Thu, Aug 02, 2018 - Page 13 News List

Talking Taiwan’s toxic masculinity

Despite the prevalence of male-on-female violence, only the most gory and sensational crimes turn into hot topics, with little productive discussion on the underlying causes from both the media and the public

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

Illustration: Constance Chou

July 3, a pig farmer throws acid on his girlfriend because she wanted to leave him, leaving her disfigured and partially blind; July 15, a 50-year-old man threatens his lover with a scythe that has a blade 70cm long and holds her captive for 8 hours; July 21, a man strangles his girlfriend after an argument and drives around for two days with her body in the trunk of a car; July 23, a jealous ex-boyfriend rear-ends his former lover on a motorcycle ...

These incidents all happened shortly after the media frenzy surrounding the three male-on-female murder-dismemberment cases that took place in May and June. Two of the perpetrators in these cases were in relationships with the victims, while the third was declined sex. The ensuing media reports and online discussions were largely sensational, preferring to focus on the grimy details and looking for scapegoats. There were few discussions of the larger gender issues behind the tragedies.

And despite the common underlying themes of male violence perpetrated against women and men having trouble handling rejection, the cases last month received little attention, a missed opportunity to explore the social causes behind these violent crimes.

“These cases are quite common in Taiwanese society, so unless someone dies, the media usually doesn’t see it as newsworthy,” National Taiwan University of Arts Radio and Television professor Weber Lai (賴祥蔚) says. “And because there were already several dismemberment cases, regular violence doesn’t really attract readers.”

MISSING THE POINT

Chen Shu-fen (陳淑芬), deputy director of the Modern Women’s Foundation (現代婦女基金會), which focuses on domestic and sexual violence, says reporters interviewed her about the underlying causes of these violent male behaviors during the dismemberment cases. Little of what she said, however, made it into the published reports.

“The causes behind these violent cases are quite complicated,” she says. “It might be too much for a mass audience to digest, so we’ll simplify it when we talk about it. Then the media simplifies it even more.”

Hsiao Pin (蕭蘋), who researches media and gender at National Sun Yat-sen University, points out that the mainstream media uses imprecise language in their reports. For example, many publications said in one of the dismemberment cases that the man was qiuhuan (求歡, asking for sex), even though it was clearly attempted rape.

“They don’t even assume responsibility for using the right words and perspectives in reporting the incidents, not to mention [investigating] the deeper issues behind the incidents,” she says.

Aside from childhood trauma, mental illness and substance abuse, Chen cites the prevalence of toxic masculinity as a major factor behind these domestic or sexual assault cases.

Toxic masculinity refers to traditional stereotypes of how men should behave that are harmful to themselves and others, including aggression, misogyny and emotional repression. While women have made strides in professional equality, many gender role stereotypes persist, she says.

“Many men still think that they can tell women what to do, that if they want a woman they just need to be persistent,” she says. “Men also have more pressure to succeed, they cannot cry and they just need to, for example, mimic the actions in television shows to get what they want without being empathetic toward the other person.”

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