Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Western Male Fantasies about Taiwanese Females

A female politician's campaign advertizement in Linkou.

My friend Chaon passed around this link to a new blog on relationships between locals and foreigners. They are providing the content in both English and Chinese.

One beef I have with discussions of western males and Taiwanese femmes is the common claim that western men: “"have stereotypes of exotic Asian women. Kohl-eyed, sensual, and trained in the arts of pleasing a man" as one commenter put it there. That claim is itself, a kind of ethnic stereotype. Sadly, it often acts as a starting point for the discussion.

Rather than start there, let's see what fantasy "western" men might be holding about Taiwanese females.

Geert Hofstede is an organizational sociologist who has come up with a set of measurements of cultural characteristics that are commonly used in business research. Though heavily western-centric and incapable of capturing much variation, they are useful because they assess everything from a common point of view.

Hofstede defines five dimensions of cultural variation. For our purposes, we are looking at one, masculinity. Here are two descriptions from his website, in this case about the US:
The next highest Hofstede Dimension is Masculinity (MAS) with a ranking of 62, compared with a world average of 50. This indicates the country experiences a higher degree of gender differentiation of roles. The male dominates a significant portion of the society and power structure. This situation generates a female population that becomes more assertive and competitive, with women shifting toward the male role model and away from their female role.

Masculinity (MAS) versus its opposite, femininity, refers to the distribution of roles between the genders which is another fundamental issue for any society to which a range of solutions are found. The IBM studies revealed that (a) women's values differ less among societies than men's values; (b) men's values from one country to another contain a dimension from very assertive and competitive and maximally different from women's values on the one side, to modest and caring and similar to women's values on the other. The assertive pole has been called 'masculine' and the modest, caring pole 'feminine'. The women in feminine countries have the same modest, caring values as the men; in the masculine countries they are somewhat assertive and competitive, but not as much as the men, so that these countries show a gap between men's values and women's values.
Masculinity, as Hofstede defines it, is about gender roles. A higher masculine score indicates a nation where roles are more strongly gendered and more "traditional". Here is the chart for Taiwan, where masculinity (MAS) is the center pyramid:

Now take a look at the same chart for the US:

Yes, that's right. Americans (and also Canadians, French, Aussies, and many other westerners) come from cultures where social roles are more strongly gendered than in Taiwan. A moment's reflection will show the paradox of Taiwan's more patriarchal society which nevertheless has more women in positions of power than the US, at least in my experience, and where women can behave in more stereotypically feminine ways without losing that power -- a culture where "cute" does not necessarily conflict with "powerful." In other words, the role of "power" here is not as strongly characterized by behaviors defined as "male" as it is in the US and many other "western cultures."

Note that this does not mean that these societies are less "equal" but rather, shows how individuals, especially males, might regard social roles like "male" and social actions like "marriage" when they arrive in Taiwan.

What do these more masculine-stereotyped foreigners who come here meet in the way of Taiwanese femmes? Something out of their past. In Taiwan, they meet a lot of girls who come from families "the way it used to be" -- Dad works and Mom is a housewife, a situation almost vanished from the US, where the middle class has been in long-term decline since the Reagan years. This situation they interpret in terms of their own cultural expectations about gender: if I marry this woman I can replicate the kind of household my grandparents or hollywood movies or my parents or my culture expects me to replicate. The real and probably 90% unconscious fantasy of "western men" is a lot closer to Leave it to Beaver than Lily Thai.

Thus, I would suggest that the real cultural conflict between Americans and many other westerners and Taiwanese women is not between the reality of a living breathing human and the houri fantasy, but the way western men peer through their gender expectations at Taiwanese cute and miss Taiwanese power. Conflicts in relationships being mostly power struggles.......
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Anonymous said...

Very good analysis. Does that also explain why western men consider Taiwanese men to be effeminate?

I also think too much "credit/blame" goes to men exoticizing/objectifying asian women when asian women do the same to western men for a variety of reasons for what a white male represents in Taiwanese culture. A white man is a paradox between representing mobility, power and a woman's presumed "value" (She is so great that a western man would like her)... and also a low class, scuzzy bum who is unfilial or demonstrative of a woman's loose morals. If she is with a white man she must be having premarital sex. Gasp! A good Taiwanese couple would NEVER...!

Then there is the whole "Russian Whore" fantasy Asian men hold for western women and "taming the white horse".

Thomas said...

The other side of this is, of course, Western stereotypes of men from Taiwan and many other Asian countries.

Local men are often seen as effete, ineffective, and less capable at providing the things that women need. In fact, I guess you could break the whole thing down to a belief that the Westerner knows how to be the better provider. Interestingly enough, I have met many white women who believe this as well.

Such stereotypes exist because the people who hold them are incapable of considering that different societies have different "needs".

In fact, local men may be better providers than Western men by virtue of knowing the local culture. Yet there are still many local women who have their own stereotypes of foreign men. Western men successfully bag chicks because there are indeed June Cleaver wannabes out there.

But isn't this topic old-hat by now?

Anonymous said...

But it's true--white guys really do have exotic fantasies about Asian woman. I mean, honestly, it's one of the big reasons that I'm in Taiwan, and most other English teachers will say the same thing.

I mean, seriously. You were planning to come halfway around the world and get laid with a white girl? ;P

Michael Turton said...

Of course the kohl-eyed girl fantasy exists. I'm just denying that it is (1) the central misunderstanding in the western male/taiwan female dyad and (2) a major shaper of western behavior and interpretation of taiwanese females.

Anonymous said...

All I can say is that of all the places in Asia, Taiwan with its prude "moral values" is the last place I would consider to come to "just to have fun".

Karl said...

Since it's fantasy view of Asian women that put so many of us here in the first place, then it most certainly *is* a "major shaper of western behavior and interpretation of taiwanese females". Those ideas don't just vanish from men's minds after a certain amount of time has passed (unless we're talking *married time*...).

Michael Turton said...

So, after viewing porn, you believe that there are females aplenty with tits the size of dirigibles and giving unending quantities of deep throat?

They may not vanish, but do they have any force? How many western males persist in such imaginings after they have interacted with real females here?

Karl said...

In Sweden, yeah sure.

But seriously, I'm sure you've heard the saying "Do not ascribe malice when there is an available explanation that involves stupidity." Here are Karl's corollaries: Do not assume ideology when something can be explained by economics, and do not assume economics when something can be explained by sex.

Our most basic motivations are sexual, and those sexual drives are formed and shaped by a mishmash of "thin stereotypes" and erroneous ideas. And *that* is why the stereotypes themselves are interesting.

Anonymous said...

"So, after viewing porn, you believe that there are females aplenty with tits the size of dirigibles and giving unending quantities of deep throat?"

Yes. They all live in the San Fernando Valley, though.

I think all of these cultural explanations are great (I especially like the cute, but powerful combo Michael reveals here.) I do think also that western men may feel they could get a more "traditional" family environment from a Taiwanese woman. Good luck on the submissive part though - try Japan for that? Also, isn't submissive really just "no nagging" as defined by a feminist?

But what about genetic factors? Isn't there an urge to get genetic diversity going, which actually might be suppressed by cultural factors (i.e. eeek, don't marry foreigners!) Isn't this why foreign accents are exciting, too?

Disclosure: I am unfortunately married to a Taiwanese woman who often "forgets" I am American. It sucks because she then expects Taiwanese attitude, effectiveness at reading instructions in Chinese, complete understanding of cultural situations. I don't recommend this. Better to be the exotic white barbarian who is completely unpredictable and must be fed beer at all times.

Karl said...

Speaking of porn, if I were the kind of guy who had a collection of pornographic files of various formats on my computer (a ridiculous conjecture, I know), what percentage of the subject matter do you think would be devoted to exotic Asian women?

Don said...

Labels: sex. Exactly.

Most Western guys who "date" Taiwanese women are probably just following their knobs. Who can blame them? If they start out with the idea that Taiwanese feminine cute = submissive then they're in for a rude surprise.

It works the other way too. Taiwanese girls who cross to the dark side with Western guys have rejected at a stroke much of the backward-looking femme-fearing substructure of their cultural heritage. My guess is that most are looking for a progressive relationship that gives them the autonomy they saw their mothers denied. It could be that in Western guys they see a softer, more "feminine" alternative to the stock machismo of their dad's generation -- despite the Westerner coming from a notionally more "masculine" society.

Ok. Just generalizing wildly here. Enjoyed the post, Michael, even if I couldn't follow the sociology!

Anonymous said...

Lets not forget that the "English Teacher crowd" is hardly the best/only/most representative group for the white males around here too.

Stephanie said...

@anonymous Women have been nagging all through history while been submissive, what feminist did you hear say that being submissive means not nagging?

I think it's funny that Taiwanese women AND men like to think of their women as sexually pure but Westerners tend to say otherwise.

Anonymous said...

"All I can say is that of all the places in Asia, Taiwan with its prude "moral values" is the last place I would consider to come to "just to have fun"."

Haha, WHAT? Are you kidding me? There are very little moral or religious hangups about sex here. In fact, I see the lack of "morality" to be somewhat of a detriment because I think it's harder to expect fidelity from your partner. In Taiwan, polygamy is ACCEPTED, and women of rich husbands silently condone affairs all the time. The key is money, not looks, though.

The straight white males don't know, but actually Taiwanese are exotic adventures for many of the white girls, Asian girls, and gay men here as well. It's just the structure of the whole situation: people come here purposely because they want to do things they can't do in their prudish homeland or that they wouldn't have the social standing to be able to do. On top of that, they can just get up and leave if they really f-things up.

Anonymous said...

@Anon: I am obviously not talking about how easy it is to hook up with a Barfly or to have some secret wives. Using that measure, there wouldnt be a difference towards sexual attitudes between now and (say) the 50ies in the US, which in my opinion there obviously is.

Anonymous said...

1. Whoever thinks Taiwan is a country fraught with prude moral values is missing the point in Taiwan very badly and totally failing to understand how things work here. The veneer is prude and moralistic. But its a thin veneer. It amazes me how people fail to grasp this sometimes.

2. I'm gonna sound like a cultural boor here, but when guys where tight pink polo shirts with their collars up, tease their hair in the mirror on their motoscooters, and take photos of themselves in public, at times in fields of sunflowers, yeah, they're a bit effeminate.

3. The 'English teacher subculture' absolutely is indicative of the whitey subculture here in Taiwan. Yeah, there's some engineers and people doing random other things, but by and large the English teachers and whatever baggage that entails at Carnegie's on a Friday night sadly is what most foreigners here are about.

4. I date Taiwanese girls because they're hot as all get out. I'll let science and sociologists figure the rest of it out.

5. Tits the size of dirigibles. You rule, Turton.

. said...

When I was doing the whole yellow fever dating thing in Taiwan, I found the individual/collectivist mentality difference to be of much much greater significance than masculinity/femininity perception of difference.

Much less straight forward, I thought, to fully appreciate and understand the more collectivist cultural discourse of the girls I was dating than to see through the 'cute' to the 'power'.

Wonder if age affects which misconception is more significant?

Anonymous said...

"If she is with a white man she must be having premarital sex. Gasp! A good Taiwanese couple would NEVER...!"

You guys have no clue. Absolutely no clue how much sex Taiwanese college students have. It's reflective of your racist attitudes where you value premarital sex and denigrate your competition as effeminate and impotent. Compared to the US, Taiwanese are much more free in their sexual behavior than Americans.

Anonymous said...

Americans ... are more strongly gendered than in Taiwan.

Now we know why Ma is so popular. The way he talked during the debate with Tsai was actually very girly. Especially the term he repeatedly used, "人家...", which is a term most exclusively used by young ladies showing submissive --- and very often, sexually seductive --- attitude toward a man she loves (or try to seduce).

Seeing that came from a male and a president of a country, it just gave me goosebump.

So I have no doubt that Taiwan society is getting blurry on the line of genders. Otherwise Ma most probably wouldn't have got elected.

Anonymous said...

I give up-- what is Kohl???

Thoth Harris said...

BTW, kohl is what that dark make-up that kind of deliberately makes a woman look, well, to a lot of people anyway, whorish. I think Avril Lavigne has kind of made it popular. It was even used by men (and women) in 1970s punk and 1980s New Wave.

JT said...

Taiwanese girls are great to look at, and can be fun to go on dates with, but I never found one that interested me as much as my girlfriends back home did. And now I've met and gotten quite serious with an American girl here... and TW girls kinda bore me now. Sometimes they make me wish I was still single, but that's usually when I just pass them on the streets... There's something to be said for cultural familiarity.

Stefan said...

Way late, but well:

It has been argued that people are actually naturally attracted to those who are furthest from their own genetic makeup. There is a pretty funny video by John Savage testing that theory. His expectation is he should be most attracted to Eurasian women, and he confirms that via a smell test:

So maybe the attraction to the exotic is just basic human behaviour, and the cultural component is actually merely an add-on.

Ed en Vadrouille said...

"The 'English teacher subculture' absolutely is indicative of the whitey subculture here in Taiwan. Yeah, there's some engineers and people doing random other things, but by and large the English teachers and whatever baggage that entails at Carnegie's on a Friday night sadly is what most foreigners here are about. "

Thank you for those of us who are neither teachers nor English native speakers.
Us not being you makes a HUGE difference in our relation to people here in TW. And there are lots of "us". Perhaps you cannot tell since we don't exactly hang out in the same places...

We would seriously appreciate if you guys "English teachers" could stop thinking of yourself as the "normalcy" for white people in TW.
We have a profoundly different vision of the local culture, VERY different gender relations, and frankly i would appreciate if you could keep the dysfunctional relationship issues your culture carries at home and avoid transposing these as "it's because i'm a foreigner, honey".
That would make the Foreigner-Taiwanese relationships easier and healthier, and avoid having parents going ballistic when they hear that their daughter is going out with a whitey.

Anonymous said...

If you accept Hofstede's premise of masculinity as based in social roles, you could say that your analysis makes sense. Unfortunately, I have problems with that underlying premise.

That said, we see a great deal of this over in Japan. One article coined the poetic-symbolic phrase "zero to hero" in describing the the social phenomenon of western men being so attractive to Asian females. The writer in that case, a self-described unattractive middle-aged balding British male, comes to find that in Japan he has access to more women than he had ever dreamed of. In his search for comprehensibility, he attributes this to the "cuteness" of his accent.

In fact, it is much more likely that he is chosen by females for some reason quite apart from his "cuteness," but the fantasy of desirability is stronger than all reason and attracts zeros from all over the west to Japan. In fact, if you revisit M.A.S.H. reruns, you will note that Tokyo is invariably promoted as the land of easy women, and this kind of urban mythology doubtless contributes to this perception of Japanese females by westerners.

In Japan at least, there is always a gap between what you see and reality, and most foreigners never seem to capture this ugly little fact--even those who have been roped in and signed on. Evidence of these ulterior motives on the part of Japanese females is seen in women of a certain age (around 27-28) and seen as being in danger of spinsterhood being shipped off to I-merica for a time in order to trap some unsuspecting zero. This tradition was pervasive enough to have earned itself the distinction of being named in Japanese, but I forget what the term used was.

Another factor contributing to the ability of western men to attract female attention in Japan (and hence western male's main reason for interest in coming here) is precisely the effeminate nature of the Japanese male.

So, for the zero, Japan represents release from a lifetime of rejection and resultant obsession with being able to procure sexual partners and demonstrate reproductive prowess.