Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Women, Sacrificed

The care-free days before graduation.

I took my favorite bike path yesterday and ascended the steep hill to a place where I like to get coffee and a light meal, and look out over the ridges at an altitude of 800 meters. It was hazy, so you won't get any pictures, but the restaurant's female staff gave me some time to reflect on something I see a lot of: the sacrificed daughter.

There's a lot of romantic orientalization of the Chinese family and the Chinese family firm. Susan Greenhalgh's powerful paper De-Orientalizing the Chinese Family Firm discusses how the Chinese family firm deploys the myth of "working for the family" when in fact the distribution of income is inequitable and skewed away from the females who labor at the bottom. This seems to be common throughout Taiwan -- the island's business and government institutions rely on female labor and female creativity but the ones who harvest the credit are all powerful males at the top, just another example of the way Taiwan society is organized on the mafia principle....

News reports on the phenomenon of young unmarried women in Taiwan seldom get to the heart of the matter. As I wrote before:
In many of the articles I have read the unmarried young woman is typically portrayed as a sort of Taipei Career Girl independent, with her own income. However, authors above note that the reality is more prosaic -- the epidemic of non-marriage is silent and rural, the class that doesn't appear interviewed by researchers or in the media. Foreign brides aren't filling a gap but displacing Taiwanese women at the bottom of the ladder.
There's another group of unmarried females, though, who have vanished. Vanished they are, yet I know several: the daughter sacrificed at home to take care of her parents or work in their business, growing older year by year, without marriage prospects or much of a possibility to establish an independent life, desperately yearning for escape. You see her on Saturday at gatherings with friends, but not in the evening. She has to be home, Dad is sick and needs her. She can't stay out overnight, making it difficult to find and keep a boyfriend. Or perhaps the family business closes at 9 and she works in it every night, like one daughter I know. These women, like the lower class women displaced by foreign wives, don't appear in newspaper reports full of hot, well-dressed Taipei babes in command of their incomes and their lives, but they are out there.

The cost of displays of filial piety is too high...
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Jenna Cody said...

Very good point. What I wonder is, plenty of these families must want their daughters to marry, if only because they think that a woman's greatest achievement is to find a man and have a family (horribly sexist, but the attitude persists), or they want grandchildren (although I suppose they may value grandchildren from sons more).

So by keeping them at home or at work, they're effectively barring their daughters from achieving the thing that many women (by no means all, but many, and I don't just mean Taiwanese women or Asian women, my grandmother tried to teach me that bullshit too) are taught - by their own families - is the only thing that gives women value.

Doesn't make sense. But there ya go.

I do wonder about that "growing older by the year with no prospects in sight" line, too. Yes, ageism can be a problem, but it's not like only young nubiles date! The only Taiwanese wedding I've ever been to was for two people in their late 30s, and the next one likely to come up is again between a mid-30s woman and a fortysomething man. There are pictures here and there in the media of older couples marrying. Women who want to marry don't lose all hope at age 29 (although many think they do).

StefanMuc said...

Very interesting and very sad.

Sometimes the males are sacrificed, too. I knew of an engineer who was pushed into running his parents' traditional market so they could retire. No more free evenings for him and his girlfriend and a long education wasted to run a barely profitable business which he doesn't enjoy. I wonder whether his girlfriend stuck with him, and I kinda wish she didn't, for her own sake.

Peter said...

A single Taiwanese career woman I know in her late forties has been living with her father for many years taking care of him with the help of an overseas carer. Another family member owns the house and it has been made clear to her that when he eventually dies, she will have to move out. Fortunately, she has been able to get a mortgage on a tiny apartment. Lucky her.

Michael Turton said...

Oh yeah Peter. One thing I would like to write on is the reality of property over family here. I know so many cases of leftover women simply kicked out like that. Really sad.


HHII said...

An excellent article on something that is little discussed.

I personally have known several females in this category. One was a lady with a double masters (foreign) in her 40s who was still picked up from work everyday and treated like a doormop by the boss. You could see her confidence shrink year by year. She started having what one could term delusions the last I heard of her.

Then I know some in-laws, three unmarried sisters in their 30s living at home, looking after their elderly parents. One quit work to look after them full time. They all have curfews and no boyfriends that I know of. When I meet them at family gatherings , I don't know what to say. The one who quit her job just looks sadder everytime.

Really sad to see human potential wasted like that.

There are some women who benefit from this system, from rich families who get apartments and foreign education and cars and presents from the boyfriends and husbands as long as they tow the line or produce a (male) heir ..but they are the minority.

My own MIL was raised by a neighbouring family, her twin stayed in the original household. She has some issues but is remarkably kind and generous given the bad treatment she's had, primarily for being a female, all her life. The pressure to bear a male son was intense.

And we all know the figures..there are 100,000s of disappeared women in Taiwan, aborted before they were born.

Also recently I've visited some factories, invariably it's women toiling away in a 'tie pi wu' inside for minimum wage and no pensions. One boss introduced his friend by saying he was 'raised by women' (the female workers in his factory). That sure was the truth.

Taiwan- the land of wasted potential

Michael Turton said...

Thanks, HHII. So true.


Formosa Coweater said...

Some great comments. It seems I've met all the people mentioned... yet I'd venture to say it is very similar in many parts of East Asia and Southeast Asia.

Thailand and Japan, among others, come to mind as once a woman reaches 30 or so in these countries and she's not married, there are still so many negative societal stereotypes. And if she is highly educated... what a tragic waste all around.

On the other hand, I'll never forget when a visiting South Korean company rep at a Hsinchu networking company made this observation: "I've never seen so many female engineers. We don't have any at my company."

That comment always made me wonder how long countries like South Korea and Japan can systematically deny such opportunities to women when neighborhood competitors like Taiwan are so much more progressive and practical on such issues?