Thursday, Apr 15, 2010, Page 8, Taipei Times
By Chen Yi-Chien 陳宜倩
“I’ll be 30 soon, guess I’ll have to find another job.”
There was an old employment regulation at Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall in Taipei City requiring female staff to quit their job when they either fell pregnant, got married or turned 30.
“Ladies from good families do not go out at night,” a service announcement posted in Taoyuan Railway Station in 1995 claimed.
“It’s 11:45pm, I’d better get back to the dorm.”
“We’ll be at the front gate soon, I’d best change back into my long pants.”
The woman’s dormitory of Fujen Catholic University operates an 11:45pm curfew and Taipei First Girls’ High School forbids students from wearing shorts as they are actually passing through the front gate of the school.
“It’s almost 9pm, I’d better slam back this drink and get back to the barracks!”
The Ministry of National Defense (MND) recently announced a rule in which enlisted women and female officers eating off-premises have to cease drinking alcohol at 9pm and return to barracks.
Every day in Taiwan, there are girls and women following prescribed narratives of what they should be doing, what to wear and where they should be, depending on their status and age. It doesn’t matter whether they are high school or university students; enlisted women or officers in the armed forces; civil servants or laborers.
On the one hand, women are assuming various civic roles and sharing various civic responsibilities in society, yet on the other they are not allowed to enjoy complete freedom. Women’s freedoms are curtailed to one degree or another, in how they go about their work, how they present themselves, how they spend their leisure time, or what they wear — at times they have to wear a skirt and other times they can’t show their knees or their legs.
One may ask: “What for?”
For their own protection, of course.
The Chinese-language China Times reported recently that the armed forces are to tighten up gender-based rules in their bases, “strictly forbidding [male] personnel from inviting women colleagues off premises for dinner at night,” with the idea of establishing gender equality regulations. Should enlisted women or female officers want to have dinner outside the confines of the base in the future, they must be back by 9pm, or at least not be on the restaurant premises at that time. Again, this is “for their own good.”
Any university student taking an introductory course in Gender and Law Studies would spot the holes in the assumptions and logic behind this thinking, as well as the way in which it is to be handled. If, they would ask, you are worried about men under the influence of alcohol sexually assaulting women, why not require the inebriated men to return to base early and sleep it off?
This brings to mind the Craig vs Boren case of 1976 in the US. Back then, it was forbidden under Oklahoma state law to sell “non-intoxicating” beer with an alcohol content of 3.2 percent to males under 21, although it was OK for women over 18 to buy it.
The rationale behind this law, and the different gender-based treatment, was that men and women had different attitudes to drinking and were influenced by alcohol in different ways.
This was, however, declared unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court on the grounds that the statistics the state relied on were insufficient to show a substantial relationship between the statute and traffic safety, and that a statute denying the sale of beer to individuals of the same age based on their biological sex violated the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause in the US Constitution.
At the very least, the Ministry of National Defense (MND) needs to answer three questions.
First, what is the rationale behind the unequal gender-based treatment? Second, what is the nature of the relationship between drinking during off-base meals and sexual harassment or sexual assault? And finally, if a relationship does indeed exist, why isn’t the regulation like it was in the US (despite it later being declared unconstitutional) or, as the hypothetical university student cited above pointed out, why does it not stipulate that the potential perpetrators, or those likely to get drunk, should be prohibited from buying alcoholic drinks or be required to return to the barracks by 9pm?
Why are curfews and bans always aimed at the potential victims?
As women in Taiwan start to take up public service as political leaders, uniformed law enforcement officers, lawyers and judges, they have taken on certain responsibilities to the public, but we also expect them to keep their noses clean, behave themselves and make sure they know a “woman’s place.” If they don’t, people start raising eyebrows. We also expect them to be responsible for their own safety.
The MND has also said that male commanding officers are not allowed to coerce enlisted women or officers to join them for dinner. Does that mean they can force enlisted men soldiers or male officers to dine with them? How about female commanding officers? Can they demand that specific colleagues dine with them?
When it comes down to it, it’s really not a question of gender; the point is what power relations exist between commanding officers and those under their command. It’s more a case of those who wield power being mindful of their station and guarding against the abuse of that power.
I could bring up here the Gender Equality in Employment Act (性別工作平等法) and Gender Equality Education Act (性別平等教育法) that every high school student taking the Civics and Society course reads about in the introductory textbook, or the signing of the two international human rights covenants that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is so proud of, but I won’t.
I would, however, put it to the wise policymakers at the MND that they certainly aren’t going to insist on this kind of simplistic logic in the face of any cross-strait tension or military conflict and require the potential victims, by which I mean all Taiwanese, to constrain ourselves or else risk becoming cannon fodder for the perpetrators.
Not too long ago, a group of students at Tainan Girl’s Senior High School got together, deciding it was time to flout the school ban on wearing shorts and express the new generation’s frustrations with the layers upon layers of restrictions placed upon them. This act demonstrated a willingness, and the necessary courage, to face up to the issue, which in turn offers a thread of hope to social initiatives that, as of late, have tended to get a little bogged down.
If you look at the way the national defense professionals have decided to tackle the prickly question of continued reports of sexual harassment and sexual violence in the armed forces, there seems to be no discernible recognition of the fact that the crux of the issue lies in long-standing problems present in the existing gender power structure, which clearly shows deeply ingrained gender role stereotypes and prejudices and rather haphazard countermeasures. The apparent reluctance to face up to the problem is highly disconcerting.
In the past, Chinese (male) intellectuals were expected to first make sure one’s own family was in order before one could govern the nation, and from there make sure there was peace and harmony in the world.
Though women are playing more active roles today, the question is whether Taiwanese society is ready to entrust women with these responsibilities.
Looking at the behavior of the MND, charged with protecting the country and its citizens, I fear we still have some way to go.
（Chen Yi-chien is an assistant professor in the Graduate Institute for Gender Studies at Shih Hsin University and a member of the Standing Executive Committee of the Judicial Reform Foundation.）
TRANSLATED BY PAUL COOPER