Mon, Mar 26, 2012 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL : The myth of ‘leftover’ women

Although feminists and gender equality advocates have made considerable headway in Taiwan over the years, recent comments by a female politician that the government should provide unmarried women with subsidies are a sharp reminder that the fight for gender equality is far from over.

During a question-and-answer session at a meeting of the legislature’s Internal Administration Committee last week, People First Party Legislator Chang Show-foong (張曉風), a noted female novelist, suggested that the government should provide aid to women “who should have married, but have not,” and that Taiwanese men should marry local women rather than foreigners.

“There are many excellent women who should have married, but have not; the more Taiwanese men marry foreign women, the less opportunities Taiwanese women have for marriage,” she told the committee. “Taiwanese women have been abandoned by Taiwanese men and become so-called ‘leftover women’ because of this phenomenon, which could lead to a great loss for the nation.”

As if describing unmarried women in Taiwan as “leftover women” was not sexually discriminatory enough, she went on to attack immigrant spouses and espouse some half-baked biological “theory” to discourage interracial marriage.

“It is biologically more normal for people to choose their spouse within the country, and I do not know what has happened to the male creatures in this country that they need to look abroad for female creatures to marry. Maybe it is because foreign brides are easier to control and do not make a sound when they are beaten,” she said.

As a highly educated woman and a female politician, Chang is expected to understand the long-term battle that has been fought for women’s rights in this country, one important element of which is freedom of choice in marriage. Unfortunately, her comments served only to deepen the gender stereotype that all women desperately want to get married.

In modern Taiwan, where the social and economic status of women is constantly improving, marriage has become a choice, not a necessity for women, and many have chosen not to marry because they want to stay single, not because they have been abandoned by men, as Chang suggested.

In addition, by conflating what she called the “leftover women” phenomenon with the increasing number of immigrant brides, Chang confused cause and effect.

Women’s empowerment and gender equality awareness have allowed women to weigh their options more carefully and prompted men who have had trouble finding spouses at home to turn to foreign brides.

Statistics from the Ministry of the Interior show that there were 2.7 million single men and 2.1 million single women aged 20 to 49 last year.

In 2010, 50.9 percent of women aged 20 to 49 were married, compared with 44.3 percent of men, the ministry’s figures showed.

The official figures lay bare the empirical fallacy upon which Chang based her argument about modern marriage in Taiwan. Moreover, even if immigrant spouses were to disappear tomorrow, that would not mean unmarried women in Taiwan would necessarily choose to marry those “leftover men.”

When faced with such an attempt to drag women back into traditional marriage and blame foreign spouses for taking their place in the domestic marriage market, Taiwanese women need to realize that their rights in the 21st century are not quite as secure as they assumed, and that the road to women’s emancipation and gender equality remains littered with obstacles.

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