Showing posts with label expat_men. Show all posts
Showing posts with label expat_men. Show all posts

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Reason number six zillion why international media coverage of Asia sucks

My new queen Joanna Chiu hits the nail so perfectly on the head that the nail goes straight through the wood, through the table and right into the foot of some guy who was probably standing over her explaining how hammers work in this piece about men, journalism and Asia. She also manages to get Foreign Policy to publish the words "fuck", "swinging dick", "dick pic" and "sexpat", which is kind of wonderful.

Chiu firsts outlines some of the horrific, unprofessional, misogynist and also just downright rapey behavior she's experienced while covering Asia:

Once, a fellow journalist exited our shared taxi outside my apartment. I thought we were sharing a cab to our respective homes, but he had other expectations, and suddenly his tongue was in my face. On another evening, another journalist grabbed my wrist and dragged me out of a nightclub without a word....

The incidents aren’t limited by proximity. I have received multiple unsolicited “dick pics” from foreign correspondents — generally on the highly monitored messaging service WeChatI have received multiple unsolicited “dick pics” from foreign correspondents — generally on the highly monitored messaging service WeChat. Somewhere deep in the Chinese surveillance apparatus there is a startling collection of images of journalists’ genitalia....

Most disturbingly, a source tried to rape the correspondent while she was on assignment in China. She never told her bosses for fear that disclosure would hurt her career.

Then she reminds us that these are the exact same men covering sensitive local and regional issues in Asia which include women's issues.

I have seen correspondents I know to be serial offenders in private take the lead role in reporting on the sufferings of Asian women, or boast of their bravery in covering human rights. In too many stories, Asian men are treated as the sole meaningful actors, while Asian women are reduced to sex objects or victims. And this bad behavior — and the bad coverage that follows — is a pattern that repeats across Asia, from Tokyo to Phnom Penh.

There's a fair bit of intersectional fuck-uppery going on here too, with large numbers of underpaid local staff hired at news bureaus across Asia, the vast majority of them female, treated like errand girls and second-class employees, with little or no recourse or channels for reporting misconduct:

The problems are worsened by the unequal power dynamics in the offices of multinational media that employ “local staff” to provide translation, conduct research, and navigate complex bureaucracies, but pay them a fraction of what their foreign colleagues earn. In China, these “news assistants” are mostly young women. This pattern is mirrored in other countries, where the pool of those with the English-language skills needed for the job often skew female....

“They have no job security — if there is any conflict, they can be fired the next day,” says Yajun Zhang, a former news assistant. As a result, sexual harassment and gender- or race-based discrimination can occur with impunity. Even if they raise concerns, investigation can often prove extremely difficult over distance and cultural barriers.

Considering this, are we still surprised that international media coverage in Asia is so bad (you were aware it is mostly bad, yes, with few gems shining through the murk)?

It ties together a host of issues why the media has, in a lot of cases, failed in giving the world a somewhat accurate picture of what really goes on in media (and expat circles) in Asia. It's not only that men who treat women like garbage then report on women's issues here, but also that the people with real local knowledge who could add detail, nuance and accuracy to their reports are often at best ignored, treated as "less than" and sent on non-work-related errands, and at worst are sexually assaulted.

There are not only so few non-male voices not only in international media in Asia, but in the expat community in East Asia generally (and, frankly, local communities too - from Taiwanese student activists to the CCP and their propaganda machine to Japanese corporate leadership and politics, the voices are still overwhelmingly male). As such, those with the life experience that will help them notice and pick up certain stories are systematically discriminated against (or assaulted) - and those stories get ignored.

And it's not only that so many people who report on Asia - even for highly pretigious media - are "parachuted in" and don't know the issue on a local level at all, which shows in their lackluster coverage. Even these reporters act badly - they are mostly male, because the world runs on penises spouting their penis opinions:

Journalists parachuting in from the home office for one-off trips have also developed a reputation for treating local residents they rely on for their stories badly — especially women.

But it's also that - Imma be honest here - most of these swinging dicks are bad at their jobs. I don't know, in the craptacular coverage of Asia I've read (and there is a LOT of it), how much of it is written by dudes who are decent guys who just aren't very good reporters, and which are sexual assailants or misogynist pricks who will disparage women or troll victims of sexual assault. I just don't know. I'm sure some of the sexual assailants are men who write brilliant copy. But I can say with a fair amount of confidence that the Venn diagram of mediocre (mostly male) reporters doing a bad job in Asia and reporters who sexually harass and assault (or denigrate) women likely has far more overlap than most people care to think about.

Is it such a leap to think that a dude who is so arrogant, entitled and self-absorbed that he thinks he can grab any pussy he likes (not every man who does this is Donald Trump) would also be the sort of dude who thinks he is qualified or able to cover Asia well, when in fact he is stunningly mediocre at it?

A final thought:

This story broke about a week ago. As usual, people climbed out of the primordial Internet soup to find some way, truly any goddamn way, to blame the Asian women who go with these guys for their behavior rather than blaming the assholes themselves, at least when all the sex they're having is consensual. Because why point fingers at a guy who sends unsolicited dick pics and gropes women in taxis when there are women you can blame instead?

There was one stupid comment calling the Asian women who go for these guys (the ones who do so consensually) a "threat to Asian culture": as though it's women's choices which need to be policed and judged, not men's behavior. As though they are responsible for upholding some other person's idea of what their culture should be. As though they aren't making a personal choice. As though they shouldn't be allowed to have any choice at all (if some choices are deemed 'unacceptable', then that simply is not choice.) As though consensual sex - even a lot of it - is necessarily a bad thing.

Some will blame the men too - in true "they're rogering our women!" fashion. Instead of screaming "culture traitor!" at an Asian woman who makes a choice they don't like, they cast her instead as a stupid victim who isn't capable of making the choice. That's just as bad.

That's just for the women who go with these guys consensually. For the ones assaulted non-consensually, well, they get this instead:

As the New York Times reported, former club president Jonathan Kaiman, who had resigned in January after being accused of sexual misconduct by Laura Tucker, a former friend of his, was now accused of sexually assaulting a female journalist, Felicia Sonmez. After the second accusation, the Los Angeles Times quickly suspended him from his role as Beijing bureau chief and has begun an investigation. But as the Hong Kong Free Press noted, the original accusation had prompted many male correspondents to launch misogynistic attacks on Tucker in online conversations.

Such actions, and entitlement, reflect a sense of privilege and a penchant for sexual aggression that threatens to distort the stories told about Asia, and that too often leaves the telling in the hands of the same men preying on their colleagues.


These are the guys who write the stories about Asia that you read.

How do you feel about that?

Friday, May 4, 2018

The white male conversation about Asian women's dress (but not how you think)

I borrowed this photo from here, but hey, go ahead and buy their sticky rice sausages! Free marketing!
Those sausages sure look good. I think I might buy some.

First, a quick note: I've received some valuable feedback that the font on Lao Ren Cha is too small - it hadn't seemed that way to me - so I'm kicking it up one notch. If it seems oddly large, yes, something has changed. Let's see if the next font size up works better. 

I'll say it: I don't really care about the dress. I don't really want to weigh in on the dress. I understand the racial/historical/power dynamics at play, but find it a super weak example of these, easily dismissed, making it more difficult to persuasively argue that there are race-based power dynamics in the US that express themselves when white people use things from non-white cultures and are complimented while people from those cultures continue to be marginalized.

(And yes, that is absolutely a thing.)

I do care about the conversation going on among foreign residents in Taiwan about the dress, however. Although it's fine to have a range of voices, and everyone gets to have an opinion, it seems to me that the most interesting and relevant opinions would come from Asian female voices, as the garment in question is an Asian women's garment. There is a point where growing up having these experiences and being seen a certain way gives you the ability to talk about how you are treated vis-a-vis your race, culture and choice of clothing in the US as opposed to Asia more fluently, and with more gravity, because you've lived it.

Yet I can't help noticing that most of the discussions going on in English in the Taiwan foreign resident community about the Great Qipao Panic of 2018 - at least the ones marching across my Facebook feed - are started by, and propelled by, white men. There are so few women participating -and no Asian women - that it's almost comical.

This isn't necessarily a deal-breaker. A lot of what's being said is pretty smart, and there is no problem with a plethora of opinions - I'm not a fan of identity politics and I don't want to shut men up for the sake of it (though some of you might think I do, that's not the case). Nothing crass or offensive. Mostly in touch with the real issue - the people involved are mostly solid, intelligent, thoughtful dudes whose opinions I respect. But, it's not a "plethora of opinions" - it's all white male opinion - and it still feels mighty awkward to have a whole series of conversations going on about Asian women's dress among residents of an Asian country that involve almost no women (I counted a grand total of four women across all threads, one of whom was me), and no Asian women at all. 

This one issue isn't very important - again, I really don't care about the dress. But this isn't the first time I've noticed just how white and male the Taiwan expat world is, and as a result, how white-male flavored all the conversations within it are. It's not nearly the first time I've been the lone woman contributing in a sea of men (or been one of only two). It's not by far the first time I've noticed a dearth of non-white, non-male perspectives. Looking at offline real-life interactions, I can't tell you the number of times I've been the only woman around. 

This is troubling for a few reasons. First, in a conversation that's touched upon how, when we essentialize a culture and say "it IS this" or "it ISN'T that" and allow self-appointed experts to claim decision-maker status of what is and is not offensive in that culture, the narrative that emerges is almost always male, because "expert" status gets conferred upon dominant voices, and dominant voices tend to be male voices. So having a conversation about that which is also almost entirely male is a problem.

This bleeds into other issues - when we as foreign residents talk about issues focused on Asia, it would make sense to seek out and listen to more varied opinions, but we don't, and it becomes "white guys discussing Asia". The ideas aren't always bad but the lack of diversity in voices is a problem.

I don't think anyone means for it to be this way - there's no sign that says "Boys' Club NO GIRLZ ALLOWED!" and no intentional shutting out of women, including Asian women. But, it's there. There is a segregation of sorts.

Second, it doesn't seem as though the men themselves notice how monochromatic and single-gendered the community is, and therefore, I question how many of them realize how un-diverse the perspectives they are hearing are. That means they don't realize that this imbalance is reflected in the true demographics of the (mostly white, mostly male) Westerner community in Taiwan (the Southeast Asian foreign community seems more gender-balanced in my observation.) And if they don't realize it, how can we work to change it? In a community based in Asia, surely we can do better than this. I have many Taiwanese friends of both genders, most of whom speak excellent English - I find it difficult to believe that these conversations should necessarily be so segregated. I can't be that unique.

It makes it so that when you point this out, you always wonder who is going to get defensive about it, or insist that a white man's opinion is just the same, with no difference in terms of distance from the issue or lived experience, than someone who might actually wear a qipao. I have quit groups and forums over this, because it's just such a nonsense point that I didn't see any reason to stick around, if the majority of people thought that their white male opinion on issues affecting women (including Asian women) was exactly as valuable as the women themselves.

This leads into the final point, which is that as a result of the conversations in the Taiwan English-speaking community being so thoroughly dominated by white men, not everyone is going to be a 'good guy', and a lot of times, women stay away because of (as one friend put it), the K.A.C. or "Known Asshole Count". We don't always have the energy to counter the mansplaining, the defensiveness, the ad hominems, the intentionally-and-unintentionally sexist comments. This has improved somewhat in recent months, as more of the good guys are realizing that the jerks in their midst don't listen to women - so a woman telling them off has no effect - and are adding their voices to the chorus telling them to step off, and allowing the natural consequences of being one of the Known Assholes to finally be felt

Some also stay away, honestly, because it's tiring in other ways too. I've noticed other women posit good ideas, be (often unintentionally) ignored, and then have people credit a male commenter who pipes up with those same ideas later. (This has also happened to me, though it's rare.) I've thought about how to word my points carefully because I worry that even the good guys will get annoyed or defensive when being called out, and then decided just not to bother, because if I can't express myself plainly, I don't necessarily want to do so at all. It's tiring to be the lone female voice and therefore have to always be the one saying "oh hey, so, from a woman's perspective...". And it's tiring to be piled on for pointing out actual discrimination - e.g. sexist job ads or ads that blatantly violate Taiwanese gender non-discrimination laws, only to get piled on with the same tired rebuttals ("but if they want to hire [person from a certain group even though it's illegal and discriminatory] they should be allowed to do that!") that are still wrong but never change.

All this does is highlight, once again, just how male the expat community is. A lot of the time, there are few female commenters because there are few Western women in Taiwan. I've been to many events where it's me, a bunch of foreign men, and their Taiwanese wives. I have no problem with this generally, but in a more balanced community, there would be a larger cohort of foreign women. At the two annual parties I have typically attended (now down to one, as I quit the other job - and I was the only Western female employee), I am either the only foreign woman, or one of just two or three in events with dozens, if not up to a hundred, people.

It absolutely does create a bubble, and I'm not sure what to do about it. I don't really want to continue to be the only woman in conversations full of men, and I don't want to keep seeing white men talk to each other about issues affecting women and people of Asian heritage without questioning the fact that nobody from those groups is a part of the discussion, but I see no clear way to changing that. 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Expat men don't hold other expat men accountable.


I had a dream last night that I was allowed to run for office in Taiwan.

My district was an amusement park which seemed to be swathed in eternal night. I ran on a pro-marriage-equality, pro-immigration, pro-womens-rights platform (to get the NHI to cover birth control mostly).

My opposition published a "scientific" graph titled "How obnoxious Jenna Lynn Cody is" where the x-axis was time and the y-axis was "obnoxiousness quotient". It had several lines on it including "loves gays", "hates traditional Chinese culture" and one mysteriously called "Jenna Lynn Cody is such a fucking bitch who hates men". Of course, all the lines showed an upward trajectory.

Below it was a low-quality meme with words on it that said "Jenna Lynn Cody's obnoxiousness has grown by #13.5!" (with the hashtag).

So I'm standing in this dark amusement park with all of these 老兵 (retired soldiers) looking at this glossy leaflet with this graph on it, and everyone is looking at me, and I say "if these are the people calling me names, I take it as a compliment."

And the 老兵 went "boo!" and some people on the ferris wheel went "yay!" and I woke up.

It struck me as I struggled awake that it no longer seems totally bonkers for a political faction to publish "data" like that with a straight face.

I'll let you draw your own conclusions regarding connections between my dream above and my point below.

* * * 

It's been a couple of weeks since someone was a garbage can to me online - that is, a man insulting me as a woman in ways that men specifically insult women - but I see it happening to my friends too.

And it's being done to them by friends-of-friends. That is, other expat* women in Taiwan being treated like crap by expat men in Taiwan that we might not like, and certainly don't spend time with in real life, but with whom we share many mutual friends - most of them male. I don't see it all the time, as I've blocked the worst offenders. This is itself a problem, as I can't support other women being treated like dirt if I can't see it happening.

So I get ridiculous insults thrown at me, or other women get insults thrown at them (often out of the blue, completely unrelated to whatever was posted/said, or often diving straight to a set of unfair assumptions without thinking). It goes without saying that the woman being treated this way is absolutely capable of handling herself, and doesn't need a man to "step in" and "defend" her like a victim or wilting flower. None of these women are shrinking lilies in need of protection.

And yet, when nobody comes in to voice their support and hold the men accountable, women get ganged up on, and to some people, that starts to look like proof that the harassers are right and the woman is wrong. It doesn't help that, as capable of defending herself as every one of these women is, it doesn't mean much when the men in question simply don't respect anything that woman - or often, any woman - says.

It's happened to me for sure, so I know how that dynamic works.

So far, it's only been verbal in my case, but sometimes real physical assault is involved. 

When the women have often blocked these men, and the other men stay silent, that's how it always seems to go down.

Days later (or even sometimes on the same day), I see those same men who are being total garbage cans to women engaging with my male friends online - good men, all - and being treated normally. Complimented, joked with, thanked for offers of help, being engaged in plans to meet, treated as though nothing just happened, or has been happening. They quite literally get a free pass after being asshats to these guys' female friends.

I have, at times, brought this up to more than one male friend - this is by no means an isolated phenomenon - and gotten replies like "Really....him?" "But he's actually a really nice guy." "Yeah, that's how he is, but if I step in..." "It's not for me to say..."

Nothing ever changes. There are no real consequences. The expat men who treat women - mostly expat women, they seem to be nicer to Taiwanese women - like garbage get to continue, with no loss of friends, no diminishment of their reputation, no falling in standing in the expat community.

I want to add here that this doesn't describe all of my male friends, and it doesn't describe anybody all of the time. Some of them will hold men they don't know in person accountable, but not ones they do - perhaps it's a bridge too far to jeopardize a chummy in-person relationship. Some don't fall into this category at all, and really try their best to be great allies.

I don't want to insist that the expat men of Taiwan have to treat other expat men exactly as I would like them to, or that they are immediately beholden to cutting out of their lives anyone who has pissed me or another woman off. That's not reasonable, in the same way that it's never okay to ask your friends to choose between you and someone you hate.

It's especially difficult to ask for in such a small community - everybody knows everybody, or has mutual friends. Frankly, if I meet an expat and we share no mutual friends at all, it sets off a red flag. Even if you live a mostly local life, if you're an expat, you're an expat - there is a real social cost to holding shitty people accountable when those same shitty people may be at the bar that weekend, or the event next weekend, or the party the weekend after that, or your future coworker, or whatever. It's a tough situation because in such a village-like atmosphere there's no real escape (and I'm not a fan of villagers-with-torches-and-pitchforks style justice, anyway).

This is also why it's more noticeable here. It happens where I come from too, all the time, but it's easier to avoid - if I can't deal with a toxic man in one friend group in the US, I could always take some time away and spend more time with another friend group who wouldn't know him at all. Here, everyone knows everyone, and there is no "I don't know that guy" group.

But I would like to see some accountability. Maybe a bit more "dude we're friends so I'm going to be honest - you just treated ______ like crap and that's not okay. Do better." Or not saying "you're so great / you're so cool / you're the best" while a bunch of us are sitting here thinking "no, he's not that great, he literally just went off on ___________ for no reason."

What happens, though, is that there are no real consequences for these men, who then think their behavior is acceptable (again, making it look quite unfairly as though it is the women's fault, not theirs), and everyone but the women gets to go on enjoying a smooth and happy social life. Whereas the women might think, "ugh, do I really want to go out tonight? He might be there, and nobody will have my back. I might even be pressured to be nice to him." So there's no social downside to being a crap dude who's crap to women, but plenty of social downsides for being a woman who doesn't want to deal with being treated that way.

It creates a whole host of social tripwires, a whole chessboard of thinking "____ is a friend but he doesn't really have my back and do I really want to deal with that right now" - so that the only consequences are borne by the women. 

I'm not sure what else to say, or how to meaningfully address this problem. I can't force people to act the way I want them to. All I can do is point out that there absolutely is a problem.

*I'm using "expat" loosely here. Some of us are expats, others immigrants, but I don't know what everyone's end game is: whether they'll stay in Taiwan forever or eventually move away. I am referring to the community that includes foreign professionals and some students, and their circles.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Women are not your cultural ambassadors

Please "enjoy" this (mostly bullshit) article in the Japan Times.

What he says about his relationships to the women he has dated is striking, if not a bit annoying:

In my early relationships with Japanese girlfriends — I’d dated a Kyoto University student when I was 20 — I’d followed the standard pattern of being the curious Western male being introduced to the intricacies of the Japanese language and culture by a helpful girlfriend. But by my late 20s — when I was a graduate student in Japanese literature at Kobe University — I’d discovered that the dynamic of that type of relationship had started to fail.
Slowly it dawned on me that my language and cultural proficiency had finally come to the point where I no longer needed to be “tutored” by a girlfriend. Liberation!
By then I felt quite comfortable — indeed, slightly bored — in an exclusively Japanese world. I was spending all week in university libraries, taxing my brain, reading Japanese books. The last thing I wanted to do in my spare time, at the weekend, was indulge in more “Japanese.”

I can relate to this guy's desire to want to have his relationship to a culture be on his terms rather than deal with the ins-and-outs of expectations and obligations that come with dating someone from that culture, I couldn't help but feel squicked out by the whole article.

Yes, it is a common enough dynamic: man discovers exotic new world through woman he dates who giggles at his adorable cultural mishaps as she leads him to better knowledge of the secrets of this foreign place. I won't say it's essentially wrong - frankly, what goes on in a relationship I am not a part of is not my (or anyone else's) business. I'm not even sure it's always a bad thing. But there is something icky and 'conquering explorer'-y about it that rubs me the wrong way. 

Perhaps it would be different if a whole raft of gender expectations and stereotypes shaped by culture didn't run right up against a (mostly white male) power differential in terms of white privilege and, in some cases, socioeconomic development. It is impossible, however, to remove those from the equation.

Although this scenario can happen between any two cultures - I could just as easily imagine someone thinking a cute young girl they meet from, I dunno, Amsterdam will introduce them to European culture - I can only best describe what I see in Asia. However, I can imagine someone treating a non-Asian woman this way too, and I certainly don't want to make it sound as though I think all Asian woman/Western man pairings have this problem. The problem is the problem, not who chooses to date whom. 

 I have a lot of Taiwanese female friends and more than once I have heard, essentially, that they are whole human woman, not reducible to some foreigner's Cultural Attache.

What other reaction can one have to a man who says he "doesn't date ______ women" because he doesn't want the "cultural ambassador as girlfriend" role to play out again: why would he decide before he knows her not to date her, based on a role he doesn't want her to play that she likely didn't want anyway because she's a whole person? Why would he assume she would want that role in the first place?

It just bothers me that some men still seem to think women, from anywhere, exist primarily to highlight, change, influence, brighten or complicate the lives of men, rather than those women having their own lives. I am not qualified to comment on what happens when that attitude of treating women as an accessory or catalyst on your own journey, rather than as wholly realized human beings on their own journeys. They're trying to beautify their life paths by adding a partner to it, rather than looking for another person whose own life path is compatible with theirs. A tagalong, not a travel companion.

Again, this is not limited to one culture. I've had (mercifully brief) dating experiences where it felt as though the man was looking more for someone to liven up his journey, rather than respecting mine. Or as though I were there for his benefit, in service to his life plans: to entertain, teach, free or enlighten him, rather than being a full human being who has her own life going on. And I'm a boring white lady, not even a conventionally pretty one at that! And kind of acerbic, frankly. Why anyone would think they could shove that role on me is beyond me - if it happened to me, it could happen to anyone.

And while there are certainly women out there who do the same thing to the men they date, I've just observed that for the most part, it's men who treat women this way. I could comment on the way this attitude intersects with the whole "Western guy 'finding himself' in Asia" narrative (that is to say, "privileged guy using someone else's country, culture and society as a stage for their personal life drama in which they are the star and the 'foreigners' bit actors" narrative), to the point where this particular writer seems to first categorize all Japanese women as, I dunno, Manic Pixie Dream Asians.

And then, after casting them all in a role they never said they wanted, paints himself as the better guy for not wanting them to play it. Barf. He is even so kind as to acknowledge that there is more than one kind of Japanese woman, before categorizing all of his relationships in them as, well, kind of the same.

Are we supposed to applaud?

But I'll stop there, not only because the commentary coming from that wouldn't be particularly enlightening, and not only because I'm not really qualified to comment, but also because this is just one guy whose relationship to a foreign country and to the women in that country seems deeply problematic, and cannot be used as a treatise against all Western men who live and date in Asia, nor all cross-cultural relationships.

But this guy, creating in his head and then trashing "Manic Pixie Dream Asians"?

Fuck this guy.

Women, of any race or background, are not your cultural ambassadors. You invented that role for them, and it doesn't fit.

So stop it. 

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. 

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Feminists have no sense of humor

A humorless bloodsucking feminist
By the way, to get this photo I had to google "ugly succubus", because just googling "succubus" turned up a ream of sexy, big-titted succubi. You can't even be a hellish she-demon without the world expecting you to be sexy. 

Haha, trolled you. This isn't true at all.

But I can promise you that this post is not exactly going to offer proof that feminists can be funny. In fact I fully expect the bros and bro-allied to get all het up over this post, to which I say COME AT ME BROS.

Anyway, just like everyone else on the planet with an Internet connection, I too watched Robert Kelly's BBC interview and laughed at the family antics going on in the background. Anyone with even the slightest sense of humor can see that, from a comedic perspective, it's a masterpiece, with a visibly freaked out Kelly as the perfect straight man.

Then - because I'm a heartless unfunny succubus feminist - it started to bother me. At first I wasn't sure why. It took repeated links from friends: basically this clip got more airtime on my Facebook feed than the Malaysian Airlines plane or the Trump-Tsai phone call - for me to figure it out.

I want to say straight up that I don't know this family, and nothing I'm going to say is a criticism of them. Everyone has their own unique family circumstances. The personal doesn't always have to be political - some people choose and prefer for their lives to be a certain way which I would not necessarily choose.

I also won't criticize the specifics of what happened: Kelly is getting a lot of flak for pushing his daughter away, when a more engaged dad might put her in his lap and keep talking. So what. He was freaked out, probably didn't know what to do and reacted in the moment. Not an ideal reaction but nothing to blast him over. I do not imagine he is someone who typically pushes his kids away (I wouldn't know and I won't speculate). I won't discuss how Kelly's wife looks mortified - it's a natural reaction in the moment and not necessarily indicative of anything more than that.

What I want to say is more general. It's not about this family at all.

First - and what I think bothers me the most - is that had that been a woman in front of the camera, people wouldn't be laughing along like "oh how cute." Maybe some would, but she'd also be raked over the coals for prioritizing her career over her children (even for that one minute), and she'd definitely be crucified online for pushing her daughter away so she could continue to talk about democracy in South Korea (or whatever it was Kelly was talking about - was anyone actually listening to him?) That's not, according to the screamiest parts of the Internet, what good mothers do! But when dad does it, it's so funny and cute!

That led me to another thought: how common is it that it is, in fact, a woman in front of the camera? Husband doing high-profile work for his career while wife watches the kids seems to usually be the way it goes. We wouldn't even have this video because it's so much less common for an influential woman to be interviewed, and if one were, she'd probably want to go into a studio because, unlike with a man, there's a fair chance that interviewing from her home would undermine her credibility with audiences as a serious professional.

In any case, it's just so common that it's the man in front of the camera doing visible public work related to his high-powered career, and so common that his wife is out of sight taking care of the children. A friend of mine pointed out that maybe he watches the kids while she does interviews, too, but then conceded that it was unlikely. Power couples exist, but it seems so much more common that things go this way.

In the expat world, at least in Asia, it seems to be even more common. White guy lives in Asia and has stellar professional career and builds a family, wife is behind the scenes. I don't know how many of those wives had imagined a stellar professional career for themselves, only to find that they had fewer opportunities and choices in life. Not all of them, but certainly some. Any other match-up that involves a woman building a family and strong career seems to be that much more rare - not just for the (relatively few) female expats in Asia, but also for Asian women. As an expat woman, I have personal experience with the former. The latter is equally worth exploring but perhaps by someone with more insight and experience than me. I don't mean to shy away from discussing Asian women's experiences, and there is quite a bit to explore from an intersectional perspective, but I'm just not at all qualified to do that.

To put it another way, if my career had gone in such a way that I was giving BBC interviews from my home office in Taipei while my husband took care of domestic work in the background, it would be notable for how rarely such a thing happens. (I should point out that similar things have happened to me. I've done important work from home - at least, I felt it was important but it wasn't on the level of a BBC interview - while my husband cleaned, took out the trash and cooked dinner in the background. This is notable because, again, it is fairly rare).

This writer pretty much pointed out what was annoying me:

Then, somehow, Kelly hears the siren song of Asia and takes an associate professorship at Pusan National University in Busan, Korea....You know what though? Being Professor Kelly seems like a pretty good gig: a nice house, a nice look, an irrepressible daughter, a shockingly mobile baby, and a wife that will do anything to help him succeed.

Yeah, he does have a pretty good gig. And it's pretty damn easy for a white guy in Asia to get that gig (I am going to get a lot of hate mail for saying that, but I'm not even remotely sorry). It's fairly standard for a man to want a wife that "will do anything to help him succeed" - I'm not saying it's a bad thing, even.

It is quite difficult, however, as a woman, to forge a similar path, no matter where you are. Both men and women face challenges in life, family and career but simply put, the deck is stacked more firmly against women.

Many people don't even believe it is reasonable for a woman to want, or expect, a husband who "will do anything to help [her] succeed". It's she who must support her husband and help his career shine. If she gets anything more than that, she ought to count herself lucky, or something?

And then people wonder why it's so much more likely in this world that it's usually husband who's "on BBC", metaphorically speaking, and not the wife. It's the wife who's chasing kids around so her husband can "shine", and not the other way around. So often. So very, painfully, often.

Again, I do not mean to criticize this particular family. I don't know what choices they made or what preferences they have. I have no idea what Kelly's wife's goals and desires are, and it's not my business. It's not about them.

I'm pointing to a greater issue of inequality in the world and how it is revealed in this clip, simply because it is so much less likely that we'd see something similar with Mom talking to the BBC. If it were just as likely or common, I wouldn't be writing this post.

People will likely accuse me of being bitter for writing this. Sure, whatever, have fun. It's not really about me, though: I actually have the awesome, supportive marriage with a husband who would do anything to help me shine if I so chose, or my life took that direction. I'm not bitter about my life, I'm bitter about global inequality, a world where it is always more likely that the Robert Kellys of the world (again, nothing against the actual Robert Kelly, I'm sure he's great and if he's not I don't care) will be on BBC, and their wives, most likely, won't.

Yet, I am inserting my own views and sensitivities into this: if I were the wife in that video, I'd be asking myself how my life got to be such that I was corralling children while my husband was giving BBC interviews. It's not that watching children is less valuable work, it's just that it always seems to be the woman doing it, whether she wanted it to be that way or not. Plenty of women do want just that, but plenty don't, and many had always envisioned something a bit more equal only to wake up one day and realize they didn't get it, and aren't likely to. I don't have children but even if I did, I have still always imagined that if my life took a turn such that someone in my family was notable enough to be on BBC, it would most likely be me. (In fact, Brendan is highly intelligent and deeply insightful, but as the more outgoing, career-oriented, politics-and-activism-involved partner, it likely would be me).

And that's all fine - what bothers me is how rare it would be for it to actually be me, simply because I'm female. How much easier it is for a man to achieve professional notability and have a family than for a woman, even if she never envisioned anything less than an equal partnership.

For all of these reasons - how it usually goes this way, how in 2017 we still don't have equality, how unlikely it would be for Mom to be a viral sensation the way Dad is here, and how she would be criticized far more if she were, I have trouble sustaining a good belly laugh over the video.

I'm sure - because I'm a woman on the Internet with an opinion - that I'll be raked over the coals for this, and lots of people will assume I'm attacking this family despite my saying twice (three times now!) that I'm not. Because, again, we still don't have equality.

Yet, before I finish, I have one more point to make. A huge number of people seem to have assumed that Kelly's wife was, in fact, the children's nanny. I can't help but think many of them came to this conclusion because she's Asian. All I have to say is that that's super racist, what the hell, don't be racist. Seriously.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Normal Women Existing

Image borrowed - please don't sue me! - from here

Yesterday I was sitting on the Taipei MRT in one of those sections where seats run along the walls rather than sticking out in pairs. Across from me there was a string of women - one dozing, one on her phone, one reading, one just sitting. They spanned several decades in (guesstimated) age and were for all intents and purposes, totally normal. Not a one of them looked much like any of these women:

From here, here, here and here

(I had to google "asian women haircuts" to even get a search results page not full of softcore porn, but I suppose that'd be true for any search involving photos of women - we're objectified no matter our race). 

I don't mean to say that a beautiful woman can not also be a normal woman, although I don't buy into the "everyone is (physically) beautiful" myth: everyone is beautiful in multidimensional ways, but some people do possess more physical beauty than others and most of us are just average. So those who are notably physically attractive are, in some sense, not normal. That's not a bad thing, or a good one - it just is. 

There was nothing unusual about seeing this group of average women, who ranged from ponytail-sporting student to mom-with-kids to office worker to obasan. But it got me thinking about one tendency in male expat circles to fetishize Asian women (BIG IMPORTANT NOTE: that's not the same thing at all as dating an Asian woman or loving an Asian woman. I'm talking more about the way some expat men - and men back home, too, to be honest - talk about Asian women, and not touching at all anything having to do with relationships). 

You know, the usual: they're all so beautiful, they're so cute, they're so slender, it seems like all of them are! You can't walk down the street without seeing a gaggle of Asian beauties! It's not like my home country, where most women are frumpy, fat or ugly and you only sometimes see ones who look okay. Asian women (all Asian women, apparently - this statement is never qualified) are just so lovely and slim and cute.

There's nothing wrong with seeing beauty and admiring it, but these statements, and the thoughts behind them, are pernicious in several ways.

First, there's a very strong tendency to use these statements to imply that all, or most, or a disproportionate number of women in Taiwan (or whatever country - I am talking about Taiwan because I live here) are somehow better or more beautiful than women in whatever your home country is. And I just don't think that's true. From my observation, anyway, every country has its attractive people, it's majority of average people, and its not-so-physically-attractive people, in roughly the same proportion. To insist that Taiwan has more gorgeous women is to imply a sort of fetishization or racialization: this race is better than that race. Taiwanese women are better than women in my home country...based on what? What's different, other than race? 

I don't see them as all that different. I get on the New York subway, I see a string of average women and a Dr. Zizmor ad. I get on the Seoul metro, I see a string of average women and a plastic surgery ad. I get on the Taipei MRT and I see a string of average women and an overly-photoshopped ad. 

So that attitude diminishes some women based on their race, and elevates other women based on their race, based on very little evidence. 

What that does is imply that all you see are the beautiful ones - which may be true, and in fact probably is true - while not seeing the average ones at all. As though they don't exist. Of course a country would have lots of beautiful women if all you saw - the only ones who existed to you - were beautiful women.

Which leads me to my second point - it adds a layer of invisibility on any woman who does not fall within those magical parameters, if the thing you say most often about the people in your adopted country is how beautiful the women are. It means you don't see all the women who fall in the fat belly of the bell curve. They are quite literally invisible to you; they do not exist. That is a shitty thing to do to anyone. It comes very close to saying - if it does not say outright - that women who do not meet your standards for beauty don't get to be a part of the universe. 

It means you don't notice the diversity of the society whose country you are living in - whose country took you in (perhaps grudgingly - we know how Immigration can be - but they did). It means you don't notice every grandma, every makeup-less office worker, every mom with kids, every manager in a power suit with pumps, every artsy type, every expat woman (not to mention every Taiwanese man - although that's a different post). Even when they're in your field of vision. Even when you are at the same event. 

And don't think we haven't noticed how that manifests in real life. Have you ever had to lead a seminar while your horndog co-teacher salivates over the two pretty female students (and ignores the fortysomething female manager, and the makeup-free student in a plain singlet and ponytail)? Have you ever been walked right into by men and women who buy into the beauty myth, because they either don't see you, or don't think they should have to make space for you so that you can also have space in the world? Have you ever had a shoulder bump, when you saw someone coming and swerved your shoulder, figuring that was all you had to do to make space, while the other person moved not at all and whacked into you anyway - as though you were supposed to make all of the space and they were not required to make any? Have you ever felt unwelcome at an expat meetup because the demographics of the attendees were: average expat men, some above-average attractive Asian woman, one or two average Asian women, and you? And so you and the other average-looking women talk amongst yourselves because you are completely ignored by everyone else? Have you ever read expat blogs or Facebook posts and noticed how often they talk about "Taiwanese cuties" as though they are the only women who exist in Taiwan? As though the only people who exist in Taiwan are "Taiwanese cuties", white men (them - and they are almost entirely white), and maybe their boss? No average women, certainly no expat women, average or not, no older women, and no Taiwanese men of any age? Have you ever seen an older woman - an obasan - get seriously manhandly because yet another person has tried to claim her space on the sidewalk and she's had to literally push to get it back? 

For me, it's a big fat "YEAH" on all of these. And the myth of "all the beautiful Asian ladies" perpetuates it. If it's all the beautiful Asian ladies, then the not-physically-beautiful ladies, of any race, simply don't exist.

I know I'm going to get some shitty comments like "well I think Taiwanese women are just so pretty, but that doesn't mean I ignore other women or Taiwanese men, I notice them too!". Sure. This doesn't mean that every guy who has this attitude towards women in Taiwan walks right into other people on the street - or expects them to move - or that they totally ignore any other people. Just that these attitudes run in tandem and one feeds the other.

Finally, but briefly - it perpetuates a sense of competition among women - women who have bought into the beauty myth, anyway. I don't blame them for buying into it: there are a lot of rewards to playing that game, if you win, or even if you rank. If I thought I could rank, there's a chance I'd take a hard dive into the shallow end too. If it's all the beautiful Asian ladies, then the average Asian ladies feel pressure to try harder to get into that world. Whether or not they give into that pressure, or take care with their physical appearance for their own reasons, is another blog post that I probably won't be making, because while I can talk about a woman's experience in Asia, I can only go so far in talking about Asian women. I'm not an Asian woman; I do not really have that experience. It's just not my turf.

It's what drives commentary that runs along the lines of: if you don't like how you are ignored in favor of Asian women (not a word about how other, less "cute" and "lovely" Asian women are also ignored), then try harder! Slim down, buy some cute clothes, put on makeup, try harder! Basically - don't like the game? Compete anyway! My approval must matter to you. (Fortunately, it doesn't). As though it doesn't matter if the game is valid or not - we all must play. Refusing to play is blasphemy.

It's also what commentary that assumes that everyone who mentions racial fetishization of Asian women - or the comparative non-existence of any person who is not an attractive Asian woman, feels either bitter or threatened. I would not say I'm bitter - annoyed, angry, yes, but not bitter. I do not need or want the approval of these people; but I will insist that I exist. I don't need flirty attention (not only do I not want it from them, but I get all I need at home with my husband, thanks), but I will insist that my race and my looks not demote me to someone who deserves less respect as a human being. I am not threatened: I neither need nor want these men to be attracted to me. I'm not even in the game - I'm married. I simply want to exist. 

That's why it is simply not okay. 

It's time to notice the grandmas. It's time to notice the women over thirty. It's time to notice the moms and the managers, the wrinkled and the portly, the plain-faced and bespectacled, the tired-eyed care workers, the makeupless and the (oh horror) Western. You don't have to be attracted to us, you just have to acknowledge that we exist and treat us accordingly. That means teaching a seminar rather than ogling students. That means giving us space on the sidewalk. That means listening to us without condescension. That means stopping with the whole "Asian women are all so gorgeous!" bullshit, because they're not. Some are. Some aren't. It means acknowledging that someone other than a fellow male expat or a pretty Asian woman might have something of worth to offer, and respecting that person accordingly.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Fact and Fiction: on the love lives of Western women in Taiwan


Not long ago, this ended up on my Facebook page. It was an amusing use of the Batman-slapping-Robin meme, and it was definitely channeling general sentiment (and general assumption) about what it's like to be a foreign woman in Taiwan.

But it also got me thinking - how true is it really? I suppose that could be easily answered with "of course it's true, everyone says it's true, articles and blog posts focus on it, women themselves will tell you it's true", and case closed.

I thought about my female friends, though (focusing on unmarried ones), who live or have lived in Taiwan, and my conclusions were that it's...actually...not true. In fact, I could think of very few who suffered or were suffering from a dead dating and sex life.

As a married woman, I wasn’t sure what I could contribute to that conversation and I wanted to explore this more from other perspectives, so I reached out to all of my unmarried friends. I asked all of them for their input, and some kindly agreed to talk. What I found instead shows issues far more complex. I've included responses from several women (rough ages included because, while it shouldn't matter, sadly, in Taiwan it does).

First, I found that pretty much every woman has chances to date casually or to have a sex life. Of course, that might mean casual hook-ups, and not all women want that (I sure wouldn't if I were single). So in that way this picture is wrong: sex isn't the problem.

Dating - real relationships that last, especially - is the problem. Here, options are limited. We all know why so I won't delve too far into it: the classic points that "the male expats aren't men we're interested in, and anyway they aren't interested in Western women, they're here for Asian women which *can* in some cases be kinda racist/fetishist but isn't always", "Taiwanese men don't go after us” and "Taiwanese men are a possibility but the culture differences in terms of how women are supposed to act and what they are expected to do in a relationship make it harder/impossible”. I'm not a fan of any of these narratives and just don’t want to have that discussion because it's too fraught with stereotypes.

To quote a friend: "I wouldn't ever feel like it's impossible for Western women to find love and, yes, sex in Taiwan. But, I certainly believe that Taiwanese men are much more shy, hesitant, and reserved than what you might be accustomed to in the West. So, I believe if you want it, you'll have to go out and get it.”

The common refrain was "it's easy to find hookups. It's hard to find guys to date."

 Of course, dating and pursuing real relationships is a problem all over the world. This is hardly unique to foreign women in Asia! It may be a little harder here, but it's certainly not very easy in our home countries, either. I see a degree of difference, but not an insurmountable one. And if someone like me, who is not conventionally pretty (I don't think I'm straight-up ugly, just not 'candybox pretty') and not thin, can garner interest (and I do) most women can. Even in Taiwan. Even in Asia.

I found from my friends that experiences attracting interest varied wildly, from "it happens sometimes - it's not so unusual that it'd shock me" (me), to "I get hit on ALL THE TIME" to "it's rare, or I am just approached for hook-ups" to "I feel invisible". But then, isn't that true back home, as well?

Interestingly, a lot of people I know - including women -  "a lot of Western women don't like Asian men", but while they all say that this is a "thing", it's all pegged on these "other women" who "don't like Asian guys" - - but I've truly yet to meet many such women. Either women saying this are trying to disguise their own feelings, or it's an assumption that is not nearly as true as people think.

I also found that the vast majority, when they did date, stuck pretty much to Taiwanese guys. In fact, looking through my friends, I couldn't think of any who'd hooked up with or dated, let alone married, a fellow expat (ed: I've made more friends since this post came out, and that's changed.)

This might be where the stereotype comes from - a few women complain about decreased opportunities (true - but that doesn't mean no opportunities). Then foreign guys notice that they and all their buddies are dating local women, single expat women they meet aren't dating anyone they know, and they know this is an issue in other countries in Asia, and so the assumption that "foreign women can't get none” is born. Without that many foreign women in Taiwan to refute it, it becomes canon.

Add to that the assumption by many expat men - and upheld by foreign women who (as discussed above) don't actually feel that way - that Taiwanese guys aren't desireable, it's easy to see why this idea is so firmly entrenched in the expat community.

Anyway, enough from me. I'm just a boring old married lady who's never actually dated a Taiwanese guy. Instead, listen to a sample of women who have. You'll start to notice a few patterns - you may even think I hand-picked these responses to fit with my theme. Not so - I asked pretty much every Western female friend I have in Taiwan (including Taiwanese/Chinese women born and raised overseas) and these are the responses of those who wanted to contribute. Other than the fact that obviously my friends will fall into the demographic of "older than early 20s" and "people I like and get along with", they're about as close to a random sample as you could ask for.


"I came to Taiwan married, and am still in Taiwan. As I believe from my first-hand experience that it's easy for western men to find sex here, I found my way to the door of divorce court. And as a newly single American woman in Taipei, I opened myself up to new possibilities.

Over the five years that I've been here, I have been approached several times by random Taiwanese men asking me if they could "be my friend." The first time I naively said yes to Mr. Yikes, thinking, I was married and friends are acceptable. I explained that I was married and living with my husband in Taiwan. This man said it was okay, he was just looking to be friends. Not so! Mr. Yikes proceeded to grow increasingly affectionate over MSN (at the time) and then he began to profess his love and longing for me. Needless to say, I was married, so I stopped using MSN all together! No more "friends" for me."

"After my separation and divorce, I ran into Mr. Handsome, the guy I'm now dating. He worked under my former company. In the beginning, I went back to his company to look for him, but he wasn't working those days. So, I chatted with his friend/boss. We became friends. He was cute and I thought there definitely could have been something more there. But, anyway, I was looking for Mr. Handsome.

Mr. Handsome was finally there one day after I had gone back several times looking for him. He, unlike Mr. Yikes, was much more shy, reserved, and tender. I was the first to make a move. He was busy acting cool or shy, not sure which is was, so I just told him directly that he was indeed Mr. Handsome! He replied in kind, and we hit it off. We exchanged numbers, went on dates, and quickly feel in love and into bed!"

- from a friend in her late 20s/early 30s, American. She, like most of us, realizes it's not necessarily as easy as back home to date, but that no, you're not totally bereft of possibility.

“Dating in your late 40s and early 50s is challenging in most situations, but doing it in another culture, let alone another country, can be either down right hilarious or one of life's greatest disappointments. 

“Take Chinese culture for example, Taiwan specifically, most men in this age group are quite set in their ways and lack the spontaneity and energy I require.  I’m not your mother, cook, maid, personal assistant or spiritual advisor.  

I was recently “spending time” with a guy in his mid-40s, divorced, a 13-year son, owned several properties.  In the beginning, it was a nice experience, easy and relaxing, but after a few months of movies and dinner, I wondered out loud why we didn’t eat near his house.  His response was that his son might see us and be upset. 

Well, you know how that went down, but wait, maybe you don’t. Turns out the kid is very jealous of the father’s time since the divorce of a few years ago. 

Things cooled a bit after this discussion, but revved back up about 3 or 4 weeks later. 

He suggested we might want to take a trip.  Yeah…this is pretty much the equivalent of a sex weekend and I don’t give free samples, but I do love creativity and imagination.  So I declined the weekend, but suggested phone sex instead. Thought he was going to faint.  Out came this little, feeble, old man response of not doing that in his culture. What’s the difference? Really, I mean foreplay is foreplay, come on, get in the game. 

It’s not that I really intended to follow through with this, but just wanted to gauge his willingness. 

I don’t need the fountain of youth, but I do need someone who can keep up with me on my 40km bike rides and is willing to jump the culture divide for some fun and play. 

I’ll keep on looking around, but remain disappointed in how constrained the duality of women’s roles remain in many societies.  You can have a job, but you’ve got to come home, cook, do the laundry, take care of the kids, maintain the house and more.  Watch out world, women are making their own money, have their own apartments and with electricity and imagination, men may become obsolete.”

- from a friend and coworker in her early 50s, American, who was previously married to a Chinese man. 

“I came to Taiwan solely for career reasons. I had lived in Thailand for a year when I was younger and dated a guy there so I certainly find men of all kinds attractive (lucky me!).

When I first got to Taiwan I lived in Hsinchu and ended up dating an international student there briefly who was from St. Lucia. Then, after I moved to Taipei, I dated another international student for a little while from Belize. I should note that, for career reasons, I only ever planned to stay in Taiwan a few years at most and that made me a little shy of getting involved with anyone, especially a Taiwanese guy (not that I saw many opportunities). Most of the time, the interactions I had with Taiwanese men were kind of bizarre and bordering on harassment, but that can be true of dating in any big city.

I met my boyfriend through mutual Taiwanese friends and he was really well-traveled and highly educated which I think did contribute, to some extent, to his open mindset. I think we had some minimal conflicts related to culture, class, and language misunderstandings (Chinese and English) but mostly it was good. He was a wonderful person and very good to me and we had an enjoyable relationship until he went to Guatemala for the Taiwan military service and I came back to the U.S. I guess we just really were able to relate well and our personalities really fit. I do not think I fit American cultural norms and I don't think he fit Taiwanese cultural norms and our personalities were more similar than any of those differences.

I still think it was more difficult to date in Taiwan and maybe I had less of a selection, but that might be "my fault" too in that I felt way more self-conscious and less relaxed in Taiwan. I found, overall, that it was much more difficult to meet people and create friendships in general so, for me, dating was just an extension of that. I also worked in an office full of white men who were terribly misogynistic so that soured some of my day to day thinking about men, lol. Overall, it wasn't that there weren't any opportunities, just that I knew I didn't want to stay permanently. Back in the U.S., I feel much more relaxed and can meet people much more easily.”

- from a friend in her 20s, American, who had an office job here for a few years and has recently moved back to the US. She's absolutely right that it's harder, you have to be more proactive, there isn't as much of a selection etc. but note that in the end she did have a Taiwanese boyfriend after dating a few international students. The pattern holds: it's harder, but not impossible, and "Western women don't like Taiwanese men" isn't nearly as true as people think it is.

“My husband is quite unique and was not the norm at all. I made a huge effort to win over my hubby at the time. There is also the fact that lots of Western women are not attracted to Asians. I was different because physically my husband is not typical in that he is broad and has body and facial hair that I find attracts me to a "guy". And, my husband's family is not traditional and does not influence him so him so he had freedom to date me.

Let's also not forget that it is easy to "hook up" and hard to seriously date. If Western women approached Taiwanese men aggressively there would be lots of success stories. All I can tell you is that if a girl is assertive and takes the lead the guys will follow. It is true that the Asian men are intimidated and probably won't make the first move.”

- from a friend in her 30s, American, who came here to study, came back to visit, and on that visit met the Taiwanese guy she'd later marry.

“I have lots to say about this. My experience is pretty different from what I hear a lot of Western women talk about. Overall, I feel like I get hit on or have guys ask me out in Taiwan on par with or maybe even more than in the U.S.

Just last night, for example, I went to a small local bar I'd never heard of because a Taiwanese female former colleague invited me there to chat. Over the course of a few hours, the Taiwanese bartender started chatting me up, we played the dice game (I'm not sure what it's called but something akin to Bullshit), he asked me if I'm married multiple times, told me I'm beautiful and otherwise flirted with me, walked me out to a cab and stopped just short of trying to kiss me. Another guy, an ABC, who we had barely chatted with, came up and quite directly asked me if I wanted to go home with him. This kind of thing doesn't happen every time I go out, but it's not terribly unusual. This isn't just in bars - I've had students aggressively hit on me in the middle of class, dudes approach me in coffee shops and someone ask me out on the MRT.

I'm not sure what to attribute this to, but I have a few ideas. I think I generally have an attitude of not really giving a fuck, that is to say, I don't put out the vibe that I'm looking for someone. I think that this is pretty attractive to some people. I'm also fairly outgoing in a social situation and will be friendly and shoot the shit with strangers, which I think can put people at ease a bit. I tend to go to more local places, as opposed to places that cater mainly to foreigners, and a lot of people I have met seem really pleased about that and tell me I must be Taiwanese at heart.

One Taiwanese guy I dated told me that a main reason he was attracted to me initially was because I am "manly" (his words). He went on to explain that I don't act super "feminine," meaning that I don't seem obsessed with my appearance, am not submissive and very different from most Taiwanese girls. (These comments could generate another very lengthy discussion entirely).

I'm certainly not the bee's knees, either. I'm 34 (with no husband or kids!), which basically makes me useless to society. I think I'm pretty charming and brilliant, but I'm not a knockout that people would trip and fall gawking at on the street. I've dated 2 Taiwanese guys in the last year and I've had guys ranging from 20's to 50's ask me out and at least 3 local girls ask to make out with me.”

- from a friend in her 30s, American, who has been here for a little over a year. Since she's been here she's dated two local guys and garnered interest from others. Her experience truly is a bit atypical in that she's had more luck than most Western women, but the pattern still holds: Western women do date Taiwanese men, they do like them more than is often assumed, and they do have opportunities. We're not all chaste nuns over here, jealous of Western men swaggering around with women hanging off their arms. In fact, we're not even dating those men for the most part. We're not interested. 

"I've observed this from afar as someone who's been attached entire time living in Taiwan, HK and Indonesia. The general quality of guys who move to Asia compared to the standard of women they believe they can get is something of a contrast. But after five years in Asia I know a few happy expat couples who met here. Yes there are a lot of horrid little men who date Asian girls and believe they must also be a serious catch for Western women. But lets not fight over them, ladies. Quality guys are few and far between. But its also very difficult to identify quality single guys aged 30 to 40 in London.

 Taiwanese men are often lovely, aren't they? Must be the aboriginal mix? Tall and handsome often. Life is a bit harder for Western women in HK.”

- from a British friend in her 30s who has since left

“I was warned before I came here, but did not take it seriously because I thought I would be an exception the rule. Maybe others experiences are different than mine, or maybe the warnings were just not specific enough and not in enough first person voices to convince me that they applied to me too. For instance, I have the impression that Western men outnumber Western women by a large margin. Off the top of my head I can think of 9 Western women I know personally here. Two are married to Westerners, one is in a relationship with a Taiwanese woman, and the rest appear to have been single a long time. Through others, I know of a couple Western women married to Taiwanese men, but not well enough to know their names. If you wanted to look at patterns, age is probably a factor in how things play out too.

Age matters. I have met impressive local men, but they were younger than me and in marriages with small children. There's a definite stigma against older women with younger men that some of the younger men who seemed interested in me could not stand up to. The other issue being the importance of having children to Asian men. So the large number of chronically single western women I know here tend to be in their late 30s and older.

There is a crop of men who become available in their 50s here, after their children have grown up. Some are divorced or some just permanently separated from wives. Many of the divorced guys are not educated, or don't have money. The separated guys I've met are sometimes quite wealthy, but are rather old school and sedate, with or have well established habits in terms of what they expect of a woman. One issue I find with retired men is that they are at a different stage of life from me.

I feel more of an affinity - and probably share more assumptions in common - with specific younger Taiwanese men than I do with older ones, men in their 20s and 30s, but I am nearing 50. "Lao niu chi qing cao," (老牛吃青草) one man in his 30s who flirted with me constantly said, indicating that he did not have the strength of character to stand up to the stigma. Moreover, he did not want to disappoint his mother, who expects grandchildren.

My advice to a young American woman who majored in Chinese and asked me if I am making my life here and what I think about her moving to Taiwan - my advice was to put a time limit on it. If you don't want to teach English and don't find a job doing something else within one or two years, then leave.”

This is from an American friend who is in her 40s (I believe - I've never asked) and hasn't had the same luck, and feels overall her love life her has been a negative experience. She's right that age does matter.

She agrees with a lot of my other friends that there are men you can hook up with, and Western women are generally more interested in dating them than one might think, but it's a lot harder. She's invited male friends over to her apartment - as friends - and had them act really weird about it, or show up and be "nervous", until she realized that they just assumed it was all about sex. It hadn't occurred to them that she had friendship in mind. One, she said, would not cross the threshold from her patio to her apartment out of "respect", and one said he was surprised she'd invited him and he had to gather the courage to come over (indicating he thought more was intended by the invitation).

She's noticed that it's different from China, in that in China men were interested in sleeping with her because they assumed American women were “easy” or out of sheer curiosity and intrigue - whereas here they're more just shy. This doesn't mean they're uninterested, just that they don't have quite as strong assumptions about American women and they don't act on their thoughts. 

In keeping with that, pretty much every Taiwanese male friend I've had has admitted that the idea of a Western girlfriend intrigues him, but he's either already in a relationship or too shy to act on that interest. As she said above, the older men aren't on her wavelength or are already married (although some become available in their 50s following divorces) and the younger one too put off by the stigma of dating an older woman.

She also noted that there seems to be a cultural space for "pink friends" - friends of the opposite sex (or that you have some attraction to if you're bi) with whom there is some chemistry, and to whom the married of the pair of friends can pour out, as to a confidante, all his (usually his) marriage misery. Sometimes those relationships turn sexual, other times not. She's not interested in them, having been through it once. 

* * * 

Looking back on these responses, all I can say is this: sure, stereotypes about Western women in Taiwan exist, mostly negative ones. We're sexless, female incels. We're not attracted to Asian men. We can't compete with 'local women' (oh man that statement is so fraught with racist/sexist stereotypes that I don't know where to begin).

But hear this: Western women in Taiwan have their own stereotypes of the typical male expat here. You know - horrid little misogynists who think they're hot shit because they can get here what they couldn't get in their native countries. Charisma Men.

These stereotypes are not always true - many of my friends are Western men who are super cool guys, whether they are single (which not many are these days, a function of age and my social circle settling down), married or dating and whether their partners are foreign or Taiwanese. But there is a basis for them, and I've met a few Charisma Men as well.

But then, I wouldn't necessarily say it's harder to meet good men here (though admittedly I haven't tried). Not because it's easy, but because it was also hard to meet them in the US. Before I married, I might have had more dates in the US, but that doesn't mean the men were any better or any more worth my romantic time. Most weren't.

I, and most foreign women here, avoid them. We live our own lives, make our own friends, hang out with the cool guys, form local friendships and in some cases relationships, and are basically normal people living normal lives.

So, expat men. If you think we're angry celibate shrews just because we're not dating you, then perhaps you just don't know enough expat women and perhaps you just don't know much about our experiences, because you haven't lived them.