Showing posts with label taiwanese_women. Show all posts
Showing posts with label taiwanese_women. Show all posts

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. 

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. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Whiny Foreign Men of Taiwan

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Hey bros,

Chayden here. Chayden Kyle, but my friends call me Big Chay.

And I have an opinion that the world needs to know. This is because Big Chay likes to think of himself as not so much one person, but an archetype. 


Anyway, I am here to tell you that life is not easy for a white man in Taiwan. You see, when I came here and got a job teaching English with no qualifications except that I'm white (it's okay though, teaching isn't hard lol, just keep the parents happy is what I say), I also found a pool of women who, like, totally threw themselves at me! These women were young, attractive, smart and totally into me. Definitely, that happened.

But, these women had a flaw. The problem is, I found them annoying sometimes. That's really hard for me.

When I say they had a flaw, I mean, all of them. Statistically speaking that should be impossible, but my bros, it's true! All of them! I have definitely met a lot of women, and almost all of those women want to date me. And they all have this problem; it's really a national issue. There definitely aren't millions of women I haven't met who don't do this, because the women I've met do do this.

This is because they talk in a way I don't like. They sort of whine and complain to get their way. In Chinese they call it 撒嬌 (sajiao). They were trained to do this from childhood, also, they do it on purpose fully knowing that they are manipulating innocent men like me who have nothing but their best interests at heart.

I really hate that they are such manipulators, because men never do anything manipulative to women.


Definitely this is just whining, my dudes! There is nothing going on with any sort of cultural give-and-take in which women are often denied agency while being expected to perform femininity in ways that affect behavior, because I haven't noticed it. And it's not a cultural difference, because I find it annoying so it must be their childish mentality. The word is never used to describe loving or affectionate behavior that partners may not find annoying, because I've never interpreted it that way.

I am a feminist with impeccable credentials, so I explained to a bunch of local females that this is annoying. Have you seen my credentials? I paid for an online course for a Feminist Certificate to hang on my wall. As a feminist man I should explain things to women. Just doin' my part lol. I live to serve.

Also, I get to decide what is and isn't acceptable female behavior and what uses of their voice are annoying. What is universally annoying is based on what I find annoying. I call it "Big Chay's Law", lol. And if some people in a group that's different from me do that thing, they all do it. White dudes, though? We are all individuals and you can't judge all of us based on the actions of most of us.

They didn't understand my counsel as a Credentialed Feminist, and I know they didn't understand because they didn't agree.

I like to think of myself as an anthropologist. I don't have an Anthropologist Certificate on my wall, because I don't think they make those, that's not a real job lol. Anyway, I am very observant of female behavior, like that time I noticed that all Western women in Taiwan are unsatisfied horn dogs who totally want the D (Big Chay's D, specifically) which is why when they get drunk they rub up all over me like they're in heat or something. They do that because Western men only date Taiwanese women even though we think they are so annoying that we write entire screeds about it, and Taiwanese men don't exist.

Anyway I am fighting the good fight, like telling women their voices are annoying.

Western women don't do this because they have been working hard to free the nipple - which I totally support, I mean, bewbs - but I don't like them either because when they get drunk it's so unfeminine and unladylike. Gross! When my bros and I get drunk that's different. I like feminine and ladylike women, but not if they have annoying voices. There's a balance to strike and I am qualified to say exactly what that balance is! My standards, like my feminist credentials, are impeccable.

I know a lot of people agree with me, so here are some insightful comments on my ideas from the expatriate community. You can see how good my feminist credentials are by the quality of these righteous dudes, and also ladies who GET IT (because some females agree, that's how we know it's feminist). They know that male approval is the most important thing.

What's really awesome is that these heroes among men are foreigners that a lot of you know. Big Chay sure knows some of them, and it's great that they are smart enough to be "grossed out by the culture" and understand that "women here are so immature" and need to be "put in the naughty corner". They sure know how to put a female in her place. 


Big Chay out!




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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. 

Monday, October 28, 2019

In Taiwan, women are the real labor movement

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In both domestic and foreign labor, it's the women who are pushing the real changes

In the span of a few short years, I've noticed something regarding labor actions in Taiwan: all of the most successful ones (as well as less successful but highly visible actions) have been organized and carried out by women.

The Taoyuan Flight Attendants' strike (which you might know of as the "China Airlines strike") of 2016, called “first successful strike held by an independent labor union in Taiwan’s history" by the union director has overall been upheld as an example of what organized labor can achieve if they persist. Of course, the flight attendants themselves - remember them, occupying the road around the China Airlines headquarters? - were predominantly female, as were the organizers and public faces of the movement (including the union director, Su Ying-jung). 

The EVA Airlines strike, though less successful, garnered a high level of visibility, both domestically and internationally. Though they gained fewer concessions than the earlier flight attendants' strike, I do think it creased a sense that striking is a legitimate way to push for a better work environment rather than pushing "too far" and being taboo. Of course, most of the EVA strikers were also women.

There was also the China Airlines pilots' strike, which skewed more male (in Taiwan and globally, in the airline industry men are more likely to be pilots and women are more likely to be flight attendants. Someone's going to get mad at me for saying this, but the reason is sexism. But, it's not directly related to my point here.) The pilots' strike was also largely successful, but came on the heels of (and was perhaps spurred on or inspired by) the success of the flight attendants' strike. Other labor organizers have pointed to the China Airlines flight attendants' strike for giving their own initiatives more visibility.


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China Airlines Flight Attendants' Strike, from Wikimedia Commons - you'll see both men and women engaging in the strike, but I can assure you that the organization and core of this action was predominantly female

These strikes were historic in Taiwan, in part because there really hasn't been much in the way of labor movements or strike actions in the country since the 1990s. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was a strong uptick in the number of autonomous labor unions formed, in contrast to the old-style, often conservative, government-backed unions which were mostly formed to prevent organized labor from making significant ground or challenging KMT control of and profit from the island's most lucrative industries (there's a long history of state interference and personal and party benefit from industry in post-war Taiwan and of course the military dictatorship didn't want organized labor threatening their control, and most autonomous organizations of any kind were banned - labor, women's organizations, you name it). As Martial Law was lifted and Taiwan began the process of democratization, unions in general threw off the shackles of state or corporate control and protests, strikes and various labor actions did take place, but then the movement lost steam. 

Around the same time, the Supreme Court upheld the ruling against RCA for exposing workers to toxic waste - especially carcinogenic solvents - causing high incidents of cancer among former employees. Though the RCA workers did not have all of their demands met, RCA was ordered to pay damages to afflicted former employees and their families. And, again, most of the workers involved and the people who organized to fight the lawsuit were women.

I have been looking into it and can't find a similar example of an organized group of male workers bringing a lawsuit against a former employer and winning in the way that the RCA workers did - if you know of one, please clue me in. There's a reason, however, that this case was considered historic.

While all this was going on, there has been exactly one large cross-industry labor protest of note, which took place in late 2017. Though many of the attendees were female, if you look at the photos, you'll see that huge blocs of industrial union participants were male (indeed, check out the photo of the Chunghwa Telecom Workers' Union from that link). The women I saw in attendance tended to be foreign domestic workers fighting to end their exclusion from many of Taiwan's labor protection laws, and young protesters showing up to represent a variety of related but not-quite-the-same causes, such as marriage equality and Taiwanese independence.

For a number of political reasons which are not quite relevant here, the usual activist groups and left-leaning political parties were largely absent in any organized form, though individuals from those movements did show up.

And that protest went exactly nowhere, and a lot of people felt tricked or misled by the organizers, myself included. To be honest, beyond the foreign labor groups and some of the individual young activists who showed up, the whole thing felt like conservative older men and some leftie labor activists who aren't exactly pro-Taiwan (some people call them 'pro-unification left') coming together to hold banners, and create a whole bunch of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

In short, it sure feels to me like the backbone of the labor movement in Taiwan is female. Not only that, but the future of labor movements in Taiwan are, as well. It's the women who fight back, the women who lead historic strikes, and the women who get results while the men hold signs and criticize President Tsai (but where were they when working conditions were degrading under President Ma? I remember no large labor protests from those eight years. Do you? Why, whatever could be the reason?) and nothing happens.

I've also noticed that the fact that women are leading the labor movement is simply ignored in media reporting of their success. New Bloom, which is usually quite good at highlighting issues of misogyny and gender/sex discrimination, called the China Airlines flight attendants' strike predominantly young, which is true (flight attendants in Asia skew young), but not predominantly female, although it was. They did point out that the EVA Airlines flight attendants were all female, in the context of EVA's frankly sexist and probably illegal hiring policy, but not in the context of women being the vanguard of contemporary labor movements. Taipei Times didn't bring up gender at all when discussing the flight attendants' strike or the RCA lawsuit.


EVA Airlines strike photo from CNA via Taiwan News

Of course, it shouldn't matter, because labor is labor regardless of gender. But considering historic discrimination against women in labor around the world, including Taiwan, what is considered to be overall low labor participation by Taiwanese women (more on that later, though), and the overall tendency of small and medium-sized businesses to be represented by men (regardless of who is doing most of the work) and the painting of men, traditionally, as hard-working entrepreneurs but not women (see the male-oriented phrase 黑手變頭家 which lionizes male 'black-hand' laborers for becoming successful business owners)...it does matter. It has to matter. I hope for a world where someday it doesn't, but in 2019, it does. 
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One of the few examples of a group of women at the 2017 labor protest

It truly feels like women are on the front lines and taking the initiative in a society that is still oriented to respect male labor but not female labor, and getting zero credit.

This invisibility of women as the backbone of labor in Taiwan has historical roots - at least, I think it does.

Looking at Taiwan's labor history, those post-war "home industries" and "home factories" where individuals did manufacturing piecework in their homes were often seen as a way for the women of a household - who, by the way, still had to do all the regular household labor - to help the family income. Men and young people engaged in this work as well: I remember a student who'd reached an extremely high perch in an internationally-known Taiwanese company telling me about pressing plastic leaves for fake flowers with one hand while studying with a book in his other hand, because his father's income as a bus driver wasn't sufficient to support the family. But, so often, it was "housewives" who did this work.

When factories - both large and small - drove Taiwan's industrial miracle, they often looked to women as sources of labor. This was in part because they could pay them less, and in part because they expected the women to leave their jobs as soon as they married and (probably) got pregnant, meaning they wouldn't have to worry about things like severance pay or a retirement pension as they would with long-term male workers. For the smaller factories, men were often the sales and public face of the company, but women did a huge proportion of the actual manufacturing. These factories and industries were seen as 'male' - all those 'black hand' laborers working their way up in the world - but they weren't, really.

When 'family businesses' became part of the small-and-medium sized enterprise boom that helped make the Taiwan Miracle possible, who do you think in the family did all the back-end work? The 'man' (usually a husband or father in the family) would be the public face of the company, but the person keeping the books, taking stock, perhaps doing a large proportion of the actual work, and often making important business decisions was that man's wife. Mr. Chen might be the 老闆 (boss) with his own business card, but Chen Tai-tai - the 老闆娘 - is the real boss. If you want something done, don't talk to Mr. Chen - talk to his wife. Of course, she does all that and also all of the housework and child-rearing, but probably doesn't have a business card.

I say all of this anecdotally, but I've brought up my observation to countless Taiwanese friends and students and not one has disagreed, and while none of my reading states this explicitly, it's strongly implied in several of my sources.

And yet, when one reads about society in the Taiwan Miracle (there's even a book called State and Society in the Taiwan Miracle, which mentions 'businessmen' but generally not the women who actually did a great deal of the work), rarely are women's contributions to this miracle acknowledged, and they're certainly not given credit for being the backbone of this miracle, which I absolutely believe they are.

I've seen this play out in my social circle as well. One of my best friend's parents run a small business in Taiwan, and until recent years my friend's father was the 'face' of that company (though her mother also did a huge amount of the work). Recently, my friend has taken over a lot of the operations and she does get credit as the 'public face' of her family's business, but that's a modern development. But, remember a few paragraphs ago when I touched on "low labor participation" of Taiwanese women? This friend of mine doesn't draw an official salary. As far as I'm aware her job isn't official at all. While she is absolutely employed, I'm not at all sure that the government considers her as 'part of the labor force' (I don't know how they arrive at those statistics). I get the feeling that a lot of wives and daughters do in fact participate in labor outside the home, but aren't counted because it's all informal.


Informality is quite possibly a key, in fact, to why Taiwanese women get so little credit when they deserve so much. Taiwanese labor contracts - if there's a contract at all, which there often isn't in the case of family - in these small businesses are often extremely informal, looking more like agreements between relatives, neighbors or friends than formal work contracts (that's backed up by academic research, not just an observation). I count women's labor for a family business to be labor 'outside the home', though often it takes place literally inside the home (the home often doubling as an office for the family business, or being physically connected to it, in the case of family factories). Families themselves might consider this work to not be labor in a workplace but rather just..women's work that women do for the family, at home.

How much of the labor of women is simply not counted because of this?

To drive home my point, I want to leave you with a story that goes further back in Taiwanese history. In her excellent book, Anru Lee narrates how textile production was banned under Japanese colonial rule, when economic policy was essentially mercantilist (foodstuffs such as rice and sugar would go to Japan, finished goods would come from Japan to be sold in Taiwan). But cloth was scarce, especially during the war, and there was profit to be made in weaving and selling it - so families, often women, would do so. Raw cotton had to be imported and wasn't available to these women, so they'd use cotton from old clothing and household products. Then they'd use their recycled-material cloth to swaddle and carry their babies in public, where they could then sell that cloth without being noticed (women were also considered less likely by the Japanese authorities to break the law, so they wouldn't come under as much scrutiny). In this way, women contributed economically to their households, and did so entirely under the radar.

And it seems women in Taiwanese labor are still under the radar, even when they take to the streets.

* * * 
A few sources for this piece which I didn't explicitly mention (and are in print so can't be linked) but deserve credit: 



In The Name of Harmony and Prosperity: Labor and Gender Politics in Taiwan's Economic Restructuring by Anru Lee

Women's Movements in Twentieth-Century Taiwan by Doris T. Chang

The Trade Union Movement in Ma's Taiwan by Yu-bin Chiu and Uneasy Alliance: State feminism and the conservative government in Taiwan by Huang Chang-ling, both in Taiwan's Social Movements Under Ma Ying-jeou, edited by Dafydd Fell. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Calling Taiwan independence supporters 'women' doesn't bother me - why should it?

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When New Party "candidate" Yang Shi-kuang went on about how Taiwan independence supporters were "women" and unificationists were "men" (and then continued, because of reasons, to bloviate on the supposed genders of other Taiwanese political figures vis-a-vis their stance on independence), I vacillated between feeling nothing at all, and like he was unknowingly serving up a compliment.

I won't bother with the notion that how you feel about Taiwan says anything at all about what's in your pants; that doesn't merit a response. In any case, he was referring to gender as a construct and semiotic representation or classification (not that he's smart enough to have realized this himself - he probably did think he was making a crude joke about genitals.) China as 'the masculine' and Taiwan (and its sovereignty) as 'the feminine'.

Anyway, this should offend me, but it doesn't. In its crass 'heheheh if u dont like china u r a dum wummin' form, it just doesn't mean anything. In its more symbolic sense, however, I've actually made an argument that seems similar on the surface but is actually completely different (because unlike this guy I'm not stupid), and I'm here to say this: what's so wrong with Taiwanese independence and Taiwan in general being symbolically 'feminine', and identifying with that regardless of your gender identity and biological sex? Why is it inherently a bad thing to be 'feminine', or desirable to be 'masculine'?

(It's not.)


Instead of retreading already-covered ground, here are a few points I made in Island of Women and its follow-up, From the Island of Women to #metoo

This idea of China as masculine (and dominant) and Taiwan as feminine (and ignored or unimportant) isn't a new concept. In
Taiwan's Imagined Geography, Emma Jinhua Teng devotes a whole chapter to conceptualizing Chinese thought (in the time period she covers, although it's just as true today) as "masculine" - Confucian, patriarchal, and often consciously so - and perceptions of Taiwan as "feminine". That is, an "Island of Women" where many indigenous tribes had matriarchal, matrilineal, uxorilocal practices and often had female chiefs. This was also a common conceptual device to link Chinese culture to being morally upright, powerful, and civilized, and Taiwan to being barbaric and - although Teng doesn't say this directly - weak.... 
Consider how China talks about itself: 5000 years, Confucian values, strong country desiring global hegemony. Now consider how Taiwan talks about itself - the beautiful island. In one of my favorite comics, China is male, the ROC is androgynous, and Formosa is a voluptuous woman. I will also point out something that struck me recently as I thought about the subtler themes in Shawna Yang Ryan's Green Island. While the protagonist's father (representing Taiwanese political ideology, including notions of freedom and sovereignty) was absent for a portion of the novel and never really recovered from his incarceration, her mother (representing the land of Taiwan, including home and family) was always there. It's not offhandedly that, as a young woman, that same mother quotes Du Fu, saying "國破山河在" - the country is broken, but the mountains and rivers remain. 
It is not a great leap to see that, despite China's talk of two sides of one family "reuniting", in fact, it wants to be the domineering patriarch, forcing Taiwan into the role of feminine supplicant. It wants to be the controlling husband to Taiwan's obedient wife.
It doesn't take much to further leap to the realization that, if China is masculine and Taiwan is feminine, the West is treating them exactly as we treat the genders. We listen to China. We give them space... 
And Taiwan? We treat her as we do women: we ask her to take up less space (by literally giving her less diplomatic space). We ask her to keep China calm, to bend and contort herself - whatever it takes to keep that man happy. 


And:



Until just few centuries ago, the vast majority of Taiwanese did not have ancestral ties to China: the permanent population was entirely Austronesian. However, it was known to Chinese explorers. They would often refer to it not as the Beautiful Isle as the Portuguese did, but instead as the “Island of Women”, a name which served two purposes. First, it provided a shorthand description of their impression of Austronesian indigenous societies, where women typically enjoyed higher status – including leadership positions in both the religious and political spheres, matrilineal and matripotestal customs – a social structure that was entirely different from the Confucian, patriarchal Chinese cultural values of the explorers. It was also an insult, as it was common in China to associate femininity and matriarchy with backwardness and barbarism, and masculinity and patriarchy with advancement and civilization.

So I don't see why it's such a great leap to symbolically classify Taiwanese independence as 'feminine' and unificationism as 'masculine'. If anything, that's an insult to unificationism, not pro-independence sentiments. Think of it this way (and a small content warning here for rape and sexual violence): I can't find it online, but I have seen political art in Taiwan that depicted a female Formosan mountain dog, colored green, being raped by an angry male dog of a different breed, colored red. It wasn't self-deprecation - it was a howl of anger, fear and desperation. It was putting into images a symbolic truth that is difficult to put into words.

If pro-China forces want to claim that masculine mantle, I say they those are the connotations we should associate with it. They'v already got the gaslighting down pat, so they can have the patriarchy, the old order, the role of the oppressor. That's what they want anyway, isn't it? And that means we get to be the good guys (which is not to say that 'masculine' is always bad and 'feminine' is always good - but they sure seem to be leaning into all of the negative aspects of that symbolism). Not to get too Joseph Campbell on you because I'm not a huge fan, but if they want to be Darth Vader, fine. Vader seems powerful but he dies, and nobody likes him. We get to be Princess Leia General Organa.

And what better Darth Vader than Xi Jinping, and what better Princess Leia than Tsai Ing-wen?

It might seem like I'm acquiescing to giving lots of power - I mean, the patriarchy is power - to the bad guys here, but I'm not. I'm giving them the role of the oppressor, a role they are willingly taking on. And the role of the oppressor, symbolically, is to be eventually defeated. That's how it works in all the best stories.

Of course, stories are stories and reality doesn't always deliver those pumped-up happy endings. We could lose. But we're living in a time when that's not a foregone conclusion. The world is turned upside down, and it remains upside down. These ideas of power, dominance and the patriarchy and the harm they have done to everyone else are taken more seriously. Being the scrappy 'rebels' can work in our favor (though we're not actually rebels - those of us who sympathize with Taiwan just want to maintain and formalize the sovereignty this country already has). The unificationists may be linking back to Confucian ideals of masculine power - cultivating land and civilization from terrifying 'female' jungle and 'savages' - but that story's out of fashion, and should remain so. It's patriarchal and stale. 


So, you know, I don't care if you're male or female. I don't care what's in your pants. It's okay to sympathize with something that is conceptually and symbolically 'feminine' - it's not a bad thing to be 'female' or 'feminine', whether you are a person or a concept. Yang Whats-His-Name thought he was insulting Taiwan independence supporters by calling them 'women', which just reveals that he is a sexist person with a sexist, patriarchal mindset. It's not insulting to be called female, because being female isn't a bad thing.

And that means he is the oppressor, and his role in this story is to be defeated. 

Sunday, June 2, 2019

The ROC is erasing the history of comfort women's sexual slavery by romanticizing it

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I am reasonably sure that not one of these women is real


Once a year or so, we go to Kinmen for work and then plan an extra day to relax, drive around and do whatever, usually booking a traditional 洋樓 (yánglóu, or 'foreign style mansion', though they don't look terribly 'foreign') for a few nights.

This year, our first stop was the Military Brothel Exhibition Hall in Jinhu township along Qiongjing Road (瓊徑路) - if you want to go there, it's easiest to just plug it into Google Maps. I've been aware of ROC military comfort women for some time (yes, quite a bit like comfort women forced to service the Japanese military in World War II), and that the practice was particularly predominant on Kinmen as it was a major military outpost.

Having felt for some time that the issue of Japanese comfort women, while also important, has been given priority over ROC comfort women with the issue manipulated for political purposes, I wanted to see how this museum portrayed the issue. Did it get anywhere near actually tell the story of women forced into prostitution to 'meet the needs' of ROC soldiers?



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No.

I learned more about the soldiers who went to the brothels, and how the brothels operated on a bureaucratic level, than the women who actually worked in them.

The exhibit, which is in English and Mandarin, hemorrhaged copious reams of verbiage justifying the 'needs' of the soldiers (as above - and this wasn't the only culprit). A huge percentage of the words on the wallboards attempted to convince visitors that these 'teahouses' were necessities of war, because how could our boys on the front line continue to fight without getting their sexual requirements met?

I don't really need convincing that any given group of people (except ace folks) spend a large percentage of their time thinking about, wanting to and trying to get nasty. That's just human. Just about everyone likes to bone down. Fine. And I don't need convincing that sex work is important or necessary - I'm in favor of legalized prostitution, in a system in which the sex workers themselves have power over their work - not a pimp and certainly not a government.

But the exhibit also spent a great deal of time telling you about the different 'tea houses' all over Kinmen and why they existed or how successful they were. You even got to learn about the quality of 'service' at each one and what 'grade' each teahouse was given (which...let me tell you. Forget wanting to work at a 'Grade D' brothel - can you imagine how insulting - and terrifying - it would be for a woman to be assigned to one?)



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Every single thing gets its moment in this exhibit - except for the women. The men and their needs are centered, and there's a lot of description of the humdrum bureaucracy of the brothels. You get to see a replica of the tickets that servicemen were issued, and the rules and regulations they had to follow. There are a lot of pink and purple shades and soft floral patterns - you know, because it's women's stuff - which is an attempt to soften the truth, and was hardly the reality of the matter. The attempted romanticization is more than a little off-putting.

You heard about the women's health checks and other rules concerning their lives - including that they weren't allowed to leave, yeesh - and that they were 'recruited' as 'waiters', are expected to get the impression from this that they chose to ply their trade in Kinmen and that the military took good care of them. You could read - briefly - about how 'bitter' and miserable their lives were in Taiwan proper, trying to convince you yet again that this was a good thing for the women, and everyone was consenting. After reading that, you'll learn how often the women had pap smears, but still nothing at all about who they were as people.

The very brief text that actually discusses the women and their lives uses the phrase 'finding their way to the frontline', as though they journeyed to Kinmen of their own volition.

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Of course, they did not.

In the famous case that caused the 'teahouses' of Kinmen to finally close in the late 1980s, an underaged woman (16) was tricked/forced to go to Kinmen and then, after refusing to engage in sex work, was told she had to do so for several months before she could return to Taiwan (link in Chinese).

I also have it on good authority (and the Taipei Times backs up) that most of these comfort women were not consenting and not taken care of well. Most of them were prostitutes working illegally  (only 'municipal brothel' prostitution was legal) who were caught and essentially forced to work in these 'teahouses', often - as the link above mentions - made to have sex with 60-70 soldiers a day. As I highly doubt they agreed to that many clients, that essentially means they were raped 60-70 times a day.

And someone on the committee that designed this exhibit is aware of this, as you can see:


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Sure, the women were not forced into prostitution as a trade, but if you write 'nor did they willingly go to support one side in a war', you are implicitly sending the message that someone forced them to do so.

That's not consenting - it doesn't matter that they were prostitutes before. You can't force someone to work for you, even if you pay them. That's slavery. The government can't knock on my door and tell me I must teach in a particular government school and then frog-march me to a classroom. This is no different just because it's sex work.

And yet, that one line in one (rather terrible) poem is the only clue that these women were essentially forced to be raped by soldiers six days a week. What's worse, the NewTalk link above describes the attempts of Kinmen-born writer (and I guess politician? It's not clear) Chen Changqing to retcon the history of military prostitution into a consensual industry in which the women were well-cared for despite the preponderance of historical evidence to the contrary.

Beyond that, the exhibition hall does not tell the stories of any of the individual women who worked as military prostitutes, even though many are still alive. One could easily ask them, and many of them would likely want their stories told.

You don't even see pictures - just stylized anime-like airbrushed cartoons of generic beautiful women. They don't actually exist. Even though surely photos of the actual women who worked in these teahouses could be found, and photographs of still-living ones could be taken. I'm sure some of them (though surely not all) would give consent for their images to be used, if exhibited as a part of a well-designed and impactful exhibit. But, of course, nobody asked them.

Much easier to write a few platitudes about 'bitter lives' and place them next to soft-focus cartoon women than to face what your government did to real, actual women.



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I have to wonder why they did it this way. Was it because whoever was in charge of this didn't want to make the ROC government look bad (especially on Kinmen, where the KMT remain popular)? Was it because they - though possibly not the women themselves, given the activism of the women who worked in municipal brothels in Taipei - regard the actual work of such women so shameful that they felt they were doing these women a favor by romanticizing it while keeping the women's actual stories quiet? Was it because the moment you tell the truth of what the government did to these women, it raises the question of compensation? Or was it straight up sexism: did whoever was put in charge of designing this just not even consider that the women's stories mattered?

The government has been much more forthright about the work of Japanese-era comfort women from Taiwan. A museum was created for them, while quietly trying to squash the attempts of ROC-era comfort women to do the same thing, as the links above show. Is this because the Japanese era is in the more distant past, and most of those women have died? Is it because it allows them to blame  Japan, not themselves - blame which can be strategically trotted out for political purposes? Don't forget that the previous administration made a point of souring Taiwan's relations with Japan as much as possible, in order to garner favor with China. Is it because the women forced into sex work in the Japanese era often weren't prostitutes to begin with, so it's less 'shameful'? Or is it perhaps all of these?

In the end, it bothers me not just that this story was told badly, but that politics seems to determine who gets their stories told at all - and it never seems to actually be about the women.




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I want to be pleased that the government isn't trying to pretend this part of Taiwan's history never happened. I want to rejoice that they're not trying to bury it as so many governments do to the more unsavory stories of their past.

But I can't - I just can't believe someone thought it was a good idea to set up a 'military brothel exhibition hall' and then spend the whole time justifying the brothels' existence, without even trying to tell any of the honest, true, detailed, human stories of the actual women who worked there.

If nobody is willing to have their story included - which is possible, but I doubt would be the case - then you can at least tell the absolute truth of how the women came to work there and what their lives were actually like beyond a list of 'rules and regulations'.

If there's one thing this exhibit can learn from museums cataloguing horrible things which exist around the world, it's that you don't need to justify the past. You're not fooling anyone. We know that romanticization is just one step removed from erasure. 

It happened, and what matters now is that we look at it squarely and honestly, and whenever possible we try to make it right. The Military Brothel Exhibition Hall does not do that, and all I can suggest is that they take a good, hard look at their first attempt and try to do better. 



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Sunday, March 24, 2019

The ups and downs of International Women's Day in Taiwan

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I've had a hard time writing this, because I don't want to sow further discord among feminist activists and various feminist groups in Taiwan, but...I just can't let it go.

I'm not too involved in Women's Day or Women's March Taiwan or any of those groups, in part because I have a hectic enough work schedule that I usually can't do groups (I never went to a single Indivisible Taiwan meeting because I was never free) and besides, it may surprise you to learn I'm just not a joiner. Beyond that, I sort of see feminism in Taiwan as something best led by Taiwanese women; I'm not really needed. If I'm free, I'll lend my support by attending public events, but I'm usually not free.

This year's women's march, dubbed WoMen (which means "we" in Mandarin) took place on a rainy Saturday (I wasn't able to attend due to work commitments). Looking at the news reports, you'd think everything ran smoothly and 80-100 marchers enjoyed talks, demonstrations and performances by a variety of women doing interesting things in the community. And that is what happened that day.

But it was sad watching the social media kerfuffle leading up to the Women's March when the original line-up for the march included a number of men, and was strongly criticized for de-centering women. The response was that feminism is still seen in Taiwan as something for women to fight for, that men don't need to or should not get involved - and that the "WoMen" event hoped to change this by showing a gender-diverse line-up.

Suffice it to say my days of feeling totally pumped and inspired by Women's Marches happening in Taiwan appear to be over.

I don't have screen shots or anything for this, as by the time I thought to gather them, the published line-up was taken down and - I am told anyway - changed. There was no further dialogue or communication about the event and its scheduled performances.

On one hand, I kind of agree with one critic that this was something of an "all lives matter" response - that the one day that centers women among all holidays shouldn't be used to showcase and praise male allies, but to showcase women, with men quite welcome to attend but not to take the spotlight.

I also do agree with the organizers, to an extent, that we need to do something about this particular problem in Taiwan specifically. It seems to me that they had good intentions, but bungled the approach. It absolutely is an issue, more so than in the West. I have certainly seen men show up to events to support women's equality in the US and act as allies. In Taiwan, I've heard a lot of ally-talk, and that's great, but not a lot of in-person support (the recent Vagina Monologues performance was a refreshing change; the audience was quite gender-diverse). What's more worrying, behind those words, there's not a lot of actual action taken by men to challenge the gender imbalance.

For instance, I have noted for some time that social movement activism in Taiwan is heavily skewed male (although women do participate). I know more than one woman who has given up on being involved, for a variety of reasons, or has a less-than-stellar opinion of people widely admired among Taiwanese progressives. I know that several social movement and progressive political leading voices are aware of the problem, but have not seen much attempt at all to address it.

Going back to the Women's March, however, I don't know that having a male-skewed line up was the way to address that issue. There must be a way to raise the number of male allies without having to center men at an event for women, and in any case, male performances at a women's event aren't going to draw in any man who wasn't already inclined towards allyship. There are surely ways to get the message out that gender equality isn't just something women fight for, but something we should all support, without handing the spotlight to men for an extended period on International Women's Day.

On the upside, despite these internal issues, by all accounts on the day in question people showed up, banded together and presented a united front for gender equality. That's something - it matters. I'd like to see more of that in Taiwanese politics (*cough* DPP *cough*).

But my disquiet runs deeper: on a surface level, it bothers me to see so few Taiwanese women involved in these public events. For sure, Taiwanese women did attend the march alongside many foreign women, but with only 80-100 participants, that number was clearly not large. From the media coverage, I didn't note any Southeast Asian female activist participation, although such women do exist. This still feels like an event mainly powered by the Western expat community and as such, I'm not sure how much it can really accomplish.

That said, looking at local groups, I find even more to raise my skepticism.

One of the collaborators on this event - and many other events - is Taipei Women's Rescue Foundation (TWRF). I will say now that they do do some good work. They arose from the Awakening Foundation, founded by former Vice President and current oddball Annette Lu (don't take that as an insult; I kind of like Lu, but I also think it's time for her to either get with the times or retire) and Lee Yuan-chen. Given Lu and Lee's differing backgrounds, Awakening and TWRF have no clear political orientation that I can suss out. That's great.

But...well, I've mentioned TWRF before, and in a not particularly flattering context. They are the people behind the comfort women museum. The museum focuses on Japanese colonial-era comfort women from Taiwan, and I agree their story is important.

However, it - and the KMT, who expends a great deal of energy keeping the comfort women issue in the public eye - has been criticized as taking political aim at Japan, in line with the desires of pro-China KMTers who want Taiwan to get closer to China and therefore drive a wedge between Taiwan and Japan's currently fairly close relationship. Comfort women aren't even the only wedge they use to try and accomplish this. All the while, many of those who claim to care about comfort women...don't actually.

How do I know? Because they only seem to care about Japanese-era comfort women (the still-living among them being quite old). The ROC had comfort women too, and being younger, more of them are still alive, but nobody seems interested in taking up their cause. Some of these women are currently fighting for the right to establish their own museum at the former municipal brothel, which is its own interesting story (the government quietly sold the building it was located in without informing them, and as far as I know their lawsuit to rectify this and stop the building from being demolished is still working its way through the courts).

So I have to ask why TWRF set up a comfort women museum for Japanese-era comfort women, but takes no interest whatsoever in ROC-era comfort women or their cause.

As such, I question their true motivations, and am skeptical of their current involvement in women's issues, and leaves me uncomfortable about my own support.

Suffice it to say that this post has no clear conclusion. It's messy and unclear, and I'm unclear about my own messy feelings on the matter.

All I can say is that Women's Day this year left me feeling frustrated and not particularly inspired.

That's all I really will say on the matter, because I actually do think those of us committed to similar causes need to show each other support, not tear each other down.