Wednesday, August 2, 2017

In which I ask Westerners in Taiwan to do better when discussing women

Could this imperious-looking man surveying the city below him have any connection to my post? Naaaawww...

I've been busy with grad school and also traveling around Europe at the tail end of my trip, so haven't had time to really blog much beyond a few thoughts that popped into my head as a result of my classes in England. I'm in Czechia now, just hangin' out for a bit. 

In fact, before I begin, please enjoy a small selection of photos of what I've been up to:

Taking a break on the stairs with swollen feet

Three angry figures 

At a bar called...uh, something to do with a tiger

Taken on my final day at Exeter

I took this one selfie. Just one. 

Blue and yellow water street

At a cute cafe 

A church attached to other buildings

Having a drink with a friend in Brno


One of the things I've missed while away from Taipei was this teapot typhoon. I'm linking to a more recent video commenting on it because this is the one worth watching. The original...ugh.

Some Spanish vlogger - I'm not going to name him because he's well-known, and anyway I don't care about him at all and don't really want to bring him more traffic - posted a video advising Taiwanese women on how to painlessly lose their virginity. In it, he calls Taiwanese women "妹妹" (Little Sister, really a diminutive that some people might find insulting), telling them to "relax" and "breathe deeply" and "not force it", and "not to get expectations up".  A friend of mine called this out as mansplaining, which I agree with, because here's a man who can't know, on a physical level, what a woman's experience is because he will never experience it.

If he were a biologist, anatomist, health education professional, doctor or other expert and he gave advice without calling the recipients literally Little Sister and doing an imitation of them that is simpering and insulting, then maybe nothing would need to be said. He's just some guy, treating women like kittens who need to be comforted at the vet and trying to drive up clicks for his YouTube channel.

I don't vlog and I don't speak Spanish. I have never had a penis nor used said non-existent penis. How would he feel if I gave him advice on how to vlog better (actually I would like to give him this advice), speak Spanish more accurately or directed a video at his demographic giving advice to men on how not to lose their erections when they have intercourse for the first time?

But then, a friend of mine who is way cooler but unfortunately less influential than this guy put up a social media post calling the video what it is, and his friend made the video in the link above. And this guy hit back saying he was being "bullied" and threatening to talk to a lawyer (oh please).

Then it all died down and who cares, right?

Well, I care. I care because the more I think about it, the more annoyed I get. Not about the original video - that's just silly. Something needed to be said about it, that happened, and now I think we'd be doing that guy a favor by saving him the embarrassment of acknowledging he made, published and defended it.

What I mean is that a video like this could seriously be made, with very few people saying anything about it - my friend, his friend and now I are some of the only ones, at least in the expat world (though I doubt anything is being said in the local sinophone world either). And, at the same time, so many foreigners in Taiwan expend so much energy criticizing and complaining about "how sexist Taiwan is", and "how sexist Taiwanese men are". Yet when they themselves or one of their own says or does something sexist, mansplainy or misogynist...not a peep.

I've heard it said or implied more than a few times that, because the local culture is "so sexist", that foreign men are surely better, because...oh I don't know, I usually stop listening around this point but it usually has something to do with a reasoning that these foreign men - usually the speaker is including himself in this too - understand women's equality better because they come from Western contexts where women's rights are more established and understood. Or something.

It's a tempting tale to tell oneself - nobody would deny that Taiwan doesn't still have room for improvement when it comes to women's issues. Not even me, and I think this is by far the best place in Asia to live as a woman and am consistently heartened by the willingness of many people, especially in the younger generation, to embrace values just as progressive as the most progressive voices in the West are championing. But, just as there is room for improvement in the US and other Western countries, the same is true of Taiwan.

However, it does not necessarily follow that, because feminist discourse took a different and perhaps more direct path in the West and on the surface things seem to be more egalitarian there, that men from the West are necessarily more attuned to women's equality. And yet, so many Western men here will use this faulty logic to prop up their own fantasy that they, by virtue of the culture they were raised in, are somehow by nature better co-workers, friends, boyfriends and husbands than Taiwanese men.

When one of those Western men does something distasteful, like make a video for no good reason other than to get clicks telling women about their own bodies, imitating the women in question in a simpering voice and calling them diminutives...

...nothing. Forget a larger conversation about whether Western men are really "better" in this way (I happen to think they're not necessarily), or whether misogyny is a problem in the foreign community (sometimes, yes) there wasn't even a direct criticism by these "enlightened" men of the video itself. But they're so much better and more egalitarian and really respect women more, yeah?

Yeah, right.

When Western men say the sorts of things said in that video and other Western men don't say a word about it - my friend can't be the only foreign guy who saw it, come on - do they really have any high ground for continuing to pretend they are so much better than locals? It goes beyond the video, too. How many of you guys have been out with friends or at a party and heard some other foreigner make a shitty comment about women, and said nothing? How many have heard other foreign men talking about all the ways they treat their Taiwanese dates, girlfriends and wives poorly - and I know this happens, because I've heard it myself and been surprised that others were surprised that I spoke up - and stayed silent?

Is it not deeply hypocritical to ignore misogyny in your own community while you attack its existence in the local one?

Because, after listening to a former coworker go on about how he "only cheated on his girlfriend because two women were offering me a threesome and who could say no to that?" and all sorts of angry and dismissive comments about Taiwanese women ("cutesy", "psycho xiaojie", "shrill", "high-maintenance" etc) and men ("girly/not masculine/effeminate"), comments about "fatties" and more, I can't believe y'all don't hear this stuff among your own. You know perfectly well that you probably have male friends who treat their partners like crap and make sexist comments. I don't keep such company, and even I know people like this (we are not friends, however). I've been around to witness a legitimate complaint about being sexually harassed at a gathering - foreigner organized but locals turn up - turn into a bunch of people saying that making an issue of it was the result of the horrors of "militant feminism", being then asked to consider how the assailant feels (apparently guilty? I dunno, and who cares). If I've seen it, and I don't go to many foreigner events, then I know you have.

Why aren't you calling it out more? Why might some foreigners focus on sexism in Taiwanese society while allowing this kind of talk from other Westerners to pass without comment?

I don't think every Taiwanese man is a superhero or that every foreign man is a jerk, of course. I try to take a more balanced view: around the world there are mostly good people, a lot of people who aren't that good but aren't horrible, a few kinda-jerks-with-some-okay-qualities, and a few rotten grapes at the bottom of the carton. That's true of the local Taiwanese population, that's true of the country of my birth and every other Western nation, and that's true of the foreign community in Taiwan. We have some advantages in the West (marginally less ageism and pressure to marry, marginally less overt sexism at home and work) and some disadvantages (seriously, I can't even walk down the street at night in my home country without feeling and being comparatively less safe than a man whereas in Taiwan it's fine), and some things both cultures struggle with (on neither side of the Pacific have women achieved equal pay). Most likely relationships here and in the West are good or bad in comparatively equal measure, including intercultural ones.

Therefore, most foreign guys here are most likely either good or not-horrible people. Perhaps some well-meaning ones don't speak out when they should, or have over-inflated views of just how great the West is for women, or how terribly they think local women are disadvantaged. However, it doesn't make them bad to the core.

I do believe this - although it is more accurate to call behaviors, rather than people, "good" and "bad", at some point an accumulation of behaviors comes to define your character. For most people that can be reversed, if they want to do something about it. Others, while not inherently rotten, are not very likely to want to do the introspection that is necessary for change.

Most likely, the vlogger in question is a not-horrible person who made one mansplainy video and followed it up with a whiny video targeting my friend. He could do better, but he is not necessarily a bad person. But, to repeat, he could do better and I hope this is the clarion call for him to do so. And we could all do better by calling out this sort of thing when we see it and not putting ourselves on a pedestal about how great we are.

Frankly, coming from a country that just elected a blubbering misogynist clown over a competent - if ultimately neoliberal - woman for reasons that would not have stopped any man in her position from being elected, to a country that elected its first female Nerd in Chief and she got there without any sort of family political dynasty, I find the assumption that the West is so much better hard to swallow.

I can't reach the rotten grapes, but I can ask all of the good and not-horrible men in Taiwan to please have this conversation and please speak out more about misogyny in the foreign community rather than simply complaining about it in Taiwanese society. I can reach you, I hope, and I am asking you to do better. 


Harald Dahl said...


Unknown said...

well said! bravo!

B.BarNavi said...

I speak conversant Spanish and I can volunteer to make that video. ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)