Monday, April 01, 2013

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Are White guys status symbols for Taiwanese girls?

4/01/2013 Taiwan Explorer

There was a very good discussion on my Facebook page a little while ago about the issue of the yellow press and a certain type of young male netizens always pushing the argument "Taiwanese girls were easy or naive" whenever there is a white guy in the news who was involved in some problem with a local girl. Even though these cases are very rare compared to what happens among Taiwanese, they are constantly used as examples to portray cross cultural relationships (commonly referred to as CCR or ㄈㄈ尺 in Taiwan) in a bad light. The photo above was circulating around the Taiwanese web these days, the Chinese characters "快速把台妹寶典" mean "Manual of getting Taiwanese girls quickly." A forum was discussing how easy it was to get a Taiwanese girl interested in a guy through an online chat, if he was a white (handsome) guy, you can read about that here. I find this kind of stuff very immature, but it seems like some people have a lot of time to do such things instead of going out and meeting real girls. My point is: I'm tired of these online attacks on foreigners dating Taiwanese girls, that always somehow pop up on my Facebook feed. There are a lot of married couples like me and my wife who have nothing to do with one night stands, cheating, sleeping around, and breaking the proper local etiquette in public. It frankly makes me feel uneasy to be perceived that way (a.k.a. guilty until proven innocent), but then again I can't do more than write about it here, and try to make people aware of the hurtful nature of generalizations and stereotyping. With that said, today I will try to explain this behavior with the help of commentary that I accidentally stumbled upon on other blogs and forums. I don't want to condone the anti-CCR sentiment, but I believe a good understanding of why it's so strongly present will be helpful for current and future waiguoren. And admitting that the part of the problem might also be the CCR itself is also a good step forward.

Taiwanese are culturally conservative

Before we start to discuss one of the issues with the way cross cultural relationships in Taiwan are presented by some girls, we have to first understand some of the basic differences between Taiwanese and Westerners when it comes to sex and dating. A very interesting comment under a great post written by Lianne Lin named Dating in Taiwan: An ABC's perspective caught my attention. It was written by a person under the handle A_Lee, who summed it up pretty well. His example is based on an American viewpoint, but it could very well be a viewpoint of Westerners beyond the US. Let's see:

A couple thoughts, in no particular order.

1. Compared to Americans, Taiwanese are far more culturally conservative, which means that a lot of the post-war cultural programming of "find who you are and follow your dreams" is counterbalanced by the hard-eyed pragmatism of parents and grandparents. Education and career are more important, and when it comes to marriage and family, love and physical chemistry don't have the same weight.

2. Sexual politics is far more conservative. Abortion is highly restricted, and adultery is still a crime. Yes, you can go to jail for cheating on your spouse, if they choose to bring charges. Teenage pregnancy and single-motherhood is virtually non-existent. Divorce requires either mutual consent or legally valid reason. Obviously, sleeping around happens everywhere, but there's less of it, and it's less obvious. You can have your fun, but keep your priorities straight, and keep it quiet.

3. Adolescence is less sexualized. Everyone watches American TV, of course, but the hotness-arms-race among teenage girls is handicapped by the fact that makeup, jewelry, tattoos, and dyed hair are forbidden, most high-schools are single-sex, and uniforms are mandatory. In some more conservative schools, long hair is forbidden.

4. Taiwanese youth culture is heavily influenced by Japan, which also leads to a certain feminization. The masculine aesthetic becomes more androgynous and bishounen, the feminine aesthetic becomes hyper-feminine, adopting higher-pitched girlish voices, bashful timidness, and a certain infantile quality.

So add that all together, and Taiwanese have generally devoted a far smaller fraction of their energy to dating, have much less experience in dating, and the dating that does exist is less sexualized and more intentional in finding a marriage partner.

This all matches with what I have observed, too. So how does this affect cross cultural relationships? Westerners, especially whites, are generally perceived as sexually liberal, individualistic, free spirited, rebellious, and masculine (often also physically superior). That's pretty much the opposite of every point listed above, so when some locals see a foreigner with a Taiwanese girl, they see a mini clash of cultures, perhaps even a threat to their own identity, concepts and values. Taiwanese society is patriarchal, and very homogeneous. Traditions are taken very seriously, especially girls are supposed to follow a certain path, which was laid out by generations before them. Dating a foreigner is perceived as taking a detour, or worse, going against the family (a big taboo in Taiwan) or one'sown culture. This comment above was written as a reaction to Lianne's post, which was discussing the issue of an ABC girl in Taiwan struggling to find local men to date. Here is an excerpt, that highlights another problem:

In California I was accustomed to guys approaching me, or guy friends showing interest from time to time. I always felt if I didn’t have one dating option, I’d have one on the horizon relatively soon [...]

But after moving to Taiwan, I experienced a sudden change.

Most guys would glance at me and then look away, not seeming to notice me. You may have heard the rumor that Taipei is full of pretty young girls, and it’s true. They are skinny with long, straight hair and nice skin, talented with makeup and stylishly dressed in their knock-off designer clothes, and they are everywhere. I went from looking “exotic” in America (which I, being an ABC female, of course HATED) to looking fairly normal and blending in completely.

[...] I do like Asian guys and loved Taiwan, so I wanted to try dating a local guy to see where that could lead. But not only were Taiwanese guys shy, they were also put off by my terrible Mandarin and my sarcastic, slightly rough-around-the-edges, very American demeanor. Being tattooed also seemed like a turn-off to locals, which in their more conservative culture is still viewed as rebellious or even “bad” over there.

Lianne's problems stem from the fact that despite looking like a local girl, she wasn't hyper-feminine, girly and timid, she made the men feel insecure and confused. I guess communication problems might have played an important role here, too. I won't go deeper into this particular issue, it's best you read her whole post and don't skip the discussion.

White guys as status symbols?

That the perception of cross cultural relationships in Taiwan is getting worse might not only the fault of young frustrated males and the yellow press, some Taiwanese girls are perhaps contributing to that image as well without realizing it (my follower Tommy pointed that out to me). There is a small minority of girls who turned their interracial romance into a blog, usually accompanied with a public Facebook page and a photo-rich Instagram feed. This wouldn't be a problem for anyone, if those bloggers wouldn't be so influential with their peers. Over the past few years some of them garnered a huge number of followers, from a few thousand to a few ten thousand. A simple unknown (and in some cases uninteresting) young girl can suddenly become a "weblebrity" in Taiwan, if she starts to share stories and images of her "fairy tale like" relationship with a white guy (how much of it reflects the reality of their actual relationship remains a big question). Of course it's not only their fault that there is a big interest and curiosity among young girls for this type of romance, but some are taking advantage of it, even pushing it further in order to enjoy popularity. This then distorts the image of white guys among younger girls who admire them, while it angers the local males, who's ego was hurt. The friction is almost unavoidable. So the main question is: Are they putting CCR couples in a bad light? The issue is very complicated and polarizing. Instead of tackling it myself, I'm republishing a Canadian guy's short essay, which was posted on PTT, Taiwan's popular BBS client. I think he made some interesting points, that can be a good start for further discussion. Here's what he had to say about this phenomenon:

作者: singing24514 (singing) 站內: CCRomance
標題: [認真] 來自在台灣加拿大人的觀點
時間: Sat Jun 22 19:59:39 2013

這是我一個白人朋友在他的期末報告,寫下的對臺灣CCR現象的觀點 ,他現在正在台灣學中文,所以也可以說是White in TW(節錄): 
Globalization is seriously affecting culture throughout the world. It is not only changing the economic realities for people, but also their self-perception and interaction within one's changing society. Asia has not been left out of these changes. For close to two centuries there has been a Western presence in Asia, and with it Western culture has acted as a globalizing force. Since China lost the opium wars in the Qing dynasty, this has been the case. The Republic of China, Communism, and modern China all have in common the acceptance of modified Western ideas. Also, Meiji Japan conveyed a mix of Japanese and Western culture through colonization. Since the mid 19th century, Asia has been defined by its relationship to the West. 
Today this relationship has more than a geopolitical influence. It also affects people subconsciously. Many people in Asia today are “bi-cultural,” being able to accept their traditional culture and an imported Western culture simultaneously. However, due to the West's colonial success across the world, the legacy of imperialism, and the dominance globally of American and general English speaking media, people may unhealthily want to associate themselves with the symbols of that power. This being that people may want to be more white, or be closer to white people. This is partially responsible for the types of plastic surgery popular in Asia, stemming from the subconscious belief that Western people are better looking, or more beautiful than Asian people. 
This phenomenon being, bluntly, how Taiwanese women really seem to want a white boyfriend more than a Taiwanese, Han Chinese, one. Taiwanese men, who represent the more traditional part of the culture due to Taiwan being a patriarchal society, are not particularly interested in foreign women [if he means white women, then I agree, if it includes South East Asians, that's another story]. However, they are mad about Taiwanese women's preference for the agents of Western culture – white men. With Taiwanese newspapers having more than one article complaining about how foreign men and Taiwanese women behave with each other. 
Either way, the prevalence of Facebook groups that show off one Taiwanese girl, who then acts as an avatar for other Taiwanese girls, with her white boyfriend sugests that this preference does not stem from a true connection between the two individuals. Rather, it shows that having a foreign boyfriend is itself a type of status symbol. Similar to having a luxury handbag, the possession of a white boyfriend is an asset that shows positional value to others. This is why in her Facebook, she writes about how she was envious of others with a foreign boyfriend. Not yearning for love or connection, she simply wanted that privilege, she wanted recognition of value by being affirmed by a white person. Not only does this show relative shallowness on her part, it more importantly demonstrates that she sees Taiwanese culture and people as not as fashionable as Western culture and Western people. And in that domain she puts herself, as a member of that culture, as deferent to the foreign cultural force. 
Not only does this behaviour fail to respect one's own culture, it also over simplifies the person who is the object of affection. The foreign boyfriend becomes nothing more than a foreigner. If we examine the titles of the three Facebook group examples, two of them refer to the people by nationality. If we allow these Facebook groups to act as an indicator for this larger trend, then we can see how these foreigners do not get to inhabit the roles of full people. Meaning that because these men are shown to have no value outside of being foreigners, they cannot be appreciated for their unique personal qualities. This amounts to a fundamental lack of respect or understanding of foreigners by these Taiwanese women. Even despite saying that she does not love him for being a foreigner, she does not state what she does indeed like about him outside of that. This statement also fundamentally focuses on him being a foreigner, and does not humanize him. It would not be a stretch to call this mild prejudice, for these people are pre-judged on their appearance and nationality. Even if the prejudice is positive, this process of reduction to only being a foreigner does not allow for a full human interaction and exchange, it does not foster mutual respect or understanding. 
In this way, both parties (Taiwanese women and foreign men) are being devalued by a globalized exchange. It is not that globalization causes this problem. More so, that this type of shallow or superficial interaction does not promote a positive type of globalization. These relationships, and their promotion on the Internet as a form of entertainment, devalue both the host Taiwanese culture and the foreign Western culture.

The discussion

I know most of my readers are not familiar with CCR blogs and Facebook pages, so I've made a list of some of them for you. Go and check it out here, but keep in mind that this doesn't mean every blogger there is overexposing their boyfriend or husband, so don't put all of them in the same boat. This is meant as a reference to better understand the whole Taiwanese-Western CCR online phenomenon.