The growing popularity of the Taiwanese television series My Queen (敗犬女王) is in no small part due to the attraction it holds for tens of thousands of female viewers, some of whom identify closely with the main character, Shan Wu-shuang (單無雙).
Shan is a successful single journalist in her 30s who is stigmatized by society as a “loser dog” (單身敗犬女), or makeinu in Japanese. She is independent and competent, but is unpopular among her colleagues and even among some of her friends because she is highly competitive. Despite Shan’s achievements, she is viewed as a loser because she is single — particularly by her mother who tries everything she can to find a love match for her daughter.
The term makeinu, which means “loser dog,” was coined by a famous Japanese female writer, Sakai Junko, in her 2003 best seller Howl of the Loser Dogs (Makeinu no Toboe). In the book, Sakai stated with some degree of pride that though many single thirtysomethings in Tokyo, such as herself, were ingloriously casts as losers, this was not necessarily how they saw themselves because they were satisfied with their lives and their achievements.
In Taiwanese society, which is heavily influenced by Japanese culture, single women over the age of 30 often encounter pressures similar to those faced by their Japanese peers.
Eva Chang, a 33-year-old unmarried woman who works in the media industry, said it is difficult for her to ignore her family and society’s expectations. But she insists she will not be rushed into marriage simply because she is of “marriageable age.”
“I am single because I have not found the right person, but that is something that takes time and patience,” Chang said.
She noted that in her experience, many men she meets lack confidence and find women like her intimidating because they are well-educated, financially independent, smart and intellectual.
Chang’s demographic has been growing in recent years. Statistics from the Ministry of Interior show that 29.6 percent of Taiwanese women aged 30 to 39 were single in 2007. By 2008 the figure had jumped to 32.3 percent.
‘MY OWN CHOICE’
One reason for the shift may be that thirtysomething single women are finding ways to reduce the power of the traditional stigma against them in East Asian societies.
Lee Ming-tsung (李明璁), an assistant professor at National Taiwan University’s Department and Graduate Institute of Sociology, said women in Asia are using the makeinu moniker to forge a positive group identity, in much the same way that some close female friends in other societies affectionately call each other “bitch” or some African Americans greet each other as “nigger.”
He thinks it is unfortunate that Asian media continue to portray marriage as the only path to happiness and use makeinu in a derogatory context to describe independent and successful women.
“Marriage is a lifestyle that one chooses, ” he said. “It is an important option but not the only one, and certainly not the only one that guarantees happiness.”
Women who have lived in Western countries have seen firsthand the status accorded to unmarried women in more liberal societies.
A 36-year-old public relations specialist surnamed Wang who grew up in the US said that in America independent single women over the age of 30 are not seen as picky or somehow flawed, but rather are regarded as mature and attractive.