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Why I can not call myself a feminist

11 Dec
I recently happened across a short clip, where a comedienne pointed out that she is appalled that there are women who say they are not feminists.
It is true that I can count with my hand how many times I know I have been discriminated against on a gender-based level. The point should be: why should anyone have less opportunities than someone else based on some arbitrary factor of life that they cannot control? And here is why I cannot call myself a feminist. Because this sort of polarization is subjective, a victim mind-state, and could be harmful to the real social dialogue we want to have.
I believe the term feminism, is inherently reactionary: it’s us versus them. It is inevitable that, at some point, the argument will lose perspective. In the field of reason, to claim certain absolutes is considered dogmatic, which can have horrible societal consequences (look at communism v.s. capitalism!). For this reason, I disagree with the canonization of feminism in the academic field as a study. I do believe, however, that women’s rights should be included in the the study of social movements and social phenomenon. It is part and parcel of the continued effort to make our communities more just, more reasonable, with equal respect and opportunities for as many people in a population as possible.
I am grateful for the women activists and social resistors who have insisted on (and are insisting on) our rights to vote, to property, to children, to family time, to equal pay…etc. I stand with them on every issue today. But I have a brother, I have a son, I have a husband and a father. And do I want them to be treated any lesser (or more) than a woman? No. The language is at fault. To call ourselves For One Side inherently says I Oppose the Other. Which can be facile and dangerous. And which will eventually work to undermine the greater picture that we want for our society. I believe that it is important for there to be people fighting for certain groups that have traditionally been vulnerable to discrimination, for women, for immigrants, for people of different skin color or beliefs that those generally in power… I believe it is more powerful to have individuals and groups dedicated to exposing the problems and showing support for one group of people. I believe in many of the work that self-claimed feminists groups do. But I do not believe that the message should be translated into : Because I am female, I am a feminist. Because I am African American, I am an abolitionist… it hurts the conversation because you are also saying Because he is male, he can be a masochist. Because she is Christian, she should be a pro-lifer… To say that absolutely, is to categorize people based on their circumstances. And you would be falling into the same habits as those you oppose.
People are diverse, with diverse inclinations, beliefs, interests in status/non-status quo. My challenge is always to live the world you want it to be. And if there is a name I have to define myself with, I would call myself a humanist.
~ Grace En-Tien Chang
update: Great article I came across that illustrates a female viewpoint without mentioning feminism Men Who Explain Things, by Rebecca Solnit
Update 2013/March 6th Recently came across this article explaining feminism as a civic rights movement. It seems to act as a good counterpoint to my thesis here.
On another note:
This also brought me back to my freshman year in University, when I was interviewed by a professor of gender studies. She wanted to understand what enabled me to study biology. But I was brought to her attention not only because I chose to pursue my undergrad degree in biology, as there were many many other girls who had been admitted to this major, but also because I have had a clear track record of being active in other fields. Of volunteer work, of starting a club to discuss international issues in my high school…etc.
On my part, choosing Biology was simply interest in the pursuit of knowledge in a field that emphasized evidence-based research, had clearer (compared to sociology) facts, and which helped me enjoy and understand life better. That is, I liked it.
I do not think I was a very interesting study subject for her. As to the various questions concerning repression of my interests, I consistently said no. I did not feel gender-based pressure in my high school studies of biology (our Biology teacher was, in fact, female). My parents did not feel the need to guide me in my chosen field (though my uncle did suggest that I should study English, but I thought it was silly as I was already proficient in English and it would be a waste of my time). Gradually I engaged her in conversation about what she was trying to accomplish through the interviews. She was not very clear (I suppose this might do with the fact that I was a study subject). But I was left with the impression that there was a certain bias she wanted to demonstrate, a struggle that females had to undergo in order to reach certain achievements. She wanted to find out why there were still more men in Taiwan going into the sciences than women, starting out from high school. I do not understand why she could not be satisfied that, in certain instances, it may be simply a matter of interest preference. And perhaps, this preference was guided by (or informed) a difference in capacity concerning certain studies such as math, physics and chemistry. Of course you can also say that this difference was enhanced by the way our high school system was designed. I have never claimed to do well in math, physics and chemistry. But I found biology interesting. And I was unwilling to be corralled into a high school class that would teach a less advanced form of biology (plus restrict my college application options) by choosing the humanities class (which, btw, put a greater stress on history, geography, and Chinese which was taught in memorization form in our curricula here and I found memorization very stressful for me. The system designed here in Taiwan is so that, even if you chose the sciences class, you could still apply for the humanities in college and have a reasonable (perhaps even better, because professors find it flattering and rare that a science student would choose humanities) chance of success. Whereas it is more of an uphill battle vice versa. So a third reason for her inquiry may be related to the way the system was designed… which did not do away with the fact that I was quite inept (and rather uninterested) in the other fields of hard sciences besides Biology. You could probably say I was not the proper study subject for her based on my chosen field. The point I want to make here though, is that: I believe her inquiry had an inherent bias towards wanting to put the blame on societal pressures rather than personal interest.

And is it not possible that gender can have an effect on interest? Why not also question why some fields in some societies are more well-regarded than others. For it is not ‘easy’ to be a teacher and guide young children. The challenges are different, but not less, than the rigors of being a physicist.


The unmarriage-ables: Domestic trends in Asia

11 Sep
Mike sent me two articles from the Economist concerning marriage in Asia, asking what I thought. An issue that fascinates sociologists, demographers and troubles policy makers today. These articles I found quite insightful on our current situation.
Asia’s Lonely Hearts: Women are rejecting marriage in asia. The social implications are serious.

[Asian Demography] The Flight from Marriage: Asians are marrying later, and less, than in the past. This has profound implications for women, traditional family life and Asian politics

This is what I wrote back to him (unedited, except for the parts in brackets, so sorry if it reads a bit cut-off):

The situation

Considering our culture, a lot of women are viewing marriage as a certain step towards childbearing and a graveyard towards careers.
Many women would rather wait for ‘true love’ or men of higher income/education/height than self… which hardly ever manifests considering how much more capable women have become and how many men at that stage of success are already attached (for men, the Chinese proverb is: first establish a family, then a career).

(My estimation of my marriage age was of 27 or 29, before I met you.)

One of the things that the statistic is not showing, despite lower rates of cohabitation, there may be higher rates of extra-martial relationships, especially among married men with single women… most women with the hopes that the man will leave his wife to marry her – a very rare manifestation. [this may be anecdotally derived]

In actuality, married men usually have a harder time attracting single females into sexual trysts. For example: a recent case reported in a tabloid was of a famous Taiwanese online political pundit seducing several women while concealing the fact that he was already married. The women distanced themselves upon the revelation:

廖小貓已婚 騙女網友嘿咻拍淫照 (Chinese)

However, considering the fact that extra-marital sex is still considered taboo (despite growing popularity), most cases are neither reported or self-reported.

Middle aged single asian women are often deeply conflicted: in psychological denial (“who cares about men? Being single is great!”), and feeling a lack of “adequate” men combined with a deep sense of shame for not being able to attract a quality man. Many of these women (as mentioned in the article) thus look for foreign sources. A handsome foreigner is usually a credit enough to wedding pictures (better image to family), more chivalrous than native men, and more likely to offer a life of domestic equality, to warrant being allowed a lower standard (less income, less prestigious job, less education, sometimes even height) compared to what women hold for native men.

From what the article shows, it seems that Japan went through a sexual revolution in the 1970s. May partially be due to breakdown of traditional family structures – single daughters leaving home to work in the city (due to lower individual income that requires daughters to make their own living), and apartments in the city being more expensive, so cohabitation makes economic sense.

In an age of free love, women more frequently require not only status, but social skills (wooing capacity) in men. This is a tall order for many coddled sons and technology nerds. So though many low-status men (for lack of a better term, including low-prestige careers and disabled men) are getting mail-order brides, there are also a great deal of socially awkward, high-status men who are resorting to this as well, instead of facing the fright of trying to woo a demanding, articulate, sophisticated Taiwanese woman.

(Remember the woman who helped us with our ID photos when we were registering at the household registration office? She is an imported bride. Also, before leaving, I saw another man going in the HR office with HIS mail-order bride. )

[According to the Taiwan Central Census Bureau, between January and October of 2010:

  • Total couples married: 112,020
  • –> Couples with foreign spouse: 17,534
  • –> Among couples with foreign spouse, 11,019 (62.84% of total foreign spouse) were from China; 2,284 from Indonesia; 704 from Japan                 ]

Result: a lot of new soap operas depicting the plight of the middle-aged, single woman.

Hottest Taiwan soap opera right now? One depicting an extra-marital relationship leading to divorce and remarriage to ‘other woman’. This has led to a slight validation of ‘the other’, phrased as a semi-joke in popular slang. “小三“

I blogged about China’s situation a few years ago: “China’s skewed gender ratio hitting the roof”

I was writing this as I was reading, so noticed that authors covered main points I was making later on in article.

Hostility against singles arising is not something I’m seeing a trend of in Taiwan, as it seems to be in Japan for terming them ‘parasite singles’. It sounds reasonable, though, considering the heightening risk singles pose to established marriages. One of my male friends who has declared an intent to party and never marry, said that he kept finding himself in situations where many quality (pretty) women he met who flirted with him were already attached.

Prostitution could rise; brides could be traded like commodities, or women forced to “marry” several men; wives could be kept in purdah by jealous, fearful husbands.

Two of the above are already in the works in China. One of the rising crimes there involves females (married or not) being kidnapped and sold as brides or slaves (with benefits); in some rural areas a family of males would share one ‘wife’ in between them (brothers and sometimes including the father). I would expect a greater value/respect for such rare merchandise, but it does not seem to be the case. Instead, the trend seems to be towards more risk to and subjugation of the fairer sex.


[I think] One of the solutions to this: changing perceptions of the traditional roles of women in marriage. An attractively marketed soap opera depicting a married woman having career independence, equal status in family (both couples take equal household and child-rearing responsibility) may work somewhat towards changing perception.

Also, about this passage from article:

Compared with the West, Asian countries have invested less in pensions and other forms of social protection, on the assumption that the family will look after ageing or ill relatives. That can no longer be taken for granted.

—> Very Important Point.

[Questions about passages from article]:

Rates of non-marriage rise at every stage of education. Women with less than secondary education are the most likely to marry, followed by those with secondary education, with university graduates least likely. This pattern is the opposite of the one in America and Europe, where marriage is more common among college graduates than among those with just a secondary education.

I don’t understand this part though – why is marriage among those with just a secondary education lower in America and Europe?

If China or India were ever to import brides on this scale, it would spread sexual catastrophe throughout Asia.

What is this “Sexual Catastrophe”?

Edit 2011, Nov 29th

After writing the above post on an HSR trip down to KH (during which there was no internet), I looked up some statistics on the government website on foreign spouse rates…etc. Some of the statistics were noted above. But for a more comprehensive look at the statistics, My Kafkaesque Life has done a much more thorough job. Please see his post here:

Domestic Help

1 Jun

Kirsten Dunst in the Mona Lisa Smile (film)

I wonder if the abolitionists, the democrats, the socialists, knew exactly what they were getting themselves into when the dreamt up the equality of humanity. In stories you always read about the aristocrats not lifting a finger at the chores, so very preoccupied were they by ‘higher pursuit’, business, military enterprises (which sometimes were one with business), science, philosophy, women. The women too, in needlework and the ordering of a household, the sort of pleasure we in our age can only find in the arrangement of our reserves in computer games, in the practical business of running a work team.

Of course, housework was harder then – more time consuming. It was due to the reordering of the world, where households became more or less independent and the picture of family we saw were not confined to the abject poor who were made to scrub out other people’s toiletry or the rich who hired these people as their help. The world became fairer – women of a family were to do their own linens, and then came the washing machines, the dish-driers, the vacuum cleaner, the stronger cleaning detergents and more robust cloth of which one did not need to hand wash. And they arose not due to the outcry of servants – they did away with the need of servants after the middle class was conceived. Indeed, if we were to continue in that age I doubt the need of such practical household items such as synthetic sponges would appear. In fact, it would be against the social system – a vacuum cleaner would do away with at least two servants for a medium sized mansion – and then what would they do?

Housework became easier, and more women became liberated enough to think, as their richer counterparts had started doing at least half a century earlier. And this they thought – if I could advise my husband on his work, then it proves I am not entirely incapable, and I can possibly do his work.

And it was not so shocking for the husbands, for at this moment the idea became more and more conceivable in our female population, the men became too preoccupied by their own affairs – the war. So that without much fight the women were made to sit in the factories and do the work of the men previously denied then. And their men came back to find their work taken from them, or done as well by their wives, or they did not come back at all. And so it was that women kept their foot in the doorway thrust upon them, suddenly satisfied by a sense of independence previously denied them. And both couples were expected to work, and then both couples were expected to share the housework – it became a criteria for choosing a mate, unless you were the few filthy rich who could hire help.

And somehow, for some inexplicable reason, the world became so that it became necessary for both husband and wife to work in many families, at least in countries that had embraced capitalism with their heart and soul. For life was becoming more extravagant – it was expected that life should be so lived, with the advertisements becoming much more skilled at coming at us sideways, entrapping our hearts and our purse-strings so that we stopped thinking, we stopped looking at each other, we stopped being us so long as the increasing baubles in our lives kept us feeling the sense of well being that more than a century ago was denied all of us except the nobility. Now we have it. Commercialism. And we can’t go back, at least consciously, for our eyes our glued to the TV set and our hands to our bags of chips. We don’t have time to think being so exhausted at work, feeding the huge engine of material need that pulses through our society so that our hearts can keep pounding. That’s what they tell us, anyway. Toeing the party line, being a consumer, it is an all consuming activity that requires we consume ourselves before being allowed to consume other. Ask the telemarketer, the gussied up woman with the quietly desperate eyes pushing makeup at her brand name cosmetics counter, satisfying herself on the freebies the company offers her, the way a synthetic silk nightgown swims through her fingers as her hard earned money swims out again to offer her the image of the beautiful woman she sees all day in her work on billboards, the image of the perfect woman who can really enjoy her life. If I’m beautiful I will be happy. Or so they tell us.

And strangely, we don’t realize that we’re being forced to work now, both of us. We don’t realize that we’re the new domestic help. And we’re accepting of this, coming home to sit in front of televisions blaring music from people in mansions. Dreaming of their life, not realizing that it is us who put them there.

I’ve wondered sometimes, as I’m doing the laundry, and feeling totally bored by the process, whether it wouldn’t be nice to have some help. I imagine a world where this is possible, and I look at myself. I realize that I’d either not have to touch a dish cloth, ever, be allowed to wallow in my books, or I’d be always the one with the mop, the hanger, the scrub, with my hair tied out of my eyes and forehead picking off clothes my inconsiderate bosses leave lying around on the floor. There would only be two options, and I shudder. If I do not want these extreme alternatives for myself, would I want it for others?

China’s skewed gender ratio hitting the roof

27 Aug

I wonder how the ancient Chinese society coped with this problem. To be sure, their marriageable male population must have been higher than their female population. For one: Female infant mortality rates must have been higher than male infant mortality rates because of how little valued girl babies were. (In Chinese sayings, if you give birth to a boy child it’s called a ‘jade birth’, if you give birth to a girl child it’s called a ‘tile birth’, as in the tiles of your roof.) For another, the habit of richer men having multiple wives/ concubines must have come at the price of other males being deprived of a wife.

From ancient Chinese stories featuring poor bachelors, however, it did seem that the general male generation during that time seemed resigned to the fact. When a pretty girl (in these stories for some reason the girl is always pretty) throws herself at a poor man (which doesn’t happen that often, actually. That’s why they become legends), he is surprised and delighted for multiple reasons. One of the reasons, which seem like a credible reaction for ancient Chinese men, is because they thought they would never be able to get married. They would say that they couldn’t afford to pay for a middle-woman to arrange a marriage, not to say keep themselves fed. (Of course, in these stories, the pretty girl usually comes with a sort of charm that makes them eventually rich.) Men during that time were more resigned to their status than otherwise, partially due to the Buddhist principles of Karma/fate during that time.

However, unrest from being in a state of hopeless bachelorhood is bound to be more problematic in present day China. There are several reasons for this:

1. Under a free market and government encouraged atheism, people are less likely to settle for fate.

2. The fact that families more able to afford more than one child are more likely to have girls might exacerbate the situation, because girls would then be more likely to come from well-to-do families. Thus men from impoverished families would find it more difficult to find brides, due to the fact that women still tend to like to marry above their status.

3. Chinese women still marry outside their country, even though their country needs them. They contract their marriage to Taiwanese bachelors (who certainly aren’t doing it because there are too few marriageable Taiwanese women*) and like to marry foreigners. It is a known fact that the amount of Chinese men marrying western women is lower than the amount of Chinese women marrying western men. This may be eventually overhauled, however, because of the real need in China for brides.

4. Though there are precedents in certain cultures of men sharing a bride. (In Tibet, for example, brothers can share a wife because it’s expensive to marry a woman into a family), it’s not going to happen anytime soon in China. Chinese culture’s ingrained masochist values find the very idea humiliating. Instead, it’s an honor for a man to have mistresses, during which multiple women would seemingly remain faithful to one man. And women seem to agree to this culture as long as the man in question can afford them. This is why prostitution is not going away in China, it’s a convoluted form of sharing women due to lack of women without the indignity of making it official.

A China with more males than females is going to be more aggressive than it would have been under the current trend of development. A nation made up of a majority of men in power is more likely to spell war. Women in top positions aren’t going to ameliorate the general atmosphere either because women, when faced with competition with males, tend to act more aggressively to secure their positions. The Chinese have been relatively docile for various reasons:

A. It is in Chinese culture to only care about affairs that are pertinent to themselves. That’s why even though China has become a superpower it hasn’t expressed so much interest in involvement concerning the Iraq war.

B. Chinese people don’t usually like war because it disrupts prosperity. China also has thousands of years of written history concerning war so such a concept has already lost its glorifying appeal.

With the growing gender gap, however, this docility might not last. This is going to be detrimental to the world, and it does not bode well for cross-strait relationships betwixt China and Taiwan.

relevant article:

Beijing drafts tougher laws on abortion of girls: