Showing posts with label feminity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label feminity. Show all posts

Monday, October 31, 2016

An excellent article about marriage brokerage in Taiwan

Have a look at this - a well-done, thoughtful article about marriage brokers and "foreign brides" in Taiwan.

It reminds me of a person I met in Lishan. She was the wife of the owner – a youngish (mid-thirties maybe) Vietnamese woman married to an older Taiwanese man with a withered leg. I noticed that she called him “laoban” (boss) – as in, laoban would like to give you some pears. Laoban says breakfast will be ready at 8. Laoban can lend you a portable stove if you want to make tea outside. We were chatting, and I felt comfortable enough to ask her how she liked Taiwan. Her answer was that Lishan was a bit colder than she was used to, especially in winter, and it was hard to get used to living in the mountains. But her husband was kind, she loved her children and it was “better than Vietnam”.

I have not written a lot - anything, really? I can't remember - about this, because I don't have much to say that goes beyond the obvious. At least that's part of it.

Another part is that it's too easy to get shunted into this stereotype in other people's heads of being anti-"foreign bride" (I'm using quotes because I do not think it's the most appropriate term, but it is commonly used and being against it - in this term - is what causes that stereotyping) because you are somehow anti-interracial marriage (I'm not) or anti-immigration (again, not). Certainly a large number of people who express anti-"foreign bride" sentiment are doing so for ridiculous ethnic reasons - "Taiwanese men should marry Taiwanese women", "they're corrupting our culture" and all that. That's stupid and I won't justify it with any more space, but I do want to point out there are other reasons to find the industry problematic.

I'm somewhat against it (check out that hedge, pretty impressive huh?) because it's exploitative - the women often come from families with few or no economic choices, hoping for some financial gain from signing on to be a foreign bride, end up going through brokers who take most of the money and very often end up in abusive situations. Ending up in an unequal situation with a man who expects an 'obedient virgin' is often the best outcome - the worst ones end in running away or death. These women and their families deserve better than to try and improve their lot through these bottom-feeder brokerage firms.

This is not to say that I think all marriage should be based on love or other airy-fairy notions of "finding the right person". That's a privilege I get to enjoy because of my socioeconomic status, but I'm well aware that marriage in the past was almost always an economic alliance between families who were either maneuvering to get ahead or didn't have many choices. I'm also aware that in much of the world this line of thought persists, often because it must. If two people want to form a legal partnership to form a family unit and the main emotional driver is economic rather than romantic, who am I to tell them how they must feel before they are allowed to marry? For this reason I am also not against marriage for immigration purposes - the system in most countries makes it difficult to immigrate otherwise and is often deeply unfair, so when people game the system that's the system's fault, not the people's.

It's just rather obvious in the case of wives being 'selected' from other Asian countries by Taiwanese and Korean men that the woman is hoping for economic betterment that is not likely to come.

I also hesitate to voice another opinion: that men marrying women from abroad because Taiwanese women, thanks to educational and economic empowerment driving modern Taiwanese feminist thought, have in many cases decided not to marry (or want to, but will not marry any dude who expects a 'submissive' wife, will not be treated like the property of her in-laws and will not bear children or give up her career on command and certainly does not intend to remain a virgin for some future husband). It undermines feminism in Taiwan: men's attitudes don't change as quickly when they are not forced to confront the consequences of their misogyny. It also undermines the idea of women's equality everywhere, given how their "brokered" wives are often treated: by the men themselves, by the brokerage firms, by the men's families and by the woman's families in their home countries, too.

Why have I hesitated to say that? Because again, that sort of feminism is something I get to enjoy because of my socioeconomic status. Many if not most Taiwanese women are able to enjoy it too. It is often not, however, an option available to the Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese and other women who come to Taiwan as newly-acquired wives. In some cases, they may even buy into a worldview of obedient wives who care for home, husband and in-laws and dutifully bear and raise children.

And the final part I haven't said a lot about this before is that when I write about something I usually like to have some idea of what the solution might possibly be - whether I suggest it or not. In this case, I don't. No idea. Certainly better information in a variety of languages should be made available online to women in bad situations. I don't even know who to begin to push to fight for the government to budget for the translation of this information from Chinese into Vietnamese, Thai, Indonesian and Tagalog. Certainly more services should be available, and it shouldn't be a huge, uncertain hassle to stay in Taiwan or get help or even find out one has rights if one is in an unhappy or abusive situation. I won't go so far as to say that marriage brokerage firms need to be abolished, though personally I would like to see that happen. But if a woman wants to pursue marriage to a Taiwanese man for economic reasons, I don't want to take away her ability to do so. Heavy regulation in Taiwan doesn't seem to result in much enforcement let alone change, so I simply have no idea.

Of course it's a thorny issue to imply that Taiwanese society would do well to focus on raising its boys to be equality-minded men, if not outright feminists. They should - I'm not shy about saying that because I'm a 'foreigner'. It probably would do a lot to address the issue of Taiwanese women who want to marry staying single because there aren't enough feminist men around that they're willing to marry (and implying any woman should just give up and accept a more traditional role to land a man is offensive: I will not entertain it), and the men who would otherwise marry them. It's thorny because there's an implication that such a change would reduce the number of 'foreign' marriages so Taiwanese men could 'marry their own', which is not what I want to imply at all. I just think everyone deserves a fairer shake.

Whew. How's that for awkwardly stumbling over language to try and express my thoughts on a difficult issue? I hope you enjoyed this Cirque-de-Soleil level of contortion.

Go read the other article. It's better.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Has Taiwan made me more feminine?

Before you start thinking of Betteridge's Law here, I actually think the answer to this one might be a qualified 'yes', or I wouldn't be writing it. It is a bit navel-gazey, so if you're not into that sort of thing you might want to sit this one out. I even post lots of pictures of myself like the narcissist I not-so-secretly am!

Some of you know me in real life. You know I am not, and have never been, particularly feminine. Although I identify and present as a straight cisgender woman, I have gone through periods of questioning not my gender identity so much, but how much I wanted to have anything to do with the whole concept: there are people who don't desire to be either or any gender, and I briefly considered whether that, rather than 'not very feminine but otherwise female', was a better fit for who I was. The Jenna who landed in Taipei 10 years ago wouldn't have started a blog that, at times, focuses on women's issues - it was only several years later that I did so, after what I now feel was a fairly major personality upheaval, though I can't point to what exactly changed.

That Jenna also didn't cut, style or wear her hair down, and mostly wore jeans, khakis, cargo pants, Tevas or sneakers and plain solid-color t-shirts. She certainly didn't wear makeup and she rarely wore accessories. When she did they were small, often single charms on leather chains. Her favorite clothing color appeared to be some variation on brown. She tended to just look at the camera and smile without worrying too much if she looked good.

Does the person I describe - the person I very much was - resemble this?

2016 photo newjenna.jpg

Other than the no-makeup thing of course. I still don't wear makeup because, as a wise woman once said, "ain't nobody got time for that".*

Because that's what I look like as of this month, at least when my hair is cooperating, which it does more often now that I put effort into it. Effort pre-Taiwan Jenna would not have even considered putting into it long enough to reject the notion. She also would not have worn that necklace, nor would she have taken a selfie let alone posed in quite that way for it. She was a bit thinner (when you get married and hit your thirties you gain some weight, I refuse to feel bad about it although I am working to live a healthier lifestyle overall) but overall 2016 Jenna tries harder, looks a bit more feminine, and it shows. (This photo was cleaned up for color, and I removed a zit, but is otherwise accurate - Other Jenna would not have bothered to clean up the photo at all).

That other Jenna? She looked more like this:

2003 photo beijing.jpg
Brendan and I weren't dating yet in this photo from our trip to Beijing, but you wouldn't know it

Or this:

2004 photo 286c.jpg
That's not blush or rouge - I'm just sunburned

Or, if she wore her hair down, this, which I'm mostly showing you for the amusement factor:

 photo 10917429_10153053322301202_7077735315079429719_n.jpg
This is not the outfit or pose of someone who gives a damn about how she looks - also, cheese
(I swear I am not stoned in this photo, but I would forgive you for thinking otherwise)

Note that it's not just the clothing, accessories and hair that have changed, it's the manner of how I relate to the camera, smile and pose. This is not reflected in every character trait I have: some things have not changed - I'm still not ashamed of burping in public if I have to, I've started drinking stronger alcohol (Other Jenna probably would have gone for wine or a sweet cocktail, whereas Jenna Today keeps a bottle of Laphroaig in her home office), I still swear like a particularly surly sea captain, I'm still a bit loud and I laugh like the megaviral Chewbacca mask woman (to the point where a friend pointed out that our laughs are eerily similar and I can't disagree). I still don't wear high heels.

But some things, honestly, have. I own more than two hair products, a round brush and a hair dryer which I actually use sometimes. Other Jenna seriously did not have a hair dryer - what's wrong with regular air? Air works. Those hair products come from Aveda, where Other Jenna would never have shopped. I have a bottle of Chanel No. 5 (it was my mom's, she would have wanted me to use it - waste not want not and all) that I actually wear, I have a bag of high-end makeup that I still don't wear, but break out for special occasions (Other Jenna didn't even wear makeup to weddings or job interviews). I've switched to big jewelry, lots of scarves and bright colors, and actually wear skirts. I own a sundress! Other Jenna never owned a sundress. I do not own a pair of khakis or a pair of cargo pants, which Other Jenna would have found incomprehensible. I used to wear men's jeans but don't anymore. I even buy women's sneakers in more typically feminine colors (not pink - ugh no - but purple, fuchsia and teal are fine. Other Jenna wore gray, navy or black sneakers). I own a pair of heels! They are not very high, and they're boring and black and from Clark's, but I can hear other Jenna screaming. Heels!

There's no proof that this has anything to do with living in Taiwan - people change naturally all the time, but I can't help but think that Taiwan has had some sort of influence.

As much as I write about how Taiwan is a pretty good place for women, how, despite it not being a gender-equal paradise by any means it's the best you'll find in Asia and many of the problems found here are also found in Western countries, I have to say that there is a greater societal expectation of women looking and acting more feminine, and my "Get Out of Jail Free" card because I'm a foreigner doesn't work very well to let me out of it. I've never quite been asked the question I was once asked in China - excuse me, would you mind telling me if you're male or female? in the most polite Chinese the person could muster - but I did have a student once blurt out, after I pointed out that they were teaching me Taiwanese swear words that they admitted they wouldn't say in front of a woman, "you are a man!"

He meant "you don't come across as particularly feminine so I am comfortable treating you like one of the guys", but...heh.

For every makeup-free fortysomething on the MRT and every obasan who will cut you if she doesn't get her way, I sometimes feel bombarded with far more oblique references to expectations that I, and every other woman, should make certain efforts to look and act like stereotypical women. From the office workers at my old job pointedly complimenting me the one day I did wear makeup, to much more open comments about my looks - I know I'm no stunner and I'm not sure I ever cared, but thanks for that - and what I am, vs. what I should be, wearing to students and acquaintances openly discussing how women liked to shop and look pretty, and being genuinely surprised when I said I wasn't a huge fan of either, it's just more out in the open here. All your ideas that Asia is a place where people don't say what they mean and communication is indirect, between-the-lines, high-context culture etc. etc.? Yeah, no. Not when it comes to commenting on looks or gender roles. Not at all.

In terms of looks, it seemed to start fairly soon after arriving. About a year or so in, I went to a wedding back in the US and wore makeup for the first time in years, and a dress which is just nuts:

2007 photo bethwedding.jpg

Then I started to cut and even sort of style my hair, though I didn't keep up with dying it:

2010 photo 251222_10150274731231202_209815_n.jpg
It's Margarita O'Clock at the long-closed Yuma!

Then I started paying more attention to my overall dress, hair and looks:

 photo 425070_10150622533521202_286080076_n.jpg

...and then one day I woke up and I was using premium hair products, wearing skirts and statement necklaces and thinking about how I smelled beyond "not like anything which is better than how humid Taiwan weather makes a lot of people smell". And then I took the picture at the top of this post.

Would I have changed as much without the influence of Taiwan - that is, does Taiwan have nothing to do with what would have been a natural evolution of my personality regardless of where I lived? Maybe. But somehow, I don't think so. I just don't see how I would have started to give a shit without the fairly common, open comments on how I and other women look and the constant, always-there, sometimes-tacit-sometimes-not expectations here how how women present themselves. Granted, the US has those too, but I do feel they're not shoved in your face quite as much. People don't openly comment on your skin, eyes, lack of makeup etc. there, at least not as often.

I can honestly say, as well, that I care far less how I look when I go back to the US for a visit. When I moved to Taiwan I couldn't imagine bringing the one fancy pair of shoes I owned - knee high black leather boots, which I still have 'cause they're quality - I couldn't imagine needing or wanting to wear them. Fancy shoes were for the US, I thought. Now I have them here and wouldn't dream of packing them for a trip to the US, because sneakers are fine, who cares? Naw, it's fine, I know I'm in PJ bottoms but I'll run to the store, it doesn't matter, nobody cares, it's just upstate New York.

(To be fair one time when I really don't give a damn in Taiwan is when I'm going to Wellcome or 7-11, because no matter how shabbily I'm dressed someone is always wearing something more jacked up than me and the clerks couldn't give any less of a damn).

It could be that I've gone from a twentysomething cube monkey in a crap office job in the US and no disposable income to a thirtysomething professional with a reasonable amount of disposable income. It could be that I take my job and therefore how I present myself for it more seriously.

And I can say that while I've started putting more effort into my appearance, my core personality hasn't changed much. If anything, I swear more than I used to and am far more frank and, at times, caustic than I used to be (I'm still learning when to shut my trap). I just don't care as much what people think of who I am inside - if they don't like Meanie McSwearalot that's their fuckin' problem - as much as perhaps I do care how I present myself on the surface. So some things haven't changed, or at least, some parts of me have not become more feminine.

But some, most certainly, have. Even personality wise - Other Jenna wouldn't have cared that she doesn't really have a 'BFF' nearby (and it's true, I don't have a bestie in Taiwan, lots of friends, even very close friends, but not another woman I can talk about periods&vaginas&boys&hair-in-weird-places&stuff with). That's not a bad thing, but I do wonder sometimes what is up with the statement necklaces.