Wed, Oct 28, 2015 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Elections marred by misogyny

Before the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) rescinded the nomination of presidential candidate Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱), there had been much discussion about two women running for the nation’s top office — and about female politicians in Taiwan.

However, while reserved quotas for female candidates might have served to boost women’s rise in politics, the stereotypes against them seem to require further action.

KMT Chairman Eric Chu (朱立倫) is not the first male politician to have suggested that single women know less about family values than their married counterparts. In calling for a “clean” election without mudslinging that might hurt one’s family members, Chu said: “Even though [Democratic Progressive Party presidential candidate] Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) is single, she should understand [the potential damage] too.”

The People First Party (PFP), before Hung was replaced, posted a message on Facebook — which it later retracted and apologized for after a cascade of criticism — questioning Hung’s and Tsai’s abilities to come up with good policies given their lack of knowledge about the needs of a family.

PFP Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) apologized to “the nation’s women” for the post, but then weeks later championed the return of the tradition of three generations living under one roof as part of his long-term care policy.

Chu knows that Tsai has relatives, but everyone understood what he was referring to when he insinuated that Tsai’s celibacy might compromise her understanding of family love: Tsai is not a wife, and more importantly, not a mother.

Soong’s long-term care policy is no better than his Facebook blunder. Leaving caretaking duties to families not only presupposes marriage and childbearing, but it also ignores the fact that traditional caretakers in the family are usually females, who are also expected by society to accept the task.

The DPP have also made stereotypical remarks against women, with former presidential adviser Koo Kwang-ming (辜寬敏) having once said, when running against Tsai for the DPP chairmanship in 2008, that the future of the party “should not be entrusted to an unmarried girl.” He later apologized.

It is not singleness that has worried these people, but rather the idea of “single women.”

Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), who has become known for making such gaffes, said the fact that 30 percent of Taiwan’s women over 30 are unmarried was a “national security crisis.”

It is good news that the remarks have at least been publicly panned. However, what needs to be asked is if such faux pas are so unacceptable, why is there no sign of them abating?

It is not known whether people who make such remarks have ever pondered on the phenomenon of female politicians or professionals being single and asked: “Is it really a coincidence that many prominent female political figures are single? Or is there a systematic barrier to Taiwanese women, in the form of stereotypes and traditions, for them to ‘lean in’?”

Even Hung and Tsai being catapulted to the top of their parties cannot be seen as an indication of true gender equality.

An academic has pointed out that both took over the reins when their parties were in a mess, a phenomenon echoed in a study by US political scientist Diana O’Brien, which found that women are most likely to come to power in parties that are in a predicament, and are — as the replacement of Hung attests — also more likely (than similarly situated men) to leave their leadership posts when the parties are losing votes.

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