Sun, May 19, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: The Little Red Riding Hoods fight back

With the timeless slogan ‘We don’t want sexual harassment, we want orgasms,’ fed-up women took to the streets 25 years ago this week, railing against systemic abuse and institutional apathy

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

Josephine Ho addresses the crowd at the May 22, 1994 march against sexual harassment.

Photo courtesy of Josephine Ho’s Discourse Database

May 20 to May 26

At the count of three, hundreds of fed-up women let out a collective scream that pierced the air for three full minutes. They stood where serial killer Chang Cheng-yi (張正義) in 1988 had robbed, raped and dumped the body of one of his six victims.

It was a time when women in Taiwan had just began to speak out against sexual harassment and sexual assault, with incident after incident coming to light until they finally took to the streets on May 22, 1994 to express their frustration.

Noted feminist academic and activist Josephine Ho (何春蕤) was the one who came up with the march’s slogan: “We don’t want sexual harassment, we want orgasms. If you keep sexually harassing us, we’ll cut it off with a pair of scissors!”

Curiously, almost all media outlets only recorded the first half of the slogan, omitting the threat of genital dismemberment. This included the Liberty Times (Taipei Times’ sister newspaper) who partially printed Ho’s words on its front page the next day.

“I didn’t want women to have to sexually repress themselves just because they feared sexual harassment,” Ho says in an interview posted on her Web site. But it seems like her ideas of women embracing, exploring and taking control of their own sexuality were too progressive even for women’s rights groups at that time, as she says that many activists kept a distance from her afterward.

EXPOSING THE WOLVES

In the 1980s, “sexual harassment” was not a common term in Taiwan. According to the National Museum of Taiwan History’s “Women of Taiwan” Web site, “the term was met with suspicion and distrust” when people first started using it. “Victims could only weep in silence until the first person was willing to stand out and take action.”

This first person was Lo Yu-e (羅玉娥), who in 1989 sued her manager for inappropriate language and behavior. There were no sexual harassment laws back then, and the manager was acquitted.

In the spring of 1990, a female teaching assistant was raped in Tsinghua University’s (清華大學) cafeteria. Around the same time, a male student was caught fondling a sleeping student’s breasts in the school library, leading to the revelation that he had done it to numerous women who never spoke out. The distraught students formed the “Little Red Riding Hood” movement, putting up posters around campus and publishing in 1993 a detailed handbook on how to deal with sexual harassment.

Detractors responded by spray painting “sexual harassment is not a crime” as well as derogatory messages around campus, and the commotion garnered the attention of other schools, sparking discussion on the treatment of women and body autonomy across the nation.

Several high-profile sexual harassment or sexual assault incidents made the headlines in the ensuing years, most of them perpetrated by male teachers or workplace superiors. The tipping point came on March 16, 1994, when a female student was caught spray painting the walls at National Taiwan Normal University, with messages warning students about a professor had who allegedly raped her a year before. Two weeks before that revelation, a National Taiwan University student was raped in her dorm room. And two weeks later, the Central Daily News reported on a National Chung Cheng University professor sexually harassing female students.

According to a United Daily News (聯合報) report, one female student even recanted her testimony after the offending professor threatened to send gangsters after her. The protestors accused the Ministry of Education and the schools of standing on the perpetrators’ side, listing all the inappropriate or callous comments they received from officials.

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