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Summer 2000 ASCJ Conference Details

16.  Gender, Sexuality and Post-Coloniality in Taiwan  

Chair: Anru Lee, California State  University, Sacramento

Organizer:  Scott Simon, Academia Sinica

Panel Abstract: 

   Since the end of martial law in 1987, Taiwan has seen the emergence of new, pluralistic gender and sexual identities. Feminists march down the street to take back the night and protest with slogans like "we want orgasm, not harassment."  Women emerge in new social roles, including entrepreneur, politician and soldier, and are called "strong women."  Men who question their own roles in a patriarchal system and express more concern for their families are called new men.

   Gender identity is increasingly expressed in new ways, and often commercialized,as in the case of women's magazines which promote sexual liberation, or Viagra, which promises freedom from sexual anxiety. The papers in this panel look at changes in gender and sexual identities within the context of Taiwan's changing role in the global capitalist system. Fang-chih Irene Yang discusses the convergence between media and feminist discourses of sexual liberation. Paul Festa analyzes Taiwanese masculinity in the midst of a Viagra craze. Scott Simon looks at how female entrepreneurs in Taipei construct their gender and sexual roles in Taiwan's capitalist system. Shui-li Lavphy Lin and Antonia Chao look at gender politics in the lives of Filipino household workers and the relationship between Taiwan and Southeast Asia.

   For many individuals, the new social possibilities created by these changes create a tension between an eastern-oriented tradition and a western-oriented modernity. Papers in this session will explore how Taiwanese men and women discuss gender and sexual identities in the post-colonial context, in a forum meant to question concepts of tradition, modernity, nation, culture, and gender. How do Taiwanese individuals use these concepts to examine their own lives and make personal lifestyle decisions?  How do they perceive themselves as part of Chinese tradition and/or within a modernity decentered in relationship to Japan and the United States?

 1)   Fang-chih Irene Yang, Tunghua University. "The Political Economy of Sexual Liberation"

    As the Millennium approaches, there is an increasing revelation of female bodies in popular media in Taiwan, ranging from women's magazines and tabloids to TV shows and advertisements. Sexual liberation is understood as a 90s phenomenon implicating the unleashing of sexual energies in Taiwanese society. However, it isin women's magazines and feminist writings that sexual liberation receives much discussion and theorization. In this paper, I examine how Taiwanese women's magazines and Taiwanese feminists conceptualize sexual liberation; discuss their convergences (homologies); and use Bourdieu's notion of "field" to discuss the politics of these homologies.

   Despite the positional differences occupied by the editors of women's magazines and Taiwanese feminists (the former directly affiliated with global capital and the latter with institutions that constructs themselves as free from the constraints of capitalism), their discourses converge on several fronts: patriarchy as expressed through the repression of female sexuality, affirmation of sexual liberation, promotion of sexual pleasure, and assertion of female agency. 

   These points of convergence, seen in Bourdieu's sense as "homologies" between the fields of academic production and media production, provide us fruitful strategies to analyze not only the logics of academic production and media production, but also their relationships with the larger political and economic fields in which both editors of women's magazines and feminists inhabit. By examining the homologies between women's magazines and Taiwanese feminist writings in their discussions of sexual liberation, I hope to point out the blind spots in Taiwanese feminist discourse and provide an alternative way to theorize sexual liberation.

 2)      Paul E. Festa, Cornell University. "The Blue Whirlwind Strikes Below the Belt:  Male Sexuality, Gender Politics, and the Viagra Craze in Taiwan"

    Since hitting the US market in March 1998, Viagra has been a hot and highly controversial media topic in Taiwan. It has sold briskly on the local black market, circulated widely within guanxi networks and among friends, and established its largest market niche among Taiwanese men in their thirties. In this paper, I explore the construction of male sexuality through a multi-perspective analysis of the "Viagra craze" based on data gathered from fieldwork and a variety of media sources, including news coverage, editorials, periodical articles, and promotional pamphlets. I examine Viagra's absorption within an indigenous discourse of sexuality, its incorporation into aspects of men's everyday lifeworld, disciplinary efforts to normalize its use, divergent critical voices, and the market effect of Viagra's formal introduction as a medical commodity. My objective is to demonstrate that male sexuality is produced within a complex nexus of power relations. I do this by emphasizing how the male body actively negotiates divergent forces, including traditional sexual mores, modern medical discourse, the women's movement, patriarchal imperatives, national politics, and commercial capitalism. My main argument is that the Viagra craze is more than the resurgence of the traditional male domination of women, as local critics charge. Rather, it highlights the modern tendency for sexuality to become a nodal point for contesting broader issues of identity politics, including gender, ethnic, and national identity. I thus conclude that male sexuality is not a primordial acquisition of familial dynamics but rather socially constructed within an open field of social, political, and economic relations.

 3)      Scott Simon, Academia Sinica. "Negotiating Patriarchy and Capitalism:  Life Histories of Taipei Capitalism"

    With the rapid rise of the service sector in Taiwan's economy, female entrepreneurs have become a visible part of the island's urban ethnoscape. An estimated one out of four entrepreneurs in Taipei are women, concentrated mostly in food-oriented businesses such as coffee shops and noodle stands, but also branching out into fields as diverse as florists and motorcycle repair shops. This paper, part of a much larger research project on female entrepreneurship in Taipei, provides an analysis of ideological themes that have arisen from the life histories of 15 Taipei businesswomen.           One of the main themes in these life histories is an emphasis on entrepreneurship as female agency, a way of creating personal and social space amidst the constraints of a patriarchal family system. Female entrepreneurs construct their lives in heterogeneous ways, using business to support themselves after divorce, to finance independent lives without marriage, or to stake out greater power within their married families. The common theme in their stories is an ideological claim about the redemptory nature of capitalist activity as women pursue diverse personal dreams in the impersonal economy of urban Taipei.  They discuss their lives through series of contrasts: patriarchy versus capitalism, Chinese- (or sometimes Japanese-) oriented tradition versus global modernity, eastern versus western, male versus female.  Entrepreneurship for them is a way of negotiating social oppositions and gaining greater personal space as individuals. This paper does not take these narratives at face value, but as constructed ideologies that naturalize capitalist accumulation and the integration of ever more individuals into the webs of a post-colonial global economy. 

4)      Shiu-li Lavphy Lin and Antonia Chao, Tunghai University. "'Cultural Clash' in Everyday Life:  The Gender Politics of Emigrant Household  Work"

    With the rapid development of Taiwan's economy, the island has made a transition from a cheap supplier of agricultural and manufactured goods o an exporter of capital. The island now attracts emigrant workers from the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam. As in other parts of the world, Filipino women dominate the labour market for domestic servants. This paper begins its exploration of emigrant household work with the daily lived experience of a typical Filipino maid in Taiwan, paying attention to the gendered politics of labour in a Taiwanese family. Gender politics are played out in the styles of "cultural clash" that characterize the interactions between individuals in this context.

   The second part of this paper is based on field work in the Philippines. Interviews with former household workers, their spouses, and the agencies that hire maids (including so-called overseas Chinese institutions) all provide enlightening details about how these women are "trained" before coming to Taiwan. This paper, based on field work in both Taiwan and the Philippines, explores the gender politics of emigrant household work in Taiwan. As such, it reveals much about Taiwan's changing role in the post-colonial global economy.

Discussant: Ichiro Numazaki, Tohoku University

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