Sun, Jan 08, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time:The ‘Divorce Queen’

Women’s rights activist and writer Shih Chi-ching sought to challenge the patriarchy by running for president in 1996

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

A portrait of writer and women’s rights activist Shih Chi-ching.

Photo: Tsung Chang-chin, Taipei Times

Taiwan in Time: Jan. 9 to Jan. 16

It was a long shot, but Taiwan could have had its first female president as early as 1996. As the country prepared to hold its first direct presidential election, writer and women’s rights activist Shih Chi-ching (施寄青) put her name in the hat with another female, Wu Yue-chen (吳月珍), as her vice president.

When her application was denied because she didn’t meet the required number of election endorsements, Shih repeatedly protested to the Executive Yuan and finally took the case to the Council of Grand Justices.

She argued that along with the NT$1 million endorsement deposit and the NT$15 million election deposit, such restrictive measures were against the people’s constitutional right to run for public office, and were unfair to independent candidates who did not have party backing. She added that such measures favor the wealthy and “limits those who have been fighting for women’s rights for decades and truly want to serve the people and be the voice of the disadvantaged.”

“This only strips the rights of people from disadvantaged groups who want to run for office,” she added. Her case was rejected.

Political aspirations aside, Shih was quite an outspoken and often controversial figure, once stating that she had been a male fighter of justice in all her past lives, and only ended up as a woman in this life.

Even at age 60, she appeared in a swimsuit to promote her book Challenging Venus (挑戰維納斯), detailing how she was able to lose 17kg without harming her body.

But of course, dieting was not the main subject of any of her previous books. Instead of challenging Venus, she began her career by challenging the patriarchy.

Following her divorce, she formed the Warm Life Association for Women in 1988 (晚晴協會) to help other divorced women. A year later she published her first book, Having Been Married (走過婚姻), which tackled a sensitive subject at a time when Taiwan’s divorce rate was beginning its rapid increase.

“I’m among the first generation of women who escaped the shackles of childbirth, were widely educated and, most importantly, could support ourselves,” she writes in the introduction as her rationale for publishing the book.

“Therefore, we are the first generation that can make our own decisions on our emotions and bodies. The experiences of our mothers and grandmothers are not applicable to us,” Shih writes.

Obviously the book made her a target for criticism, as she writes in the introduction of her next book Marriage Terminator (婚姻終結者).

“Many people seem to think that Taiwan’s increasing divorce rate is because of people like Shih Chi-ching declaring that women should be independent and leave the family.”

Such was Taiwan’s social climate back then. While Shih denies that she encouraged people to get divorced, she hoped to promote healthy views on the issue since divorce was becoming more prevalent.

“People are often unable to see this issue from a pragmatic and balanced angle,” she writes. “Divorcees like me are often misunderstood and rarely acknowledged.”

Some called her a monster, others called her a savior, and during this time she earned the moniker “Divorce Queen (離婚教主).”

She continues in the book that while society thinks it’s reasonable to oppose the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) 40-year dictatorship, they don’t feel the same about women challenging the several-thousand year patriarchy.

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