by Mei-Hua Chen

Photo Credit: Still from Wave Makers

The following piece is part of a special issue on #MeToo co-edited by New Bloom and Taiwan Insight! Keep an eye out for more articles!

THE #METOO MOVEMENT has been claimed as a global movement that connects women in the global North and the global South. Nonetheless, the MeToo movement must always confront various local social, economic, and cultural relations when it spreads across the globe. It also demands social, legal, and even material infrastructures to materialise. Global South countries that fail to deliver the MeToo movement might relate to the lack of efficient internet infrastructure and the taboo of talking about sex in public (e.g. Bangladesh), freedom of speech (e.g. China), or severe social stratification such as India in which the MeToo movement only circulated among the rich and well-educated elite women.

Compared to these countries, people might wonder why Taiwan delayed its MeToo movement until June 2023, given that Taiwan is always proud of its records on gender equality, e.g. having an elected female president, with more than 40% of female legislators in Congress and legalising same-sex marriage. As far as the legal infrastructure is concerned, Taiwan has adopted a series of sexual harassment regulations according to where the attacks take place (e.g., the Act of Gender Equality in Employment [AGEE] deals with sexual harassment in the workplace, and the Gender Equality Education Act [GEEA] in the schools or universities) since the early 2000s. In addition, Sexual Harassment Prevention Act was enacted to punish sexual harassment taking place in other public areas.

Ironically the MeToo movement demonstrates that the social and legal infrastructures of gender equality aforementioned fail to protect women and girls from sexual harassment. The first wave of the MeToo movement came from women staff of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Several allegations were made against both their perpetrators, who demanded sexual advantages from their supervisees, and the DPP failed to deliver a proper anti-sexual harassment policy. Subsequently, MeToo stories have mushroomed on Facebook, and women from various occupations have come forward to speak up about their experiences. These stories showed that most Taiwanese companies or hiring units still do not follow AGEE to provide a proper procedure to tackle sexual harassment in the workplace, i.e. establishing formal complaint procedures, investigating reported cases, and carrying out proper treatments. The AGEE only demanded employers that hire more than 30 peoples, which only covered less than 3% of all enterprises and less than 50% of all employees, should establish a formal complaint procedure. Indeed, many small companies have no idea they are expected to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. Moreover, women working in small companies find it very difficult to report sexual harassment due to the close interpersonal relationships in the workplace. Reporting a sexual harassment case in small companies, in many cases, means causing conflicts with the employer or colleagues. Furthermore, no one believes their companies would investigate the cases fairly when the perpetrators were their employers or important clients. When looking at the DPP’s case, for example, an employer that hires more than 30 people should build up a proper anti-sexual harassment policy, according to AGEE. However, women who made allegations were told to think about ‘the big picture’ (i.e., winning the election), and they would be exposed to the party members if they decided to make formal complaints. DPP is the ruling party. However, its rigid complaint procedure serves to silence victims.

Apart from the systematic failure of anti-sexual harassment regulations, the gender and sexual politics deeply embedded in Taiwanese women’s daily life are also obstacles for victims to speak up. The sexual double standard is still prevalent in Taiwan. Men are still considered as having sexual urges which demand release, while women have to shy away from sex to fit into Taiwanese femininity. Moreover, men are tolerated transgressing sexual morality ranging from buying sex to having extramarital relationships, while women are widely condemned if they cross the line. The gendered sexuality greatly shapes the sexual script of Taiwanese heterosexual intimacy in which men are encouraged to take initiation to break women’s reserve. It thus creates a vicious circle in which men’s sexual misconducts and even sexual assaults are justified as ‘flirtation’.

The gendered sexual script not only could be identified in the MeToo movement but also reproduce the uneven burdens between the victims and the perpetrators. Most MeToo stories went through all the details of sexual harassment attacks in which victims were usually shocked by their perpetrators’ misconducts such as verbal sexual harassment, groping, kissing and rape. Although society is more willing to listen to the victims’ stories, people still seek a ‘perfect victim’. It is not unusual that the victims were asked, ‘Why did you stay overnight in his place?’, ‘Why didn’t you report it immediately?’, ‘What’s your intention?’, etc.

On the other hand, perpetrators are hardly problematised in the MeToo movement. No one asks why Professor Nai-teh Wu invited his assistant to watch an erotic film during lunch break. No one wonders why the legislator, Kun-chi Fu, of Kuomintang (KMT) forcefully kissed a famous female reporter in front of many politicians. People tend to blame the victims rather than problematise the sexual desires of the perpetrators, even in cases of male-to-male sexual harassment. Although it is strongly argued that the MeToo movement resulted in the ‘social death’ of the perpetrators, the victims were subjected to scrutiny. Furthermore, most sexual harassment cases happened many years ago, and it is extremely difficult for the victims to provide adequate evidence for arguing their cases in court. Some victims are even threatened by defamation lawsuits. Therefore, most perpetrators who were named and shamed seem unaccountable for their sexual misconduct.

What could we learn from the MeToo movement? I think the MeToo movement provides a critical moment for Taiwan to reconfigure a more egalitarian gender and sexual relationship between consenting adults. It is an intimate moment in which sexual harassment is no longer tolerated. The policy of ‘zero tolerance of sexual harassment’, however, demands collective practices of the society. For example, individual men and women should learn to undo the gendered sexual script that exploits and deny women’s sexual autonomy. In addition, it is important to differentiate women’s sexual rights from moral wrong-doings. People should learn to avoid unnecessary moral judgments regarding victims. Moreover, the MeToo movement also shows that employers might facilitate sexual harassment. The private sector must learn more about sexual harassment in the workplace and guarantee a gender-friendly workplace atmosphere. Furthermore, at the institutional level, the state, regardless of the party in government, should collaborate with women’s organisations and recognise the importance of sexual harassment’s impact on society as a whole to provide proper support, including social, legal, and mental health resources, to help the victims.

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