Sunday, June 5, 2016

Update on the Fu Jen University Protests

So, thinking there would just be an "update - agreement reached, strike worked!" type post, I read up on the "resolution" to the Fu Jen Catholic University's protest and hunger strike to remove the unfair - and I say that unequivocally - curfew on the women's dorm when no such curfew applied to the men's.

I was wrong. There is a lot to say about this. First, a question - it doesn't seem like the curfews are abolished effective immediately but will be abolished at some point in the future. Is that true, or did I misunderstand the (somewhat poorly-organized) article?

First and foremost, while I maintain that this is not completely attributable to "Asian conservatism" but is also in large part a symptom of "religious conservatism" (I am not a big fan of mainstream Catholic or any religious conservatism, if you hadn't noticed, and would never tolerate it being imposed on me) there are positive and negative things about the fact that the women had to protest, but also that they won.

The good: well, that they won. That civic activism actually means something and gets something done in Taiwan, and it shows that the "passive/listens to authority/Confucian values" nonsense so many people ascribe to the Taiwanese are false. They are willing to fight! How do we know? They keep doing it! From The Republic of Formosa to 228 to the Kaohsiung Incident to the farmers to the White Lilies to the Sunflowers (the aptly-named Red Shirts didn't seem to have that much of an impact, though I admit bias in not caring for their agenda), if you say the Taiwanese are not willing to fight, you need to read a goddamn history book.

That the youth have not lost hope, that they're willing to fight and they are not the strawberries their condescending parents make them out to be. How many of those older folks calling the young generation 'strawberries' would have fought to end an aspect of gender discrimination in their schools? Their own parents were the ones doing most of the fighting for democracy - what did they fight for? That this sort of activism, which seems to be dead or ineffective in the US - still has power here. I hope that never goes away.

The bad: that they had to protest at all. Their position was reasonable, their goals logical. They should have been able to talk it out with the administration without having to make a massive fuss about it. It reminds me of my own occasional skirmishes at work. While I am always quick to say that my current employers - both of them - are generally very good, and I am in a much better position than the vast majority of English teachers in Taiwan now that I work at a truly professional level (yes, I welcome your hate for saying that in the comments), I have to say this: in the past, at one employer, when I've had to fight for something I deserved, be that enrollment in Laobao (labor insurance) or a well-earned raise, I have felt like attempts at talking about it reasonably are met with resistance, or at the very most no action. It has left me, on a few rare occasions, with the feeling that if I want something I deserve, I must fight for it more strongly than I should have to. I should be able to sit down and talk it out and reach a reasonable solution without having to, I dunno, threaten to quit (a real threat, not a bluff - I was ready to quit over getting a real raise). But, nothing happens until I pull out the big guns, at which point I get what I want but am told I didn't have to pull out those guns. Except I DID, because if I hadn't I wouldn't have gotten anywhere! And I know this from having tried that route and not having gotten anywhere!

Anyway. Ahem. I shouldn't have had to take the nuclear option, and FJU Cinderella shouldn't have had to either. A hunger strike should never have necessary, and it says something rather damning about FJU and Taiwan in general that they did, even as it says something good about the students being willing to organize and fight in the first place. When will we get to the point when reasonable goals don't have to be fought for with hunger strikes and occupations?

Second, I've spent the past week or so asking around to see on an anecdotal basis what the dorm rules are like across Taiwan. I asked people who attended and stayed in dorms at NTU, NCCU, Kaohsiung Medical College, Zhongxing, Yangming University and noticed a comment on my blog from someone who stayed at the dorms at Wenhua. According to these people, Wenhua also has discriminatory curfew policies, and NCCU has no curfews of any kind but makes men sign in and wear ugly orange vests - a perfect deterrent to getting laid? A "don't fuck me" vest? - when visiting women's dorms, but women can visit men's dorms freely. The others either have equal curfew policies or none at all.

This seems to corroborate the data in the article above where well less than half of Taiwanese universities have discriminatory dorm policies.

All I can say is that it does point to Fu Jen being a special case, perhaps due to religious conservatism, but it's also far too many. Even 26% is too many to have discriminatory policies.

Finally, two points in the article:

The first is that refusing to support the protestors because as you "want to protect your daughter, not discriminate"? Screw you. Wanting to protect your daughter because she is female, but not your son in the same way, IS discriminatory. There is no way to separate the two. If you discriminate in whom you want to protect, you are discriminating. WORDS MEAN THINGS.

As a counterpoint, I loved how someone called out that whole "women are responsible for not being victims" line of thinking. Dangers to women in Taiwan are not women's responsibility to fight, they're society's responsibility to eradicate in men.

Along these lines, Taiwan's youth rhetoric on social issues is refreshingly modern. I'm a huge fan. Among the youth you don't hear any of the old "I heard this in Asia" tropes (e.g. "It's not racist because it's natural" or even worse, "there's no racism here because there are no black people here" or "of course we should have equality but women need to be extra careful") - they know racism when they see it, they are aware of intersectional issues and call out when something is race, class or gender-based (or, relevant for Taiwan, age-based), or some combination of same, or all three. They know sexism when they see it and are bracingly able to call out patriarchal ideas of blaming women for being the targets of men rather than blame the men for having targets in the first place. I am excited to see this generation grow into the new leaders of Taiwan. The folks in power may not get it yet, but they do.

And next, there's still a long way to go - the idea of implementing an electronic card system in place of the curfew so "parents can monitor their children's movements" is almost as problematic as an actual curfew! These aren't kids, they are legal adults. They're in COLLEGE. They shouldn't have to use a card that registers their comings and goings for their parents to check. I can't imagine accepting the idea of my parents monitoring where I was at all times of day and night when I started college at 16 (yes, 16. Yes, I'm bragging. Deal with it), even though I lived at home, let alone when I transferred and went away to university at 17. The idea of being monitored at 18, 19, 20? Not acceptable. What really needs to change is the idea that parents have such a right to control of their adult children. And that will be a much slower - but still possible - cultural change.

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