Thu, Apr 15, 2010 - Page 8 News List

‘Saving’ women from themselves

By Chen Yi-Chien 陳宜倩

“I’ll be 30 soon, guess I’ll have to find another job.”

There was an old employment regulation at Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall in Taipei City requiring female staff to quit their job when they either fell pregnant, got married or turned 30.

“Ladies from good families do not go out at night,” a service announcement posted in Taoyuan Railway Station in 1995 claimed.

“It’s 11:45pm, I’d better get back to the dorm.”

“We’ll be at the front gate soon, I’d best change back into my long pants.”

The woman’s dormitory of Fujen Catholic University operates an 11:45pm curfew and Taipei First Girls’ High School forbids students from wearing shorts as they are actually passing through the front gate of the school.

“It’s almost 9pm, I’d better slam back this drink and get back to the barracks!”

The Ministry of National Defense (MND) recently announced a rule in which enlisted women and female officers eating off-premises have to cease drinking alcohol at 9pm and return to barracks.

Every day in Taiwan, there are girls and women following prescribed narratives of what they should be doing, what to wear and where they should be, depending on their status and age. It doesn’t matter whether they are high school or university students; enlisted women or officers in the armed forces; civil servants or laborers.

On the one hand, women are assuming various civic roles and sharing various civic responsibilities in society, yet on the other they are not allowed to enjoy complete freedom. Women’s freedoms are curtailed to one degree or another, in how they go about their work, how they present themselves, how they spend their leisure time, or what they wear — at times they have to wear a skirt and other times they can’t show their knees or their legs.

One may ask: “What for?”

For their own protection, of course.

The Chinese-language China Times reported recently that the armed forces are to tighten up gender-based rules in their bases, “strictly forbidding [male] personnel from inviting women colleagues off premises for dinner at night,” with the idea of establishing gender equality regulations. Should enlisted women or female officers want to have dinner outside the confines of the base in the future, they must be back by 9pm, or at least not be on the restaurant premises at that time. Again, this is “for their own good.”

Any university student taking an introductory course in Gender and Law Studies would spot the holes in the assumptions and logic behind this thinking, as well as the way in which it is to be handled. If, they would ask, you are worried about men under the influence of alcohol sexually assaulting women, why not require the inebriated men to return to base early and sleep it off?

This brings to mind the Craig vs Boren case of 1976 in the US. Back then, it was forbidden under Oklahoma state law to sell “non-intoxicating” beer with an alcohol content of 3.2 percent to males under 21, although it was OK for women over 18 to buy it.

The rationale behind this law, and the different gender-based treatment, was that men and women had different attitudes to drinking and were influenced by alcohol in different ways.

This was, however, declared unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court on the grounds that the statistics the state relied on were insufficient to show a substantial relationship between the statute and traffic safety, and that a statute denying the sale of beer to individuals of the same age based on their biological sex violated the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause in the US Constitution.

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