Taiwan News
Turning a blind eye to gender inequality
By Bih Herng-dar 畢恆達

Several women’s rights groups have criticized the Cabinet because only 10 percent of the ministers are women, which has provoked some people to say: “The nation has a female president. Is it not enough?”

When US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Ginsburg was asked how many of the court’s nine justices should be women, she surprised many by saying: “Nine.” She added that for a long time, the court had been an all-male body, but nobody batted an eye.

Ginsburg’s remark is a reminder that if society thinks having too few female justices is a problem, isn’t having too many male justices also an issue?

This example goes to show that even when statistics on gender equality are laid out for all to see, there would still be debate about whether gender discrimination exists.

At the presidential inauguration banquet on May 20, all of the reception staff were female — is this evidence of gender discrimination? It is not uncommon for the media to use the phrase “beautiful woman” when referring to a female judge or professors. Is this a compliment or a form of sexual discrimination?

Various turns of phrase and arguments are often deployed to deny the existence of gender discrimination. First, there is the biological argument: Men and women are born different, each sex has its own merits, and the two should work together for the greater benefit of society.

Second, ability, with some saying people should focus on a person’s abilities, not their gender, in determining whether they can do the job. Some successful women have also been quoted as saying: “If you work as hard as I do, then there is no reason you cannot be as successful as I am.” However, this argument overlooks structural gender inequality that exists within the spheres of work, education and the family.

Third, personal bias, with people making comments like: “You are imagining things; it is much more complicated than that,” or: “Others do not believe gender discrimination has taken place, so why is it that only you believe there is a problem?”

Fourth, priorities, with critics saying those who protest against sexual discrimination are making a mountain out of a molehill and that they should devote their time to more pressing and important matters.

Fifth, humanistic argument: Men and women simply need to respect one another and the problem would resolve itself. This is an overly abstract argument: If specific examples of gender discrimination are not pointed out, how can an effective strategy be formulated to resolve the problem?

Finally, some like to say: “We all suffer hardships from time to time.”

Men too, can be victims and suffer, so things even out in the end and neither sex discriminates against the other. However, women have suffered much more than men. Furthermore, if men and women suffer alike, should they not be working hand in glove to resist the oppressive forces of a patriarchal system?

President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) is not the scion of a political dynasty, nor the spouse of a famous politician. That Tsai was elected as the nation’s first female president is a unique achievement among Asian politicians.

If the Tsai administration wants to demonstrate its meritocratic credentials and if the public believes that men are capable of gender awareness, the next test would be whether the Cabinet is able to propose a convincing gender policy.

US President Barack Obama has signed a law that requires all state-run educational institutions in the US to allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice. What is the Tsai administration’s view on this?

Bih Herng-dar is a professor at National Taiwan University’s Graduate Institute of Building and Planning.

Translated by Edward Jones

Source: Taipei Times

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