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Ending gender discrimination must first begin in the home

Publication Date : 14-02-2014


Individual beliefs do not stay confined to the people who possess them; they can affect how society functions, and this rings true in every culture. Despite the awakening of feminism and the promotion of women's rights, gender inequality is still deeply rooted in numerous cultures and exists beyond the glass ceiling and sexual harassment.

Male chauvinism may have been around in the world for such a long time that it is virtually impossible to grasp by the roots and destroy. Sexist attitudes are not simply individually held beliefs; in many cultures including Taiwan, the mentality has been branded into familial bonds - where the bias causes the cruelest of pain to many women - and is practised even by women themselves.

In the social sciences, gender is defined as a social construct that highlights the differences in roles and relations between men and women given by society. Theoretically, roles can be molded and changed, as gender roles are learned behaviours gleaned from social groups; studies have also proven that if individual people in a society are sexist, men and women in that society become less equal.

Regardless of other cultures that deprive women of their many rights, the Chinese have always been famous for their stubborn sexism that stems from family elders and is passed on to the next generations; women were denied the right to pursue an education, to vote, to defy their spouses and were - and are - often victims of unequal occupational segregation. At home, the men-are-superior-to-women ideology is going strong even if the law is being amended to make things easier for the “weaker sex”.

In 1996, the Civil Code was amended to award custody of children of divorced couples to whomever would act in the best interests of the children, as opposed to the previous condition where fathers automatically gained custody. In 2007, the law was amended again so that parents are able to decide the surname of the children by written consent instead of simply adopting the surname of the father … but the startling statistics tallied by the Ministry of Finance continue to show that the familiar scene of a woman facing her parents and male siblings with a grimace and a sinking heart, a pen and official papers to give up her inheritance lying baldly between them. In Taiwanese families, daughters are often expected - or prodded - to forego their inheritance rights in deference to their brothers.

Over 60 per cent of women are asked to forego their inheritances each year, while over 70 per cent of the heirs are men; and the facts are made even more unbearable as the accomplices of the “son bias” are the mothers. The irony is ridiculous; being women themselves, the mother may have suffered from the gender inequalities of her generation, but should be able to shield their daughters from the same pain and somehow curb the twisted legacy. Is this spiteful vengeance, wrought after years of unspoken pain, inflicted on the wrong people?

Although male and female gender roles are under constant reconstruction, psychological studies have shown that women who live in a culture where they are objectified by others may in turn begin to objectify themselves. Self-objectification may result in less motivation to challenge the gender status quo, not to mention providing support. But why all the upset over land deeds and bank accounts?

Nothing is certain in life but death and taxes; in the case of the Chinese people, death and money. Here, death is not simply a sad occurrence, nor is money only a means of making life better; the complications that are spawned by deaths are overwhelming as over half of the deceased may have witnessed the ugly family politics over inheritance as they slowly withered away. Money and gender inequality are woven together because in Chinese societies, love is measured by filthy lucre, and the latter meted out according to the intensity of love.

The nakedness of the concept is disgusting, yet so cherished by the people. We are given red envelopes containing money at Chinese New Year, and when we pray, more often than not we pray for “prosperity and wealth”. But in spite of this, do women truly deserve the lowly branch they are forced to perch on? This legacy is poisoned, yet people continue to live by it. Who are we to inflict pain on others who are created equal?

Despite the institutionalised means that aim to defend women from the blows of sexism, favouring sons over daughters - a fate that no one is able to defy beforehand - is in so many ways equivalent to that which causes sexual violence, sex trafficking or forced child marriage.

Finally, we ask this: what is the gender of the person who gave birth to you, nurtured you and tried her best to cushion your stumbles and your pain? Her efforts should not be diminished by gender discrimination, which your daughter too should be protected against.


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