Thu, Dec 29, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Words speak louder than gender

By Hsu Yu-fang 許又方

Entertainer Pai Ping-ping (白冰冰) let her tongue get the better of her in her address on Dec. 18 at a campaign rally for President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who is seeking re-election, when she apparently implied a causal relationship between Thailand electing a woman prime minister and the disastrous flooding it suffered soon after. It seemed her remark was clearly intended to suggest that voters had better not cast their ballots for Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), otherwise Taiwan could be struck by some kind of disaster.

It was a bizarre thing to say and, not surprisingly, Pai has drawn a lot of flak for her comments. Even Ma, in whose support she was speaking, has called her remarks inappropriate.

In another recent incident, a well-known media pundit reported comments he had heard from people in the south of Taiwan about the allegations that Ma’s Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has been making about Tsai’s involvement with TaiMed Biologics, formerly known as Yu Chang. The southerners said that the KMT was using its state powers to implicate Tsai in the Yu Chang affair and that this was clearly a case of “bullying our Taiwanese women.”

Meanwhile, some women’s groups have united to form the “I Want a Female President Alliance,” with the aim of getting people to respect and pay more attention to women.

People all tend to focus on Tsai’s gender.

If I were in Tsai’s place, I definitely would not be happy to see voters concentrating on my gender, while ignoring my abilities. This single-minded perception of Tsai implies a “special attitude” toward women, not what one would expect from people with a mature grasp of democracy. Tsai would probably like to tell everyone: “Please, don’t make a big thing of my gender. Tsai Ing-wen is just Tsai Ing-wen, OK?”

Pai suggested that women are potential bringers of disaster. The sympathy that people from the south and civic groups have expressed for Tsai is based on the preconceived idea that women are the weaker sex and are therefore deserving of overbaked empathy and special treatment.

Both these views about women reflect traditional attitudes that value men and boys more highly than women and girls.

When this kind of attitude is applied to a presidential candidate, it can lead people to exaggerating a woman’s achievements. For instance, people say things like: “It’s really impressive that a woman could reach such a high position.” It can also lead people to hold a woman candidate in contempt and ignore her abilities. Pai’s remark is a typical example of the latter.

The result could be that Tsai wins votes because people sympathize with her as a “disadvantaged” candidate. Equally, if people get the idea that Tsai would attract disasters, she could lose votes because of silly prejudices.

If we judge a candidate on appearances only, how can we elect a leader who is really capable of taking the nation forward? To take gender as the basis for deciding whether or not a candidate is suitable as head of state is no less ridiculous than judging whether people are good or bad according to whether they are considered beautiful or ugly. It seems our society has still not shaken off the shackles of this kind of superficial mindset or escaped from traditional attitudes that underestimate women — at least not in our collective subconscious.

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