Anyway, expat men married to local women are still far greater in numbers, and you're right in that there don't seem to be many women that live here long-term as a single woman (I know a few that are here for religious reasons, but that's a different situation). But I have to say that I've been surprised at the amount of western women I've met lately who are married to Taiwanese men.

Oh, and I don't understand what Lindsy Craig was whining about. All of the stuff she complained about sounded super fun and exciting to me, and challenges like that are why I love living here. I would die of boredom if I ever had to live in the States and work a 9-5!

Marc said...

Thanks, Jenna. I'll just send the link and tell them if they share it, to include your blog address and byline. You may get a lot of hits from curious people.

I directed for years an English teaching training course and saw a lot of people come and go (abroad). I trained a lot of Lindsey Craigs. Comparatively few women in our school were headed for Asia, unless it was Japan. Most wanted places like France, Latin America, or Czech Republic - but then these were also popular for everyone.

There's one thing I don't think you mention that may be an explanation for fewer western women in Asia. I found the majority of women who wanted to teach abroad were young, white and quite middle class in their values and expectations. Most of the women in our school seemed to be looking for similar "middle-class safe" destinations, or they were looking for cultural experience to "help" people--a reflection of their youth and idealism. But their idealism was often their downfall, because it was often mixed with a middle class value of exoticism and romance of other places plus a sense of privilege.

This happened to they guys, too, but as you say, the men are often drawn to Asia for "available" women. This was certainly often the reason for men wanting Asia (except Japan) in our school.

I should add that some of the American women I've met in Taiwan who have had a great (and single) time here are not white or middle class. Many of the women I know of teaching and living in China are white and single, but middle-aged.

Food for thought.

Jenna Lynn Cody said...

@Marc - so you think the women had expectations about comfort or romantic notions about the Exotic East (ugh), and the men didn't?

My own experience has been that the women (definitely NOT Lindsey Craigs) read up before going and knew what they were getting into, grit and all...and the men, while not high on notions of Mystical Eastern Essences, had this idea that it would be fun to go, make a few bucks, date a few women and drink beer every night working an easy job in Asia. Not all the men, mind you...but enough that I noticed it.

Marc said...

Yes the women I trained were "read up" too - but that reading was often Lonely Planet and sources like the "ESL Cafe", which is filled with lots of Lindsey and Lindsay Craigs. There was nothing for these young women to read about being a foreign woman in these destinations.

I think there is something in the value system - maybe not exactly "comfort" as you say, but certain expectations - which for the men coming here can often be fulfilled here since this society is so patriarchal.

For the local women, there's still the pressure of traditions though it's not everywhere, but still the foreign woman may often find that the more "open" and independent life she led back home, as well as the nature of relationships, gender roles, sex, and concepts of beauty and femininity may exclude her from the pleasures and liberties she normally would enjoy.

I keep in my case files interesting examples, if you're interested, which I've used in intercultural training

Unknown said...

i came across your blog and found it very refreshing :)

In my humble opinion, I think there are more male expats in Asia as compared to female expats because of 1) Easy women 2) Asian's self-loathing mentality.

1) Easy Women:

Let's face it, there are many self-loathing Asians out there. As Ms. Craig stated, "the bigger the nose, the more attractive they are". In my college Japanese and Chinese classes, the socially awkward dorky white guy learns patiently as he plans on doing English teaching programs abroad. Hopefully, he'll encounter some self-hating Asian females who will sleep with him in exchange of free english lessons and a real life version of madama butterfly. That can explain why there are more male expats working in Taiwan...the female expats I've met are really interested in learning Chinese culture and the people.

2)Asian's self-loathing mentality:

Did you know that Taiwanese English tutoring schools actively discriminates against their own people? That's right, if you want to get paid more while teaching English in Taiwan, you have to be white. Although this is a form of white privilege, one has to look at the societal norm of approving white privilege. For example, if you are an American-born Vietnamese American with a teaching certificate trying to teach English in Taiwan, a white college drop-out will have a higher chance of landing the job than you. Why? Because many natives believe a English school is only reputable if they see White faces. $25 an hour? Does Ms. Craig even have a teaching certificate?

john scott said...

I admit it is an interesting topic in many respects, and I can see that many aspects of the situation might well look different from different perspectives (e.g. from the viewpoint of the “Asian Female”, the “Western Male” or the “North-eastern Western Female”, etc.).

It makes a discussion so much more worthwhile to avoid the over over-generalizing, don’t you think? And it is nice to see the issue discussed for a change without all of the usual moronic blanket statements about the various types of people involved.

I’m not sure I buy into those stereotypes, but then I’m from the liberal South, and was raised in an environment where I was encouraged to see and interact with people as individuals, and not to put them into constructed groups they may not want to be put into. :)

In the interest of looking at such social phenomena in a more universal sense (rather than in a narrow, one-way, Western-Male-in-Asia mode of thinking), it could be pointed out that the “expat world” is probably male-dominated in almost every country…not only in East Asia. The foreign students in my ESL classes here in the USA (from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Korea, China, and other places) are mostly men. Most long-term expats I know in Sweden are men. I’m sure the vast majority of Taiwanese on long-term assignments in China are men. I’ll bet most long-term expats in Abu Dhabi and Vancouver are men. There are exceptions that are due to other social and economic factors, of course. For example, there are considerably more Thai women in Western Europe than Thai men, more Indonesian women than men in Taiwan, more Eastern-European women than men in Macau, etc.

I admit to having no first-hand knowledge on the subject of relationship dynamics between Asian men and Western women, but I do have some guesses on why this could be difficult. One is that some men are not too keen on being intimate with a woman who they assume has a lot more experience than they do. Is that way off? Personally, I think experience is a great thing.. but I may not be typical.

I have heard unconfirmed reports that there are a number of western men in several of the major cities around Taiwan who are in long-term committed relationships with Taiwanese women because they actually love and respect these women as equals.


And we have to at least consider the possibility that at least a few of those men might even love those women for the very same reasons they would love and respect any woman from any culture anywhere, including women in their own home town. :)

Ok, here’s a related question for you— on TV in Taiwan, you can often see the “western guy married to Taiwanese woman, and who can speak passable Chinese.”

Now, why that is SO entertaining for Taiwanese people is another mystery, but recently on the “silly talk show question panels” programs, I have seen something which is apparently even MORE entertaining— the “western woman married to Taiwanese man.”

Why is that more entertaining? Because it is just much less common in society? More shocking? Or because it is somehow less threatening? Because (some) people may have negative assumptions about Taiwanese women in relationships with foreign men, and may have much more positive assumptions about Taiwanese men in relationships with foreign women?

Jenna Lynn Cody said...

@Marc - interesting. In which case the issue is the culture of the place they are going: no matter how well-read they are on the topic, it's always more of a shock to a foreign woman than foreign man when they get there, because the men can often carry on as before (if not do better) but the women have a traditional culture to contend with that probably has values regarding women that they strongly disagree with - if I am reading you correctly?

It's been my experience, though, that as a foreign woman in East Asia, the only main exclusion is in the dating world, and possibly salary issues if the work is in business (two reasons I don't care to do business in Asia - I can't accept longer working hours and don't want to deal with the sexism behind possible lower salaries). Otherwise, you can carry on as before, aware of but not necessarily following local social expectations, with a "Get Out of Jail Free" card on those expectations simply by virtue of being a foreigner.

In China, it was fairly clear that people would sort of inwardly raise their eyebrows at me (more opinionated, more likely to drink, louder, more straightforward, more willing to stand up for myself or fight back than local women, and not conforming to expectations about looks or life path) but dismiss it with "eh...she's a foreigner, so it's OK". That's not fair to Chinese women, mind you: I'd like them all to get the same treatment as I did.

In India there were restrictions: outside Bombay and Bangalore, legs had to be covered to the ankle, clothes could not be too fitted (again in Bombay/Bangalore it was fine, and maybe Calcutta), makeup couldn't be too flashy (not that I wear makeup or would wear it in India), outside cities you can't go to bars (not that you'd want to - small town bars in India are sketchy as hell) or even really drink openly (though that held for men, too), no looking men you don't know in the eye, no behavior that could be seen as flirtatious.

That was more restrictive, but generally the only thing that was noticeably restrictive was the expectation about clothing.

I haven't found that I am constrained or unable to enjoy privileges I'd otherwise have in Taiwan - there has been remarkably little difference in how I deal with life here and in the USA - if anything, for that reason, Taiwan is too easy! :) Of course the big change was that my time in Taiwan was when I got together with and married my now-husband.

Yes, I would be interested in seeing some of those documents, btw.

Jenna Lynn Cody said...

@MVMA - I would not say that women in Asia are easier than in the West (but I'm not an Asian woman nor someone who dates Asian women), and I wouldn't say that self-loathing is really an issue - and even if it were, it wouldn't have much to do with why there are so few expat women. I'd be careful with statements like these ("the women are easy" and "there is a lot of self-loathing in Asia") - that sort of talk sounds generalizing and can get you into some trouble. I'm not interested in a flame war on this site after such great comments.

@john scott - I stuck to Asia in this piece because Asia is what I know, though I could probably write a bit about Central America from meeting expats there, too. I am sure there are interesting situations regarding expat life to explore in other parts of the world; I'm just not familiar with living abroad in those parts as my expat experience has been China, India and Taiwan (with extensive travels to other parts of Asia).

Also, nobody is denying that plenty of white men married to Asian women love and respect them the way they would a Caucasian wife and got together with those women simply because they like them, and not out of a case of yellow fever. I talked about my female expat friends in this post but I do have male friends too. They're all involved with/married to Asian women that they are with because they genuinely like them.

It's just that the douchey guys who really are here just to play around give everyone a bad name. I certainly wouldn't want to generalize about men, though!

john scott said...

Too funny....

I don’t know which is more demeaning, racist and dehumanizing (and ridiculous)— the caricature of the submissive and self-loathing Asian female (who loves a western man because she obviously hates herself and her culture), or the “dorky white guy” who studies Chinese out of a craving for submissive Asian females. Is this some kind of primitive “you should stick with your own race” line of thinking?

These are the feel-good, ego-stroking stereotypes that make us feel more ‘in control’ of an otherwise mystifying world. Brings us order out of chaos, etc. They are the kind of intellectual short-cuts that save racists and other mentally-challenged people from having to think too hard.

Dude, it like totally shows an underdeveloped sense of independent thinking and like a majorly serious lack of real-world experience and awareness.

Marc said...

Yes, Jenna - I think that's got something to do with it, the value systems. Also fixed thinking. There's something to be said for personalities, too.

Anyway, in spite of my feminist sympathies, my mind is not a woman's mind, so I'm merely theorizing! I do believe that women and men have quite different feelings about many things.

Wish more expat women reading your blog would chime in here. Mind if I post your link to the China listserv I'm on?

Jenna Lynn Cody said...

@Marc -

Post the link wherever you like! I might be blocked in China, though, considering how supportive of Taiwanese sovereignty I am and how unabashedly I say it on this blog, and how many times I've posted criticizing China...

Anyway, again, while I was aware of value clashes between my home region and China when living there (and, to a milder extent, Taiwan now), I feel like while I certainly noticed them, that they didn't hinder my life or experience much. As I said before, I could act "normally" and my "eccentricities" by Chinese standards (and Taiwanese now) were/are explained away by forgiving locals as "she's a foreigner so it's OK that she's weird/not like us/more aggressive than a typical female/too opinionated etc.."

In India it was appreciably different, but then life there turned my world so upside down (first trip outside the Western world and to a developing country, and India is just intrinsically insane) that there was no concept of "acting normally" as that would have been clearly it didn't matter that I could not drink, socialize, dress or act in the ways to which I was accustomed. It was all so new and world-tumbling that there was no feeling of loss by having to change how I acted in public (and I could still be opinionated and aggressive, especially in markets and shops - it was mostly dress and nightlife that had to change dramatically. Nightlife was evening TV with Amma and a cup of chai, basically).

Jenna Lynn Cody said...

I wanted to add that that initial trip to India was probably the best thing to have happened to me, right up there with learning Chinese and meeting and eventually marrying my husband. It was a shock, to be sure, but a good one.

I do have little patience for the Lindsey Craigs of the world...I don't begrudge them their inability to settle in and build a good life in a country like Taiwan (or any of the scores of more challenging countries), but I do tune out when they get too whiny.

Mae said...

Dear Jenna,
Thank you for this post. As a former ex-pat single woman in both China and Taiwan, I dated locals and ex-pats during my years there. I would cite those experiences, and the difficulty of meeting local women who I felt shared my goals and perspectives, among the reasons I chose not to stay in Asia, despite being fluent in Mandarin and otherwise deeply interested in the culture.

As a white woman I felt that my appearance was under constant assessment. It is difficult to have to explain things like the size of one's hips or the nature of freckles, but this was not insurmountable. Worse was the impression I frequently had that local men either thought I would have sex with them immediately, or were too intimidated to approach me.

I had one very close female Taiwanese friend, who, like me, was older, single, and believed she was too independent to appeal to local men looking for a more traditional girlfriend. Besides her, I met a lot of very interesting women, but sometimes had the sense interacting with them that I had traveled back in time. At least two were consciously subordinating their career choices to their husband's (or husband's family, or prospective husband's) wishes, and would express discomfort to me but never to the man involved. Of course, I have seen friends at home make choices I disagree with. But these decisions just contributed for me to what felt like an underlying culture of misogyny. Other women were only interested in meeting my white male friends, or would dissolve into flirtatious giggles the minute a man of any race joined the group. I ultimately felt that the ideal of womanhood they sought to conform to was not one I was comfortable with.

It is inescapably true, however, that it is one that many, many white men *are* comfortable with! However many of these relationships are profound and fulfilling, and I believe many of them are, the pairings occur so often that it is impossible not to conclude that this ideal of adoring woman is more appealing than the challenging, flawed, spirited version that emerged from my own education.

It is hard to discuss this topic without generalizing, but I do salute you for trying. As one who has no problem living away from home, feels no obligation to relatives, has no fear of vermin, and is quite capable of encountering the challenges of other languages and cultures, thank you for making our case! I do think there is a deeper reason for my own, and others' choice not linger in Asia (I still live outside my home country). I find more like-minded people here, and feel less restrained by various labels, whether "the foreigner" or "the woman."

Marc said...

A defensive rebuttal from Lindsay Craig to her critics. I think she makes her journalistic effort worse by trying to defend her writing:

Jenna Lynn Cody said...

I I said on Michael's blog, she is entitled to her views and it's really no big deal if life in Taiwan wasn't for her, nor is it a big deal if she wants to write about it.


In this defense she tried to make it sound as though she talked mostly about culture shock and her inability to fit in, without acknowledging that most of her original article was complaining about roaches and pollution. Compared to that whining, the mention of culture shock was minimal.

She also mentioned that she has in fact traveled extensively - um, no she hasn't. She's been to Europe. She has traveled, but not extensively.

Anonymous said...

I am surprised by your comment that you are from the "liberal northeast" and were therefore encouraged while growing up to travel as much as boys. Do you imagine that in other areas of the US, girls are not encouraged to travel? I don't understand this attitude of superiority one often finds in people from the northeast. I grew up in the south, have lived in several countries and have a doctorate from an ivy league school. This is pretty typical of my school friends. It's best to avoid generalizations.

Jenna Lynn Cody said...

Of course women from across the US are encouraged to travel, and you will find families that do this across the country and even world.

That said, one can't speak of a trend without generalizing (and I feel that's fair as long as you acknowledge that this is what you are doing), and I have in fact found that most women I meet on my travels from the USA are either from the northeast (stretching about as far south as Washington DC) or the west coast. There are, of course, always exceptions: the program counselor when I studied in India was from Kansas and one friend I made in Taiwan is from Montana! A friend of mine from Texas spent a year in France and another in Morocco.

I should note, though: the woman from Kansas didn't talk much about her family so I don't know what they thought. My friends from Texas and Montana? They traveled because *they* wanted to and they happen to be very strong-willed. They were NOT encouraged by their families - in fact, they were actively discouraged.

Someday I might invite one or both to write a guest post about how they feel women are viewed in their communities and how that impacted their decision to move abroad, albeit temporarily. They could speak on that topic far more fluently than I could.

I do meet Americans from other parts of the USA, but honestly there are far more men than women - in a ratio even higher than normal when it comes to expats. The women always seem to come from the coasts, to the point that when they don't, it's an exception rather than the rule.

Does this mean that women from the rest of the USA are uniformly not encouraged to travel? No, not at all. It means I've noticed a trend.

Anonymous said...

Great post! For me, it was the unending sexism: both from the Chinese and the expats. Those in relationships have the support to handle it; those of us who are single simply don't.

Corinne said...

It was interesting to read your article. I think the female friendship aspect was interesting. I lived in Tokyo for 8 years and met a lot of great women there. I think Tokyo might be the exception in Asia. However, I know from my friends and other women there that the dating issue was there. The women weren't necessarily against dating Japanese men, but it was difficult. When you have a country where the women don't want to get married because the men want to marry their mother (they want someone to take care of them), then there are going to be problems for western women dating the locals.
That being said, I know a couple of women who have married locals in Japan.
It is one of those things that will never truly understood as much as we dissect it.

Diego said...

here's my blog about living in Kaohsiung! I really like your's.

Anonymous said...

Eep! I am the lone female expat here (for many, many years) and single. The exception that proves the rule :(

Unknown said...

You might add something to your list of anecdotes if you ever saw just how many women travel in places like Jamaica and many Latin countries. Men travel to Asia often cause they have a thing for asian women. Women travel to Latin America or Jamaica cause they have a thing for Latinos or Black guys.

Jenna Lynn Cody said...

It's not like I haven't heard the "men like Asian women, women like Latin lovers" line of reasoning before. And yes, I am sure some people go abroad to certain places because they are attracted to the people there (regardless of their gender or orientation). know, it's more common than you might think for Western women to be open to dating Asian men. If there's an issue here it's not so much that Western women don't want to date Asian guys, it's that they have trouble doing so due to cultural differences (including how one signals interest, how long it takes to progress from "group outing" to "dating", and yes, different gender-based expectations of behavior, or what you might call sexism).

And I don't think everyone travels just based on who they want to hook up with. I do think plenty of people travel for other reasons - language, culture, history, food, what-have-you.

I know sex can be a big motivator, but I don't think all travel is determined by it.

joliejulia said...

I have no idea why or how it's taken me this many years living in Taiwan to discover your blog but I have and now I'm a huge fan. I've been here 7 years (okay, almost 8) and this resonated with me, especially the part about dating. I was actually about to leave Taiwan because I'm 30 and want to date but I ended up staying because I met someone. Being single here isn't so great. But I digress; I wanted to say that although the expat men seem to outnumber expat women, my very best and dearest friends in life are women I have met here while living in Taiwan. I can only speak about the Taichung community but it is full of smart, supportive, open-minded incredible women! Many who have also lived here for years and years. It does take some time to build deep friendships; it took me a couple of years to find my tribe but I think the kind of women who are here are definitely the quality friend kind. Thanks for your writing, I discovered you from the post in which you ask western men to step up their game when discussing women!