Friday, June 16, 2023

On sexual harassment, the KMT remains unaccountable for their own actions

I don't have a good photo, even a metaphorical one, so please enjoy a Tainan street scene.

My second job in Taiwan was arguably the worst job I've ever had. It was worse than my "they say we're teachers but it's actually kind of like working at the Gap" job at one of the big chain cram schools, if you can imagine such a thing. I won't name them because they're litigious, and I also tend not to tell the full story -- it involves treating my husband in an unacceptable way -- without a drink in hand.

It wasn't always a nightmare; the first few years were solidly okay, perhaps even enjoyable. Then they changed office managers and I started noticing a pattern I couldn't quite elucidate then, but understand better now: the inability of anyone in the office to be accountable for the most minor of mistakes, let alone apologize or do anything proactively to address the error.

Scheduled for three weeks straight -- including weekends -- despite specifically requesting that not happen? Let's not point fingers, can you just do us this favor? A teacher was not informed of a class cancellation? I don't recall. Random errors appearing in teaching materials, to the point of occasional incomprehensibility? No, you don't understand, that's just a different variety of English. 

There was also a rumor that another teacher was accused of acting inappropriately toward female (adult) students and admitted as much to management. I say "rumor" because I didn't witness it, but I was told by the person accused. He showed no outward guilt, and seemed pleased that there were no repercussions. I knew then that I would leave as soon as possible (there were other reasons, but this was a major catalyst). 

We all make mistakes, and I started out apologizing for mine, however minor. I soon realized that an apology was considered a deep admission of guilt: you'd get a long talking-to in a meeting they were frequently late for (forcing you to wait twenty minutes to an hour for a lecture you didn't need as you'd already acknowledged fault).

Rarely was anyone fired, but if you took accountability rather than making excuses and refusing to admit fault, you felt like you were on constant probation.

My purpose here isn't to make them look bad (which is part of why I won't name them), but to tell a small slice of my story while making a larger point about small-scale cultures where accountability and apology aren't the first steps to reconciliation and rectification, but an opening to heap shame on the person admitting fault.

I'd let these memories sink into the morass of things best not fixated on, only to have them come roaring back as I watch the various political parties rush to address their past mistakes in dealing with sexual harassment. I thought this was just the memory of that one guy who seemed proud that he was making female students feel uncomfortable, but my subconscious made the connection before I did. It wasn't that one incident, it was the whole culture of refusing to acknowledge mistakes, let alone admit them or, heaven forfend, apologize. 

It shows strength of character to admit error, take accountability, apologize, rectify the situation if possible and take action to ensure it doesn't happen again. I  learned this in my twenties -- later than I should have -- and it's everyone's duty as adults to do the same. 

That's why it bothers me that as this Not-Really-#MeToo movement unfolds, I mostly feel dismay. 

On the DPP side, people rightfully lost their jobs. Their mistakes can never be fully rectified, but at least there were eventual consequences to their actions. Lin Fei-fan, the former Sunflower leader accused by the media of knowing about the cover-up of the Women's Department case, has ended his candidacy for the legislature. There have been some serious shake-ups at the DPP -- not serious enough, but it's a start.

It's unclear why exactly he quit the race. Perhaps the party decided it was best to shelve him for a future race, perhaps he was a sacrificial lamb, or perhaps he himself decided it was the best course of action in terms of being accountable, or his future political prospects (or both). The DPP absolved him of responsibility, so I suspect the decision was ultimately his own. 

Although it's not for me to say whether it's the right or wrong decision, I admit I'm sad to see Lin drop out. Not following up on the case in question was indeed a mistake, but crucially, to me, he's one of the only people embroiled in this incident to have acknowledged as much and apologized. I don't think his actions are in line with someone who committed a cover-up.

Lin acted like an adult: he was the supervisor at the time, so he decided the buck stopped with him and that he should be held, in his words, to a higher standard. Accountability is hard and it takes guts to apologize, but it's the right thing to do. It's what I want to see in Taiwan's elected leaders.

This is not to absolve the entire DPP. To put it colloquially, they fucked up real bad. he only way out of that is to figure out what went wrong and fix broken mechanisms so it doesn't happen again. Lin himself has said as much repeatedly.

The KMT, on the other hand, has been posturing quite a lot on their commitment to gender equality and a harassment-free culture, but I've yet to see much in the way of real consequences for the many, many cases that have occurred within the party.

New Taipei mayor and presidential candidate Hou You-yi was in charge when a city employee committed suicide over sexual harassment in the city's health bureau. Although the supervisory committee said the bureau handled the case incorrectly, Hou stated that the bureau acted "with humility", but has not apologized or accepted any sort of accountability for the goings-on in his administration, and is accused of trying to bury the news.

Hou, of course, is still the KMT presidential candidate. He's spent a lot of time criticizing the DPP, which the DPP has called hypocritical (Presidential candidate Lai Ching-te called Hou the "last one who can criticize"). 

If Lin had stayed in the race, he would have faced off against current KMT legislator Wang Hong-wei, who narrowly beat Enoch Wu for the seat. The DPP clearly thinks this district is winnable, seeing as they keep throwing star power at it. Wang, as you might have guessed, called on Lin to withdraw from the race. Then she mocked his apology and withdrawal statement as being for the "social disturbance" the incident has caused rather than his own actions (Lin has expressed regret for his actions multiple times), as well as calling her out for "double standards and political manipulation". 

Apparently, Wang didn't think this was fair. Is she right? Did Lin err in calling her duplicitous rather than focusing all of the shame on himself? To determine that, let's look at Wang's actions more broadly.

KMT legislator and former Lienchiang (Matsu) county magistrate Chen Huseh-sheng was found guilty of sexually harassing DPP legislator Fan Yun and ordered to pay NT$80,000. Fan expressed unhappiness with the verdict; it's a small fine well within Chen's means to pay, and he remains in the legislature where Fan has said she feels "disgusted" to have to see him

Wang has said asking Chen to resign would be "inappropriate", backing that up with a whole truckload of nonsense. She said there are "many forms of sexual harassment, and some of them are despicable...such as abuse of power", which this was not, and that Chen's case is "worthy of vigilance" but did not merit asking for his resignation. 

In other words, an actual sexual harasser found guilty in a court of law should not have to resign because "sexual harassment takes many forms" and this one was not "despicable" enough, but Lin -- who has never been accused of sexual harassment -- should drop out of the race because he didn't follow up on a case that was reported to him as resolved?

Yep, that's a double standard.

The other high-profile case in the KMT revolves around Hualien legislator, convicted criminal and all-around asshat Fu Kun-chi, who was accused of sexual harassment by a media personality while he was serving as Hualien county magistrate. The comment section of the initial post included several people pointing out that he was a known serial offender.

While the KMT has said they will investigate the issue, Fu's office refuses to make any meaningful comment, and former Taipei mayor Hau Lung-pin, whom the victim named as a witness, has said he "doesn't have a clear memory" of what happened. 

Wang Hong-wei, after spending so much time attacking Lin Fei-fan, apparently has no energy left to say a single goddamn thing about Fu Kun-chi. 

I'd certainly call that a double standard too, and I'm not the only one saying so. Wang and other KMT members sure talk a lot about not tolerating sexual harassment, but when sexual harassment in their own party comes to light, they seem pretty tolerant to me. I guess it's easy to tolerate anything if you "don't have a clear memory". 

You know who else in the KMT nobody seems to have a thing to say about? Taipei deputy mayor Lin Yihua. Her former office director, Lin Tinglin, was found guilty of rape in 2021. The court decided that although Mr. Lin had resigned before the incident took place, he was still Lin Yihua's employee as he continued to volunteer at her office and wear a campaign vest bearing her name. Lin Yihua was found jointly responsible for Mr. Lin's conduct and forced to pay part of the settlement.

Not only did Mr. Lin deny the allegations, appeal the ruling, call himself the victim and say the relationship was "consensual", but Lin Yihua herself tried to argue that she was not responsible as the perpetrator had technically already resigned.

Does Wang Hong-wei or anyone at all in the KMT care to ask Lin Yihua to step down for failing to be accountable for the actions of her office staff? No. She remains a rising political star in the KMT.

I will freely admit my bias against the KMT -- I just can't get over that whole White Terror thing, not to mention their current pro-China leanings -- and it's true that they've launched an investigation into the handling of sexual assault allegations, promising the issue will be handled "satisfactorily". They've even put a few token women on the committee, while refusing to divulge anything about their background! 

Maybe I'm being unfair. I can't say for certain that the KMT's new bureaucratic this-n-that won't fix whatever is broken. Given their track record, however, their assurances plus NT$10 will buy a tea egg at 7-11. 

But I can say that the DPP has actually fired people over this, and pretty quickly too. Everything's still ticking along just like it always was at over at the KMT. When high-profile people actually get canned and those who helped cover for perpetrators step down from office, I'll believe that it means something.

The DPP is far from perfect, and I won't sit here like a brainless pine cone and insist they've done nothing wrong, or that there isn't something very broken in their own male-dominated party culture. But Lin Fei-fan apologized, reflected, stood up and took the hit like an adult. When Chen Hsueh-sheng and Fu Kun-chi are made to step down and Hou You-yi and Lin Yi-hua face similar accountability, maybe I'll believe that the KMT might turn a corner, too. 

Friday, June 9, 2023

Women Making Waves

This is a long ramble, so strap in. I have no intention of editing it to be shorter, though I might make some structural, proofreading or content edits.

Back when I finished DPP: The TV Show Wave Makers, I had all these high-minded ideas about how I would write about my perspective and impressions of the show as a medium of expression. I wanted to point out all the little things I noticed, such as the son of one of the main characters being named Yang-yang in a lovely nod to Edward Yang's Yi-Yi (A One and a Two). Wave Makers has more of a dramatic arc than Yang's last film, but the tone has a similar observational quality. Although the chief villain from the ruling party wasn't based on a certain former president per se, I noticed how Leon Dai's portrayal of a smarmy vice presidential nominee looked a hell of a lot like him; in one scene, the character is even seated in front of a Chinese painting of galloping horses. Horses! 

That former president has never been accused of sleeping with his assistants, but certain other figures in the KMT are fairly well-known for their alleged awful treatment of women. It's not hard to see what the character was based on.

Of course,  would also entail discussion of the central drama of the show: not the fictional election that takes place across the eight episodes, but the show's feminist core in which women grapple with the ways that politics and society both target and fail them. I too have voiced concerns over the treatment of women in social and political movements -- for instance, while not nearly as bad as the right, the left has a misogynist streak that isn't talked about enough, and as a pro-Taiwan foreign woman I am sick to death of other Taiwan advocates supporting overt woman-haters, accused rapists, anti-abortionists and (mostly hypocritical) anti-LGBT tradwife-stanning all-around shitsacks. 

In other words, it is very hard sometimes to support Taiwan as a woman, when your fellow advocates think it's acceptable ("for Taiwan!") for someone who was found guilty of sexual assault and openly treats women like objects of either desire or mockery to be the president of the country where you vote. Although as a straight, cis white woman I deal with far less discrimination and violence than most other women, I too am infuriated by the active oppression of women being deemed acceptable as long as some other goal is considered more important. 

The show grapples with what it means to make compromises and sacrifices in the name of some higher ideal, which resonated with me. It's tiring, feeling some pressure to pretend women's issues don't matter (and therefore Republicans in office in the US are acceptable because they're better "Taiwan allies", even though this seems to no longer be true). I'm losing my patience for it, if that patience ever existed. If we don't all care for each other, and do our best not to sacrifice one group's wellbeing and then pretend there's nothing wrong with that, then what is the point of fighting authoritarianism at all? 


While Wave Makers was a fundamentally DPP-sympathetic show, anyone paying attention noticed that the creator was nevertheless trying to draw attention to the fact that sexual harassment, tolerance of anti-LGBT hate (including physical assault of gay people) and the resulting hypocrisy regarding what a progressive party claims to stand for are, if we're being honest, pretty rampant in the DPP. 

I also think anyone paying attention already knew that, but it was rarely discussed. 

I wanted to discuss all of this and more in a much longer post, but now I can't, at least not yet. What we're all following instead are the sexual assault allegations rocking not just the DPP, but the KMT and to some extent the Taiwan People's Party (TPP) on the heels of Wave Makers -- or more likely, because the 2024 election is starting up. Here's a mostly-complete rundown in English of the current accusations and scandals.

The initial story to break was eerily close to the main plot arc of the show: a female DPP employee was sexually harassed, the harassment was covered up, and legislative candidate, Sunflower leader and Guy With A Good Reputation Lin Fei-fan, tasked with supervising the department where it took place, allegedly knew and did nothing.

I say "allegedly" because I don't actually know what Lin knew. However, his explanation that he learned only that there was an incident but the parties chose not to pursue a formal complaint, and regrets not following up personally, makes more sense to me than all of the theoretical talk of respecting women, while denying any specific harassment took place, from the KMT.

Lin has also suspended campaign activities for the time being to work with the party investigation, met with women including female friends to ask their opinions, and discussed how pushing aside these issues for some semblance of "solidarity" is not good enough. He has offered a real apology and does not deny the incident happened.

I can't say for sure that he definitely knew there was a cover-up, or didn't. But these actions imply sincerity, and I think it is far more likely that he is telling the truth than not. I doubt a legislative candidate who wasn't taking the issue seriously would actually suspend their campaign activities.

To be honest, I've avoided this a little. Partly it was just life: I was in Tainan for work as the news kept breaking. Partly it's personal: I've experienced sexual harassment (to be honest, it was assault, but I've processed it, am doing well, and rarely think of it now). I've also had bad people attempt to use my previous openness about that experience against me through intentional misrepresentation, and watched a thread about it devolve into unrelated but overt lies. It sometimes bothers me that, if I am open about it, many people don't seem to reflect much on the ways in which their own inaction and silence has allowed an anti-woman culture like this to fester. I don't feel particularly shy about discussing this, but I also don't care to rehash it, either. 

There are other reasons why I felt conflicted about writing on this topic; I won't divulge them. 

Here is one I will discuss: I'm a woman, but I'm not Taiwanese. I don't subscribe very strongly to the notion that only people from certain groups should ever share their opinions -- generally, people from affected groups will have more thoughtful, nuanced and interesting things to say, but if an idea is well-reasoned and insightful, I don't mind as much where it comes from. What's more, plenty of bad ideas come from the right group of people: Wave Makers showed us this too, with all the nonsense being spewed on Taiwanese political talk shows.

However, on this particular issue, I'm somewhat uninterested in hearing all the chatter from anyone who is not a Taiwanese woman. That presumably includes myself! But more than that, although some insights have been welcome, I have trouble taking seriously all the copious wordage spilled by men about this issue that primarily (though, to be fair, not exclusively) impacts women. 

Much is made of the need for more Taiwanese voices in Taiwan discussion spaces, reporting and advocacy. There is merit to this. And yet, when an issue impacts women -- Taiwanese women, in this case -- so many men think they're qualified to weigh in as though specific perspective from the group most affected no longer matters. One example of this is the most recent Taiwan This Week on ICRT. I respect Gavin Phipps and while the show is good as long as the guests are good (they are often very good, but not always), I have a real problem with his inviting two white men on the radio to talk about sexual harassment mostly experienced by Taiwanese women.

Why? There wasn't a single woman -- better yet, Taiwanese woman -- they could have had on the show to discuss this very woman-centered issue? Frankly, it's infuriating. If we're going to talk about Taiwanese voices, great. But how about women's voices? Why is it still okay to stifle those? I hesitated because being a non-Taiwanese woman didn't feel like sufficient qualification to speak on this issue, but men in general are perfectly fine with it, it seems. Again, why?

Certainly, a good opinion is indeed a good opinion no matter where it comes from, but the only opinions that have made much sense to me in the past week have come from Taiwanese women. For example, this excellent piece in Voicettank (in Mandarin) discussing how Taiwan's #MeToo movement has not yet come (all the nattering men, in contrast, keep calling it "Taiwan's #MeToo movement"). 

I'm too tired to translate tonight, but writer Zhang Yinhui (張茵惠) points out all sorts of things that most women know in their gut, and men seemingly do not: that stories about sexual harassment and assault that can be easily told are also relatively easily solved, but most stories are complex and interwoven in structures built and maintained by imperfect people. Wave Makers showed us that there is no such thing as "the perfect victim", but it's hard to really feel that unless you are that imperfect victim, or one of their close connections.

Zhang also pointed out that the DPP nominating Li Zhenghao (formerly of the KMT, and accused but acquitted of non-consensual filming of his ex and refusal to delete the images, but not found guilty) caused a lot of progressive women to wonder why they were continuing to be silent so as to not "topple the bird's nest" -- that is, not threaten the DPP's chances of election. What's the point, when they're going to say they care, but then turn around and nominate someone like Li anyway?

Most importantly, Zhang noted that we cannot possibly say that Taiwan's current scandals constitute a #MeToo movement, because too many men who are known to be serial sexual harassers and offenders continue to be in power. She pointed to former Taipei mayor Ko Wen-zhe, who crowed about the DPP's scandals while ignoring allegations in his own party, the TPP. He's still running for president, and has openly and unapologetically said some horrifically misogynist things. He has paid no political or persona price for this.

She clarified that although the current spate of allegations focuses on the DPP, in fact the pan-blue camp has seen many more such cases by volume if you look at the past several years. The recent news has not caused much reflection in the opposition camp, either.

And yet, how many people are talking about the KMT's rampant issues with sexual harassment? A few, but not nearly enough. Besides, Zhang said, #MeToo is used by relatively powerful women to take down a few awful men. While this is a good thing, it hasn't done much to address systemic social and political failures that allow it to happen. 

I agree with this. Wave Makers got a more or less happy ending -- perhaps because creator Jian Liying herself has said she was harassed by exiled writer Bei Ling, who continues to call it a "fabrication", denying Jian her happy ending -- but chances are, the women coming forward across the Taiwanese political spectrum now will not. Recall how the issue of comfort women is repeatedly to score political points, but the actual World War II-era comfort women got very little justice? The same thing is happening here: accused of things they can't possibly ignore, both sides have turned into giant smearing machines, using real sexual harassment allegations not to seek justice for those harassed, but to attack each other. The victims probably won't get much of anything for all of it, let alone justice or, heaven forbid, systemic change.

Of course, men can experience sexual harassment and assault too, and in fact some of the allegations have been brought by men. I do think many men understand and empathize with what women face constantly; some have had it happen to them. So, I would never say that a man can't or shouldn't talk about these issues. Indeed, they can!

However, I find myself not particularly wanting to hear male perspectives on an issue that primarily, though not exclusively, affects women. The experience of being treated like a verbal punching bag by some men after I spoke more openly about what happened has made me more distrustful of men speaking about this issue -- some of that suspicion is justified, but I admit some might not be.

I say this gently, with only friendship in my heart. I've Donovan Smith's article in Taiwan News was factually correct, but didn't quite strike the core of the issue. Certainly, he can empathize with the current national conversation, and I know other men who understand because they've been harassed or assaulted, or been a target of people spreading lies about them without much recourse. So, I'm limiting my comments to this article only.

That is to say, the allegations wracking the DPP were all accurately summarized, and Smith did note that the KMT is hardly innocent in this regard. He's correct that the DPP cannot run on a platform of "okay, maybe we're also a little rotten but we're not as rotten as them".

However, to state that the current allegations of cover-up are only hitting the DPP, implying (though not outright saying) the problem is somewhat specific to the DPP, isn't quite right. There's a reason why this is hitting the DPP harder, and again it's locals who've pointed it out so succinctly.

News about sexual assault in the KMT hasn't taken off the way it should because everyone already knows the KMT has a rotten record on this. It's not surprising. That Fu Kun-chi is accused (and is denying anything happened) is not surprising. There's a list circulating on Facebook of all the known sexual assault allegations from other parties, and the vast majority -- far more than the DPP is dealing with currently -- are from the KMT. Some of these cases are known to have resulted in the woman's suicide (this link includes just one example, but there is at least one more, by a worker in Hou You-yi's administration in New Taipei, mentioned in the list liked above.) 

This is not to minimize the way the DPP has disregarded women's issues in its own ranks. These need to be dealt with, and to be honest, Zhang is right. They probably won't. It's simply necessary to point out that the DPP is catching most of the flak for this because people's expectations of the DPP are higher. This is partly due to Taiwan's political history, and partly because the DPP bills itself as the woman-friendly, progressive alternative to the traditional, rotten KMT. Of course they should do better! But it's also not right to let the KMT fester without comment, letting them win elections because the DPP looks bad on some issue, when they're actually worse on that same issue.

What's more, these scandals are hitting the DPP now because, from what I've read about the KMT's history with this issue, women who are harassed more or less know that there's no point to speaking up. Politicians and officials will insist they take sexual harassment seriously, promise that they'll diligently follow up on every case, but either decline to comment or deny that any particular case happened at all.  The DPP does cover-ups, but the KMT outright denies.

Why complain when you know that's how it will go? Why should any woman think she'll be heard if she speaks up against a member of the KMT? From rumors that Lien Chan is a domestic abuser (if the messages between Lien's daughter and her friend at the American school showing evidence of misconduct sounds like a familiar plot point...well) to a KMT city councilor openly screaming about how a female firefighter who reported sexual harassment is at fault for not locking the door, they make it impossible to speak up. They know what they're doing, but I'm not convinced they truly know it's wrong.

The current scandal may be hitting the DPP harder, but this is deep, ingrained, societal and political, and it is the result of continually sidelining women, and then telling them to lay low rather than capsize the whole boat. That is, to not make waves. 

How many women have not had their talents fully recognized because they were not given the opportunity to shine by misogynists, and how many women slunk off and quit because, once landing that job, they were sexually assaulted? In comparison, how many men have had that happen to them?

Smith also assumes Lin Fei-fan "knew about the cover-up", linking to a shoddy TVBS article on the issue. As discussed above, I don't know what Lin knew, but it strikes me as more likely that he's telling the truth. To me, it feels a little too close to putting Lin in a similar camp as the KMT's overt denialism, which may be unfair.

Hell, even Annette Lu, who is so often wrong on contemporary issues, got it at least partly right this time: the current scandals are the direct result of a "male centric legacy" that treats women as objects that can be treated however men wish, that sexual harassment tends to be difficult to prove and therefore is rarely discussed, and that it's not unique to a particular party. 

If Annette Lu is right for the first time in awhile and her points are worth considering, maybe we really should be listening not to men -- and especially not white men -- but to Taiwanese women. Maybe we don't need an ICRT program that platforms two white men to talk about this issue. I always value Donovan Smith's contributions but maybe in this specific case, he's not the person to listen to. 

I've felt pressure to not make waves in pro-Taiwan circles, where absolute garbage humans are tolerated as long as they're sufficiently dedicated to Taiwan's cause. I've experienced sexual harassment not unlike what a lot of the women coming forward in Taiwan describe. I've felt pressure to then not speak about it too much. I fail to see how we can built not just a Taiwan recognized as independent of China, but also a Taiwan worth living in, if we ignore issues primarily (though again, not entirely) facing one marginalized group. The DPP is facing a similar conundrum: they claim to not only want Taiwan's continued independence, but also a better Taiwan for all citizens.

How can they do that if they, too, ignore women's safety and wellbeing? And how are we ever going to move forward if the stories of women finally being told are just being used as inter-party attacks and not steps toward real justice? How can we move forward if we don't prioritize women's -- especially Taiwanese women's -- voices? 

I have a lot of Taiwanese female friends (they all speak good English; maybe ICRT could have asked one of them, or literally any insightful Taiwanese woman, to discuss this issue). They're feeling this hard right now. I see it on their faces, I hear it in their voices even if we don't linger on the topic. Generally speaking, they're not interested in beating up on Lin Fei-fan for negligence (they're all dark green Sunflower supporters, so I'm not surprised). They already knew Fu Kun-chi was this kind of guy; even the initial post about him by media persona Tung Cheng-yu had several comments pointing out that he was a known serial harasser. 

What they do seem to want is justice. Change. For Taiwanese women to be listened to and taken seriously, even if they are not "perfect victims". To get opportunities they lose because men with power who hate women withhold them, or make them contingent on tolerating sexual harassment and assault silently. They're sick of being asked to choose between supporting the party that cares about Taiwan's continued independence, and speaking frankly on the ways that party has failed women. 

I may not be Taiwanese, but I am a woman, and I empathize. Indeed, empathy is possible from all corners, but I'm seeing a lot of mudslinging and very little movement towards actual change.