Showing posts with label western_women. Show all posts
Showing posts with label western_women. Show all posts

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Updated post: why are there so few expat women in Asia?

With the publication of an article on Western women dating Asian men that included a large contribution from my friend Jocelyn Eikenburg came a very good point from another friend: one reason why there are fewer Western Woman-Asian man couples is that there are fewer Western women in Asia.

Why is that, I asked to no one in particular.

I returned to my original post from years ago about why there are so few expat women in Asia (I could just as easily said 'Western women' - what working-class foreign women, mostly from China and Southeast Asia,  in countries like Taiwan face is an entirely different topic that I will cover once I feel qualified to do so).

I felt that the piece could use some updating, so I've updated it to add a few more thoughts and clarify or expand some of the original points.

I am not at all sure that everyone will like what I have to say, but since when has that mattered to me?

What would really improve the piece would be more firsthand experiences from a variety of women on why they chose to stay or leave - in fact, after I finish off a few other blogging projects I'm working on as well as get through the first in-person component of my Master's program, I intend to seek those voices out. For now, your comments are welcome.

The bulk of the changes - though not every change - to the original article are as follows:


As for the reasons why [dating prospects aren't great for Western women in Asia], it's hard for me to say, and I'll have to stick to heterosexual couples for now. Someone more qualified than me can write about gay dating in Asia.

My college crush moved to Taiwan, we started dating, and now we're married. I don't really have firsthand experience with this issue to share. It seems to me, though, that the issue is not what most people assume: that Western women don't want to date Asian men, so they stay single. Only a small minority of Western women I've met in Asia feel that way - most are quite open to it, or have dated (or married) Asian men. However, I do think it's likely harder. The culture barrier to dating doesn't work in our favor, as Asian men are often less likely to be clear about their feelings and ask for concrete dates, or don't show interest in the ways we've come to expect. It's easier to be a very clear Western man asking a local woman out than it is for a Western woman to figure out if an Asian man likes her.

Of course, I'm the sort of woman who once asked men out. It doesn't shock me - I think more women should do it! Again, however, that's a contentious topic in the West, though I'm not sure why. In Asia it's even more rare and is more likely to put men off. Take that even further, and it means there are fewer local men who possess the feminist chops many Western women deem a dealbreaker: I wouldn't date a man who would be put off by my asking him out.

After that, the culture barrier vis-a-vis traditional families also tends not to work in Western women's favor. If you are dating the son of Asian parents, while it's not certain that they'll expect him to run his family the way they tell him to, live nearby or use your shared financial resources to support his parents, it is certainly more likely than in the West. The expectations of male and female roles in marriage are also more likely to be traditional (though, again, this is far from universal: feminist Asian men do exist. I count some among my friends). Some Western women might see this as a difficult adjustment. Others, like me, view it as a dealbreaker.

This is not meant to be a blanket statement on the state of Western woman-Asian man dating in Asia, of course. Differing stories and successful and happy couples abound. It's just an issue worth considering. However, if the obstacles to that sort of partnership are greater, fewer women are likely to meet, date, marry and set up a home with a local man. This means fewer have that particular pull to stay (though, again, there are many success stories).

And, of course, there aren't that many Western men to date and the ones that are here might - see below - be oddly hostile to Western women. 


Does it really keep Western women away from life abroad, though, or is the correlation entirely spurious?

A little of both. For women who want to travel, the dating issue (which has no easy answer) is not likely to keep them away, though it may cause them to choose shorter-term trips: a one-year stint as a student or one year abroad teaching instead of staying long-term, for example.

* * * 

It is tiring to work for a sexist boss, have to address sexist beliefs even among friends, go out and meet people only to find that you are again being judged through the lens of gender, asked yet again about marriage and family, having children, having your appearance commented on and treated as the most important part of who you are. Always wondering if you are being paid less, and if so, because you happen to have a vagina. Always wondering if you are offered the fluffier classes (e.g. "Baking in English!") and work teaching children rather than the more challenging work (e.g. "Presenting in English") because you are female. Always questioning why, exactly, most of your colleagues are male, especially if you teach corporate English, IELTS or other adult classes.

Sexism is also a problem in the West - the hate and vitriol I see from some American men is astounding - but coming up against older-school forms of it in Asia is tiring. 

* * * 

I want to add a few more points here to expand this piece. I focused mainly on expats like me above: women who came here on their own as students or independently in search of work. However, there is a whole class of expat that I don't interact with much - nothing personal, we just inhabit different worlds - the corporate expat here on a fancy package. In Taiwan this means the ones who have luxury apartments rented for them, drivers and live-in help, who send their children to international schools we couldn't hope to afford. That sort of money would be nice, though I'm not sure I'd like the life very much. In any case, corporate sexism is a huge issue, and as a result most of the employees being offered these stellar packages are male. They might bring their wives, but they are the ones drawing the salaries. When women are offered something like this, they may find they're in a tiny minority and that when they arrive, the non-Western corporate world is even more hostile and sexist than what they left behind. Professional Taiwanese women have more advantages than almost all of their counterparts in the rest of Asia, but corporate sexism here is no better, and likely worse, than what you'll find in the West.

And, finally, I'm going to add something that may anger a few people, but here we go. It is my personal opinion from observation that women tend to be less tolerant of mediocrity. What I mean by that is, those of us who don't come as students or well-paid, cosseted expatriates often start out teaching English. Few of us are qualified, and we are given a title ("teacher") that we don't exactly deserve. I don't exempt myself from this: I was once this sort of so-called "teacher". Most "English teachers" in Taiwan know this (though some don't seem to have figured it out). Some, like me, decide the work is meaningful and fulfilling and eventually become professional educators. Most don't. Some leave after awhile, others decide that teaching without any real qualification is good enough and stay. Guess which group I have noticed is more likely to not be content being an unqualified "teacher"? If you guessed women, then you get where I'm going. And guess which group I've noticed is more likely to decide that what they're doing is fine?

Friday, March 11, 2016

One of the good ones

Over the past few months we've gotten on the cultural bandwagon and started watching Mad Men.

So, as we make our way through earlier seasons, we've come to the final few episodes of Season 5. (No spoilers, I promise). In one of those episodes, Don tries to convince Joan not to do something. There's a lot of meta-commentary here about ingrained misogyny and the objectification of women and how Don doesn't want to be a party to that (although in so many other ways he already is), but the point I want to get to is where Joan says to Don, "you're one of the good ones".

Christina Hendricks delivers the line perfectly - it's part sympathetic, intoning, "I know you're not going to be one of the ones who intentionally screws me over, that you will do your best to be decent to me", and part disappointment, implying, "I know you don't want to be one of those guys, but one of the reasons I made my choice is that I know, despite others' protestations, that I have no real support, no real assurance that my career is safe, no real back-up giving me the full and protected right to say no. Nobody really has my back, no matter how much they say they do, or want to. And you might not want to be one of those guys, but you're here right now because you didn't try hard enough to put a stop to it. You didn't create the situation, you spoke out against it, but you didn't throw the full weight of your support behind your dissent. I still got screwed. They let it happen through inaction, you let it happen because you didn't realize that huffing and puffing about it wasn't enough."

Basically, she was saying 'your support isn't full-throated enough to be helpful, so it doesn't matter that your heart is in the right place.'

And, although I didn't want to, after watching that scene my mind wandered back to conversations I've had not only in Taiwan but in the USA (although I will take a Taiwan perspective in this, just because this blog is about Taiwan).

Take one person I know, for example. Let's call him A.  A's a good guy. He works hard, he's highly educated and smart as hell, and has close family ties and a fundamental belief in the importance of self-sufficiency (although not to the point that he blames poor or unemployed people for their situations). His family is important to him; he loves his wife and kids. He isn't controlling; he doesn't make decisions that impact his wife without her input. Everything they have in life, she's had an equal part in choosing, more or less.

A is one of the good ones.

I'm not sure, culturally speaking, however, that it is enough.

He was recently telling me about a situation in which his mother wanted to adopt some child-rearing technique, and for his wife to follow suit, but his wife had other ideas and wanted to raise the child a different way. I'm not specifying what the two views are because it doesn't matter. A mentioned this to me, and I asked what his position was and what he was going to do about it.

"Nothing," he said. "That's for the two women to work out. I'm staying out of it."
"Who do you think is right?"
"My wife, probably."
"But you don't support her?"
"I can't argue with my mother like that."
"So you're not supporting your wife, you're letting her fend for herself in dealing with your mom, over your own son, even when you agree with her, because you can't bring yourself to tell your mother she's wrong?"
"Well..."

Which is of course exactly what he was doing. He and his wife agreed on a child-rearing strategy which his mother was pushing them to change, and he was letting his wife do all of the heavy lifting in dealing with her.

Because we are friends and I can be honest with A, I asked him how his wife felt about the lack of support she was receiving from him. He gave something of a non-answer, indicating that he didn't seem to know, or he felt deep down that his avoiding conflict with his mother was more important than how his wife felt about the whole thing.

I pointed out that while I wasn't going to tell him how to run his life or how he conducted his marriage, that he had asked me once why I thought it was so rare that foreign women and Taiwanese men seem to end up together (I had mentioned at one point before that that of the marriages I knew of, almost all had ended in divorce).

"This is why," I said. "Well not this exactly, but that attitude is why. Our cultures are different and that's all fine, I try not to judge, there're usually upsides and downsides to both. But, as an American woman, I expect my husband to have my back. I expect him to support me. You know I don't have kids, and my mother-in-law is awesome - I don't think we'd ever have such a disagreement. But if we did, I would take it as a given that my husband would support me, even if it meant standing up to his family. In fact, it would be a dealbreaker. I expect my spouse to put me first, as I put him first. Not to decide that his parents' feelings are more important than mine, or more important than supporting me. I am completely serious when I say that sort of attitude would land us in counseling."

"Oh. But what if he disagreed with you and agreed with his mother?"

"I'd still expect support - we'd have that discussion behind closed doors and then, after a resolution had been reached, approach his family as as united front. No matter what, we come first. And that's just it - I could see a Western woman finding that attitude of 'you come first unless my family disagrees, in which case their feelings come first and you come second if you rate at all' to be totally unacceptable. I know I would. I hope you don't take this as me judging you or telling you what to do - I'm giving you a clear example of where these intercultural problems arise."

"...oh."

Let me reiterate. A is one of the good ones. He works his ass off to support his family and would do anything for them. He doesn't have any crazy notions that women belong in the home or make childrearing their primary responsibility (his wife does stay home, but I believe him when he says this was her choice), should earn less than men, should be submissive or take a secondary role. He places a lot of value on women being educated and smart. He does not try to excuse sexual harassment or assault or domestic violence as many men do. He is in no way a bad person.

And yet here he is not having his wife's back - he certainly never intended consciously to let her deal with his contrarian mother, and he probably thinks he does support her - in fact, in many other ways, he surely does. He probably thinks that being a breadwinner for his family, being devoted to his kids and being generally kind to his wife while filial to his parents is enough. I doubt it had occurred to him that it is not in fact enough, and refusing to back his wife in a disagreement with his mother is one of many ways in which he is letting emotional labor fall on his wife, and in which he is reinforcing gender roles and norms that hurt both men and women.

He did nothing wrong in his actions, but his inaction has consequences I'm not sure he has seen. I have no idea if my brutally honest viewpoint made an impact on him - we didn't talk about it again, and anyway it's his life and really for his wife to speak up if she feels unsupported.

His way of being 'one of the good ones' - someone whose conduct in most ways is unimpeachable, which makes it that much harder to criticize something that shouldn't be as important as it is, but who nevertheless doesn't act or give sufficient support at critical moments - allows sexist norms in society to continue. It allows mothers-in-law in Taiwan to, even if they don't use it, retain the privilege of treating daughters-in-law badly (I certainly don't mean to imply that all Taiwanese mothers in law do this). It allows the burden of dealing with problematic family and making childrearing decisions to fall, as always, on the wife while the husband makes himself absent. It leaves women with little choice, just as Joan felt she didn't have adequate support to make a different choice.

I'd also like to tell a story about my friend, B. B, like A, does not believe women ought to earn less than men. As it should, such a viewpoint strikes B as completely absurd. He'd laugh in agreement at a joke like "mo' penis, mo' money" (a joke that, knowing me, I have probably made). B is totally supportive of women being successful financially and career-wise.

That said, B has admitted he'd feel uncomfortable if his wife earned more than him. He doesn't know why. I'm not sure he could come up with a good reason even if he had time to think about it. Some horrible inculcation of social norms when he was growing up in a Taiwan - although this could well have been the USA or almost any other country - left him with an inexplicable, subconscious expectation that while women could earn lots of money, and while it was perfectly fine for some other woman to earn more than her husband, that his own wife should not earn more than him. Sort of like the women-and-salary version of the "I think it's fine if people are gay but NOT MY SON" nonsense so many people believe.

B is one of the good ones - once again he's devoted to family, loving to his wife and kids, generous, kind, mature, smart, hardworking and honest. He in no way intends to oppress women or imply they should curtail their career goals so as to always be one rung below men. He would never think of himself as supporting, consciously or not, a system that keeps women down.

And yet, here he is expecting that he should be the primary breadwinner and his wife should earn less than he does. Because...why exactly? No reason. Makes him feel like less of a man? I don't know - I don't think he'd say that (if he did, being my friend I'd probably say 'what, you'd be afraid your wife's penis was bigger than yours?' Because I like to joke about penises. They are inherently hilarious-looking.) Since when is being a great man tied to making more money than a woman, and what does it say about any man who, consciously or not, thinks it is?

So, being me and B being my friend with whom I can be brutally honest, I point out that it may seem like a personal attitude, but there is a saying in feminism that 'the personal is the political' - an aggregate of people's personal views, all lumped together like so many drops of water in a tidal wave, turns into something greater than any one person's personal views. At least that's how I interpret it, and I'm not really the biggest Dworkin fan. That if he feels that way but he's the only one, that says something about him but doesn't really impact society. However, if a lot of men, even most men, feel the way he does, that's actually a huge problem. It does keep women down - it basically forces them to assess to what degree they want a successful career and to what degree they want to find a life partner. It forces them worry, in a way that a man doesn't, that if they reach a certain level of financial success that it will be harder to find a life partner. A  student of mine - a female doctor - has already pointed out that male doctors have no trouble getting married and often marry nurses at the hospitals where they work, but female doctors, if they are not married to another doctor or married before they begin the profession, often remain single. Basically, by feeling this way you are pushing women to consider whether to curb their ambitions if they are high-flown enough to drive away men like him...and there are a LOT of men like him.

And I asked, "how would you feel if you found out your wife had curtailed her own career because she knew that out-earning you would make you uncomfortable? How would you feel if, when you were single, you'd fallen in love with a woman who then became nervous that you'd feel 'threatened' by her earning potential? Knowing that you never have to worry in this way?"

He admitted, unlike A, that this was deeply unfair. Has he examined his own beliefs? Knowing him, probably.

I pointed out again that this would be another dealbreaker for me, though perhaps not for every Western woman - I've met plenty of Western women who still ascribe to the idea that men need to feel like 'men' by being 'providers', which of course just allows men to continue living unexamined lives and doing subtle things to keep women from gaining true equality. I don't really care if my husband earns more than me - we've both earned more at one point or another - but I DO care what his attitude is about that. I would marry a man who made more than me, but not a man who thought he had a divine right to do so. I would not stay with a man who'd make it an issue if I earned more than him.

But the point remains - B is one of the good ones, yet through inaction, unquestioned assumptions and prejudices, unexamined privilege and lack of support still did not support women's equality quite as much as he thought he did.

I see this so often in Taiwan...and globally, but I am writing from Taiwan so this is from a Taiwan perspective. And until we can properly pin down, address and eradicate this issue, until we can bring ourselves to call out the anti-equality, anti-woman sentiments of otherwise good men, as subtle and hard to root out as they may be, and push them to be more supportive and to back up their otherwise feminist rhetoric of equality and respect with action and change, even just of the self, we're not going to have the sort of progress for women that Taiwan and many other countries need.

We need to wake up a lot of people and get them to stop being 'one of the good ones' and start being straight-up GOOD.

Friday, March 6, 2015

American Sexist

This is a post for everyone who thinks that a lot of commentary about women's issues and everyday sexism in Taiwan (as this is, after all, a Taiwan-focused blog) are somehow unique to Taiwan or unique to Asia. "Taiwanese culture infantilizes women", they might say, or "In Taiwan women are expected to be very feminine, and they really don't like masculine things - that's why all the clothing and other items they buy are so girly".

Which, there's a speck of truth to that. I wouldn't go so far as to say women are "infantilized" in Taiwan (I know enough women who are, say, the general managers of investment company offices, who are senior executives or who basically run their family businesses, enough tomboys and women who simply aren't that feminine, enough rebels, athletes and artistic types to know that that is something of an exaggeration) but there does seem to be a cultural tendency to expect greater "femininity". Most stereotypes, after all, build bullshit around a kernel of truth.

What bothers me is the idea that this is somehow Asia-specific, Taiwan-specific, or has already been done away with in the Western countries that people who say this often a.) hail from and b.) praise.

I've been in the US for family reasons since December (it is now March, for those who read this post down the line). That's the longest amount of time I've spend in the US since the mid-aughts - 2006 to be precise. I was 26 when I left, and I feel I've grown and changed a lot since then - become more articulate in my support for, and reasons for supporting, feminist causes, for example. Behavior I put up with in male friends and boyfriends back then I would not put up with now, and I would be better able to articulate why.

So, this is the first time I've been around American cultural norms for an extended period since before my sense of feminist self fully formed - at least I think it's fully-formed at this point.  And you know what? Gender-pigeonholing and expecting 'femininity' is a huge problem here, as well. And yes, it is somewhat media-propagated, it's also socially propagated.

There's the Fifty Shades of Grey crap going around - since I've been back I've had at least one friend spend quite some time rhapsodizing the 'beauty' of a relationship where a significantly younger woman goes against her egalitarian beliefs and lets herself be dominated, as per the wishes of her (barf) "inner goddess", a relationship I'd categorize as if not abusive, at least full of red flags and creepy behavior (this is not a commentary on dom-sub relationships, of which I know very little and have no firsthand experience - this is a commentary on the relationship in that book/movie/pile of trash).

Then there's shopping. As I shop for spring clothing, something I am happy to have the luxury of doing without a problem (that never happened in Taiwan), my sister and I have noted several times that the clothing and t-shirts available for men are much cooler and more unique than those available for women. Some examples from Target:


 photo Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 4.07.14 PM.png

Choices for women: yawn. They're cute, but boring. Totally fine as one aspect of a wardrobe, and would be fine if more fun choices were available - but the only fun choices are super feminine:

 photo Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 4.38.00 PM.png

So, the men get Game of Thrones sigils and Star Wars t-shirts, and we get "SINGLE"? Yuck.

There were t-shirts for sports teams - most of which seemed to include the word "Swag".

The men's t-shirts were much more interesting: 

 photo Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 4.08.18 PM.png

I personally would want "Omnomnomnivore" from that group.

So, we've been shopping in the men's section. I got fuzzy Batman pajama pants, Boba Fett pajama pants, a Sriracha t-shirt, and I almost bought a Star Trek t-shirt but decided against it as the last movie was so damn bad. You can get t-shirts for everything from Guiness to The Big Bang Theory to A Song of Ice and Fire. I'll have to get all the t-shirts altered.

I asked if any of these were available in the women's section. Nope. For women? Boooyyyss, we're single! 

Do they think women just don't like sci-fi, Game of Thrones or delicious, delicious Sriracha? I like all of those things. What makes them think that a woman wouldn't love a pair of fuzzy Batman pajama pants or a baby Iron Man t-shirt or a Darth Vader sugar skull t-shirt? All of which I would totally wear. I would not wear Snoopy sporting a pink bow or anything that says "swag", "cute", "kiss me" or whatever on it. Also, no sparkles please.

I've also been watching an inordinate amount of TV, simply because it's quite novel to have a lot of channels to choose from in my native language. I've become strangely obsessed with Ellen's Design Challenge (I just love cool furniture I suppose), but was put off by the judges saying repeatedly that "women" would not like one designer's items. Here's an example of an item that is "masculine" and that "every man" would want in their home but hardly any women would buy (very close to what was actually said.


Both my sister and I were put off by this - I freaking love this fan...thing (it's a credenza, right?). I would TOTALLY buy that. I would probably never buy the more 'feminine' designs thought up by other designers. I happened to love this guy's "masculine" work - I'm all about interesting metals, industrial details and thick natural woods*. 

I wouldn't go so far as to say I was pissed at how the show categorized these designs as "for men", but it, along with the "now we shop in the men's section at Target" experience, has really made me think about whether the US is really better at all in terms of socially-conditioned gender stereotyping than Taiwan.

Sure, women in the US, at least my part of the US, get less blowback for expressing our not-always-feminine preferences and sensibilities, and in Taiwan a lot of women complain that they do. But I'm from the People's Republic of New York where we are all Communists, pornographers, homosexuals and Jews - I would wager that in other parts of the country it's much worse. And you won't see as many instances of Hello Kitty figurine collection or anything like that.

But really, I'm not even particularly anti-feminine - if even I, not the least feminine person you will meet (although certainly not the most) feels pigeonholed, like "this is for girls, that is for boys" in the USA, if even I feel like I have to shop in the men's section of Target to get cool t-shirts and get irritated at a TV show for implying that women don't like things that women obviously do like, as I'm a woman and I like them, then maybe we are not as progressive as we think, maybe Taiwan isn't so much worse or so much more sexist than we think, and maybe we need to get off our high horses about what it's like 'back home'.

Women still get a raw deal here, too.

*shut up

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Why are there so few expat women in Asia?




Female friendship, as Lindsey Craig noted, can be hard to come by in Asia. But it is possible to find if you hang in there.
There's been a lot bouncing around blogs, newspapers and other social media about this article by Lindsey Craig (which I did mistakenly spell as "Lindsay Craig" at first) - about culture shock and not being able to adjust to Taiwan:

Teaching English: Culture Shock

Now, I agree with one commenter on Michael Turton's post that this isn't really journalism and was fine for a blog but has no place in a newspaper, but that's not why I'm writing about it here.

I've decided to examine - again, with no real answers because there are so rarely nifty solutions to these things - why there are so few female expats living in Asia, starting with this quote from the article:


Dealing with it all may have been easier if I’d been able to build a stronger network of support. Although I was there with my boyfriend, I longed for female friendship. I’d met a handful of foreign women, but we didn’t have much in common. I did become friends with an Aussie named Kate, but we lived far apart and didn’t see each other that often.
Foreign guys seemed to be having an easier time. Insects and chaotic streets didn’t seem to bother them as much, and Taiwanese women treated Caucasian men like Hollywood stars. The bigger the nose, the more handsome the man, they said.

and:

I haven’t seen one Caucasian female yet ... is there a reason?

Well, there isn't a clear reason but there is a lot of speculation and a few likely culprits. So...why aren't there more foreign expat women in Taiwan? Or in Asia, in general?

I'm coming at this from years of firsthand experience living in Asia - in India, China and now Taiwan. I can confirm that the general perception that fewer Western women come to Asia than men is entirely true. There are fewer of us across the board, although as vacationing goes I'd say the numbers are more equal (and skewed somewhat towards women in India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka).
So why is this so? I am specifically trying to expand the issue to encompass the rest of Asia - at least East and Southeast Asia, although my experience in SE Asia is more tourist-based than expat-based.
From my (Taiwanese) friend Roy:

"It's because they prefer to stay home and don't want to deal with the problems of traveling overseas, because they'd rather be near their loved ones, isn't it?"

From several folks on Forumosa, suggesting that it's about the dating prospects:

Pardon me asking the obvious question, but why come to Asia at all if you aren't interested in the men? Why voluntarily choose to live in a culture and society in which you have no interest in the people? That's what I don't understand about many foreign women in Asia - they whine about how their dating life sucks, yet snub their noses up at 99.999% of the population. Why just not move to Sweden or Brazil or wherever, where you actually like the men? 


Which is echoed here, too:


Single "western" women don't have a very good chance of dating here. Single foreign men tend to date local women and there aren't many chances to date the local men either. If you're a single woman in your late 20's or older and want to date, then you may be disappointed while in Taipei. This is the case for every single foreign woman I have met in Taiwan.

(The sentiment of this quote has appeared elsewhere but I was so offended by the context of it on those other sites - implying that women should 'lower their standards' - that I'm not linking it).
There's also the "women can't handle it" approach (in the comments):

Western women or people coming from the a developed world with good social systems less likely to tolerate living in a place as the Mainland, rude people spitting, jumping queue enough to turn them off. Many men tolerate the place simply because they could save up more money by living in a 3rd world country.

and

Men can easily adapt to foreign countries. Maybe.

From a student:

"Maybe they're just not that interested in traveling, or they don't want to learn Chinese or they want to travel to countries in Europe or easier places?"


I look awful in this photo but I'll add it anyway - I stand by the idea that the best way to have a good time as a single female expat in Asia is to find a mixed group - male and female, local and foreign - in which to socialize

So, to this cacaphony, I'll add my own two cents.


First, the folks who say it's because women can't adjust to living abroad, or we're more disgusted by the roaches, the spitting, the dirt and the pollution? That's just bollocks. Complete and utter BS. Lindsey Craig's complaint about the giant roaches of Taiwan aside, I've found this to be exactly not the case. There is a fairly equal gender ratio of men and women who serve in the Peace Corps, despite the fact that female volunteers are at disproportionate risk of threats and sexual violence. We wouldn't see as many women excited about Peace Corps if "women couldn't handle life in a third world country".

We are adaptable, we can be tough when necessary and we are good at forming the social networks necessary at getting us through trying situations, something that some researchers say men often have trouble with. We are not the shrinking violets of yore who can't handle
some spit 'n bugs.


Western women in Asia (China to be exact), handling the spit, the bugs, the toilets and the pollution just fine.

While studying in India, I was in a group of 9 American students, and there was another student group in the same town. Our group was made of 7 women and 2 men, and their group was
slightly more equal but still seemed to be skewed towards women. The women were the ones cracking up telling "Did I ever tell you about the time my Amma fed me so much idli that I puked on the table?" stories.


Years later, when I traveled alone around India and Bangladesh for two months, the independent travelers I met were disproportionally women. Sure, we didn't stay in truck stops or flea pits for basic safety, but we were the ones laughing ourselves red over pooping in a ditch only to realize that a dog was trying to lick your butt (true story), or making up insane recipes for some of the more horrific smells we encountered (two parts deceased, fetid cow, three parts urine, six parts moldy food, four parts dog droppings, one part vomit), puking at inopportune times, or trading stories about the largest cockroaches and worst bathrooms.

Adding to this is the fact that plenty of holiday destinations attract more women than men - you're more likely to meet groups of women vacationing in Bali or a mixed group in Goa, and just as likely to find women as men traveling across Vietnam, the beaches of Thailand or rural China - there are entire volumes of stories and compiled articles from women writing about their travels abroad.

If anything, the reaction I've heard to most female expats who do stick it out to Lindsey's article is along the lines of "wow...she's not very tough, is she" and my own "well, she's going to need an all-inclusive bracelet if she ever decides to travel outside of Europe - most of the world is worse than her complaints about Taiwan."


Trust me, we can handle it. In fact, here's a warning: don't ever get into a pissing contest (pun intended) over the "worst bathroom story" with me. I'll win.

For those who say it's that we "miss our families", "don't want adventure" or "prefer to stay home", well, that's not entirely true either (sorry, Roy). There is some truth to it - more women than men are starting to get Master's degrees, so it makes sense that a higher proportion of women who might otherwise consider life abroad instead decide to invest in graduate school, dodgy investment though that can be.

It's also true that if there is a romantic prospect back home, a woman is fairly likely to decide to see where it's going rather than picking up and moving abroad - although this is not always true. I have two firsthand accounts to draw from on this: my expat friend who lives in Japan (and is getting married in ten days, yay!) moved to Japan despite being in a relationship. She moved just because she wanted to and had been planning to, and trusted life to work things out on the "I want to be with this guy" and "I want to live abroad" fronts. Life did work itself out, though it doesn't always. She ended up staying for years because life was better than back home, and he eventually moved to Japan to be with her. That said, she waited a year after her initial planned departure date to let her relationship grow a bit before making the move and committing to long-distance love - which makes perfect sense.

Expats in Asia - UNITE! See, foreign women live in Asia, too.
(Japan 2009)
Another friend who did two stints in Taiwan returned to Australia for her boyfriend, whom she'd officially gotten together with at a distance, while he was in Australia and she was in Taiwan, but there were other reasons for the return (namely, graduate school).

I do understand this - if there is one specific person, and you are in a serious relationship with them (not just faffing around), and want/need to make some sacrifices because it's important to you to see where things are going with that person, then it makes sense to give up expat life for that, at least temporarily. That goes for men too, though: sometime sacrifices are necessary in life and when it comes to making a relationship work, both parties are on the hook.

In the absence of higher education or a specific relationship, though, I have seen absolutely no evidence in favor of "women generally prefer to live closer to home so they don't move abroad". As such, I'm calling BS on that one, too. I have found that parents of women living abroad tend to worry more or want their daughters to come home more strongly, or at least to visit home more often, but that doesn't seem to affect whether the women go in the first place.

I don't know if I can even seriously consider "women just aren't as interested in learning Chinese". (Note: or Thai, or Indonesian, or Japanese or Korean or Tamil or Tibetan). I don't think it's true at all, although I have no evidence to back it up. While studying Chinese formally, I met just as many foreign women as men. Women are often - not always, I refuse to over-generalize - more language-oriented and Chinese is a fascinating language to learn. It makes no sense to say that women are simply not interested in it or in other languages they could study in Asia, and at the student level I've seen nothing to support this.

In fact, if I had to pick one area in which expat numbers are roughly equal, I'd say it's among students. Nowhere else in Taiwan have I seen a more equal distribution of foreign men and women than in the various Chinese schools around Taipei. For the record, I've attended both TLI and Shi-da. The same has held true in my experience for students in other countries, including my stint studying in southern India.

Now onto the hot-button topic - dating prospects.

Sadly, I have to admit that there's some truth to this. There always has been, ever since moving abroad and not being an explorer was something one could conceivably do (and something women could also do) - which basically came about in Victorian times if you don't count the American colonial period (which was entirely different kind of "living abroad"). If you've read The Map of Love or seen Lagaan you'll know that unmarried or widowed Victorian and Edwardian women were at times encouraged to travel a bit in "the colonies", but even then it was far less likely that a woman would do so than a man, and also far less acceptable for a white woman to marry a local man than for a white man to marry a local woman. I think we all know why this was in the light of the status of women in their household. (In those days marriage was a real issue; we can substitute "dating" in the modern context).

It is true that, excepting some older foreign service officers, "I came, I loved it, I opened a backpacker cafe and I never left" types and businesspeople, the average age of a Western expat in Asia and elsewhere is between 20 and 40. It is true that this is the time when most people find a life partner (if they do at all). It is also true - as much as I hate to say it - that it is harder for Western women to date in Asia than back home. A lot harder, although not quite impossible.

I refuse to get into any tripe about how our "standards are too high" or we're "bitter and fat" or "we won't even look at what's available" or "we're not interested in local men" - a few anecdotes does not make a body of evidence and these are all unfair stereotypes. I have met very few (if any, come to think of it) Western women abroad who conform to them - it's almost as though this White Harridan is some sort of projection of a collective knock-kneed male subconscious. I certainly haven't met her in the flesh.

As for the reasons why, it's hard for me to say, and I'll have to stick to heterosexual couples for now. Someone more qualified than me can write about gay dating in Asia.

My college crush moved to Taiwan, we started dating, and now we're married. I don't really have firsthand experience with this issue to share. It seems to me, though, that the issue is not what most people assume: that Western women don't want to date Asian men, so they stay single. Only a small minority of Western women I've met in Asia feel that way - most are quite open to it, or have dated (or married) Asian men. However, I do think it's likely harder. The culture barrier to dating doesn't work in our favor, as Asian men are often less likely to be clear about their feelings and ask for concrete dates, or don't show interest in the ways we've come to expect. It's easier to be a very clear Western man asking a local woman out than it is for a Western woman to figure out if an Asian man likes her.

Of course, I'm the sort of woman who once asked men out. It doesn't shock me - I think more women should do it! Again, however, that's a contentious topic in the West, though I'm not sure why. In Asia it's even more rare and is more likely to put men off. Take that even further, and it means there are fewer local men who possess the feminist chops many Western women deem a dealbreaker: I wouldn't date a man who would be put off by my asking him out.

After that, the culture barrier vis-a-vis traditional families also tends not to work in Western women's favor. If you are dating the son of Asian parents, while it's not certain that they'll expect him to run his family the way they tell him to, live nearby or use your shared financial resources to support his parents, it is certainly more likely than in the West. The expectations of male and female roles in marriage are also more likely to be traditional (though, again, this is far from universal: feminist Asian men do exist. I count some among my friends). Some Western women might see this as a difficult adjustment. Others, like me, view it as a dealbreaker.

This is not meant to be a blanket statement on the state of Western woman-Asian man dating in Asia, of course. Differing stories and successful and happy couples abound. It's just an issue worth considering. However, if the obstacles to that sort of partnership are greater, fewer women are likely to meet, date, marry and set up a home with a local man. This means fewer have that particular pull to stay (though, again, there are many success stories).

And, of course, there aren't that many Western men to date and the ones that are here might - see below - be oddly hostile to Western women. 


Does it really keep Western women away from life abroad, though, or is the correlation entirely spurious?

A little of both. For women who want to travel, the dating issue (which has no easy answer) is not likely to keep them away, though it may cause them to choose shorter-term trips: a one-year stint as a student or one year abroad teaching instead of staying long-term, for example.
It is absolutely true that the nightlife, as well as any of the avenues by which single women generally meet men, is stacked against us. In India, with the exceptions of a few cosmopolitan cities, women do not go to bars. They just don't, and you better not either. Not that bars have ever been the best way to meet people with whom one might actually start a relationship!

In Bangkok, where I spent a few weeks once cooling my heels as I waited for a visa to come through, there is plenty of nightlife and it's mostly safe for the Western woman, but that doesn't mean the average Western woman wants to partake of it (go check out Soi Cowboy sometime - you'll see what I mean). Why go to a bar or club where you don't know anyone, you're quite possibly the only foreign woman there, and neither the men (foreign or local) nor the local women want to talk to you? The situation is a little better in Taiwan, fortunately, but I'm not sure I'd say it's appreciably better. I can't give an accurate viewpoint on that as I was single for less than a year while living in Taiwan and never went out to bars or clubs specifically seeking a dating life. Not that I ever did that normally - I am a firm believer that one most likely meets quality partners through mutual friends or shared interest groups. I did have one date in Taiwan before my now-husband moved here - it was a disaster.
In other areas there are chances for women to socialize, mostly in backpacker cafes and bars, although those are geared toward more transient traveler types.

Don't even get me started on expat bars or places like Carnegie's, by the way. Just don't. A visit to some of them (not all) is just as depressing as a visit to Soi Cowboy.

Actively trying to make local female friends, as well as coordinating larger friend groups, is one way to feel less isolated as a female expat. Making local female friends helps, too.

It is also true that a woman contemplating moving abroad might well do some advance research - something Lindsey Craig should have done more of - realize how few other foreign women she was likely to meet, and be less inclined to go (not saying she wouldn't go) than a single man of a similar demographic whose head is filled with stories of how easy it is to date the local women. She's hearing stories of woe and he's getting pumped up on a dating pool skewed in his favor. Who's more likely to go, and who's more likely to stay long-term? I'd say though that it is more a case of men being more inclined to go after hearing the stories rather than women being less likely...it's not less women, but more men. Add to that how much BS the average Western woman abroad hears about how all Western women are bad, bad, bad and that's why the men date the locals, and yes, she might be somewhat less inclined to go than the man who is told "you can date soooo many girls! It's a feast!"
Of the women who do stay long-term, I can't help but note that the vast majority of them are in serious relationships or married - count me among them. The friend I mentioned above has been in a relationship, at first long-distance and then not, since she set foot in Japan five years ago. When I lived in China, there was another female teacher when I arrived - she was married and teaching along with her husband and two teenage daughters.

Yet another woman, now a good friend, showed up halfway through my stay - she ended up dating and eventually marrying the only other expat in town, a British guy. (Well, there was a haughty girl who never talked to us and eventually moved to Tibet, but she doesn't count). They stayed in China for a bit and then spent almost a year in Thailand before returning to England, and then the USA, to live. She now frequently travels to Guatemala for field work and he visits. Other long-termers tend to be married. The foreign women in my various Chinese classes? Mostly married or not planning to stay long term. Every foreign woman who's stayed even remotely long term at my company? In a serious relationship or married. Every. Single. One.

Of course, as I said, some anecdotes does not a body of evidence make, but it does present a strong case for we can handle life abroad, we are interested in it, and the second that the specter of dating is lifted from our shoulders it makes it easier for us to contemplate staying. It has nothing to do with having a man there (disclaimer: I do make my husband kill the cockroaches. I know, I am a disgrace to the feminist cause). It has everything to do with not having to deal with the complicated world of dating and relationships in a market stacked against you at a time when one's love life tends to be the most active and when people generally meet their partners.

I can't speak for anyone else, but I still would have come to Taiwan and likely stayed a year or two even if Brendan had never existed, but it is absolutely true that after two years I'd have just as likely moved home for awhile.

But, as I said, the dating issue isn't the entire reason. It is merely one important element, and I think better explains why women are less likely to stay, rather than why they're less likely to come. I am curious if the clear dearth of female expats is caused in part by the fact that the women go home sooner (for graduate school or dating prospects or whatever, or because the anti-woman expat scene depresses them), not that less women overall come in the first place.
Some other ideas I've come up with?

First, that once they get here, women are so inundated with complaints about them on expat forums online as well as in expat or traveler bars and cafes that they get a bit deflated about the whole thing - why even try to make friends if there aren't many other women staying long-term and the men they meet complain about how the Western women are "bitter and fat" - who wants to form a social network with people like that?

It is rarely remarked upon yet absolutely true that the expat world is man-oriented and, to an extent, anti-woman, or at least anti-Western woman. While I've found a space for myself and been welcomed by the better among male long-term expats here, at times it is clear that the overall state of things is inexplicably hostile to Western women. You would think men who'd traveled around the world would be more egalitarian and less sexist, but that seems not to be the case. The number of Neanderthalic opinions I've come across in the expat community here that expressly devalue women is shocking. It makes me not want to hang around such people (so I don't).

Consider Forumosa before it got cleaned up a bit and they started a Women's Forum - it was very discouraging for any woman posting there. TEALIT? Full of people looking for hookups, even in the "just friends" and "language exchange" sections. Between the nightlife issues, the complaints about foreign women and the lack of other women, I can see why female expats might get discouraged and go home. Consider too how many times I've been mansplained to, talked down to or ignored because at expat events - at times feeling that quick appraisal of my (eh) looks and then completely dismissed. Why would any woman find that appealing? 


I would like to add here two things: one, that just because some parts of the foreigner scene (at least in Taiwan) can be discouraging for female expats, it doesn't mean the entire scene is bleak. There are book clubs, sports pickup game leagues, happy hours and plenty of friendly faces - both male and female (though mostly male) - and not every male expat out there bashes Western women - far from it. I'd say most don't but the ones who do are prevalent enough that it is all too easy to generalize and get discouraged or feel lonely. It's not all bad: there is just one very vocal segment of that population that can sometimes cast a discouraging pall over everyone.

Second, that it's a vicious circle: women move abroad, realize how few other women there are, how hard it is to create female friendship (though there is always the option of sticking it out and making local female friends), and leave earlier than they otherwise might. The support networks are just not there, and they need to be. That's why I do go out of my way to cover women's issues in Taiwan and, to some extent, in Asia. There needs to be more support for women abroad online and in real life.

Chances are, if you are looking for female friendship, other female expats are, too.

Third, that women abroad feel challenged by basic tasks that men have no problem with, such as haircuts and shopping for clothes or shoes, and have to deal with cultural differences and expectations regarding weight that are unfairly (ahem) weighted against them - as though saying no to a French fry is going to make them as petite as the average Asian woman. As though it's their fault that Western women have body types that Asian women often (not always!) don't. We have to deal with the Old Taiwanese Lady weight and appearance comments, the forthrightness about size and the absence of basic necessities (tampons, gynecologists who speak English, clothes, shoes) in a way that men don't, and it can get very discouraging. When you are challenged with everything from personal care to clothes to shoes to hair, and made to feel gargantuan in the process, even if you aren't, it wears a woman down. 

A few thoughts from a friend provide Nos. Four and Five:

Fourth, that women looking into moving abroad are aware of the fact that sexism is far more of an issue in Asia (not nearly as much in Taiwan, though it's definitely there), just in terms of local culture. That likely keeps some women away, and for those who come anyway, it may be a reason for those women to go home earlier: imagine how much greater the culture shock is for a foreign woman in a country with traditional (and therefore, by Western standards, sexist) values than for a man. Foreign women do get trump cards in many cases - basically, "It's OK that you're weird and you don't share our social values because you're foreign" - but there are still some real issues here, and the ensuing culture shock is likely a huge factor. It is tiring to work for a sexist boss, have to address sexist beliefs even among friends, go out and meet people only to find that you are again being judged through the lens of gender, asked yet again about marriage and family, having children, having your appearance commented on and treated as the most important part of who you are. Always wondering if you are being paid less, and if so, because you happen to have a vagina. Always wondering if you are offered the fluffier classes (e.g. "Baking in English!") and work teaching children rather than the more challenging work (e.g. "Presenting in English") because you are female. Always questioning why, exactly, most of your colleagues are male, especially if you teach corporate English, IELTS or other adult classes.

Sexism is also a problem in the West - the hate and vitriol I see from some American men is astounding - but coming up against older-school forms of it in Asia is tiring. 


All I can say is that I hope someday, our daughters will grow up in a world where this isn't an issue and people won't hide behind bogus science or ridiculous claims of "it's our CULTURE to treat women badly".

...and fifth, as suggested by a friend, there is the idea that Western women aren't expected to be as adventurous as their brothers - that the urge to go out and explore the world isn't something people generally associate with women, even in the USA (or other Western countries) - women are more encouraged to nest rather than hunt (as one commenter below said - though I think that is just as 'nurture' as it is 'nature'), and as a result fewer women decide to live abroad.

I'm not sure I buy this, but then I'm from the liberal Northeast US and raised in an environment where I was absolutely just as encouraged to travel as I would have been had I been born male. However, I will say honestly that once abroad more permanently I felt more pressure to visit often (at my expense) and move home from my family than my husband has felt from his. That could be a difference between families, or it could be that I am a daughter and he is a son. It is possible that this is an issue as you head to more conservative parts of the USA, though I can't say I buy it regarding Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and other countries that lack America's rural conservative fervor. I can dismiss it regarding my own cultural background, but I don't have enough experience in rural American culture to definitively call BS.

That said, one friend and (former) expat, B., is female and from that part of the country, and despite being heavily pressured to stay home and follow a traditional (and religious) life path, she managed to spend a year in Shanghai and two stints of a few months each in Taiwan. Another comrade from the road, T., was someone I met in 2000 while studying in India. From a small South/Midwestern town, she too came from that background and yet not only studied in India but came back as a program counselor. These two examples show that if this social pressure is real (and it may well be), that it clearly doesn't work on every woman, and I'd say that men from these backgrounds, while possibly not as actively encouraged to "stay home", are passively not encouraged from moving abroad for long periods.

I want to add a few more points here to expand this piece. I focused mainly on expats like me above: women who came here on their own as students or independently in search of work. However, there is a whole class of expat that I don't interact with much - nothing personal, we just inhabit different worlds - the corporate expat here on a fancy package. In Taiwan this means the ones who have luxury apartments rented for them, drivers and live-in help, who send their children to international schools we couldn't hope to afford. That sort of money would be nice, though I'm not sure I'd like the life very much. In any case, corporate sexism is a huge issue, and as a result most of the employees being offered these stellar packages are male. They might bring their wives, but they are the ones drawing the salaries. When women are offered something like this, they may find they're in a tiny minority and that when they arrive, the non-Western corporate world is even more hostile and sexist than what they left behind. Professional Taiwanese women have more advantages than almost all of their counterparts in the rest of Asia, but corporate sexism here is no better, and likely worse, than what you'll find in the West.

And, finally, I'm going to add something that may anger a few people, but here we go. It is my personal opinion from observation that women tend to be less tolerant of mediocrity. What I mean by that is, those of us who don't come as students or well-paid, cosseted expatriates often start out teaching English. Few of us are qualified, and we are given a title ("teacher") that we don't exactly deserve. I don't exempt myself from this: I was once this sort of so-called "teacher". Most "English teachers" in Taiwan know this (though some don't seem to have figured it out). Some, like me, decide the work is meaningful and fulfilling and eventually become professional educators. Most don't. Some leave after awhile, others decide that teaching without any real qualification is good enough and stay. Guess which group I have noticed is more likely to not be content being an unqualified "teacher"? If you guessed women, then you get where I'm going. And guess which group I've noticed is more likely to decide that what they're doing is fine?

Yup. Men. In my personal observation.

So which group, if this is true, is more likely to stay longer?

Men.

For the record:
Good haircuts in Taiwan for Western women - no more Japanese femullets!
Shopping in Taiwan - sorry, but you're probably stuck with Plus Size stores, as annoying as that is, or getting clothes made in Yongle Market
As always, just some thoughts. Like everyone else, I don't have the answers - just a lot of questions and opinions. :)
Expat women of Asia, if you're reading this - your thoughts and comments are welcome (and men too)!