Showing posts with label women_in_politics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label women_in_politics. Show all posts

Thursday, November 21, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of course, it didn't start with Lee.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And this: 

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

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

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

And whose strategy does all this sound like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 7, 2019

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


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

According to the Taipei Times:

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

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

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

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

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

Oh wait, I know which one.

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

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

Lee Chia-fen said that she visited teachers and students across various Asian countries, and found that the qualifications of Taiwanese children are quite strong. As long as opportunities and 'nutrients' are given, they can become phoenixes, but if we cannot create a good environment for the next generation, it is the sin of this generation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is more patriarchal than that?

Monday, September 23, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Source: New Power Party 

No, really: 

Source: New Power Party Facebook page

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 28, 2018

Book review: Women's Movements in Twentieth-Century Taiwan


When talking about Taiwanese history, it's quite common to come across a belief that modern Taiwanese beliefs have their roots in the 1970s, and did not really exist before that. From "there was no real sense of Taiwanese identity or a Taiwanese identity movement before the 1970s/the Kaohsiung Incident" to "there is no history of feminism in Taiwan before the 1970s/before the end of the Chiang Kai-shek era" and more, it surprises me how many people truly think this is the case.

Of course, when it comes to Taiwanese identity, this is manifestly false. There are records of autonomous rule movements as early as the late 1800s, and several sources reference similar autonomous movements in the Japanese colonial era. When it comes to women's movements, the same applies. While several feminist pioneers did bring ideas of gender equality to the mainstream in the 1970s, the first stirrings of modern autonomous (that is, not connected to, supported or funded by the government) women's movements in Taiwan have their roots in the Japanese era, although there's no evidence to suggest that the 1970s feminists were directly influenced by them.

It seems to me that misrepresenting both of these movements as originating in the 1970s rather than several decades earlier is an intellectual sleight-of-hand meant to create the idea that both are new, "Western" notions that have no natural roots in Taiwanese culture or history (therefore creating a platform from which to criticize modern Taiwanese identity and feminism). In both cases, such notions are disingenuous.

This is just one of the many things I learned from Women's Movements in Twentieth-Century Taiwan, a slim volume (for an academic book) by Doris Chang. And, for an academic title, it reads surprisingly smoothly.

As an individualist feminist, I appreciated being challenged on the different notions of what feminism could be. I am not a relational feminist - I don't believe my equal place in society comes from the fulfilling of my different but complementary duties vis-a-vis a family or collective society - but as Chang makes clear, this is indeed a form of feminism, and one of two strands that continues to exist in Taiwan (and, arguably, the one that can strike the best compromise with traditional notions of role, duty and family in Taiwan). Chang further clarifies, however, that this is not the only strand of feminist thought present in Taiwan, as many would believe: radical feminism, woman-identified, X-centric and individual feminism also exist.

If I took one thing from this book, it's a reminder that Taiwanese society is not so simply categorized as traditional/collective/Confucian/whatever adjective you want to describe your idea about ~*~The Mystic East~*~. It's far more complex than that, and there is a place in public discourse for ideas that don't fit neatly into this narrative.

Chang makes other important points as well: for example, until fairly recently, the story of women's movements in Taiwan was once controlled by a China-centered narrative which began not in Taiwan, but with the founding of the Republic of China in, well, China. Taiwan only enters this narrative after 1945 (you can guess why), with women's history under Japanese rule being erased: non-existent, foreign or irrelevant to the story that the Sinicizers want to push.

Hmm, that sounds similar to Taiwanese national history as a whole, doesn't it? Not so different from teaching schoolchildren that their country was founded in 1911 (nevermind that that happened in China, and nothing important happened in Taiwan on that day) and then erasing Japanese era history in Taiwan to cover the Republic of China's Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 instead, no?

Chang also provides short histories of notable women in the early and mid-twentieth century, and devotes entire chapters to scions of the movement such as Annette Lu and Lee Yuan-chen, showing that the only reason we believe history to be full of notable male characters but few notable women is because we've constructed it that way, not because it always happened that way.

She also discusses the ways in which autonomous women's movements differed from government-affiliated ones. You won't be surprised to learn that the Japanese and ROC-affiliated women's movements promoted not feminism, but the fulfillment of traditional gender roles (shocking, I know.) She covers Soong Mei-ling's use of women's organizations mid-century to work toward national goals with very little concern for the actual issues facing middle-class and poor Taiwanese women.

I was interested to learn about the origin of those "Model Mother Awards" as well (you won't be shocked to learn they began in the worst years of the ROC dictatorship, because doling them out supported national goals), and her touching on the ways in which women's labor helped catalyze the Taiwan Miracle, although I think she could have made that point more forcefully than she did.

And, of course, she covers the ins and outs of elitism in women's movements, the relationship of women's movements to democracy/pro-Taiwan movements, Awakening and the Taipei Women's Rescue Foundation, the cooperation and rift between liberal feminists and lesbians, domestic abuse hotlines and more, finishing up with the ways in which the pioneers of the 1970s were able to really flourish (as well as separate into different groups) with the lifting of Martial Law, and the bevy of women's rights laws that were passed between the mid-1980s and the end of the 20th century.

I have one abiding criticism of Women's Movements in Twentieth-Century Taiwan, which is that it follows a bluer narrative than you would expect. That is not to say it doesn't criticize the KMT, the Republic of China or its leaders (it absolutely does, often viciously and entirely rightly), but that it includes certain problematic historical constructions that if anything are surprising. Here is just a taste (underlined emphasis points are mine):

In 1987, the Kuomintang lifted martial law and ushered in Taiwan's democratization. 

(No, the Kuomintang was forced by the Taiwanese to do that.)

The Dutch colonized the island....the government of the Qing dynasty incorporated Taiwan into the Chinese Empire.

You already know how I feel about this.)

With the defeat of Japan in World War II, the Allies transferred the governance of Taiwan to the Kuomintang government.

(Nope. And the KMT knew this - scroll down).

The Taiwanese duality of both sameness and with difference from mainland China has contributed to the Taiwanese people's unresolved national identity since the 1940s. 

(While identity has absolutely been a core question in Taiwan, the origin of ambiguity in Taiwan's national identity comes from colonial regimes from China - first the Qing, now the ROC - who insist on promoting a Chinese-centered national identity. If they had not pushed that point from their foreign perspectives so forcefully, Taiwanese national identity would not be in question. In fact, these days the question is mostly resolved, but the book was published in 2009 so I can forgive this.)

There are a few more examples, including many jarring uses of that horrible word "mainland", implying a territorial connection that simply isn't there - the current PRC government of China has never ruled Taiwan - but you get the point.

In any case, it was a worthwhile book if you can look beyond the odd blueness of the language used - as engaging as an academic text can be (though a bit heavy on the 'thesis statements' as though someone is grading it), full of lots of knowledge drops. Despite one or two confusing narrations of timeline (I'm still not sure when and why the New Life movement moved away from May Fourth Movement ideals and toward more traditional precepts, and the section on that did not clarify), I learned a lot and am happy I read it.

If you are not already knowledgeable about women's history in Taiwan, I recommend you do, too.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

I read a book and obsessed over Annette Lu

This passage is about Lee Yuan-chen, not Annette Lu, but the point applies regarding how she's been treated.

Add former Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) to the list of people who vex me. Reading more about her contributions to the feminist movement in Taiwan was the most impactful part of Doris Chang's Women's Movements in Twentieth-Century Taiwan for me, so I'd like to devote a post to talking about that before I drop a more complete review.

The book devotes a long chapter to Lu, who these days has a reputation for being both off-kilter and out-of-touch. It's not hard to see why.

When looking into what people dislike about Lu, I find stories that range from an odd trip to Indonesia as vice president (reported sympathetically in the Taipei Times) to comments on AIDS that many took as blaming gay men for the AIDS crisis as "God's punishment" (and frankly, I have to agree with that interpretation of her meaning) to a confusing proposal for Taiwan's diplomatic neutrality to completely unwarranted attacks on Mayor Ko and last year's Universiade. And, of course, announcing her intention to run for Taipei mayor when she is, frankly, not all that popular and doesn't seem to realize it. And, of course, there's her support of the ill-fated 'independence referendum' which takes so much energy that could be used to combat real threats to a more liberal future for Taiwan, and pours it into a big fat waste of time.

Then there is what I saw myself: She came to the 330 protest to support the 2014 Sunflower Movement (I don't have a link, I'm telling you this because I watched her walk by with my own eyes), despite the movement having little to do with her, and the general feeling that the DPP was trying to capitalize on the movement to build their own support when the Sunflowers themselves were not particularly interested in DPP party politics. Actions like this were a part of why many Taiwanese on the fence about the Sunflowers came to believe they were a DPP plot, when they were nothing of the sort.

Chang, on the other hand, focuses specifically on Lu's activities in the 1970s, and makes it quite clear that Taiwan would not be where it is today vis-a-vis women's equality if not for her. A thread of belief is drawn between her - the first and most prominent Taiwanese feminist of the second half of the twentieth century - and the women's groups of early-20th century Japanese Taiwan, but makes it clear that from a research/scholarship standpoint, there is no evidence that the movement Lu ignited (no, it is not an exaggeration to say so) was directly related to earlier women's rights activities in the country. I do not think it is too much of a stretch to say that perhaps the reason why Taiwan is ahead of the rest of Asia when it comes to women's issues is in large part thanks to her. She didn't do everything - there are many other notable Taiwanese feminists of the 80s and 90s - but she struck the match in the 1970s and that means something. She printed books, founded associations and opened hotlines during a time when one could be arrested or 'watched' for doing so: and she was.

Her feminism was not perfect: she was in favor of ending arranged marriage (still somewhat common in Taiwan even as late as the 1970s) and she herself chose not to marry. She spoke out in favor of women succeeding professionally, as she had done. However, she tried to build support through compromise: not attacking the (wrong) idea that women still had specific duties in the home that should not be done by male family members, with no ideas as to how to ease the 'double burden' this dual set of responsibilities - familial and professional - puts on women. She was not in favor of pre-marital sex (though advocating for not discriminating against those who chose to engage in it). She tried to marry feminism with the idea of Confucian duty, and frankly, it didn't work well for good reasons.

In fact, she came into feminism long before she became a dangwai or pro-independence activist, to the consternation of many of her less party-bound (or simply blue-leaning) feminist peers who felt that the fight for women's equality should not be bound to other political goals (many if not most did not join the dangwai as Lu did).

Her doing so anyway - and suffering for it, having been imprisoned and tortured with other pro-Taiwan activists for her role in the Kaohsiung Incident - could be said to be part of why feminism in Taiwan is now linked to some extent with pro-independence, human rights and other liberal activist movements. It's a logical progression: women's movements supported by the KMT, especially in the White Terror era, were not equality-minded at all but rather promoted the continuation of traditional gender roles and beliefs about gender and duty. It only makes sense that a different set of beliefs about equality would eventually be tied into an anti-KMT, pro-Taiwan platform. Yet without Lu, this might not have happened.

This national amnesia about her contributions to the women's movement means that her current beliefs are often presumed, perhaps unfairly. Some say she opposes marriage equality, but the only source I can find for that are interpretations of the aforementioned AIDS comments. Having been made 15 years ago, I'm not sure that's a strong enough case to interpret her feelings on the issue today. Soon after those comments, she drafted a basic human rights law that included marriage equality, which didn't pass.

Yet, people assume that one (extremely stupid and bigoted, to be true) comment about AIDS represents her entire worldview, which I feel is unfair, and it seems nobody has asked her what she thinks of marriage equality today.

This has led me to believe that perhaps she doesn't get enough credit, even as we acknowledge that she has not represented the zeitgeist for decades and regularly makes groanworthy statements today. It doesn't surprise me: scions of other liberal movements are regularly forgiven for their later missteps - Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins come to mind - but women like Lu? Well, I wonder why they aren't. Why are her past contributions so easily forgotten? If her statement on AIDS, which rightly deserves all of the criticism thrown at it, is used to frame her entire belief system, why is the same not often done for so many male public figures?

I can't help but notice that, while other human rights advocates of her era such as Shih Ming-te are also rightly criticized for their out-of-touch and off-kilter (and often downright insane-sounding) pronouncements today, some are quick to point out that serving time in prison under the KMT dictatorship would drive anyone to be a bit, uh, nutty. Yet few seem to remember that Lu spent over five years as a political prisoner as well. Shih gets the background context for his behavior, Lu just gets eyerolls.

(That said, if I could vote, I would not vote for her for Taipei mayor. She's done a lot, but she would not be a good mayor, period.)

There is still more work to be done: Lu is brushed aside - sometimes rightly so, sometimes perhaps without due consideration of her important contributions to the women's movement - and the slow liberalization of Taiwan chugs along. The southern and older social conservatives who make up much of the DPP's pro-independence supporters are growing old, and will be replaced by younger, more progressive voters. In the here and now, though, these older conservatives still matter, yet we forget that there are people like Lu who began challenging them, however imperfectly, decades ago.

The younger, more liberal generation itself has work to do. As Chang notes in Women's Movements in Twentieth-Century Taiwan:

Due to the male-dominated power structure of Taiwan's democracy movement, the professed ideals of liberty, justice and equality did not necessarily translate into male activists' equal treatment of and respect for female activists. 

This was true when the book was written, and it was true in Lu's time as well. She challenged it, and made it to the vice presidency.

The problem is, it's still true today. Look at the Sunflowers, whose large-scale protest she attended. How many prominent Sunflowers are male? How many are female? How often are male NPP legislators (Freddy Lim, Huang Kuo-chang and Hsu Yung-ming) in the public eye? How often are the female legislators (Kawlo Iyun Pacidal, Hung Tzu-yung) in the public eye?

Despite a great deal of progress having been made, do we really think that today's liberal progressive youth is that much better vis-a-vis women's equality than in Lu's generation?

Because as I see it, Lu understood this before the rest of us did. Maybe she's out-of-touch now, and it is frankly time for her to retire. She is now hindering the movements she once championed. But that doesn't mean we give her enough credit or that we can ignore the ways in which the work she started still is not done.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Unmarried women can't receive fertility treatment in Taiwan, and that is stupid.

As I've written before, living in Taiwan as a woman can often feel like having a split personality (skip to #11 here). On one hand, I feel safe walking around at night and don't get cat called on the street (though honestly as a 35 year old frumpy lady I rarely get cat called in the US either, which is a welcome relief from my twenties - the myth that you miss it once it stops happening to you is false, at least for me). It is the most progressive country in Asia for women, women are highly participatory in politics and can expect a measure of equality in their lives, most of the time. When they don't receive it, they usually have some access to potential recourse. It's not perfect - neither is the USA or any country really - but it's not bad, as things go.

On the other hand, every once in awhile you learn something that makes you sit up in horror. A short history of things that have caused this reaction in me:

- Learning that a host of important women's rights initiatives weren't passed or modernized until 1998 or 2000 (right around the time the KMT lost power for the first time). That is a shockingly short time ago.

- Finding out that abortion, while legal, must be accompanied by the consent of the husband if the woman is married, and must come with one of four "acceptable" explanations if she is not  

- Knowing that the lack of no-fault one-sided divorce was originally aimed at protecting women from husbands who might abandon them, but now keeps women equally trapped in marriages they don't want to be in, can't get consent from their spouses to leave, but can't prove any fault to push for a unilateral divorce.

- Knowing that, as adultery is still (somehow) a crime, it is rare but not unheard-of for a woman to refuse to grant a divorce to a philandering husband while at the same time pursuing criminal charges against his mistress

- Pointing out that while birth control is available over the counter (apparently - I have been told this but I have never seen it sold), higher-end birth control not generally found in pharmacies but gotten from an OB-GYN is not covered by National Health Insurance. This means that women who can't tolerate over-the-counter pills, can't afford the prescription stuff and can't for whatever reason use condoms (see: controlling/abusive partner, latex allergies) are SOL just because of a misguided idea that covering birth control under NHI would hinder attempts to increase the fertility rate (which I am not all that sure needs to be increased - the population is already too dense and the money spent on promoting child-bearing should be used to help this generation of senior citizens manage their affairs as we reset to a lower overall population).

- Reading about how certain issues, like the China Airlines strike, are often dismissed (or the opposition attempts to dismiss them) if the protesters and activists happen to be young, often attractive, women. 

- Watching (awesome) women protest and ultimately win against sexist rules at university dormitories (the part that causes me to despair is that the rules existed in the first place)

- Reading ridiculous coverage of the fact that our new president wore pants at her inauguration as though that is important in any way at all 

- The lack of acknowledgement of the most important issue in the discussion of Taiwan's low marriage and birth rate: that sexist family expectations are keeping a lot of women from marrying or having children because they don't want to get stuck on that road - it seems like everything BUT this key central issue is trotted out as a reason

It can lead one to have wildly disparate feelings, on a day-to-day basis, about the state of women's rights in Taiwan. That's true of course for any country but I happen to live here, and I would argue the two sides of this issue are more polarized than in many other countries.

And then there's this: unmarried women in Taiwan may adopt, but they may not receive fertility treatment. 

I would take a stab at explaining why but I really can't. I can't even go the "some people feel children need to be raised by a couple" route (not that I agree with it, but a lot of people feel that way) because it's OK to adopt!

This makes no sense whatsoever. This, like forcing women to justify their reproductive decisions vis-a-vis a non-sentient ball of goo in their uterus, has no place in a modern society. Taiwan, with its newly-elected progressive female president, can, should and must do better. It has a unique opportunity in Asia as a free and - for the region - progressive society to lead the way in a whole host of social issues, from LGBT rights to historical preservation to women's rights. This is a stone-age law, not fit for a modern society and frankly, the Taiwanese government should be embarrassed and ashamed that it is still on the books at all.

At least this time there is something you can do - sign the petition! Get it in front of President Tsai. Help make this happen, so that one small thing in a whole host of issues Taiwan is still facing might be re-examined and hopefully changed.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

WILDLY SPECULATING about the lack of women in the Tsai cabinet

Please enjoy this random photo I took that I happen to like

The difficult thing about trying to have something of a niche in the Taiwan blogging world is that sometimes you don't necessarily have a lot to say about the latest news in your niche other than "well that sucks".

I mean, I could try to salvage a bright side and note that when the highest office in the land is occupied for a woman, that's a victory no matter what, but I'm not feelin' it and you probably aren't either. We do expect more, for good reason.

It happened with Hung Hsiu-chu's short-lived candidacy and it's happening again with the Tsai administration's new "no girls allowed" cabinet, which people are pointing out mostly because, as Taiwan's first female president, they expected a little more gender equality in said cabinet because they expected an administration to be sensitive to such things (if President Ma had a cabinet with very few women, many people would probably just chalk it up to Ma being an asshat and be done with it).

Can I just note in that podcast, which starts talking about gender imbalances at about the 28-29 minute mark, I was a little annoyed by a female speaker call it the worst "Mother's Day present to women"? Not all women are mothers. What does Mother's Day have to do with women generally? Not much.

All I really have to say is "well that sucks"- and the cabinet overall, in terms of age and education, also kinda sucks.

Of course, from my memory of the Tsai campaign, although the first time around I came across stickers and other promotional materials touting her as "Taiwan's first female president" in the 2012 campaign she lost, I just don't remember seeing much about her campaigning specifically on that idea or drawing attention to her gender much at all. Certainly I don't remember her promising a gender-equitable cabinet.

Or did she, and I just missed that? Please do remember I spent a huge chunk of 2015 in the US for family reasons, and returning I was so busy I didn't have time to catch up on the political scene, so I missed a lot. If so, it's a straight-up broken promise.

But, then again, maybe I didn't miss anything. It seems to me her gender, and not her words, created that expectation and when she went and acted like any ol' politician with a penis, it was that expectation, the ones we created, that were dashed. I'm not sure she herself gave any indication that she would specifically be a force for gender equality beyond being a woman herself. The podcast says something like "we expected she could break the glass ceiling for all women", but did Tsai ever say she was going to do that, make an effort on that or focus on that?

I'm genuinely asking, because, as I said, I wasn't here for much of 2015 and paying more attention to family than Taiwan.

That's not meant as a defense - I happen to think any presidential candidate regardless of gender should have a gender equitable cabinet. Tsai is not exempt from that because or despite the fact that she's female. While I would hope a president who understands the obstacles women face just for being women would be more sensitive to the issue, I hold male politicians just as accountable.

Well, I say that, but I didn't write any of this when Ma was elected and re-elected, even though (while Tsai's cabinet has an even bigger gender imbalance) it's not like the Ma administration was this huge pro-women revolution or seemed to care much about women's representation in government. So maybe I'm a hypocrite.

I'm not sure why, and while a lot has been reported on it, nobody else seems to really know why either. I haven't heard much in the way of reasons for this, even in the podcast where there is criticism, and dismay, but almost nothing deeper, nothing in the way of analysis for how this happened - perhaps because nobody knows.

But not knowing never stopped me from shooting off my mouth before, so I'll speculate wildly and inexpertly because what the hell.

1.) Edited to add: the most obvious possibility, which I didn't really consider because (thanks to my own biases) I just sort of assumed Tsai would have a strong hand in who went into the cabinet. But, she may well have just rubber-stamped Lin Chuan's choices. I didn't really consider this one because I assumed (possibly wrongly?) that if Tsai is ultimately appoints the cabinet that the final responsibility and blame for who is in that cabinet rests with her (also I tend to ignore Lin Chuan because I feel like he's setting himself up to do a bad job...perhaps I just wish he didn't exist?). Or perhaps - despite my earlier claim to try and not have any biases and to hold male and female elected officials equally accountable for gender parity in government, in fact I did automatically lay blame on the woman rather than the (can I say kind of terrible? Is it too early for that? I really don't like him) man.

2.)As a former policy wonk without much executive experience, perhaps she just didn't think this one through. That sounds lightweight, but in fact it's pretty damning. A good leader must think these things through.

3.) As a woman fighting against an overwhelmingly pro-man, anti-woman sexist system, perhaps she has developed a mindset in which, well, she acts like the men around her. It's not that uncommon, especially for women in power, to try to secure and establish their positions by, at times subconsciously, acting and thinking more like the men around them. Not because it's particularly natural for women to follow men (it's not) but because it's natural for people to want to fit into their environs, and when the environment is such a damn sausage fest, perhaps you start to think like you have some sausage yourself.

4.) Perhaps, unlike the somewhat unconscious 'gotta fit in, gotta think like them' mentality above, this is a conscious effort to take emphasis off her gender and establish herself as an authority, to even maybe distance herself from 'women's issues'? Like "they'll all expect me to be 'women this and women that' rather than listening to me on the 1992 consensus, the Senkakus, international organization participation, the economy and more so I'll cut that off early by not showing women any special consideration." If so, it backfired spectacularly!

5.) Some combination of (4) and (5) or landing somewhere in between has led her to a slightly askance viewpoint in which insisting to the point of going beyond logic that only credentials matter and gender never does - which of course is true, or is true in a perfect world, but as this points out (in Chinese), so often 'gender doesn't matter, only credentials matter, if the most qualified people are men then the majority of the cabinet will be men' is taken as a launch point not to fight for greater equality because credentialed people exist in diverse and less-privileged populations, but to keep the patriarchy firmly in place and let the system run as usual. 

Seeing as previous cabinets (under men!) had more women than this one, clearly women with the right credentials exist. This cabinet could have been more gender-equal. Saying "well they got the most qualified people they could and they happen to be men" papers over that with, well, illogic and falsehood.

Also worth noting is that this can't possibly be the 'most qualified cabinet' to run Taiwan as it exists today: a country that is finally starting to listen to its youth. When the average age of your cabinet is closer to my father's than it is to mine (and I'm not particularly young though I like to pretend otherwise) in a country where student activists are a big effin' deal, then your cabinet is not qualified to properly represent the country.

(I'm not quite as worried about the lack of PhDs compared to previous cabinets, in part because I don't think education is necessarily the only way to become a great statesperson, in part because Taiwan already has a lot of respect, and quite a few, very highly educated people making high-level decisions - they do love their scholar-leaders - and in part because we all remember what happened when MENSA tried to run Springfield).

Though that brings me to a pretty solid silver lining that my previous contemplations failed to provide: at least the public discourse surrounding this issue is pretty solid in Taiwan. Taiwan civil society for the win! I'm not sure I'd expect discourse like this to be the rule rather than the exception in many other countries (I thought of Asia when I said that but I have to be honest - including my own. The USA is full of man-children).

So, I guess I'll end on that.

Come on Tsai. Do better.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Not Just Any Woman


I normally don't post unrelated pictures on blog posts, but I like this one from a Sanchong sidewalk enough, but have no context for it, that I'm putting it here anyway. Enjoy!

Well, I was going to do a travel post about a trip I took, like, a year ago to the East Rift Valley, and another about a hike I took to the sulphur spring at Dayoukeng, but my cat tipped a glass of lemon seltzer into my laptop (after chewing up my Apple headphones and puking on the floor) and for the time being it - and all of the pictures on it - are out of commission and the cat is still somehow mysteriously alive.

Seems the laptop will be fine, but I can't pick it up until tomorrow.

So, you get more of my insane political ranting instead. Lucky you!

In recent weeks I've compared Hung Hsiu-chu to Donald Trump when talking with friends. Both say crazy batshit things that alienate key demographics and even their party's base in some respects. Neither seems to be particularly intelligent enough to lead. Neither has the requisite experience to do a good job in a major leadership role. Neither seems to have very well-thought out plans and policies (Hung's platforms are possibly more detailed than Trump's but she's so freakin' nuts that it's hard to tell, honestly). Both harness hatred and rivalry (Trump against foreigners and 'the liberal elite' and Hung against protesters, activists anyone who isn't pro-China) to inflame a group of far-right ideologues.

But I'm not quite sure this comparison is the best one to be making in light of Hung's election to the KMT chairmanship, about which all I can say is "have fun KMT, I am happy to watch you continue to destroy yourself". In fact, I feel like it's now more relevant to compare Hung to Hillary Clinton.

Wait, wait, back that truck up, you're probably thinking. Clinton may be a neoliberal establishment stooge who voted for the Iraq War and the bailout and who supported a controversial and horrifying bankruptcy bill as senator that she'd opposed as First Lady because she needed the Big Business vote, but her social platforms are liberal - at least they are now - and she looks to many people like a centrist!

But I don't mean that they are similar in terms of ideology. They're similar in what their rise says about the female electorate. It's very easy to say that because women don't necessarily support candidates like Hung or Clinton, that they don't care if a candidate is female or not. It's so easy to say that in fact, a lot of people say it.

That's not the case, however - at least not for me and not in my observation and from talking to women I know (if you hadn't figured out by now that I am neither a political scientist nor social researcher, well, now you know). We actually do care about female candidates and actively want more female candidates to vote for. I don't agree that "it doesn't have to be this year" in the US - I would love for it to be this year! I just wish we had a better female candidate.

We don't feel this is sexist - just as many people define racism as prejudice + power: if you have the power to escape systemic racism, or have enough privilege that it doesn't affect your entire life, it is impossible for someone to be racist against you, even as they may be prejudiced, one can define sexism the same way. You can be prejudiced against a man, but not sexist against one unless that man is one of the few who live entirely within a matriarchal, female-dominated society, because men have historically had more power and privilege than women. It is not sexist to want more representation of historically under-represented groups. At least, that's how current theory goes, and I tend to agree but don't want to get too bogged down in semantics. Wanting more female political leaders and supporting women who attempt to break into those roles is not sexist. Some may disagree, but this is what I've observed not just in my own views but among other women I know.

It's just that we want female candidates who actually reflect our values - being what most people would call "on the far left", but which I feel either is or should be the center, I don't have a lot of friends who feel that establishment or far-right female candidates do so.

And not because Clinton is straight, white and rich - if a good female candidate is straight, white and rich (and not, say, a minority, LGBT person, or from a poor background), I'll still vote for her. I don't quite support Clinton because she votes against my values. She votes for things I don't like. She is a little too realpolitik. That's it. It has nothing to do with her not being 'different' enough.

Feminism isn't dead, and it hasn't morphed entirely into this "we don't care about gender, we're beyond that, it's no longer important to support a woman just because she's a woman" Third (Fourth?)-Wavery. Actually I - a Sanders supporter - do want to support a woman in part because she's a woman. I actually do want solidarity with other women. I just want it to be a woman who also resonates with me as an all-around candidate. That's not the same as not caring if a candidate is female or not.

It's true that being a woman isn't enough to win female votes, but that just doesn't equate to not caring at all if a candidate is female. Hung is so far-right that being female didn't even enter into the equation when considering her as a supportable candidate (which I didn't for more than half a second). My consideration of Clinton, however, did include her gender. I want female candidates, because I want more representation. Just because in the end I chose not to support her does not mean I don't care if a candidate is female.

The same can be said in Taiwan. Just because women don't tend to support Hung doesn't mean women don't care about having a female candidate. They just want a better candidate, and many want one who is also female. And sure, you could say that the KMT has taken a step forward in progressivism by having a visible female leader for once - quite literally for once, this is the first time ever for a very patriarchal, regressive party - but this would be a much more viable argument if the KMT had elected a female leader who was also, say, a Taiwan-local-KMT centrist. They didn't.

Just as the Democrats are taking a step forward by supporting a female candidate, but they could have really turned heads and struck a blow for progressivism by supporting, say, Elizabeth Warren instead - or, knowing she isn't interested in the job, someone like her.

So, please, establishment, as much as you don't want to, as much as you hold out, as much as you'd like to pretend we "don't care", we do. Give us female candidates. Their gender does matter.

Just give us better ones. Please.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

How Tsai Ying-wen shaped my assessment of Hillary Clinton

I'm female, in my 30s, and a Bernie Sanders supporter. I'm very near the cut-off age between older women who support Clinton and younger women who gravitate to Sanders, but being child-free and generally supportive of youth movements (perhaps I'm still young at heart myself), I stood on that fence and took a willing dive to the Sanders side. After all, the youth tends to be eventually proven right.

The why isn't important to this post, but I'll tell you anyway, in a few long paragraphs: because every other developed country in the world takes its tax revenue and plows most of it back into benefits of its citizens. As such, citizens of most developed countries have a highly mature sense of the public good, and how they benefit from being part of that society, as well as the advantages of paying taxes to enjoy those benefits. Every other developed country has managed to make university-level education affordable - even Taiwan, where public universities average about USD$1000/semester. Every other developed country has managed to make health care accessible and affordable to all. Almost every other developed country has a modern and maintained system of public transportation. No other country spends what we do on defense, and no other country pours so much money down the drain for lackluster performance in key development indices.

I want what most other developed countries have figured out how to deliver. I remember being young and broke and not going to the doctor because I couldn't afford to, even though I had health insurance through my low-paid office job. I remember weeks of carrots, lentils and rice because I couldn't afford other food if I wanted bus fare to pay for my two-hour commute each way to work. I remember being mired in student debt despite going to college on a scholarship, and debt was the only way to make college, which is a necessity if you want to really succeed in a career, happen. I still have the debt but it's somewhat less now. I remember wanting to seek out a better-paid job but, in a tight job market, not finding one, ad then being told it was my "choice" to accept subpar wages.

And, well, I just don't want the next generation of Americans to inherit that sort of life - the life I left America to escape because the opportunities just weren't there. It wasn't hell, it wasn't even that bad - I was lucky in a lot of ways. But I paid very high taxes compared to what I pay in Taiwan...for what? For a war in Iraq that could have paid for affordable college tuition for all for a few generations? For unnecessary corporate subsidies and low capital gains tax for the rich? For a deeply inefficient and often broken transit system? For what? Why would I want a new generation of Americans to grow up under that system? Where college tuition has grown exponentially while wages haven't, where if you're exploited at work you're told its your own fault even though you can't afford to leave, where you're told you have a "choice" when really, you're hamstrung by just needing to afford to live? Where you're told affordable college tuition is "impossible" and yet every other developed country has successfully done it and we've paid out far more than affordable, or even free, tuition would cost on a war we emphatically did not need? No. That is the America I willingly left. I'm not going to vote for the establishment I disliked enough to wave goodbye to it.

And yet, I'm told that if I don't support the deeply establishment Hillary Clinton, that I'm letting women everywhere down.

I'm told that I am okay with women having power but don't like to see them in the act of asking for more power.

I'm told that I would support her as the frontrunner despite her flaws if she were a man.

To be fair, there is some truth to both of the articles linked above. She is treated differently by the establishment and the electorate simply because she has both a vagina and an opinion. She is criticized for asking for power that male politicians of her level of achievement are routinely, and unquestioningly, given. She is treated as 'less than' than lower-caliber male politicians simply because the patriarchy would 'rather have a beer' with other men. This all deserves consideration when deciding who to vote for.

And yet, Clinton can be a problematic candidate and that can be true regardless of her gender. She can have connections to Wall Street and the media that we don't like, but it is also true that the electorate would treat her differently if she were a man. Clinton can be someone whose previous record appalls me and others, and yet still suffer from being criticized merely for asking for more power. She can be one of the best at the political game, a true overachiever, the epitome of the saying that "women have to do twice as well to be given half as much", and yet still make me uncomfortable with her status-quo message.

Basically, she can be the victim of sexism and misogyny - and this can be worthy of discussion and acknowledgement - and still be someone I don't want to vote for based on the sum of her record and career.

I feel comfortable in my assessment of Clinton and my reasons for deciding, in the end, to support Sanders over her in part because of president-elect Tsai Ying-wen.

Very few American voters have had the chance to know enough about a non-Clinton female presidential candidate to support her, or care enough to have a somewhat detailed opinion on the matter - this usually comes from actually living in the country where said president may be elected. I have, however, and in the last election in Taiwan I backed Tsai (in spirit at least - I can't vote in Taiwan). Obviously I didn't consciously question whether she was fit to be president based on her gender, but seeing as I ultimately chose to support her, I can't say I subconsciously did so either.

You might even say I gave her a slight advantage in my brainspace because she's female and I do want to see more diversity in politics both nationally and globally. I don't think this is 'reverse sexism' - there's an element of power and representation that need to be present for something to be sexist (this is  pretty well accepted as a definition of racism by those who have a nuanced knowledge of racial issues, too). When the establishment is male, refusing to back a woman because of her gender is sexist. Deciding to back a woman because she's female, though, is a blow for pushing for a seat at the table for a group that has typically not had one. It would be the same if the power structure was entirely female and I chose to back a man because I felt we needed more diverse representation in that regard.

Anyway, I'd admit to a pro-female gender bias, but I'd also admit that if a candidate I liked more who happened to be male had come along, I would have supported him instead. How do I know? Well, I chose Sanders over Clinton despite Clinton's advantage of being female. In my heart, though I know my head would tell me it's risky, I would support a Freddy Lim-like candidate for president before a Tsai Ying-wen-like candidate. I may have a pro-female bias but in the end I will gravitate toward the best person for the job.

Sanders, although he is a man, has a better record on supporting women's rights and issues important to women (like LGBT equality and civil rights) than Clinton. Tsai...well, we'll see about how she does in office, but there is no politician, male or female, who has a better shot at doing good for women in Taiwan than her (though again I'd give my support to a Freddy Lim-like candidate).

Tsai, despite being a bit centrist for this old leftie's tastes, was the best person for the job.  I supported her mostly for that reason, and in part, yes, because I felt it would be good for Taiwan to have a female president. Taiwan may be one of the most progressive countries in Asia, with better women's equality than the rest of Asia, but that's a pretty damn low bar and there is certainly room to improve. A female president is not a cure-all, but it's a step.

Tsai is also something of the anti-Clinton. Clinton may not be "likable" (an criticism lobbed at women far more than at men) but she does exude strength and panache, and despite a few stumbles generally gives good, polished speeches. She's an extrovert and a ball-buster (from me that's a compliment) who looks like she'd be very good at steely eye contact. She's more of a power broker than a wonk, though I don't doubt her policy chops.

Tsai, on the other hand, is frightfully competent, but exudes a dorky, scholarly wonkishness that is endearing and popular in Taiwan but would be a hindrance in the US political machine. She looks and acts like a wine-drinking cat lady academic (which she admittedly is, and I like that). Her speeches are not particularly polished - it's been said she almost has an 'anti-charisma' when she speaks - and her gaze is not steely.

I like them both, but as a bit of a dork myself, who also has a bias in favor of scholar-leaders as it seems Taiwan does, I do gravitate a bit more toward the Tsai personality (though admittedly I have something of the Clinton Lion Roar within myself too). If anything I wish more male politicians fit that mold.

I also like that Tsai is a self-made woman in politics - I realize she came from money however - and I'm not a big fan of political dynasties such as the Clintons'.

So when I hear this "well maybe people are threatened by Clinton asking for power even though she is quite competent once she has it" or "you'd be more forgiving of her shortcomings and support her more strongly if she were a man, but because she's a woman she has to be twice as good to get half as much" or "with her experience and background, were she a man she'd be the clear frontrunner", I think, well, I just supported a woman for president. A woman who won the race. I was happy about that and at no point felt uncomfortable watching her ask for, and get, more power. At no point did I expect her to be twice as good as her opponent - although arguably she was. And if I can so clearly support a good female candidate in Taiwan, it's nuts to imply that I (or, more accurately, Sanders-supporting women like me) don't support Hillary because I have not examined my own internal sexism.