Showing posts with label feminism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label feminism. Show all posts

Monday, December 28, 2020

Taiwan needs to change its abortion laws, but will it?

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As usual I don't have a great header image, but I thought a memorial temple to five women who were screwed over by the patriarchy in Taiwan's distant history was fitting enough (from Tainan's Five Concubines Temple)



News broke early in December that Taiwan's the Health Promotion Administration is planning to propose changes to Taiwan's abortion laws. Specifically, they hope to eliminate the requirement that married women seeking an abortion require the consent of their spouse, as this infringes on a woman's bodily autonomy and reproductive freedom, is discriminatory towards women. The proposal also includes changing the title and some of the language in the law (problematically called the "Genetic Health Act", yikes) for being discriminatory.

I didn’t write about this when it happened partly because I was simply too busy, but also partly because I wasn’t sure I had much to say about it. Of course the law should be changed; that's obvious. But it rattled around in my head long enough to come out in written form, so here we are. 

I think it's a good entry point to revisit the debate over liberalism and conservatism in Taiwanese society, which I will do in a subsequent post, but it deserves its own investigation first.

To my mind, the double standard that unmarried women can exercise reproductive rights fairly easily (anyone can claim that carrying a pregnancy to term would harm their 'mental health' or 'family life') but married ones are subject to the approval of a spouse seems to be built on several assumptions. First, that a husband -- this law was enacted when same-sex marriage and trans rights were not even under consideration -- has the right to make decisions about his wife's body without her agreement. Second, that a woman needs to give a 'reason' for terminating a pregnancy. Third, that a single woman has rights which they lose when they get married,  meaning that married women are still seen in a sense as property. Finally, that children in households with married spouses were usually desirable to society but unmarried pregnant women were not. In fact, if you read the law carefully, the "[if the pregnancy will] affect family life" provision makes it fairly easy for a married man's affair partner to get an abortion, but not his wife.

Read between the lines: it was never about giving single women a way out while respecting the "partnership" of marriage, and those who say it is are full of crap. It was always about protecting men who got women pregnant out of wedlock, but valuing a married woman's children and her male partner's right to them over the woman herself. While some architects of the law might have hoped it would ultimately improve women's rights, it was never fully about that: it was always about which pregnancies were desirable -- to society, not the women carrying them -- and which weren't. There's a reason why some people translate the Genetic Health Act as the "Eugenics Act". That's basically what it is. Just look at one of the very first phrases in the act, which references the "upgrade" of "population quality". 

It's worth discussing abuse of the law's marital status loophole by some clinics: I've heard stories from multiple sources -- which I'm keeping confidential for obvious reasons -- that there are clinics that ask for "the father's" approval to those seeking an abortion, even if the patient is not married. I have mostly heard of this happening to foreign women who may not know the law, but also of Taiwanese women being treated this way. (I don't know whether it actually happens less often to them as they're more likely to know the law, or being a foreigner here, I hear fewer of those stories).

Focus Taiwan points out that the past 20 years were marked with attempts to change the language, in 2006 and again in 2013. That places the initial attempt to amend the law near the end of Chen Shui-bian’s presidency. The 2012-2013 attempt (when the Executive Yuan ordered the HPA to amend the law, which never happened) would have been just before the Ma Ying-jeou presidency caved in on itself. The legislative change that allowed abortions was promulgated under KMT dictatorship, but had also been illegal under that same dictatorship for decades as they promoted traditional gender roles. This means that such initiatives could be proposed and pass or fail regardless of the party in power.  

I'm not sure that will hold up, however. The KMT seems to be swinging toward social conservatism and appears to be unable to attract young supporters despite some members' warnings. The DPP seems to be swinging away from it, with the future of the party looking to new generations as older members, well, storm off in huffs that few pay attention to. 

Will the law ultimately be amended? I think so; though some are trying to bring the Culture Wars to Taiwan and the KMT appears to be receptive, they haven't been quite as successful as their counterparts in the US or elsewhere. The government that passed same-sex marriage and appointed the first openly trans woman to a highly public position is likely to also welcome changes that broaden access to reproductive rights. The court that made same-sex marriage an issue of immediate legislative importance and ended the criminalization of adultery is fairly likely to keep up the trend, if it goes to the courts. Public opinion doesn't seem to favor these changes, but neither do people seem eager to re-hash previous battles. Changes happen, culture adapts, and society moves on.

However, opposition to improving access to abortion rights is likely to ramp up in coming months, led by the same people who screeched about marriage equality. As these groups not only appear to study US Republican strategies for inducing outrage but in some cases work openly with the American right wing, you'll probably hear a lot of the same facetious arguments you hear in the US. 

There will surely be some who scream that it's not in Taiwanese (or Chinese) traditional 'culture' to allow this, because of a cultural emphasis on 'family values'. Of course, name one culture whose 'traditions' are not said to 'emphasize family', and I will buy you a beer. 

This argument will conveniently forget that most laws propagated in Taiwan until the 1990s were created under foreign dictatorship, so it's not clear how Taiwanese laws actually relate to Taiwanese culture. If you want to make the "Chinese culture" argument, please go talk to the People's Republic of China where abortion has been easily accessible for quite some time, and in many cases was actually forced on pregnant people

This is all likely to come to a screaming, frothing head, with the KMT most likely playing a role. There will be protests, those who already hate President Tsai are going to use this as another reason to attack her (even though it's not directly her doing, I would imagine she supports it), and public opinion polls will once again show that Taiwan is in many ways a more conservative society than some factors indicate, but also more liberal than the world often believes. Then it will pass, and things will go quiet-ish until the next round of battles.

All of that leads us to the ultimate question: given Taiwan's recent achievements and changes to abortion access likely, is Taiwan a 'liberal' or 'conservative' society?

Of course, as with any debate that attempts to posit a clear dichotomy, the answer is 'both' and 'neither' -- a discussion for the near future.

Edit: here it is!

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Book Review: Sanmao's Stories of the Sahara

 

I haven't done a book review in awhile. This was in part because of the dissertation (do you want a book review about intercultural communication in Taiwanese university language classes? Yeah, I thought not). But it was also partially because I read a series of novels, including Chiu Miaojin's Notes of a Crocodile and Last Testament from Montmartre and I had trouble getting started with reviewing those; I finally decided that I probably wasn't in a good position to do so. (If you're curious, I liked the former quite a bit, and the latter a great deal less.) 

But I was excited to pick up Stories of the Sahara, which is as far as I know the first English translation of a writer who is a major name in Chinese literary circles, yet hardly known in the West.

Reading her work, it becomes clear how unfair that is. 

The notes at the end say that Sanmao was asked to write about her experiences living in El Aaiún, the capital of the Spanish Sahara, toward the end of that era of colonial rule, and the first batch of writings made up Stories of the Sahara. As such, it somewhat non-chronologically covers her move to the area, her marriage to husband José, and toward the end, the end of Spanish rule of the area, civil unrest and claims by Morocco. Morocco claims it still, but the local Sahrawi wanted and continue to want sovereingty and it remains a disputed territory. It is a little hard to read, however, knowing that a few years after the events of these stories took place, José died in a car crash (a previous fiancé who had also died was not mentioned.) 

The first thing that struck me about her work wasn't just the 'confessional' tone some reviewers have noted, though I agree. It was how different it was to both Chinese and Taiwanese literature I have read, which tends to be darkly ambiguous, highly metaphorical, and to be honest, quite meandering. Contrasted against this tendency, Sanmao comes across as crisp and dry, a strong but fizzy prosecco among a sea of murky stout. Her prose isn't just confessional, it's straightforward and engaging. Sentences don't wander, allusions don't meander. Her references are clear and contemporary to her work. This tone strengthens the content of her work, giving one a first-person, street-level view of life in the Sahara that carries both Sanmao's unique voice as well as rich -- but never mushy or sappy -- description of her surroundings. Typically in short story anthologies, not every piece holds my attention, but I found Sanmao's pieces more or less equally engaging.

It's easy to see why readers in Taiwan, especially adventurous young women, would read her work and dream of traveling -- and being -- like her. I get the impression that the 1970s was a time when some women were free to travel the world, especially women with parents as supportive as Sanmao's clearly were, but constraints on them were greater than those for men. That must have also been true in Taiwan, if not especially so given not just gender roles mired in conservative nonsense, but also the general lack of freedom from the government. (If I seem like I'm coming down hard on Taiwan, remember that this was also the era of Roe vs. Wade and American women winning the right to, say, have credit lines in their own name.) If I were a young woman in 1970s America and read a book by a woman traveling the world written in her own clarion voice, I'd be bewitched as well. 

That's not to say I loved everything about the book. 

The translator's note that Sanmao might come across as condescending or racist towards her Sahrawi neighbors in today's world rings true, though it's tempered somewhat by the instances in the book where she befriended them rather than judging them, and to an extent far greater than many non-locals in El Aaiún at the time. Some of her actions might be seen now as blatant cultural appropriation, but I doubt they would have been seen that way in the 1970s.

It's also interesting to me that, for a woman who upended gender expectations to leave Taiwan and live in northern Africa, she bowed to some pretty retrograde gender norms, as well. When José insisted that he would be the breadwinner, she settled with little complaint into a housewife's life. This was how she managed to get to the Sahara in the first place (though I'm not sure how she would have done it otherwise). In the story My Great Mother-in-Law, she speaks of her husband's mother as a being to wage war against, but that war seems to consist mostly of her, the daughter-in-law, subjugating and exhausting herself until the elder woman is pleased, while her husband enjoys a relaxing family holiday.  To some extent, she relates this to Chinese cultural norms. 

That sounds horrible, regardless of culture. Big fat no thanks on that one, Sanmao. 

Although I had expected more day-to-day feminism from a feminist icon like her rather than some shockingly regressive ideas about how marriage works, I suppose uplifting women's voices doesn't always mean the things other women say are ideas everyone is going to agree with. I can't insist that Sanmao be the 70s bra-burner I want her to be (though bra burning was largely a myth) when the whole point is listening to her authentic voice, not my feelings about what she ought to say.

Finally, although I have absolutely no right to complain strongly about this, it was my hope that reading this book by a woman who grew up in Taiwan that international readers would, well, gain a deeper understanding of Taiwan as a distinct entity. 

They won't. Sections that mention Taiwan or Sanmao's background always bring it back to China. Someone who didn't know a lot about Taiwan reading this would assume, from her writing, that Taiwan was just a part of China and culturally Chinese, because Sanmao names her home as Taiwan and talks about herself as Chinese.

I'm aware that this is a tad unfair. Sanmao was indeed born in China, it was the 1970s when Taiwan had no way of expressing any desires they may have had not to be considered part of China, and much of her work was published in the KMT-backing United Daily News. Generally speaking she didn't seem particularly interested in politics, instead focusing her gaze on people, culture and daily life. Given the era and her family background, it's no surprise that she'd take these beliefs as implicit truths. Regardless, it's hard to see how this could be handled differently, if the aim is to preserve Sanmao's words as accurately as possible in translation. 

However, these are flaws worth overlooking for the curious reader. Stories of the Sahara is an engaging and worthwhile book with a prose style that diverges a great deal from other Taiwanese literature I have read. I do hope that Bloomsbury or another publisher put out more of her works in English in the future. 

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Ted Yoho, AOC and Taiwan’s Bipartisan Dilemma

This week, Republican congressional representative and rotted meat carcass Ted Yoho did two things.

First, he announced the introduction of a package that would explicitly allow the US to use military force if China invades Taiwan. We should all support this: while obviously starting a war in Taiwan’s name is a terrible idea, a stronger commitment to defensive assistance if China were to invade is crucial. Taiwan wants it, defense is not the same as offense, and Taiwan can already govern and defend itself - it needs backup, not a savior. 

Second, he accosted Democrat and peer Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, calling her “out of [her] freaking mind”, “disgusting” and “a fucking bitch”. Why? Because he’s a flaming garbage heap, but also because AOC attributed the spike in crime in New York to corresponding spikes in unemployment and homelessness due to the CCP virus, which the US has responded to so badly that not focusing on the fact that the CCP is to blame for the pandemic is actually a reasonable argument now. 


This disconnect provides yet another reminder that many of our “allies” on Taiwan and Hong Kong issues are not necessarily good people, and that we should not excuse their being terrible people just because we agree with them on a few issues. 

This is a deceptively difficult minefield to navigate. Taiwan and Hong Kong should be bipartisan issues, one of the few things we can actually work with conservatives on. Taiwan has historically been supported more by Republicans than Democrats, and although that is finally changing, the fact remains that we still need to work with Republicans to get important legislation passed.

But the flipside of bipartisanship on Taiwan is that we have to plaster on a smile and work with utter jackbuckets like Ted Yoho. Frankly, they’re all pretty terrible, it’s just Teddy’s week to shine. I know there are those who would rather ignore the fact that pretty much every Republican supporter of Taiwan and Hong Kong who holds elected office is a horrible person — they’d choose Taiwan every time. That doesn’t exactly work; it excuses their otherwise awful behavior and puts voters like me in a bind when we want to vote for the most pro-Taiwan and Hong Kong candidates, but can’t because they’re unacceptable in every other way. It puts advocates in tough positions because it means pretending to be nice to these human dumpsters. It tarnishes the images of activists — how much flak have Joshua Wong and Nathan Law caught for posing for smiley photos, invariably filled with men, rarely a woman in sight, with walking trash kraken?

It’s easy to say “we have different values but we can come together on this”. It’s easy to ignore the time Yoho said “annyounghaseyo” to President Tsai because...reasons. It’s harder to justify “coming together” on Taiwan with a man who just called AOC a “fucking bitch”. I’m sorry, but at that point, are you not simply justifying ignoring blatant misogyny?

There are also those who think we shouldn’t work with them at all and find another way. That’d be lovely, but it’s also not currently possible if you actually take Taiwan’s defense seriously. Democrats look like they are set to potentially draft a China platform that keeps support of a cross-strait policy “consistent with the needs and best interests of the people of Taiwan”. It’s likely this will pass, as it was language used in 2008, 2012 and up through 2016. While it’s unclear how useful this is, seeing as the Obama administration wasn’t exactly Taiwan’s most helpful friend, this is still good news — it means they aren’t taking a “total opposition” stance to officials under Trump who have supported Taiwan more than their Obama-era forerunners. Their voting record of late — in solidarity with Republicans on Taiwan and Hong Kong — and some statements by Joe Biden, have reflected a trend in this direction. But honestly, we’re not there yet, and we can’t afford to end bipartisanship on Taiwan and Hong Kong.

To add to that, it’s not like the right has the market cornered on misogyny and racism (yes, Yoho’s comments, given the context of the spike in crime, are both sexist and racist). I’ve met plenty of centrists and even self-proclaimed lefties who honestly aren’t much better. From ‘our side’ I’ve heard everything from “BLM should take responsibility for the crime wave in Chicago” (what?) to wanting to protest in front of AIT for Taiwan while making deeply sexist comments about Hillary Clinton. The number of Democrats and self-proclaimed liberals in Taiwan and the US who are accused of being inappropriate with women honestly rivals the behavior of Republicans. Saying we shouldn’t work with the right for these reasons may be principled, to an extent, but it ignores how much of it comes from our own side. 

I’ve thought for awhile that there is no such thing as ‘natural allies’, because people on ‘our side’ are just as capable of being toxic jerks. The only way to continue bipartisan efforts on Taiwan is to think of allies on any given issue as people who agree with you on that particular issue and are not otherwise human dumpsters. 

Unfortunately, Ted Yoho, as with others, has shown that he is in fact a human dumpster. People have been burned by this before, thinking Trump could be good for Taiwan and Hong Kong only to find that his ‘challenge’ to China is more of an inconsistent mess.

Can we really consider a party that supports a president that called concentration camps a “good idea” an ally? Can we really smile and shake hands with Ted Yoho while he calls AOC a “fucking bitch” out the other side of his mouth?

If we don’t, how are we going to realistically make sure Taiwan has the backup it needs in the face of a potential invasion that is a very real threat? Raising fists and taking to the streets didn’t work for Hong Kong and it won’t stop an amphibious invasion of Taiwan — and letting China win is arguably worse than defending Taiwan for real. Of course, we should reach out to liberals and the left, though I’ve found that the far left is so thickly populated with tankies (“Taiwan is evil because they are run by the Nationalists, who are evil bad capitalists grr” - don’t even know where to start with this) that they’re hard to talk to about Taiwan. And honestly, even if and when we succeed, Taiwan is still better off with bipartisan support rather than having its assurance of defensive assistance tied to the whims of whomever is in office. 

I don’t have an answer to that, but I am personally not inclined to think of people like Ted Yoho as allies. As a woman, a congressional representative calling a female colleague a “fucking bitch” and then trying to justify it by saying he’s a family man affects me, because it affects the discourse of what’s acceptable to say about people of my gender. If you do think of him as an ally, please consider exactly what behavior you are excusing and whether or not that behavior affects you. 



Friday, May 29, 2020

Taiwan decriminalizes adultery, but there is more to be done

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I don't have a good cover photo so please enjoy these creepy dolls






















Just a few hours ago, the constitutional court in Taiwan ruled that adultery - until now a criminal offense in Taiwan - was in violation of the principles of autonomy and proportionality in the ROC constitution. 

Specifically, it was decided that the criminalization of adultery interfered too much with the principle of "sexual autonomy", in that it allowed for the prosecution not just of a married spouse, but of his or her lover, a third party to the marriage. In fact, as the law allowed not only for the prosecution of both the spouse and the lover, but also for the aggrieved to drop charges against their spouse while continuing with the prosecution of their affair partner, it had a tendency to enable "revenge" charges.

This is a key reason why the adultery law was found to be punitive against women more than men: male plaintiffs were more likely to prosecute their wives and wives' affair partners, whereas wives were more likely to drop charges against their husbands (possibly forcing them to stay in the marriage) while continuing to prosecute their husbands' lovers.

The number of women prosecuted relative to men amounts to very few actual people, as only a handful of these cases make it to court. Most allegations of adultery are used as bargaining chips in contentious divorces or worse, to blackmail a spouse into staying. However, with slightly more than half of defendants being women, it still works out to more women than men, and therefore affects women disproportionately.

Furthermore, at the time of the law's passage, views of gender roles and traditional marriage were different from what they are today, so the court found criminalizing extramarital affairs was not in congruence with the society Taiwan is today. Although decriminalization still wasn't something society at large favored, overall over the past few decades gender roles have in fact changed.

Of course, this changing consensus on marriage and gender also includes same-sex marriage. The law never covered same-sex couples, meaning it didn't even pertain to all married couples in Taiwan as of 2019. Rather than ask for the full equality of being included in this law, LGBT activists wisely supported abolishing it altogether.


Most constitutional court interpretations are not publicly announced, so this immediate announcement is unprecedented, and we can only hope the trend will continue.

It's interesting to me that the court arrived at exactly the right interpretation - this law hurt women more than men  - when the original law was conceived of to protect women. As the court itself stated, at the time, ideas about gender were very different from what they are now. It was believed that men were far more likely to cheat, and giving an aggrieved wife the ability to sue for damages, put her husband's affair partner in jail (and possibly even her husband) and get a divorce was considered to be a way to "level the playing field"...for women.

It is clear that if this ever was the case, it no longer is, and the court was correct to realize this.

The original law was also based on outdated patriarchal views of which women deserved protecting: wives and mothers, the "good women", and which women deserved punishments (the "bad women" their husbands played around with). Along with that, there was an unspoken assumption that while the wife could prosecute her husband as well if she wanted a divorce, that it would be entirely reasonable to try and stay married to a man who supports her financially, punishment-free, while going after the woman he cheated with. (I suppose any 'punishment' would be carried out through an extremely tense domestic life under such social mores). So in attempting to protect women, this law still upheld the patriarchy regarding women's roles.

This isn't the end of the story, though. Unilateral no-fault divorce is still hard to obtain in Taiwan - you essentially need a judge to approve it, and they may well not - meaning that if you want a divorce but your spouse won't agree to it, you need to prove fault. One possible "fault" that will allow the divorce to go through is adultery, meaning it is still possible in civil court to punish one's spouse for having an affair, by forcing them to pay damages, and in getting a "more favorable" divorce settlement for the aggrieved spouse.

In fact, one of the judges on the adultery case stated that, as some women, specifically, will feel a "bargaining chip to protect rights and interests" has been taken away, that the amount of damages or what they can claim in a divorce settlement should be raised.

The best way to deal with this isn't just to end adultery as an offense in civil court, although that should also happen. It's to legalize unilateral no-fault divorce. Public buy-in is also important: gaining a public consensus that ending a bad marriage is better than staying in it, and worth more than any amount of monetary payout (this also means pushing for greater wage equality in Taiwan, ensuring that women who get divorced will be able to support themselves).

It also includes fairer custody rulings - unlike the West, children in Taiwan often go to the father in a divorce as they are "his" lineage, not the mother, unless she can "prove fault". Awarding majority custody to the more capable parent is the better solution.

If Justice Hsu's comments are accurate, that buy-in doesn't exist yet, even if there is a consensus on decriminalization.

So, honestly, we're not there yet. But this is a step in the right direction for women in Taiwan as well as Taiwan as a liberal democratic country.


Oh yes, one final punch. For those of you who think the DPP is just as bad as the KMT, I ask: do you think this would have ever happened under a KMT administration? The KMT, whose "young", "reformist" chair (lol - he is neither) voted strongly against same-sex marriage - not the same as criminalized adultery but also a marriage/gender-related issue that is a litmus test for liberal thought?

Of course not. The two parties are not the same. Neither is faultless - no party is, not even the "ideological purists" like the NPP - but one is clearly worse than the other.

You may not love the DPP, and you may not care for Tsai's cautious, quiet, sneaking-up-on-you tactics, but more has been done for liberalism in Taiwanese society under Tsai than any other president and certainly any other KMTer. It will never be all you hoped for, but the country marches ever forward. 

Thursday, November 21, 2019

The KMT are intentionally morphing into "family values" conservatives - has anyone else noticed?

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Why is the Han campaign so obsessed with what goes on below the waist? 


It's a common refrain among foreign political geeks in Taiwan to say that the political cleavages in Taiwan don't map exactly onto those in the US. That the KMT has not always been the more socially conservative party on domestic issues - their main thing is that they are all some flavor of China unificationist (Full-Fat Unification Now or Diet Unification - that is, unification at some point in the future). Or that the DPP has not always been the more liberal party despite having "progressive" in their name.

A quick primer for those who don't know why this is a popular analysis: the KMT passed a spate of laws improving women's rights in the 1980s and 1990s, including legalizing abortion and criminalizing marital rape. Explicitly requiring gender equality in the workplace by law, on the other hand, didn't happen until 2002, when the DPP was in power. The two most prominent women's rights activists of the late 20th century were Annette Lu (yes, that Annette Lu) and Lee Yuan-chen. From what I understand, they were otherwise on two different teams politically: women's rights had no party 'color'. The KMT also used to be the party that was more open to immigration (though this has changed). The DPP, on the other hand, had to push its own people - many of whom are pro-independence social conservatives - to pass same-sex marriage. There are conservative Christians who hold lots of influence in both parties. Neither party favors abolishing the death penalty - although the Chen administration leaned in that direction, they never quite got around to eradicating the practice in Taiwan. Executions have taken place under the Tsai administration, as they did under Ma.

I know socially liberal people who vote for the KMT due to either family identity or some sort of sentiment for ROC symbolism and ideology. I also know socially conservative people who vote for the DPP, many of whom voted only reluctantly for Tsai - not because they disagreed with her, but because she's a woman. At the end of the day their choices were driven by identitarianism, and views on China.


This is still mostly true - I don't intend to challenge orthodox beliefs here. But I do want to argue that that's changing, the change is intentional, and we need to pay attention. 

I think the 2020 campaign has now reached a point where there is clear evidence that, while the DPP doesn't quite want to embrace its (mostly) newfound social progressivism yet, the KMT is trying to paint them as degenerate liberals, while actively attempting to court the socially conservative vote, many of whom have been traditional DPP supporters. 

It became obvious right around the time that Lee Chia-fen - Han Kuo-yu's wife - started up with her Moralizing Mom schtick. First it was "The Megaport festival makes mothers cry" - straight-up patriarchal garbage that could have been spouted by any number of pearl-clutching Republican women. Then it was the fearmongering and easily refuted "children are being taught anal sex and orgasms in schools" (they aren't). She also made vague statements that the new same-sex marriage law was "exploiting" gay Taiwanese and should be "reviewed" if her husband is elected, though she didn't clarify how or why.

To me, such remarks are not only a blatant attempt to scare socially conservative voters into siding with the KMT, but they're also a crude re-enactment of the old gendered conservatism of the authoritarian era. While Chiang Kai-shek symbolized all the militaristic ROC hoo-haa about "defeating the Communists and retaking the Mainland", his wife, Soong Mei-ling, headed up several women's associations and clubs, including the Kuomintang Women's Departmentthe Women's League, the Chinese Women's Anti-Aggression League and the Taipei International Women's Club, all of which were founded with the goals of upholding KMT rule in Taiwan and restricting women's movements to the traditional, domestic spheres.

Since Martial Law, I can't think of any wives of prominent male leaders, or female leaders themselves, who have taken up that mantle of old-school patriarchal conservatism...until Lee Chia-fen.

Both women seek/sought to secure KMT power through the restrictiveness of the patriarchy. Soong Mei-ling did this with the subtle polish and promise of prestige of clubs and organizations that restricted women's political power and segregated them based on social class (some of her clubs and leagues were specifically for educated women - the TIWC required an English fluency test - whereas others taught "basic skills" like sewing and typing and were aimed at working class Taiwanese women).

Lee is doing it much more directly, with pearl-clutching moral panics about Scary Sex Things being learned by The Children (!!!)


You know, just like socially conservative Republicans do. If they can't grab you with visions of being some sort of cosseted upper-class housewife who doesn't get involved in the dirtier aspects of politics, they bash you over the head with a moral panic.

Of course, it didn't start with Lee.

In this campaign cycle, it seems to have begun with the anti-gay, church-backed activists being welcomed by the KMT, including at Han Kuo-yu rallies, all the way back to 500 years ago when the 2018 elections took place. It was clear then that someone in the blue camp was studying the tactics of US Republicans and trying to turn same-sex marriage into a partisan wedge issue in Taiwan, when it hadn't been one before. They had some success: while I don't think the KMT actually cares that much about who can and can't get married, they sure seemed to act like they cared when it came to a vote. And yet Chiang Wan-an, one of their young faces, whom they will probably run for Taipei mayor in the next election, rode up to the marriage equality vote, voted for one provision and left - probably so he can say he did the right thing when marriage equality becomes normalized in Taiwan without going wholly against the party line. There's no way that wasn't a deliberate strategy.

To keep up the anti-gay signaling until that normalization happens, the one KMTer - Jason Hsu - who wholeheartedly supported marriage equality was recently left off the party list for the next election.


And now, with same-sex marriage mostly moving to the past, we have a pincer move with Lee with her scare tactics on one side, and Han offering up big fat slices of money cake with a scoop of Family Values on the other. It's quite clear he's positioning himself as the "family" candidate, with all the soft, cuddly family stuff coming from him and the attacks on the other side - liberal degeneracy, Scary Sex Stuff, Scary Gay Stuff, you know - coming from her so it isn't quite so closely associated with him.

First, Han proposed that pregnant foreign women moving to Taiwan should be immediately covered under National Health Insurance. This is actually a good idea, except it doesn't go far enough. Pregnant women do have special health care needs that others don't, but lots of people have specific health needs. The reasonable thing to do is cover all new immigrants upon arrival, not just pregnant women. Han's policy is a lovely-sounding proposal that will cost almost nothing (I can't imagine it's extremely common for foreign women to move to Taiwan while pregnant).  Of course I believe families should have state-funded resources available to them, but not in a way that idealizes motherhood and leaves child-free couples or singles out.

In addition, Han has proposed to raise the childbirth subsidies that Taiwanese families get. I honestly can't find any clear information on the national subsidies, and what I can find doesn't quite match what the KMT press release stated. What's more, cities and counties also tend to offer subsidy programs to help defray the costs of child-rearing, so how much you can claim in lump sums, annual payments and monthly payments differs based on where you live. None of the amounts are huge, but for lower-income families they do help.

If I'm reading the vaguely-worded press release correctly (and I may not be - they need to fire whoever writes these things) Han is proposing an NT$30,000 lump sum for all firstborn children. Second-borns and onward will get NT$60,000 lump sum payments plus an extra NT$60,000/year until each child reaches the age of six. (And yes, he's calling it the "666" plan, let's not even bother mocking that.)

The idea isn't bad in itself, though it doesn't attack the real problem when it comes to people deciding whether to have kids -  low wages. It struck me, though, how much more money you can get for having additional kids. The goal isn't to support Taiwanese families per se - a program that supported families would pay the same subsidy per child regardless of birth order, and would also take care of non-nuclear and non-traditional families, for example, subsidies to care for one's grandparents, fertility treatment coverage for those who have trouble conceiving - including same-sex couples - or subsidies to pay for raising adopted children. It would include a labor policy aimed at increased wages and lower working hours so parents would have more time to spend with their kids, the latter of which South Korea has managed to make strides in achieving. It would fund developmentally-appropriate after-school and summer programs so that parents wouldn't feel compelled to use cram school as a stand-in for daycare if Grandma isn't available.

I don't see Han proposing any of these - in fact, his plan to 'protect workers' doesn't include any of it, and doesn't address low wages It does increase maternity leave, which I support, while not increasing paternity leave, which is negligible in Taiwan - again, idealizing motherhood specifically, not focusing on families.  


For him it seems to be just 'have more kids, get more money'. For traditional families only. Also, no foreigners (none of these subsidies is ever made available to families with two foreign parents).

His proposal, then, is to encourage women to have more babies (the press release even states this obliquely). It's to idealize motherhood, not help families. It's to position himself as the traditional family man candidate in contrast to that mean, frosty, single, child-free, technocrat professor. I don't think he'll go so far as to dig up old rumors that Tsai is a lesbian, because his strategists must know that that could backfire (it's also stupid, but I don't think that would stop them). But he'll imply it clearly enough, mark my words.


Before you read about Han's proposals and are inclined to think that he actually cares about women's issues and there's nothing sexist about it, consider his most recent remarks about gender


男人的生命是下半,女人的生命是上半 - A man's life is the second half, a woman's life is the first half (translation mine). 

I suppose (?) he is implying that the best part of a woman's life is her youth (i.e. when she is pretty), and the second half is worthless, whereas the first half of a man's life is an immature period of figuring himself out, but he becomes more valuable as an older man - that is, looks don't matter as much for him.  

And this: 


男孩子站衛兵可以一站2個小時,但女孩子站2個小時受不了;但女性在梳妝台上,可以化妝2個小時手不會酸,換作男孩子,手可能會斷掉 - A boy can stand guard for two hours, but a girl can't stand it. Yet a girl can sit and do her makeup for two hours, if a boy does that his arm might fall off (translation mine). 

Do those sound like the words of a man who genuinely cares about women as autonomous human beings, or the words of a man who thinks of us as prettily-decorated egg sacks?


While all this is happening, the crazy Christians are at it again trying to get a referendum on the ballot making abortion in Taiwan effectively illegal. They probably won't succeed, but such a proposal could be dangerous in an election year where the KMT is taking a hard social-conservative turn. 


And whose strategy does all this sound like?

If your answer is Western-style social conservatives, especially American Republicans, ding ding. You win.

I don't know that the strategy has quite come to fruition yet. The biggest cleavage is still Taiwan/China, or ROC vs. "our country is Taiwan". But it's clearly on the back burner and it seems obvious to me that they're going to be doing more with it as the campaign progresses.

The only question is why. If they already have a cleavage to exploit, why not just do that?

Personally, I think it's because they know that the old ROC nationalism is a long-term loser. The youth don't generally think of themselves as Chinese. Many don't explicitly reject the ROC framework so much as they don't care about it. Ask them what their country is, and they'll say "Taiwan". Even older people have been turning this way for awhile. The KMT is basically now a bunch of unificationists, but they must know that "let's sell Taiwan to China" is a losing platform, or at least it will be in the near-to-medium future.

Social conservatism, especially regarding families and "family values" on the other hand? That has a strong pull in Taiwanese culture. They can still get a few votes out of that. You know, like this: "Hey voters, don't worry your pretty little heads about all that China stuff, focus on how we're the party that loves families and Chin--- we mean traditional culture. Unlike those Megaport-going, gay-marriage-doing, anal-sex-teaching people who want to ruin our social fabric, especially that ice-cold single childless woman who runs the show! But Han, he's married and has a kid! You can trust him, he's a real family man!"

And frankly, if you're not noticing the change, perhaps it's time to pay attention. Nothing about it is unintentional. 

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Some of my latest work for Ketagalan Media

As y'all know, I like to update here on what I'm writing elsewhere. Well - I have two pieces out - now a few weeks old - in Ketagalan Media and one in the latest issue of Taipei Magazine. I especially enjoyed writing the Taipei Magazine one, an interview with Taipei-based illustrator and activist Ai ee mi, the sort of work I enjoy but don't get to do very often.  

I was going to wait until the Taipei Magazine one was available online through Taiwan Scene, but that seems to be taking awhile, so I'll just put this out there now.

First, I expanded on my earlier post about Taiwan being the most successful Asian Tiger, adding a few new sections, updating a little data, and streamlining the whole thing. You can read it here. It's chock full of numbers that I think make a convincing case.

Then, I took a look at the proposed abortion ban referendum by a Christian group, and pointed out that our strategies in dealing with the ant-equality referendums were not successful, so we need to counter this new proposal with new tactics updated now that we know how the conservatives operate, and we need to do it soon.

Enjoy! 

Monday, October 7, 2019

Lee Chia-fen's comments on Megaport Festival are pure patriarchy and no substance

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I don't even know where to begin when dissecting the deeply problematic comments of Lee Chia-fen, the perpetually frowning wife of presidential candidate Han Kuo-yu, when she attempted to justify the cancellation of the wildly popular Megaport music festival. But there's clearly more to talk about than the obvious take - that it's complete nonsense and fearmongering - and I suppose because I subconsciously enjoy a bit of mild masochism, I'd like to talk about that.

According to the Taipei Times:


The Megaport Festival “has made many mothers weep,” Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu’s (韓國瑜) wife, Lee Chia-fen (李佳芬), said yesterday. It was not clear what she was insinuating. 
Lee made the remarks while campaigning for Han, the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) presidential candidate, and KMT Legislator Ko Chih-en (柯志恩) in New Taipei City, adding that as a mother she knows what many parents are worried about....
As a mother, she would like to see a society that is built on harmony and reciprocity, Lee said. 

Lee went on to say that there should be a focus on the economy and education - "cultivating the next generation" to be more "qualified" - and caring for the disadvantaged (link in Mandarin), and that her husband would concentrate on these areas.

I noticed immediately that Lee's comments sounded exactly like the sort of thing the wife of a conservative politician in the US would say. If you hadn't thought before that the KMT had been studying the tactics of successful Republican campaigns in the US - even though the two parties don't overlap entirely in ideology - it should be clear now. 

It's also not at all clear what on earth these "mothers" would be crying about. Lee didn't actually give any examples of aspects of Megaport over which "mothers" would rend their garments. It seems she just expected us to assume it was the usual sex, drugs and rock & roll (I don't know how much sex and drugs there really are at Megaport, but as far as I'm aware it's never been a big issue before.)

As for "education, the economy, and helping the disadvantaged", let's leave aside the fact that Lee's husband has no concrete platforms or policy proposals through which to accomplish these goals. Instead, I'd like to first point out that "education, the economy and helping the disadvantaged" are completely irrelevant to the Megaport Festival. Even if we could trust Han Kuo-yu to dedicate himself to these goals (and we can't without concrete policy proposals from him), they can be accomplished with Megaport still going strong. These issues are so unrelated that I wonder what sort of dogwhistle she's blowing here.

Oh wait, I know which one.

There's a big helping of anti-Taiwan fearmongering here - Megaport was co-founded by Chthonic singer and pro-independence activist and legislator Freddy Lim. Openly pro-independence band Fire Ex, whose songs are exclusively in Taiwanese rather than Mandarin, often headline. This is a "these people believe in Taiwanese independence and hate the ROC!" dogwhistle, implying that being pro-independence means you don't care about the "important" issues because all you want to do is fight China. Up next in the playlist: the only way to improve Taiwan's economy is to get closer to China, which these awful splittists are afraid of doing because they're ethno-nationalists, not like we superior Han leaders, they'd rather let the Taiwanese economy burnNevermind that the economy is not burning - you need to be convinced that it is in order to advance a pro-China agenda.

Oh yes, and let's not forget the racism. Here is the Mandarin version of part of Lee's remarks (translation mine):

李佳芬說,她跟著學校的師生走遍亞洲各國,發現台灣孩子資質很好,只要給機會和養分,就能成龍成鳳,更說,如果不能為下一代創造好環境,那就是這一代的罪過。
Lee Chia-fen said that she visited teachers and students across various Asian countries, and found that the qualifications of Taiwanese children are quite strong. As long as opportunities and 'nutrients' are given, they can become phoenixes, but if we cannot create a good environment for the next generation, it is the sin of this generation.


This is a clear call-back to her husband's remarks on Taiwanese brain drain, saying that "when the phoenix flies away, the chicken comes to roost" (likening Taiwanese to phoenixes and foreign workers to chickens - in other words, being racist.) Han later "clarified" his remarks in various ways, but there's really no "clarification" for a statement like that. Lee's remark makes it clear that he meant what he said and all of its supremacist implications.

But what bothered me most was the insidious patriarchal internalized misogyny of such comments. I know it might sound odd to say that highlighting the feelings of mothers in society is inherently patriarchal and misogynist, but it is. Hear me out.


I doubt that Lee was drawing on established research into the opinions of Taiwanese mothers on the cultural implications of the Megaport Festival (I'm pretty sure none exists). So she was fabricating an opinion of "mothers" out of thin air, based on her opinion. She not only assumed that enough Taiwanese mothers would agree with it that it must be true, but expected that we would buy into her grand delusion as well, and take for granted that Lee's notions of what "Taiwanese mothers" think must be accurate.

In fact, if there's any truth to it at all, it would only be true for Taiwanese mothers of Lee's generation and older. Data routinely show that Taiwanese, especially younger Taiwanese, are more socially liberal. Sex, drugs and rock & roll don't bother them. Most Taiwanese, and especially younger Taiwanese, identify as Taiwanese rather than Chinese, and with Taiwan as their country, not China (I don't think I've ever even heard a person under age 50 refer to their country as anything other than "Taiwan", ever.) Presumably, many of these younger Taiwanese are women, and plenty of them are mothers. So Lee's comments frame the discussion of "what mothers think" as one in which only mothers of a certain age get to be an authority or decide that consensus.

When you fabricate an opinion for "mothers" and then tout it as fact, even if you yourself are a woman, you are deciding other women's opinions for them to advance your own cause. Not letting women, including mothers, speak for themselves is patriarchy.

Second, her comments hold up "mothers" as some sort of social ideal - angels whose opinions can never be wrong and in fact, the only status in which a woman's opinion matters. That's an old-school conservative tactic - ignoring "whores" (everyone who isn't a mother) by holding up "Madonnas".

But of course, mothers can be wrong. I loved my mother dearly but she had a lot of ideas about how my life should be that were simply not right for me. And sometimes, if your mother is truly wrong, you do just have to let her cry (As far as I know, I never made my mother cry, but I know people who, say, came out to their mothers as gay, lesbian or trans and did cause maternal tears - and that was the mothers' problem, and her issue to come to terms with, not their fault).

It also sets the stage for a "family values"-centric platform in which, well, "the family" is held up as the best possible social ideal, with "the family" being a traditional unit with a mother and a father (so, no same-sex couples, because your mother can't weep if you have two dads) and children (your weeping doesn't count if you're a woman who has decided not to procreate). The implicit ageism of her comments also makes it clear that such a family is one in which children obey their elders no matter how wrong those elders might be.

And there is nothing more patriarchal than holding up the ideal of a weeping mother as a particular cog in a family unit, a complementary 'emotional' component (note all the "weeping") to the idealized quiet, hardworking father. This sets up women as primarily emotional beings, whose emotions only count if they are mothers. And of course, they have to play a certain role as mothers because they are 'emotional' - this 'traditional family' isn't one with a sensitive dad or a breadwinning mom or anything newfangled or liberal like that. Nobody else's emotions count at all, least of all the children who might be perfectly upstanding young adults who might want to attend Megaport just because it's fun.

In short, everything the younger generation doesn't want Taiwan to be, but their parents and grandparents still insist on.

What is more patriarchal than that?

Monday, September 23, 2019

Let's keep highlighting women in Asian pro-democracy activism

Denise Ho at the US Capitol 2019
Denise Ho (Wikimedia Commons)

I'd like to start by saying that this is not a complaining post. I actually have something positive to say, so let's get the negative stuff out of the way first.

Back in 2017, the New Power Party held a forum with Hong Kong activists Joshua Wong and Nathan Law. The event itself was kind of forgettable, although I suppose it was important to demonstrate that activists from Taiwan and Hong Kong do have strong ties. You may remember that they were attacked at the airport by pro-China people of dubious affiliation when they arrived.

For something that wasn't too memorable, this event sticks in my head for an unrelated reason: the whole thing was a massive sausage fest, and no-one seemed to notice, at least not publicly.



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Source: New Power Party 


No, really: 

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Source: New Power Party Facebook page

Seriously, did you guys serve ketchup and mustard at that absolute hot dog stand of an event? Did you really (unintentionally, I'm sure) shove the one unsmiling woman off to the side?

This was just one event that I happen to remember for this reason, but it's indicative of a trend.

This, to me, looked a lot like the male-dominated social movements of 2014: in Hong Kong, the leaders who emerged from the Umbrella Movement were the aforementioned Wong and Law. From the Sunflowers, if you're not someone who closely follows this corner of Taiwanese politics, can you name any prominent figures beyond Lin Fei-fan, Chen Wei-ting and Huang Kuo-chang? Of course women were involved and some did play prominent roles, including going on to political involvement, but the media and general public seem to have mostly forgotten about them.

I've thought, over these years, that this was a two-pronged (heh) problem. The first is unintentional but deeply problematic: that long-forgotten 2017 event that nobody questioned as being exceedingly male made it quite clear that few involved in these movements was actively invested in encouraging more gender-balanced participation. Few were pointing out that sausage-festiness of it all or paying attention to disproportionate and unfair media representation (though some did - New Bloom is good at consistently drawing attention to this issue), and fewer were trying to make it right. Nobody was reaching out to women who wanted to get involved. It wasn't malicious, but it had the effect, combined with the public's tendency to listen to male voices over female ones, of making it seem like a bit of a boys' club.

The second was more malicious at an individual level. I've mentioned this before, and I'll say it again: there are multiple stories I simply cannot tell publicly about women I know who have been treated like dirt by the supposed 'good guys'. From being casually dismissed to treated like a secretary to unwelcome come-ons, and having nobody to turn to who really cared enough to stand up against such behavior alongside them, I am aware that, while some of 'the good guys' are genuinely good guys, others are not always all that great. 


But don't think that this is a grousing or whining post - things are getting better. I want to point that out and highlight this fact, to encourage you all to keep an eye on both the women involved in activism in Asia, and to be part of the push that encourages more women to get involved.

I was so happy to see Hong Kong singer and activist Denise Ho go to Washington DC earlier this week to testify before Congress along with Joshua Wong. I was even happier to see that Ho got just as much press for her remarks (which I personally thought were more powerful, but that's really a matter of opinion). In some cases, she got the spotlight. (The original article is from Reuters).

One of the bright sides - in a season of protests with very few bright sides - is that women just as much as men are now being seen in activist roles, even though the protests themselves are officially leaderless.

The #ProtestToo event called attention to allegations of sexual harassment and assault of female protesters by police - the first time I think a whole movement like this, in Asia, has taken an interest in a gender issue. I'm delighted to see not just Wong and Law, but also Agnes Chow Ting taking leading roles - and Yau Wai Ching before her.

Agnes Chow being interviewed in Jan 2018
Agnes Chow being interviewed in 2018 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

I think Taiwan is waking up too, and starting to actively seek out female activist voices (the News Lens article on Meredith Huang linked far above is from early 2019), but we'll have to wait and see.

That doesn't mean we've completely turned things around, though. That trip to DC where Denise Ho made the news? Yeah, well:


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Source: Joshua Wong's Facebook page
Huh. Maybe not so righteously feminist after all.

I've seen regular old journalists referred to on Twitter as "female journalists" covering Hong Kong for no discernible reason and thought - shall we also refer to 'male journalists'? 
Why not?


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Source: right there in the image, it's all over Facebook

I've also felt in some cases, however, that images of (mostly attractive) women protesting in Hong Kong have been used to rally people or draw sympathy simply because they are female, which - to me - doesn't really honor the reasons why those women are on the streets in the first place. I can't be too upset about this, after all, one of the most iconic figures of the protests has been Grandma Wong (who has apparently not been seen since August 13). On the other hand, it does seem like female images are used when they are either young and pretty, or venerable elders.

And yet, it's a (tiny) step forward. I can only hope the trend continues, and does something to kick the dudes here into action.

Monday, September 9, 2019

"This movement has a large youth following? Let's use sex to discredit them again!"

Untitled


A tale as old as time: a social movement with broad support that is either youth-led or has lots of youth visibility breaks out, challenging the power structures that seek to actively move some part of Asia towards illiberalism or outright authoritarianism.

Then, the conservative underpinning of that power structure - and it is always conservative, whether that's due to age, money, religion or some combination of these - realizes it can't make a convincing case to the broader public that the protesters are wrong and the status quo is better. So it appeals to the base conservative instincts many still hold through a massive straw man: discrediting the youth vanguard of these movements by accusing them of doing lots of very bad very wrong immoral dirty sexy sex.

And a legitimate fight for social and political change, this thinking goes, can't come from young people and their raging hormones because their movement has now been tainted by evil, bad sex and therefore can't actually be about social and political change, because sex! Therefore, they must be wrong. QED.


The rubber mallet is thus applied to the public's knee and the inherently conservative among them jump to attention just as they're expected to. Moral degeneracy!

They did it during the Sunflowers, and they're doing it again in Hong Kong



It's truly an ancient story: people in power are challenged by people with better ideas but less power, the powerful folks know they can't win by attacking the better ideas, so they do a ceremonial dance around those ideas to find some totally random thing to criticize about their challengers that will get the dullards who support the status quo all riled up. It's misogynist and supremacist - it reeks of patriarchy.

I could go look up the old gossip rag news from 2014, but I won't bother. We all know that it was full of stories of activists hooking up, or just joining the Sunflowers "for the sex". I don't know how much of it actually went on, and to be frank, I don't care. The sexual harassment/assault allegations against Chen Wei-ting are the most serious thing I've heard about (though I don't hear everything), and nothing reported on all this sex going on in the Legislative Yuan made it sound as though any of it was non-consensual. So who cares? People are free to do what they want with their bodies as long as everybody involved agrees, and it doesn't make their cause any less legitimate.

Of course, more recently, the same sort of (generally allied) people tried to do the same thing to fight marriage equality in Taiwan: realizing that denying the basic humanity of LGBT people wasn't working, they turned to a combination of "but all the gay sex! Diseases! And won't someone think of the children?" I'm not sure it occurred to them that all the gay sex was going to happen whether or not the people having it could get married.

And now, with Hong Kong, we have 'blue ribbon' uptight Dolores Umbridge Fanny Law decrying the "free sex" being "offered" to protesters as though this - if true - delegitimizes what the protesters are fighting for (it doesn't).

First, she provides no source for her claim (I'm sorry, this is not a 'source'). "I think we have confirmed that this is a true case" is something anyone can say. Where's the proof, Aunt Fanny?

Second, even if it is true, she's taking on the guise of a concerned advocate for these women while actually peddling misogynist sexual norms: the idea that these women can't possibly have decided to have sex in a way you wouldn't approve of on their own, with full mental faculties intact. No, because this is the "wrong" kind of sex, apparently, they must have been "misled" by these big, bad protester men. It's almost the opposite of a healthy attitude towards sexuality: whether both parties consent doesn't seem to matter, if it's the "wrong kind" of sex, she is essentially calling the men involved rapists (and the women involved incapable of making independent decisions)! That is offensive and makes it harder for women to speak up about actual rape or sexual assault they may have experienced.

Third, "young girls"? So, Aunt Fanny, are they underaged girls which is a truly serious issue and must be investigated, or are you calling women of legal age "young girls" in order to infantilize them? If it's the former, then you are implying that statutory rape is happening, which seems tonally inconsistent with your throwaway comment. What are these "confirmed cases"? What proof can we use to investigate this?

Let's say there is a bunch of free (assumed consensual) sex happening while, I dunno, tear gas billows overhead. I think it would be hard to get in the mood with those masks on and people running down the street while police brutalize them indiscriminately, but okay.

So what? Even if that is "moral degeneracy" (it's not), it doesn't take away from the validity of their cause - it didn't for the Sunflowers and it doesn't in Hong Kong now.

Of course, the conservative power structure knows that the cause is ultimately just, and will win over quite a few of their own support base if the message gets spread too widely, so they go after the evil bad immoral sex that Grandma would not approve of and peddle regressive gender politics and morality instead. Those always have some takers.

So of course Aunt Fanny has to paint this as dissolute immoral men and vapid unthinking "girls" because she, like many conservatives, doesn't understand consent. To her, whether sex is "the right kind" or "the wrong kind" has more to do with the social roles in which it takes place (in the confines of a married monogamous relationship = the right kind; everything else = the wrong kind) than whether the people involved actively agree to engage (consensual sex between people with no outstanding commitments = the right kind; non-consensual sex regardless of social role or relationship = the wrong kind).

So of course "free sex" - if this is even a thing, which it probably isn't - would be seen as "the wrong kind" of sex to her, but the power structure she resides within allows police to sexually assault female protesters without punishment (so far), dallied until 2002 before making marital rape illegal (marital rape is still legal in China - you know, that country that intends to fully absorb Taiwan by 2047) and allows a real domestic violence problem to fester. Those are all non-priorities to someone like her, but young men and women gettin' jiggy during protests? Oh no! The sky is falling! 




And so it goes.

If you think there isn't a direct thread between her talk about "young girls being misled into free sex" and illiberal, pro-authoritarian moralmongering, she couches that assertion in a long-winded interview in which she decries "violence" among the youth (ignoring the fact that it's the police who are instigating the violence and the youth who are pushing back against it) and calls for "civility" (as the protesters have not been violent and are fighting for values that are vital to a healthy civilization, this must mean "shut up and do what you're told, fighting back in any way is 'uncivil'"). She basically makes it sound like Hong Kong is going to hell not because a powerful, anti-democracy, anti-human rights behemoth who treats the city like a colonial possession is tightening the screws, but because a few kids weren't spanked enough by their parents so now they're running around throwin' bombs and havin' sex. What those kids stand for doesn't matter to her.

It's just another way for the power structure to try to hold on to that power: by telling us what we can say and how we can say it, where we can go, what we can wear, what we should think, what we should learn, and now, how and were we can fuck. Sex - like food, money and speech - is just another way to control us. In fact, a huge chunk of the history of the world is just people with power trying to control how other people have sex, as a way of controlling the rest of their lives as well.

When the next youth-led movement in Taiwan rises - and there will probably be one, as the threats we face have not receded - you can expect more shrieks and howls about all that terrible, dirty sex those terrible young children are having. Mark my words.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

If you tell us we can't...

Untitled
A sarcastic funerary memorial to Li Peng, Carrie Lam, lawmaker and general douchebag Junius Ho
and other anti-democracy political figures

Photo courtesy of Jean-Francois Dupre

Recently, Banqiao Senior High School in New Taipei decided to allow male students to wear skirts (most Taiwanese students wear uniforms). Female students are already allowed pants or skirts.

Some parents and parent-adjacent angry people spat out a few meaningless statements such as:

“Children like to do something wacky, to be different from others, so that people pay attention to them,” he [Hung Chih-ho, who leads a Kaohsiung-based parents' association and whose opinion on what happens in Banqiao does not matter] said, “but now boys are allowed to wear skirts to school, with the school attributing the change to respect for students’ right of autonomy.”

Yeah...and?





Apparently their main complaint is...you know what? It doesn't matter.

What matters is this: with the new rule in effect, chances were that only a few boys would have chosen to wear skirts. It's not a norm yet so doing so is sort of a form of personal expression rather than an unremarkable choice (for now), and I don't know about you but I find shorts and pants far more comfortable than skirts.

But now, because some ornery seniors are complaining that the young'uns aren't upholding harmful gender norms to the degree that they expect because a few boys are choosing to put fabric on their bodies in ways that boys typically did not do before - OH NOES - you can be absolutely certain that more boys will choose to wear skirts simply to piss off the oldsters.


Good job, old people. You really showed them!

In highly related news, everyone's talking about the "illegal" protest in Yuen Long yesterday - illegal in quotes because the word implies doing something wrong when this protest was absolutely morally right. 


It's not just that I think Yuen Long 7/27 got more support locally and internationally because people dared to show up despite the rejected protest application, but that these protests would in fact be far more peaceful if the police - and police-adjacent angry people - would just allow them to be peaceful. Think about it this way: if you don't throw tear gas, hire gangsters, beat people bloody, kill a guy with water cannons, put jubilee clips on your batons, protesters will assemble, march and go home. It's inconvenient, but not nearly as inconvenient as the world seeing that you either hired thugs, are thugs, or both.

And as a result, more people are showing up. Hong Kongers are getting angry. If they ever trusted those in charge, they no longer do. Occupy Central wasn't universally supported, but with the current spate of protests, all the police and government are doing is hardening the stance of more Hong Kongers against them and against China. They're showing up and demanding democracy exactly because they have been told they cannot have democracy. 


They're doing it creatively too - told that they could not assemble there, a few people figured out that activities such as large-scale Pokemon hunting and religious celebrations are not bound by restrictions on assembly, and claimed those as excuses to gather. There was even a call to hold a sarcastic memorial for Li Peng - the Butcher of Beijing who presided over the Tiananmen Square Massacre - complete with a planned attempt to try to resurrect him.

Would protesters in the West be so creative (and sarcastic)? I don't think so, but then typically we don't have to find ways to protest when we're told we're not allowed.






Good job, Hong Kong police (and hired gangsters - same thing really), the Hong Kong government, and China! You really showed them!

Eventually things would have escalated anyway - as I've said, the problem isn't the extradition treaty but China's plans for the endgame of One Country Two Systems and how incompatible that is with what Hong Kong wants. But it might not have mattered: though there are people who want full independence for Hong Kong, I gather that most would settle for being part of China but having democracy. Most of the time they'd probably have voted for boring, centrist politicians anyway and the few firebrands that would have gotten into office would have their say, but the status of Hong Kong as 'part of China' would not have been seriously disputed.

So if China had just let them have democracy and not made a thing of it, not insisted on half-assed fake democracy, not tried to force through terrifying extradition bills etc. etc., though decisions in Hong Kong might not have always gone exactly their way, China could have had almost all of what it wanted.

Of course, they can't do that, because of their absolute terror that letting people have a say in their government anywhere in China would lead to people in China wanting a say in their government everywhere. This is probably true, but then "the CCP could never allow that as they might lose power!" is not an ethically defensible justification. I don't think it matters though - if the CCP let Hong Kong have what it's demanding, they'd come off looking like 'the good guys', everyone would go on as usual, the bad international press would have never materialized and the real threats facing the CCP might have actually been held off longer, or at least with a lot less international scrutiny. People condemning them now might actually be defending them.

Whether or not it's a good thing for the CCP to stay in power - and I absolutely do not think it is - it might well have been in their own best interest to choose the slow-burning democracy threat over the "we look like murderous thugs to the international community" threat.

The same is true of Tibet. Though he doesn't speak for all Tibetans, the Dalai Lama has been clear that Tibet would settle for autonomy, and does not need independence. All China ever had to do was let it be - stop sending in Han Chinese settlers to change the population demographics (and making sure those settlers got all the best jobs), not trying to erase Tibetan culture or religion, not threatening monasteries and not insisting the CCP could choose who the next major lamas would be. If they'd done that, Tibet would be a lot better off, and China would have gotten almost everything they wanted. (I can't speak for Xinjiang, I'm less sure about that.)

Instead we have re-education camps, an internationally popular Dalai Lama, monks on fire, international celebrities sympathetic to the Tibetan cause and a province in near-lockdown. 


Good job, Chinese government! You showed them! 


Of course, with that comes the terror that Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia and other provinces with distinct non-Han cultures would want a similar degree of autonomy. Again, that's probably true, but I fail to see why it'd be a bad thing. I don't even think China would necessarily cease to exist. 


And, of course, Taiwan.

This one is trickier as it involves straight-up independence, but if China allowed Taiwan to declare formal independence as the Republic of Taiwan, perhaps with a few acceptable concessions, and then said "you know what, we speak the same language and inhabit similar cultural spheres. Wanna be best friends and have tons of economic cooperation?", Taiwan probably would have said yes.

The way things are now, I don't know that I personally would trust such an offer, but the point still stands the CCP could probably have most of what it wants if they would just let go and stop being such assholes. There would still be a few hardcore China-haters around, metaphorical boys going to school in skirts no matter how much the CCP hated it, but I suspect the average Taiwanese voter would be quite fine with a close relationship with China as long as their autonomy, freedom and democratic rights were permanently assured through de jure independence.

I bet more Taiwanese would even claim Chinese ethnic identity alongside Taiwanese national identity, if doing so weren't a rhetorical point that Beijing is using to try to force its claim on Taiwan.

But no, a dogged insistence on fabricated boundaries (if they really cared about the pre-1911 boundaries, Beijing would claim Mongolia as well) and a desire for total control once again makes it harder for them to actually get the thing they want. Instead, Taiwan remains stubbornly free and quite rightly mistrusts all overtures from the CCP (and CCP-adjacent angry people), and  a close economic relationship thwarted thanks to Beijing's own hubris.

Because they've convinced their own people that Taiwan is of vital national importance and letting Taiwan 'get away' would be a disaster for China, if Taiwan does in fact get away, some provinces of China might decide they want independence, too. If they hadn't manufactured such a potential crisis, I doubt that territories actually under Chinese governance would care nearly so much about a territory not under their governance formalizing its place in the international community.

And thanks to Hong Kong as well as changing international winds, the world is finally starting to notice.

Great job, CCP. Absolutely fantastic. You really showed them!

Now...who wants to put on skirts and head to Yuen Long?