A recent article by the popular Taiwanese tabloid Apple Daily reveals a dark side of the island’s nightlife: the phenomenon of men who sexually assault drunk women.
I myself witnessed something that did not but could have ended in sexual assault. I was in a club in Taipei (it was the first of the only two times I’ve been to a club here) and there was a girl whom I couldn’t help noticing, not only because she was very young and pretty, but also because I saw her kissing at least six men, one of whom was way older than herself. The problem is that she was obviously completely drunk; so drunk that she could barely stand on her feet. Some guys approached her, told her something, and then began groping her. I don’t know if she was consenting, or if she simply did not understand what was going on.
This article is particularly interesting because, for once, it does not serve the stereotype of the bad Western guy who goes to Taiwan to find easy girls in nightclubs, but it focuses on the native population, openly referring to male chauvinism (男性沙文主義). This shows that the phenomenon of nightlife and the ambiguous way in which it is perceived by the public is a reflection of deeper social concerns. The topic of nightlife and female behaviour seems to stimulate the imagination of Taiwanese in a manner that transcends the issue of Westerners vs locals.
|Advertisement of a nightclub in Taipei. You don’t need to be a genius to understand how they are consciously objectifying and playing with female sexuality.|
I’ve lived in Taiwan for more than a year and a half, and I often planned to write a post about Taiwan’s nightlife. But I never went beyond the first couple of lines. I simply cannot make sense of it. What I know is that – like many other foreigners – I too feel a morbid and strange fascination for it but cannot entirely explain it to myself.
I believe that every apparent contradiction can be resolved by understanding the values behind human judgement. Anthropologist Ruth Benedict once said about Japan: “I found that once I had seen where my Occidental assumptions did not fit into [the Japanese’] view of life and had got some idea of the categories and symbols they used, many contradictions Westerners are accustomed to see in Japanese behavior were no longer contradictions” (Benedict 2006, p. 19).
Indeed, contradictions are often caused by a lack of understanding of the premises of other people’s thinking. Whenever we see in other cultures something apparently strange, fascinating, disturbing, inexplicable etc., it is worth trying to understand what are the motives and the assumptions behind such behaviours.
Nightlife – and how Taiwanese perceive nightlife – is exactly one of those phenomena that tell us much more about a society than one may at first think.
In the aforementioned Apple Daily article, one can see how divisive the issue of girls going to nightclubs is in Taiwanese society. According to the report, there are internet users (I assume a small minority) who defend sexual assault on drunk girls. Some of them justify it, arguing that if “you’re not a foreigner”, or “you’re not a Mr Perfect”, you cannot help but resort to aggressive conduct. They attempt to conceal the criminal nature of such behaviour by blaming the victims themselves.
Among a certain part of Taiwan’s male population, the image of girls who go clubbing seems to be extremely negative. Some people go as far as to argue that “girls who go clubbing and then are sexually assaulted do not deserve any pity (去夜店被性侵害便是活該不值得同情)”, or “a drunk girl is an instigation to commit a crime (爛醉就是誘人犯罪)”.
The author of the article points out that these people mostly question the morality of women who go to nightclubs, but not the morality of men. The journalist therefore asks provocatively: “Don’t tell me that women do not have the same right as men to have a nightlife? (難道女性就不該擁有和男性同等的夜生活權利？)
I remember that a Taiwanese teacher in my Mandarin school once told me that women who wear miniskirts only have to blame themselves if they are raped. After she said that we had an argument. She didn’t seem to make a distinction between a criminal behaviour that harms a person physically and mentally (sexual assault) and the behaviour of a free individual which may or may not be considered morally despicable by other people according to their own views (wearing a sexy outfit). The first must be condemned, the latter is a matter of opinion.
But why are women so often blamed for their nightlife. Why do they anger people? And how do they react to their negative image?
I will make three points about which I will write in future posts:
1) contrary to what one may hear from Taiwanese people themselves, Taiwan is a highly sexualised society in which appearance is extremely important and the objectification of the female body common;
2) the “love market” in Taiwan is extremely competitive, and this creates a lot of tensions, envy and resentment;
3) the image of women is somewhat stuck between the old concept of female virtue (貞操) and the actual reality of economically independent women.
What are your thoughts about this topic?