Showing posts with label women_in_china. Show all posts
Showing posts with label women_in_china. Show all posts

Friday, May 11, 2018

The Real Taiwan Miracle

Look to the heavens, girl. You own half the sky or more.

I'll try to keep this short (for me) and sweet.

In my last post, I wrote about how hewing to outdated notions of women in Taiwan - "this is how it works in Asia", that sort of thing - leads to overgeneralizing about how gender roles really play out here.

In the days since, I've been mulling over the historical contexts behind the evolution of gender roles in East Asia. And I realized that what Taiwan has pulled off vis-a-vis women is nothing short of a miracle, if you look at it in a certain light. Asia is not a bastion of women's equality, but of all countries of Asia, I still contend that despite its problems, Taiwan is the best place on the continent to be a woman. How is it that Taiwan managed this, given its history?

For most of the 19th century, Taiwan was an underdeveloped and mostly ignored backwater, a far-flung defensive outpost. It would not be remiss to call it a colony of the Qing. Whatever liberal or revolutionary ideas might have been discussed among intellectuals - and I'm not sure much was before 1895 though I'd surmise that liberal ideas were not unheard-of - they didn't seem to have made it to Taiwan in any meaningful sense. (If I'm wrong about this, please correct me.)

As I noted in my previous post, the ideas that drove the feminist discourse of autonomous women's groups in Taiwan during the brief period when freedom of expression was tolerated under the Japanese came mostly from elite Taiwanese women studying in China and Japan. Therefore, feminist discourse clearly existed there.

However, Japan attempted to keep Taiwan under-educated: universities here preferred to admit Japanese students, and for much of the Japanese era, most Taiwanese never moved beyond a junior high school education, if not less. Some Taiwanese intellectuals did break this mold, but Japan remained a scholarly epicenter.

(That said, Japan did make an effort to establish schools teaching literacy and numeracy to Taiwanese, so despite the relatively low level of education in Taiwan as compared to Japan, it was still one of the more literate parts of Asia. Yet, to quote Jonathan Manthorpe in Forbidden Nation, the Japanese certainly did not want Taiwanese to "cultivate ideas of their own". This is what I mean by 'under-educated'.)

At the end of World War II, Japan would leave Taiwan and go on to rebuild a developed economy as well as a new era of liberal democracy following Western models. In China, this would be a time when Communism's emphasis on equality - including gender equality - would usher in a (temporarily) more egalitarian society for women.

What was happening in Taiwan? Brutal dictatorship. Autonomous women's groups, like all other social activist groups, were not allowed to form. Government-affiliated women's groups espoused traditional gender roles (though not necessarily condemning women working outside the home, these groups viewed women's income as secondary to her family duties and her husband's role as provider), headed by sexist-in-chief, Madame Chiang Kai-shek. Taiwan had neither the Communist egalitarian ideals nor the boost of liberal democracy to guide it toward greater gender equality.

Taiwan did develop - thanks to the hard work of its small-and-medium-size business owners (not KMT prescience, as some would have you believe). Of course, much of that work was done by women, who worked in 'home factories', did other jobs or helped run the family business. However, these women have gone mostly unthanked for their role in Taiwan's economic miracle.

So, of these three countries - China, Japan and Taiwan - you would expect that China and Japan would be years ahead of Taiwan when it comes to women in society. Taiwan just didn't have the same indicators.

And yet, what do we have today? Various strains of feminism exist in China and Japan, but neither can compare to the relatively better status of women in Taiwan. Taiwan is not perfect; it's rife with problems pertaining to gender and society, just like any other country. However, it doesn't have to contend with problems as bad as this (though the gender ratio in Taiwan still raises questionsthisthisthisthisthis, or this (for that last one, while it would not shock me to learn that 'maternity harassment' happens occasionally in Taiwan, I have not heard of it being the norm.) Nobody is talking about how Tsainomics or Manomics "failed women", how Taiwan is "the worst of all developed countries for women", or recruitment ads for tech companies where female employees pole dance to entice men to apply. When talking about marital statistics, the issue isn't a gender ratio imbalance so much as women choosing not to marry.

That's the real Taiwan miracle - ignored, underdeveloped, at times barred from seeking higher education, brutally oppressed, sexist "traditional Chinese" thought piggybacking on KMT campaigns to Sinicize (and subjugate) the island, diplomatically isolated, seen as a backwater for much of its history (though not now). And yet, Taiwan has managed to do better by women than either China or Japan, which had much better odds.

I might explore some reasons for this in a future post, but for now, I just want y'all to ruminate on that.

Friday, April 27, 2018

In China, tech companies are blatantly sexist. In Taiwan, not even Hooters posts gender-specific job ads

I have no desire to translate the rest of this for you. It's just as sexist as it looks. 

For years, I have initiated or participated in discussions of the relative level of women's rights and equality across various countries in Asia. For years, I have posited that while Taiwan isn't exactly great when it comes to women's equality (I struggle to find a society that is), it is the best country by far in Asia for women. The problem is that "in Asia" is a low bar, even when you adjust your expectations of how feminism might look in Asian societies.

Along these lines, a spate of news and opinion pieces appeared recently on how badly women are treated - just how much they are objectified and male needs are prioritized - in the tech industry in China (and, according to Zhang Lijia, whose video op-ed is linked to below, in Chinese civil service recruitment as well, with a number of jobs listed as requesting male candidates).

Chinese Tech Companies' Dirty Secret (watch this one first, and be horrified)

Alibaba, Baidu and other Chinese tech companies post men-only job ads

Wanted at Chinese start-ups: attractive women to ease coders' stress

In all of these pieces, the biggest horror in my view is the ad that says "Finding a Job = Finding a Woman: Fuck What You Want to Fuck". I truly have no words.

Through those years, the biggest point of contention I've come across is a belief that Chinese women actually have it better - have more equality, get more respect from their society - than Taiwanese women. Talk about how in Shanghai, women rule and men do as their wives and mothers say (I haven't really found anything to corroborate this beyond what people say; I suspect it's an urban legend to some degree). Talk about how Communism sucks but at least one of its ideals is gender equality (maybe true under Mao, not so much anymore). Talk about how there are more female engineers and women in traditionally male fields in China - I saw 39-40% cited on a number of websites, but none I'd trust as a source especially given the links above).

But, you know what? I just don't believe that. I never have. I lived in China, I saw how women - in several unrelated examples where I knew the people involved personally - were treated as a matter of course. I saw, with my own eyes and through personal stories told to me, how many men in China really thought they had the right to "fuck what they want to fuck" - in some cases, literally.

In short, what I saw and heard didn't add up to this belief that "China is a gender equality leader in Asia" or that it somehow outpaces Taiwan in gender equality.

Now, I can say with confidence that I was right.

I set out to see if such job ads were common (or even rare but extant) in Taiwan, and while I would not call my look into the issue a feat of investigative journalism (it really wasn't), I did ask a wide range of people both online and off, including a number of female professionals that I know, to see if they'd even come across such an ad. I included questions not just about sexist ads targeting men (showing Zhang's examples in the vomit-inducing video above), but also ads stating explicit gender preferences or appearance requirements. I specifically did not include ads for foreign teachers, which are their own cesspit of sexism and general unprofessionalism (I'll discuss that topic below). I trawled 591 for a bit, but it's huge and I admit I barely made a dent.

Nobody - no-one on Facebook, no-one in real life, none of the professional Taiwanese women I asked - had seen anything like this in Taiwan, nor could I find any evidence of it. Every last one was positive that any company that even attempted these sorts of recruitment tactics in Taiwan would get sued so fast that the Apple Daily issues would still be literally hot off the press when the subpoena arrived.

The best I could find was one woman - a female programmer - who said there were rumors of the sorts of "engineer comfort women" (she did not mean the term in the way it is typically used in Asia, the point was to be more of an at-work hostess, not to actually provide sexual services) discussed in the third link above also exist in Taiwan. However, I could not find a Taiwanese ad for such a job.

On the contrary, I was alerted to several instances where gender discrimination in hiring in situations that might actually be open for debate were met with lawsuits: in one case, a "maid cafe" (where female servers dress up like maids - it's a subculture thing that I think is a bit tacky but is not worth my time to complain about - whatever) that would not accept a male applicant, citing its uniform of short skirts as awkward for men to wear, and was fined NT$150,000. (Link in Chinese). While I think it's relatively likely that the male applicant purposely called up the maid cafe to hear that he wasn't welcome to apply based on his gender so that he could complain, it doesn't matter: in Taiwan, it doesn't matter if you are explicitly a maid cafe. If it can be proven that you are discriminating based on gender, you are likely to lose any lawsuit that is filed. In another well-publicized case, China Airlines listed height requirements for flight attendants, saying they needed to be able to help passengers put luggage in overhead compartments. They also lost.

One of the women I asked pointed out that, as a C-level executive with hiring powers, she has to attend a workplace gender equality training regularly, and that it confirmed what the maid cafe link mentions above: the court ruled that very few jobs could restrict hiring based on gender, citing underwear modeling as one such exception (I dunno, I think an ad for boxers where the boxers are worn by women, implying that she's your girlfriend wearing your boxers the next morning, would actually do well).

This brought to mind a Hooters job ad that I saw once, which stipulated no gender. It is quite obvious that they would hire women to be "Hooters Girls" - I mean their Facebook page, predictably, is a parade of cute young women. If Hooters (Hooters!) knows it can't post a gender-specific job ad, then damn - you really can't post a gender-specific job ad in Taiwan, let alone a blatantly sexist ad touting your "beautiful women" to potential male recruits.

Screen Shot 2018-04-27 at 10.01.12 PM
The hashtags include "#hootersgirl", but note that there is no gender specification in the ad itself. 

That is not to say that Taiwan is doing fine. I'm sure anyone reading this far is screaming "but there's still discrimination in hiring! They just don't tell you they're doing it!" And that's true. There absolutely is - I can't find anything proving it, and yet, I haven't talked to anyone who isn't fully aware it happens (part of the point is getting away with it by making it impossible to prove). I doubt a man applying to be a Hooters Girl, for example, would actually get the job. I personally know of a few instances when, without giving out too much information, people in charge of hiring debated female applicants based on their looks. I know of a few instances where a man got specific contracts because he was male, and at least two where women got them specifically because they were women (in at least one case, it was a situation where she'd be working mostly with men, who seemed to want some eye candy to go along with their work obligations - yuck). I don't think it's a coincidence that in Taiwan, flight attendants tend to be young, attractive women whereas in America they seem to be more average-looking women and men of a variety of ages. It can't be that only young, attractive women apply for those jobs in Taiwan (and if that is the case, something must be actively discouraging other potential applicants).

This is not right, but a lot of people come to the (wrong) conclusion that this means the law doesn't work, or there shouldn't be a law. "Isn't it better to know up-front whether they want you or not then to waste your time applying to a job that won't actually consider you?" "Why would you want to work somewhere you're not wanted anyway?" - yeah, yeah, yeah. A tempting line of reasoning, but ultimately wrong. If there is no law specifically forbidding gender (and other) discrimination in hiring, then it becomes socially acceptable to do so. If there is a law, that's step one to eradicating it. What people who think it's better that companies be open about it are missing is that these things take time to become social norms. Passing a law doesn't mean immediate amelioration of a social problem: it's just step one. But without it, we have no power when we do see blatant discrimination, and we will never make it to step two, which is reducing actual discrimination. Anecdotally, I do see this happening: the openness with which people accepted the existence of discriminatory hiring seemed far higher a decade or even 5 years ago. Now, people acknowledge it exists but are openly disgusted with it. Without the law, we never would have gotten that far. And if you break down the numbers intelligently as Brookings has, you'll see that this could well be affecting female participation in the workforce, especially in managerial positions.

In cases where discrimination can be proven, the law seems to be actually enforced, too. That's really something - China has a gender non-discrimination law too, but it's vaguely-worded, rarely invoked and almost never enforced (Zhang Lijia covers this in her video above). Zhang is wrong about only one thing: the issue isn't that companies can get away with this because the job market is competitive. They can get away with it because society lets them, and they know the law is ineffective. In Taiwan, society doesn't really let them - not anymore - and if they face the law, which they well might, they are likely to lose.

And of course, once hired, women in Taiwan may still face discrimination or sexist treatment in the workplace, a problem faced by women around the world. Taiwan still has a wage gap - it's narrowing, but still entirely too big. I don't know any Taiwanese woman who has not faced sexism in the workplace. I have as well - it happened at a job I quit in 2014. That too is difficult to fight, but enforcing gender non-discrimination and slowly eradicating sexist beliefs in society is one tool we have in winning that battle.

Every screamer who's left is probably now shouting "but job ads for foreign teachers in Taiwan specify gender all the time!" That's right, they do. I wanted to focus on local job ads, because it does feel like different factors are at play, including that:

a.) Most of those jobs for foreign teachers are posted by dodgy recruiters and third-rate buxibans, hardly professional work environments. I do expect the average Taiwanese office at anything larger than a family-run company to be at least somewhat more professional. I have very low expectations for these sorts of schools and recruiters, who are - and I am not sorry to say this - the gutter scrapings of the English teaching job market. That doesn't make it right, but it does clarify why they think they can do this.

b.) They probably think they can get away with it, assuming foreigners don't know the law. I do not at all believe that these gutter-scrap jobs and the people who shill for them don't know the law - they do.  When it's pointed out to them - and I once got kicked out of a Facebook group for doing so - they get angry and defensive and show what kind of work environment they'd really provide. They're not stupid, they're just crappy people. There's a difference. (OK, sometimes they're stupid too.)

So, no, Taiwan is not perfect, but it's still the best in Asia. We have a lot of problems to face, but hiring managers (and men) here know they can't just 'fuck what they want to fuck'.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Two Ideas, One Humanity

I've been discussing two separate issues with various people in the past few days which, on the surface, seem unrelated. The first is the difference between judging a person as sexist vs. judging a place to have issues with sexism: "has marriage to a Chinese man changed your feminist views?" (short answer from the blogger: no), and the second: more Chinese tourists are visiting Taiwan as the popularity of Hong Kong fades (and the Taiwanese are not that happy about it). 

In the first, the main takeaway is that while there are issues with women's rights in China (and everywhere - the US is certainly not off the hook. Taiwan may have more issues with sexism than the USA but in Taiwan I don't think twice about walking anywhere, at any time, alone. In the USA I do), that the author's Chinese husband is himself a feminist and his family basically agrees with the idea of respect for both genders. My thoughts - it is, as ever, important to judge individuals based on who they are, not to measure them against a stereotype, even if (and this is important), there is truth to that stereotype. And there is truth - I doubt few rational people would argue that there are issues with sexism and women's rights in China, and those issues are more severe than many other countries. In China I heard such wonderful nuggets of anti-wisdom as "it's fine if a woman is clever but if she's more clever than her boyfriend or husband, he will lose face, so she should pretend to let him be smarter." (I feel like adding a Game of Thrones style "it is known" to the end of that line of bullshit), or "it's fine if a woman has a job, but if she earns more than her husband, that is bad for him and the marriage", or "a man never beats a good wife, so if a wife gets hit, it's her fault" (I REALLY heard that), or "it's the nature of men to play around, it's the job of women to forgive them".

It can really wear a person down. Goodness knows it's worn me down. At times it can feel like a barrage, a sexist tidal wave, an inescapable minefield in which, as you cross, you are also being shelled and mortared. And yet, despite that, it's important to judge people as individuals. It's difficult to keep in mind - and I will admit sometimes I've slipped - but everyone, from any culture, deserves the respect to their humanity of being judged independently of that.

And yet, I will make no concessions to "culture" or assume that those who have these sexist ideas - and there are many - think that way because of "culture". I feel, strongly, that gender equality vs. sexism is not a question of "culture", it's a universal issue, and any given culture is capable of not incorporating sexism while retaining its core. Western countries used to be a lot more sexist than they are now (and they still are, let's not forget), but some things did change, and yet we are still American or Canadian or Australian or whatever. Taiwan has made greater strides in gender equality than China (with some exceptions), and yet Taiwanese culture is still Taiwanese. You could even say that that difference is one of the distinguishing characteristics of Taiwanese culture. India also has deep issues with sexism, and yet an Indian feminist is no less in tune with Indian culture than some sexist douche lord who beats his wife because his "culture" says it's his "right as a husband" to do so. If sexism is tied to culture at all, it's a shallow tie, and something that can be excised without upending the entire culture.

So, I just reject that whole "it's a culture thing" line of reasoning. If anything, I feel that disrespects people's humanity. It's a fancy way of saying "poor things, they don't know any better". Nope, nope, nope. Grown-ass adult humans are capable of rationality, and gender equality is about rationality, not culture. I prefer to respect someone's humanity by believing they are capable of the rational thought that maybe it is bad to hit one's wife.

With the second issue, the debate centered around Chinese tourists coming to Taiwan in tour groups that litter, don't stop people from smoking indoors (seen it myself), create massive noise pollution, spit on the street, occasionally muss up bathrooms or 'do the needful' in public areas (I saw a tour group member pee against the outside wall of Eslite Dunhua a few months ago) and commandeer space (have you tried visiting Alishan, Sun Moon Lake, Taipei 101 or the National Palace Museum recently? Those places are basically ruined for locals or any other visitor who is not in a massive Chinese tour group).

One side of the debate initially made sense - it's not right to reduce Chinese to dirty, loud, littering walking wallets. They deserve more humanity than that. And that is very true. And it's also true that where they come from, it is fairly normal to, say, pee against a wall, litter with impunity, smoke indoors, spit anywhere you like and observe a very Darwinian model of public space (survival of the fittest - the largest group gets the space and puny individuals must always give way). I won't even deny that those are issues in China, because having spent a year in China, I know that they are. Some understanding of that can go a long way towards bridging resentment between the two sides, just as it would help a lot if Hong Kongers realized that the Chinese were buying all of their milk powder because they, like any other human being, want milk powder known to be safe for their babies. And of course one should be forgiving if a foreigner doesn't always know the local etiquette and makes a gaffe.

But that's where my agreement ends - after that it devolved into "where they come from it's normal to let your kids poop in the street, so they don't know that in Taiwan it's not done", or "if you lived through the outrage, oppression and poverty that they did, you might act the same way. If you hadn't been exposed to the outside world much you may not realize that in other places it's not okay to litter or spit."

Which, I'm sorry, but no. I won't get into how the tragedy that is 20th, and now 21st, century Chinese history has shaped local customs and etiquette in China, because it doesn't matter to me what they do - it's their country after all. But outrage, oppression and poverty are not reasons to ignore the etiquette of a country you are visiting. It is best if a host is generous and forgiving, but it's on the guest to be as polite as possible, to attempt to understand local norms and, accepting that they'll screw up sometimes, attempt to follow them. It's on them to educate themselves in how to act if they visit Taiwan, and on them to respect Taiwan's civil society (civil as in 'civics', not as in 'more civilized'). I can understand why the Taiwanese are upset - the change is observable. I no longer recommend the National Palace Museum to visiting friends because it's overrun with tour groups who force everyone else to wait 15 minutes or more to see one exhibit. Taipei 101 used to be a fine destination for light shopping and a coffee, now it's a nightmare. Sun Moon Lake is notably less pleasant than it could be, and forget a quiet sunrise on Alishan. There is more litter, there are more bathroom issues (standing on Western toilets, pooping all around the toilet etc), there is more spitting, and there is more smoking where it should not be happening, noise pollution and blocking of thoroughfares (although blocking thoroughfares is also a problem in Taiwan generally), and previously nice shopping areas are being overrun with stores catering to Chinese tour groups that no local wants to shop at. And as I see it, it's up to the Chinese visitors to know that these things are not okay. It's not the responsibility of the Taiwanese to smile and take it, as they're always expected to do.

Any visitor from any country, if they have the money and ambition to travel, has it on their shoulders to do their best in terms of local etiquette and not assume that things work the same way in this new country as they do in their own. Chinese tour groups are not exempt from this.

And that, to me, respects their humanity more than "well they don't know, in their country it's normal". Of course it is not right to deride individuals - they are not "dirty", "irrational", "walking wallets" etc. - rather than certain behaviors and larger group dynamics that are causing problems (I consider the noise pollution and the space blocking to be group dynamic rather than individual issues, and I daresay they need to be addressed no matter what nationality the group tour is from). But it's also not right to say "they don't know any better!" - come on. They're grown-ass men and women. They are quite capable of knowing very obvious things like "don't litter while abroad" and "if there is a 'no smoking' sign, don't smoke. Better yet, check and see if smoking is legal in certain areas and if it's not, don't smoke in those areas".

I also don't think 'kids pooping in the street' and 'spitting and littering' are 'cultural'. It's not disrespecting someone's culture to say that these things cause issues with public health. When - not if, but when - kids' street poop, spitting and littering stop being common in China, China will still be China and Chinese culture will still be Chinese culture.

Like with sexism, this is an issue for rationality, not culture. And if you really want to respect someone's humanity, respect that they are smart and rational enough to either know these things, or learn them quickly.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Keeping Women in Tech: a worldwide survey

So I've just come back from a wonderful trip to Burma, and am excited to put pictures up. However, I took over 2,000 pictures and haven't even sorted through half of them yet, so it's going to take a few more days before I can make that post (or possibly, series of posts).

For now...

This interesting article popped up in the Washington Post today, and I thought I'd link it here.

I hear a lot of hooey about how there aren't a lot of women in STEM fields because "women jst aren't interested in it", or "it's not as appealing to women" Bullshit. To wit:

"The study finds that gender bias underpins why these women either don’t think they can get ahead or are choosing to leave their organizations. One-third of U.S. women in what the report calls “lab-coat, hard-hat and geek workplace cultures” feel excluded from social networks at their jobs (that number is 53 percent in India). Meanwhile, 72 percent of women in the United States and 78 percent of women in Brazil perceive bias in their performance evaluations."
It's not about these fields not being appealing to women, it's about women feeling pushed out, unwelcome, and purposely stalled/kept back from achieving their best.

I don't think the study included Taiwan, but combining the countries surveyed (including Taiwan's Big Bad Neighbor, China) which are thankfully not all Western, along with my own knowledge and experience interacting with people in the tech industry in Taiwan, I am confident in asserting that this is a problem in Taiwan, as well. 

I've taught classes in which the only woman in that company I've met has been a secretary or HR representative. I've eaten dinner in big-company fabs and office cafeterias where all you see, all around you, is men (maybe a smattering of women in office clothes that hint at their working in a lay department). I've met women in those industries who speak to being the only woman in an office full of men, or who have graphed their performance evaluations to show that there have been dips - despite their best efforts and corporate promises that maternity leave will not impact your performance evaluation - the same years they've taken maternity leave. I've talked to people who admit to doing things like gossiping about new "hot" (or "cute") female hires and using their employee numbers to refer to them (so they, and their employee photo, will be easy to look up). Those same men have not understood why that's undermining to their female colleagues and women in general. When you're judged more on your appearance than abilities generally - and women demonstrably are - and then your appearance becomes a major conversation point (not your abilities), and you're treated differently from male hires, not because you're better or you stand apart based on your work but because of your face, that's a big fucking problem. It further undermines the credibility of your work and puts your appearance, not your work, first and foremost. But that's not something easily understood, and it's taken time for me to get my point across regarding just how big of a problem it really is. 

It's a huge problem, and I'm sick of it being dismissed with "women just aren't interested in STEM." BULL. SHIT. It's time we a.) recognized that the issue is actually one of systemic, institutionalized sexism and b.) did something about it. In Taiwan and around the world.

Monday, June 3, 2013

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Of Leftovers

An interesting comic strip for you to peruse as it unfurls:

Super Leftover Girl!

It's Simplified but readable enough - the basic idea being challenging the idea that "leftover women" (剩女) are to be pitied because they are single at the ripe old age of 30 (so ancient!!!11!!!!1), that they are unfortunate, unwanted, too demanding, too picky, too "modern", and should be ashamed of the fact that they're not yet married. As if marriage is the only important accomplishment in a woman's life. Sigh.

It's becoming less of an issue in Taiwan - yes, there are a lot of awesome single thirtysomething women, but you'd be surprised how many of them want to be single, or are at least at peace with their singleness. For every thirtysomething Taiwanese female friend of mine who wishes she was married, I can name about three who are either OK with being single, are in a relationship that's as strong as a marriage or who have actively sought to stay that way.

I think this is great - it means more women are realizing that while marriage may be fine (I happen to be quite pro-marriage, as it's been pretty great for us), it's not the only good thing a woman can accomplish in life - a husband and children are not deigned by her fate as a woman to be the best thing she'll ever achieve or have, nor are they they only things she should want. And it means more men might wake up and smell the feminism, and start accepting things like equal partnership in housework and child-rearing, and an equal say in family decisions. It's happening slowly, but it is happening. There's been a change I've noticed even in the last five years, and I'll write about it later.

But really, what I feel about "leftover women" is this: if I were one, I'd be proud to be one. I wouldn't feel any less than I do as a married woman. I'd think of it like Thanksgiving. There's the big meal, the turkey, all the pomp and tradition, people doing what's expected of them regardless of what they actually want, and lots of family issues and generational change issues being forced into the forefront over dinner's invariably cacophonous conversation (well, at least in my family). You don't really get to decide what you want - tradition decides it for you. You're basically a trussed-up turkey, especially if you're a woman (at least men, historically, have had more choice in terms of career and travel, even if they haven't had total choice).

But if you're a leftover, that means you're the turkey sandwich. You're absolutely tasty, you're very satisfying, and you're what's chosen because it is what's wanted. You are food that's desired, not food that has been predetermined by a set menu. You are ultimately more personal, more content, and more satiating. There's no friction, no collective social trauma, over a Black Friday turkey-and-cranberry-sauce sandwich. You make what you want and you get what you want. You choose. You are chosen.

And I'd much rather be the turkey sandwich than the trussed-up turkey!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Sa jiao sa jiao la

Here's an interesting article - note I did not say I agreed with it, merely that it was an interesting read - on 撒嬌 or the idea of womanly coquettishness. 

I am way too busy to write a typically long post, so here's my immediate reaction:

This runs so counter to the personality pretty much every Taiwanese friend I have that I don't believe it's as common anymore as the article says it is (although I *have* seen it in action among strangers). My female friends don't do this - and my male friends don't like it. While they are interesting and intelligent people, I wouldn't say they're weird, quirky or "the exception rather than the rule" - I think they're one subset of people from a younger generation that is slowly eschewing this sort of gender role...gender role...gender role what? Well, I hesitate to say bullshit but my instincts scream it, because I have zero tolerance for "gender roles". Individual roles, sure, but gender roles can suck it.

There are other thi
ngs I don't like about the article - no mention at all of foreign women dating Chinese or Taiwanese men and how they might be affected by this cultural issue, the *(non-threatening)* in parentheses to denote women's careers (how condescending!), the somewhat
outdated assumptions that I've found don't ring as true in Taiwan...even if they used to, and even if they still exist to some extent. I also find it funny that the article notes the "strong, manly presence" of the male partner in these relationships as though it is the only thing, or the best thing, the man brings to the table. As if.

If the widespread acceptance of 小三 or "mistresses" in China and Taiwan is anything to go by, sa jiao doesn't even really do what the author of this piece claims it does, which is enable a woman to test and ensure her partner's devotion, love, and putting of her needs above his own. Which, anyway, since when is either partner's needs "above" the other's, and since when is a healthy relationship one in which love needs to be "tested" or "proven"? 

I also think that a lot of Taiwanese women who date Western men generally do it because they don't want to sa jiao...and plenty of Western men pretend to be exasperated by it but secretly love it. They whine, but deep down they don't want a woman who doesn't appear to need them 
in this way. I don't really care for that sort of attitude, but hey, those guys can like what they like and I can keep my distance (honestly, I don't even want friends who view women in that way), and we're all happy.

As a Western woman, I do have to admit that while I see the cultural aspects of sa jiao and can basically tolerate it from that perspective, I do have biases and one of my biases is anti-sa jiao: I do lose a bit of respect for men who like it (Asian or Western) and for women who engage in it (Asian or Western). I should probably be more openminded, but you know, the first step is admitting your biases.

There is an obvious answer here: my female friends in Taiwan don't engage in sa jiao because I do gravitate toward women who don't act that way, and my male Taiwanese friends wouldn't be my friends if they liked coquettish women (even in friendship) or were with a woman who was jealous of their female friends (even though I am zero threat, in fact, if it were possible to be a negative-number threat I would be).

The article mentions that needing a man and not being too independent are considered "positives" in Chinese culture - although again, I am around so many women in Taiwan who are not needy but are independent, and they've been doing just fine in the dating world - I'd like to see sa jiao die a natural death not because it's considered "wrong" to be coquettish, but because it stops being considered a good thing for a woman to act (or be) needy, clingy or dependent...because it's not a good thing.

If my friends are anything to go by,  already dying.