Thursday, June 30, 2005

Men and women in Taiwan

I got a wonderfully warm letter in my email box the other day that compels me write on something I have long wanted to discuss....the writer said:

I agree entirely about the male - female relationship problems. The Taiwanese just study too hard throughout their youth that they never ever get to know about the opposite sex and developing mature relationships. Holding hands and adolescent fumbling sex is about as romantic as it gets...according to......

In simple terms, the women feel that many men are inept as lovers, as companions and husbands. The men....well I think they are really looking for a mother, someone to feed them, clothe them and care for their basic needs. After all, Taiwanese mothers seem to pander to every son's whim to almost a sickening extreme, even when they are adults.

Bruce Malina has written extensively on honor-shame cultures in the Mediterranean context. In The Social World of Jesus and the Gospels Malina describes how in such cultures, child raising is carried on mainly by the women. Above all, males are raised by women., their mothers. Fathers remain distant.

Because fathers are distant, there is no one to teach the boy what it means to be a man, and how to treat women. The result is males who are essentially deeply insecure about their own sexuality, and who to compensate develop a hypermasculinity that manifests itself in two ways, as chivalry on one hand, and contempt and control on the other.

In Taiwan the local men grow up in homes where the father is likely cheating on the mother and where marital relationships are controlling, distrustful, and distant by our standards. One thing I have seen in Taiwanese marriages is the struggle for control that goes on constantly. Because neither party really trusts the other, they maintain separate bank accounts and separate properties...separate lives. I think it is sad. Marriage can be a joy-filled oneness, done right, a fortress of mutual support, a universe of love built for two. And few Taiwanese ever seem to know that.

My reading of Taiwanese males is that their behavior reflects are role that has solved its problem of the threat of female power by positing male control as the answer: the constant flow of controlling behavior, controlling remarks, and controlling situations, especially criticism, one of the major artifices of control. Another is to reduce women's power in whatever form it might take. Many of us in Taiwan have remarked on how local men dislike females with muscles and brains. My college females come dressed in pink constantly, and the the males in my classes have said that they prefer girls dressed in pink to girls dressed in black. Of course, any femme who wears pink in my class gets an earful. LOL! The final riposte to the rise of women is to not marry them; local males have an advantage not found in our culture -- it was culturally acceptable for them to marry women from other countries rather than upgrade their attitudes. Men in the US did not have that option, and so were forced to change if they wanted mates.

Things are slowly changing here, though. I have great hopes for the future, a couple of generations from now. But for now......there is a whole galaxy of attractive, single, intelligent, employed females in the 25-35 range who are looking for partners. Foreign men, are you listening?

UPDATE: (10/18/05) The Peking Duck recently blogged on this topic. Lots of good comments there.

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14 comments:

The Spaceman said...

I learned this lesson a while ago and i have been blessed ever since.

Some Taiwanese men are really missing the boat.

Red A said...

"In Taiwan the local men grow up in homes where the father is likely cheating on the mother."

A very broad generalization. And to be fair, women also cheat on me here as well. Just like in any other country.

"Because neither party really trusts the other, they maintain separate bank accounts and separate properties...separate lives."

Again, WTF? It's traditional for women to control the money here (in terms of budgeting, etc.) Now, if they want separate accounts, that's a great idea, since joint accounts will all go to the husband in divorce in Taiwan along with the kids.

Besides, we really need to drop all that baggage of Judeo-Christian marriage, no?

Red A said...

Oh, yes, and about the mail order brides, perhaps you are not aware of some of the high standards local women demand. The following example comes from my wife. The rather average single woman at her bank expected this:

House
Car
Servant

and the man should be as handsome as a Korean soap opera star.

Tina said, "and what exactly are you bringing to the table?"

menghsindy said...

i do hope you're being facetious when you're asking if foreign men are listening... it's an irrelevant question when it's becoming increasingly more acceptable to just NOT marry at all. women have a pretty clear idea of what they stand to LOSE from marriage, and the stakes are just not worth it!

so it's not just taiwanese men, but the government that is taking notice. you can bet that the ministry of education, for one, is concerned about the *cultural* legacy, even if they don't care about a racially homogenous society (which i don't, either), when the next generation of taiwanese youths are increasingly being brought up by foreign spouses, some of whom are barely
literate in chinese. there are already annual quotas on the number of foreign brides allowed from indonesia, vietnam, the philippines, etc., and even that can be further limited by daily allotted interviews, revamped marriage licensing protocol, etc.

which is all to say that it's not that easy to import a bride when the local pickin's ain't up to snuff, and that there is a growing backlash against this 'culturally accepted' practice of importing foreign brides. you're right that things are slowly changing, though... it's something that i'd like to know more about. i'm just frustrated that taiwanese men are still able to evade the bulk of responsibility in this debate. when a hostess bar is raided, it's the half-naked women who become the media spectacle, not their patrons. when alarming statistics on spousal abuse come to light, legislators need to make sure that women AND men alike receive proper counseling. if the concern is that children aren't getting a 'proper' education at home, the answer may not be to limit the number of foreign brides, but to look at why the taiwanese men are systematically absent from domestic life. anyway, i prefer your line of questioning -- where are the MEN to be found in this parenting debate?

... and by the way, i've never seen more pink dress shirts for sale in men's clothing stores than i have in Taiwan. ;)

Michael Turton said...

"In Taiwan the local men grow up in homes where the father is likely cheating on the mother."

A very broad generalization. And to be fair, women also cheat on me here as well. Just like in any other country.


Oh, quite true. But I was really talking about fathers as role models. It's difficult to broach the subject without broad generalizations, of course. I'd love to see some stats, for sure...

"Because neither party really trusts the other, they maintain separate bank accounts and separate properties...separate lives."

Again, WTF? It's traditional for women to control the money here (in terms of budgeting, etc.) Now, if they want separate accounts, that's a great idea, since joint accounts will all go to the husband in divorce in Taiwan along with the kids.


Actually, a common stance is that the wife gets some money for her household use, but the husband retains income which he does not inform the wife of. And vice versa.

Besides, we really need to drop all that baggage of Judeo-Christian marriage, no?

Where did this come from and what does it have to do with anything?

Oh, yes, and about the mail order brides, perhaps you are not aware of some of the high standards local women demand. The following example comes from my wife. The rather average single woman at her bank expected this:

House
Car
Servant


Yes. I talked about that on my website. The result is long long courtship. Some of my students have dated the same guy for 12 years.

and the man should be as handsome as a Korean soap opera star.

That alone is fascinating. it's incredible how popular Korea is getting in Asia.

Tina said, "and what exactly are you bringing to the table?"

ROFL. So you told her "Dashing good looks, and great work potential" right? I'll bet your wife is quite satisfied.

Michael

Michael Turton said...

i do hope you're being facetious when you're asking if foreign men are listening... it's an irrelevant question when it's becoming increasingly more acceptable to just NOT marry at all. women have a pretty clear idea of what they stand to LOSE from marriage, and the stakes are just not worth it!

Yeah, there's a huge trend. I've seen numbers of between 20-30% of females in the marriageble age bracket are not getting married. Same thing is happening in Japan. Lots of people are living together, though, and not admitting it to anyone.

when the next generation of taiwanese youths are increasingly being brought up by foreign spouses, some of whom are barely literate in chinese.

Yeah, I've been following all this with great interest. Definitely some blogging on this.

there are already annual quotas on the number of foreign brides allowed from indonesia, vietnam, the philippines, etc., and even that can be further limited by daily allotted interviews, revamped marriage licensing protocol, etc.

The government also has classes for foreign brides (but not for us Big Nose hubbies, it would seem). The police did come by to check on us but it was purely a formality.

brides. you're right that things are slowly changing, though... it's something that i'd like to know more about.

Me too. That's one reason I posted this.

i'm just frustrated that taiwanese men are still able to evade the bulk of responsibility in this debate. when a hostess bar is raided, it's the half-naked women who become the media spectacle, not their patrons. when alarming statistics on spousal abuse come to light, legislators need to make sure that women AND men alike receive proper counseling. if the concern is that children aren't getting a 'proper' education at home, the answer may not be to limit the number of foreign brides, but to look at why the taiwanese men are systematically absent from domestic life.

That last is a very potent question.

anyway, i prefer your line of questioning -- where are the MEN to be found in this parenting debate?

Right on!

... and by the way, i've never seen more pink dress shirts for sale in men's clothing stores than i have in Taiwan. ;)

Hey, it's OK for men to reduce their power. :) It's just not OK in my book for women to make themselves infantile in the quest for men.

Anonymous said...

Is excessive mothering and coddling a cause of Taiwanese males' negligence of their women?

It seems like a century ago 4 cats owned me. Necessarily over the years I read a lot about the little sods, their psychology and how well they train us.
One thing that comes to mind is that the only reason that we are able to domesticate cats is that we keep them as perpetual kittens. That is, we never allow them to grow up naturally and become the raging feral monsters you see in the wild.
In practice for example, we humans, like the mother cat supply food, so the kitten never learns the real aggressive instinct to hunt to kill to eat. Sure they play at it and snack on the wildlife but it is not a way of life for them.Thats entertainment.
Am I wrong in thinking that we adults have taken away a lot of the life skills from children, never allowing them to assume responsibility for doing much for the family, for society? Have we affluent people taken away from them the important "rites of passage" educating them to take their adult place in society?
It is significant that the older son in larger families assumes many responsibilities and seems to be so much more mature and capable than the younger siblings. The youngest one is generally renowned for being "spoilt" and very dependent...a "mummy's boy"
We have a whole generation of young men now who are consumers of mass media, who contribute little to their families, who characteristically "spit the dummy" when things get too hard. Who exhibit uncontrollable behaviour when thwarted..."road rage" and general violence. I do not see much evidence that these people consider their actions and thought processes to be wrong.
Again...stealing cars. "I want a car. I'll knock one off." What happened to the values intrinsic to the family and society about honesty, hard work and saving?
Of course it is mostly about inadequate parenting, and an inability to control, or even knowing how to control the family.
The situation is very poor in the urbanised western world, with working parents and blatant consumerism and little quality family time. The absence of even religious mores serves to worsen the situation.
In Taiwan however, I observe the almost enforced helplessness of the often single male child. It seems a cultural and self perpetuating situation where the mother does everything for the boy, even in matters of personal hygiene.
How many times must the mother stop what she is doing and run and feed the teenage boy...at his whim? How many times must she pick up the dropped clothes, wash the ears, comb the hair?
Then there is the demand to be driven...here...there...anywhere. And mother does it. Mother is perpetuating the child. "He was such an angel when he was little." (and now you have a spoilt little brat)Mother, maybe because of the absence of affection etc, grieves and tries to prevent the growihg up of her child.
Where is father?
Father is doing what the other little boys do...play on the computer, drink at the bars, playing with the girls, anything but assume adult male responsibility for teaching by example, the boy child. Because, he the father never grew up properly either!
Sure dad can hold down a job...but analyse the social behaviour of his workmates in the boys club. Have they failed to grow up too?
They expect their surrogate mothers to have the dinner ready and the housework completed even after they have completed a days work too. And isn't pregnancy such a damned nuisance?
Traditionally maleness implies strength, assertiveness, aggression, confidence, resourcefulness and a whole heap of other traits, more or less the complement of femininity. It is natural. Why is it then that it is often necessary to train men to become these things to achieve goals...in business, in the armed services etc...? Shouldn't they have learned from their parents?
In contrast the girls are expected to assume the role of the little mother from a very early age...cooking, and helping mom with domestic chores...and serving pop!
In Oz, female university graduates are about 70%. The reasons for the males not achieving are mostly due to peer pressure to....socialise, to play, to impress with material things.
What is the situation in Taiwan Michael? What ratio of male / female in your english classes?
What ratio of graduates are males?

regards, Geoff C

Mark said...

This is a really interesting topic. I haven't looked at it with "view from Taiwan" before. One thing that is interesting to me is this:

In the US men who marry foreign women tend to make more money than average and are much more likely than average to have graduated from college. In Taiwan and Japan, on the other hand, men who marry foreign women tend to be from the lower rungs of society in terms of money and education.

I wonder why that is...

BTW, I find the masses of pink shirt-wearing men disturbing, too.

Anonymous said...

Another very interesting post and amazing follow-up comments as well. Geoff C, really a good wrap up of the situation. Menghsindy the comment about the women getting exposed in the hostess bar was right on.

Maybe this is unrelated and way off the mark, but I wonder over the past 3-4 years how the TV program sex and the city has affected the 25-30 year olds. I think it openned up a lot of women's eyes to modern relationships.

Something else i notice is the way young women here still have a hi-ker-ai love affair with stuff animals and hello kitties. Also the baby talk way of speaking is unusual to their boyfriends is very wierd.

>Michael, you should send your article to the TT for publishing.
marc/taipei

Anonymous said...

oops sorry. just notice the date on the page is 2005. Now it is 2006. I thought i was on your homepage.

taipeimarc

Angel said...

it is refreshing to hear an observation of the taiwanese male-female social dynamics from an american perspective. i see multiple factors contributing to this problem, amongst them history, religion, and now, happily enough, the attempt to assimilate into western civilization.

you may be surprised to hear that polygamous marriages have become taboo only within the last half century or so. rather, it appears the widely accepted compulsions have manifested themselves into almost a culture of extramarital affairs. fathers do not take an active role in setting good examples because they find little or no fault in their own attitudes. we can all thank the emperors of yore for this contribution to female (in)equality.

further exacerbating the problem is the popular religion in taiwan which believes that men carry the family name so only they honor the family ancestors. only the sons of the family can "care for" the ghost of the ancestors. thus, mothers dote, female siblings kowtow, and ultimately the same expectations are carried over into marriages.

for a society that now presents a facade of equality, i still see strong undercurrents that span across historical, ethical, and theological realms. the desire to westernize creates a conflicting story as equality is still not assimilated into the culture; thus the "controlling, distrustful, and distant" relationship dynamics you observe. taiwanese males expect full control and yet must relinquish it; taiwanese females expect no control yet must gain it. and the tug-o-war ensues as each conforms to modern social expectations.

the dirt roads are now paved in asphalt, the lanes are delineated by double yellows and dashed whites - yet the vehicle still drives down the middle of the road...

i would be very much interested in your observations and comments on what i consider the regression of young taiwanese females back to an almost infantile, helpless state as they realign themselves into the traditional male-dominated relationship dynamics. and i really hate the color pink. ;)

Michael Turton said...

Comments on a post from two years ago...!

...I don't talk much about the war of the sexes, because it pisses people off. It's unlikely you'll see this topic in the future.

Michael

angel said...

i am indeed sorry to hear that... i always did wonder how the asian male-female dynamics was perceived from an american perspective. mired in my own asian-american female identity crisis (apparently asian american females have the highest suicide rate in the u.s... nice...), its good to hear from an objective outsider.

very much appreciated your analysis and your blog is quickly becoming one of my favorites! :)

kamagra said...

I disagree with their culture in raising their son's by their mother especially. Children cannot learn their independence at the same time their self esteem is too low.