Monday, May 30, 2016

The Fu-Jen Curfew Protests: religious vs. cultural conservatism

So, a few of my friends have shared this post about the protests surrounding curfews at the women's dorms of Fu-Jen Catholic University in New Taipei (link in Chinese).

I understood despite my piss-poor Chinese reading ability that the women's dorms have a curfew and are locked after that time, while the men's dorms are not - and this has not changed despite an ongoing dialogue with the administration that tends to agree and avoid rather than actually discuss the issue. The protestors (who seem to be organized as FJU Cinderella) are giving press conferences and engaging in a hunger strike.

Yes, the entire reason for the curfew is that the powers that be are terrified of female sexuality. It's not for safety reasons, or because there is some sort of known threat, or even for legal reasons. It's because those nice young university girls might (gasp!) be sexually active and do what they please with their bodies. We can't have that now can we! So many pearls to clutch, so little time!

My first thought, though, was not "Taiwan can be really conservative!" - it was not to attribute this particular problem to Taiwanese culture at all but rather to religious, especially (but not limited to) Catholicism. American-style fundie nonsense comes to Taiwan!

I realize there is a certain prudishness about Taiwanese culture as it is, and many aspects of life here are dealt with more conservatively at home for reasons that have nothing to do with Western influence or Western religion. As a friend put it, culture in this part of the world started to turn prudish in the 19th century before missionaries even got here. But, that prudishness can't be analyzed along Western lines, because it absolutely does not follow them (where in the West are you going to find sexy church dancers along the lines of Taiwan's sexy temple dancers?), and in many ways Taiwan is not all that conservative. I've said several times it is, in my experience, more progressive than any other country in Asia by a very wide margin.

That prudishness does come out in college dorm rules - but it seems to be equally meted out to men and women. At least, as far as I have been told (I have never lived in a dorm here), while women's dorms often don't allow male visitors at all or after certain hours, and many have curfews, that men's dorms do too. The double standard that men can play but women must keep their legs closed (and only the 'bad sort' of women let the men play) seems, to me, to come out later in life when wives are supposed to be forgiving of their husbands' indiscretions, men are seen as horndogs unable to help themselves, but mistresses are evil succubi and unnatural she-beasts. At college age, the censure against sex - because, again this is about sex plain and simple - seems to be aimed at both young women and men.

As per my memory, when my sister attended NCCU no men were allowed in her dorm, but she was likewise not allowed in the men's dorms. I've been told by Zhongshan alumni that the men's dorms are further up the mountain, cloistered away farther from main campus life (and therefore more susceptible to monkey invasion) than the women's dorms.

But, all I know is what I've been told by people who have actually had Taiwanese college dorm experiences. If I'm wrong about this or you have counter examples (or examples that support this view), please do leave them in the comments. I'm entirely open to being wrong about this as I am not writing from direct experience.

If that is true, however, the practice of keeping women under lock and key but not men, to me, feels like more of a religious stick-up-the-butt than a cultural one. That it's Catholicism, specifically, causing the problem here with the church's outdated and frankly offensive views on women's rights and equality. (I want to emphasize this as an establishment problem, not a personal one: just because the church has views I find repugnant doesn't mean those who identify with that religion necessarily have similar views. It is absolutely possible to be an openminded, even feminist, Catholic, though it does entail differing with the church on certain issues).

That's not to say that very traditional thinkers in Taiwan aren't woman-blamers and chauvinists: many are. A student of mine from a college in Danshui told me about how her father lets her brother sleep at friends' houses, doesn't have a curfew for him when he is home, and lets him stay in the dorms at his own university, whereas she is expected to live at home with her parents and commute to college, and be home by a certain time. This attitude is not unheard of here. It just doesn't strike me as the reason why the women are locked up like untrustworthy lusty schoolgirls while the boys are allowed to hot-dog it all over town without censure. No thought given to the notion that young people are gonna get it on (to be honest, not me, despite living in a co-ed dorm freshman year - I was a hopeless nerd and kind of still am), and that's only a problem if you make it one by not educating them properly or by thinking its somehow wrong or unnatural.

That, to me, feels particularly religious in origin. I hear echoes of the Republican party and religious right in it. Hell (pun intended) it's one of the many reasons I left the US: as an atheist I was sick of public discourse being skewed so far to the right that moderates in the US look conservative in every other Western country, and liberals in the US are moderates by any reasonable standard elsewhere. I am a flaming liberal by American standards but pretty moderate by European ones, and I see myself as a moderate. I'm not a Communist or anarchist after all and I am married, which is a pretty establishment thing to do, although I would not say I have a traditional marriage. I was sick of being demonized for not only not believing in God, but not believing in the whole raft of misogynistic bullshit that seems to come with strong religious faith. The whole aspirin-between-the-knees victim-blamey "she had it coming wearing that skirt" "boys will be boys" purity ring flood of pure stinky douche that has poisoned and divided my own clumsy culture by creating a culture war that nobody with any sense wanted.

I would hate to see it start up here. Taiwanese culture grows more progressive by the day. The last thing it needs is a bunch of Western-style fundies screwing it up.


Ben Goren said...

Well said Jenna!

Unknown said...

is 文化大學 a catholic university too? because we had a only-girls curfew there as well while the guys didnt. it might be more of a sexism in taiwan problem than a religious one, since as far as i know most universities in taiwan only have curfews for girls dorms

B.BarNavi said...

The double standard exists in China, too (at least in the "traditional" redneck part), and I speculate that it's also all over East Asia. It's plain machismo misogyny, with a Confucian twist. At least Christian religious prudishness is egalitarian in suppressing the sexualities of both genders.

Jenna Lynn Cody said...

I completely disagree about Christianity suppressing both genders. Look at the Duggar kids and how they defended their eldest son who molested his sisters. "Purity rings" are for both genders but girls are the only ones who pledge to remain 'pure' at dances with their fathers etc. That's deep, scary fundamentalist Christianity but even in more mainstream religious circles, women are absolutely oppressed more than men. Boys will be boys on one side, "keep your legs together" on the other. Just look at the Republican party's platform (the party that claims to be informed by matters of faith) of actually trying to strip women of rights while basically just asking men nicely to do better (without any loss of rights). Protecting priests who molest children but actively condemning and trying to silence nuns who speak up for equality. Even my friends from Christian backgrounds say there's a massive double standard of men being more free, more able to take charge, considered leaders etc. while women are expected to do, well, womanly things. In most Christian sects, women aren't allowed to enter the clergy!

There is no way that Christianity equally oppresses both sexes.