It is one of the wealthiest countries in the world with a globalized economy driven by advanced technology. It has an effective democracy and relatively prosperous citizens. Its people are well-dressed, well-fed, materialistic and socially aspiring. Yet this country’s politicians are concerned that the very fabric of society is under threat, while religious leaders declare that “society needs to work on rebuilding family values.”
Declining birthrate, declining marriage rate, rising divorce rate. Sound familiar? It should — but this not Taiwan now, it is the UK in the 1990s. The headline says it all: “One couple divorces every 10 minutes in Taiwan.”
As in the UK and every other developed country over the past two decades, Taiwanese politicians and religious leaders compete for the most effective soundbite to ratchet up the ensuing moral panic.
However, it is too late for panicking and political posturing, because Taiwan — like the UK and other developed countries — is now firmly and irrevocably a post-marriage society.
Every time a new department store opens, the birthrate drops a little more; with each new intake of female university graduates, the marriage rate goes down; every time a woman steps up the corporate ladder, she steps away from marriage and the notion of “till death us do part.”
We are now living through one of the most profound and far-reaching social transformations ever. The 21st century has only just begun, but already we can see that women are changing dramatically, as is our understanding of “long-term relationships.” Right now, a long-term relationship is one that has been going for 10 years.
Marriage used to be driven by women’s economic and social necessity. Today it is driven by love. When the love ends, so does the marriage. Around the world, women are the ones signaling the end of marriage, not men.
Much as they might wish to, politicians and religious leaders cannot hold back this social tsunami. It is driven by forces outside theirs and anyone else’s control: post-industrialization, globalization, the information society, massification of higher education, and, not least, post-modern femininity.
Post-modern femininity is apparent across Taiwan. It is not just in the culture, dress codes and social aspirations of the younger generation of Taiwanese women, it is in their mindset. Post-modern women still yearn for romantic love, they just do not want to give up their independence in order to get it. They are very willing to be in an equal relationship with a man, but not willing to succumb their identity or career to his.
Increasingly, they are earning more than him anyway. They still desire men, but not men who are emotionally dysfunctional. The post-modern woman is not ashamed of her sexuality — she enjoys it. If the right man comes along then fine, but if not, then she will be serially monogamous because it suits her.
Fundamentally, post-marriage society is one where women put themselves first, not their man or their relationship. They are now living the sort of lives that men have done for centuries. Who can blame them? Women have changed. Men now need to as well.
Do not yearn for the age of traditional gender values, where men went to work and women stayed home and had babies. Do not believe the myth of marriages based on happy-ever-after romantic love, because it was only ever a myth. Rather than fear the post-marriage society, we should embrace it and adapt to it. We should welcome the post-modern woman because Taiwan, like every other nation around the world, needs her.