In an international political climate rife with backward opinions, those regarding Taiwan’s female President Tsai Ing-wen rise above the rest.
With all the blustering from Donald Trump and all the train-riding from Malcolm Turnbull, you’d be forgiven for thinking there were only two elections happening in 2016. In actual fact, it has been a year of political upheaval around the globe. Austria went to the polls this week and narrowly defeated Norbert Hofer, a gun-loving uber-conservative from the extreme right-wing Freedom Party whose campaign mostly consisted of railing against refugees.
In the Philippines, they took it one step further and actually elected Rodrigo Duterte, a man who intends to bring back the death penalty, calls Pope Francis “the son of a whore” and has some interesting ideas about rape. (Essentially that it’s not a good thing but if it’s going to happen anyway, the Mayor should get first, ahem, thrust. Note: Duterte was Mayor at the time…)
Pretty radical views, you might agree, but wait, there’s a third recently appointed official who really takes the cake when it comes to extremism.
Newly elected President of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen.
Get this: She’s a woman. And she’s single. And childless.
OMFG! Scand- wait…what?
According to one Chinese government official, yes. It’s a scandal. Earlier this week, Wang Weixing, an analyst with China’s People’s Liberation Army, published a scathing article condemning Tsai.
“Her style and strategy in pursuing politics constantly skew toward the emotional, personal and extreme,” he wrote, saying that, “Analyzed from the human angle, as a single female politician, she lacks the emotional encumbrance of love, the constraints of family or the worries of children.”
Indeed. Because we all know that a true leader is defined by their charisma, their moral compass and whether or not they know the lyrics to Baa Baa Black Sheep.
Why is a female politician’s ability constantly defined by her marital/familial status? For that matter, why is a female’s ability defined by it? Why have we not reached a point where we can just sit back and say “Life is hard. Running shit is harder. Have kids, don’t have kids… just do what you gotta do.”
Last year the New Statesman ran a cover story called “The Motherhood Trap: Why are so many successful women childless?” Focussing on German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, the article opined that only 28% of British male MP’s were childless vs 45% of female. In Australia, Annabel Crabb found similar stats in her wonderful book The Wife Drought.
In example after example, we find female politicians around the world having fewer children (if any at all) than their male counterparts or entering politics much later in life, after their kids have grown up. Why this remains shocking – even surprising – is bizarre.
Politics is a bloody hard gig. It’s not something you can bash away at for a few hours a day in between dropping little Timmy to day care and picking little Sally up from karate.
Between Question Time and Home Time, there’s campaigning, fundraising, baby kissing and arse kissing. Any married male pollie would tell you they couldn’t do it without their wives back at HQ.
It’s no coincidence that two of our most successful recent female politicians – Julie (Bishop) and Julia (Gillard) are unmarried and childless. A generation behind them, Tania Plibersek and Sarah Hanson-Young are the exception, not the rule when it comes to having a young family and a successful political career at the same time.
Hilary Clinton’s career only took off after Bill had left the White House and their daughter Chelsea had grown up. She recalls making a decision to follow her “heart but not (her) head” in leaving a successful Washington position in the mid-1970s to marry and move to Arkansas with Bill. She waited years to have the time to pursue the kind of career she is now enjoying.
Some women are just not that patient. Former (childless) New Zealand PM Helen Clark once said:
“Having children has never been something I’ve wanted to do because I value my personal space and privacy too highly. I cannot think of the sort of life I would want to have where I would want to give up those things for children.”
This brings up the real issue at play here: A woman is handed a uterus at birth. What should it matter what she chooses to do with it? If, like Hilary Clinton, she chooses children and then a career, so be it. If like Tsai Ing-wen she chooses to pursue career over family, why do we care? Why – like Wang Weixing – do we continue to define a woman’s worth over whether or not she has a husband and has managed to procreate? It’s easy enough to say, “Well, it’s China…China isn’t exactly known for being progressive in terms of women’s rights”. But it’s not just China. It’s in the gossip columns which constantly fret about poor Jennifer Aniston’s childlessness. It’s in the tabloids which have no problem with male infidelities but blast women who cheat as being “homewreckers”.
It’s your uncle asking you when you’re going to have a baby – ignoring whether or not you want one or can actually have one. It’s your tradie (true story) who pops over to give you a quote to rip up your carpet and asks whether your husband commutes to the city from your quiet suburban semi. Because there’s no way that a single 30-something woman could ever be living there – and paying it off – alone. It’s all these little things, suggesting women have blood coming out of their “wherever” and saying they’re too soft and emotional to lead, then calling them ballbusters if they toughen up. It’s telling women looks don’t matter yet still measuring female achievement on a scale beginning with “mumsy and approachable” and ending in “fuckable”.
It’s calling Julia Gillard a witch and telling her to soften her look and change her hair colour. It’s giving Julie Bishop shit for not wanting to label herself a feminist. It’s Trump accusing Hilary of playing “The Woman Card” (whatever the hell that is) and suggesting that if she were a bloke she’d have less than 5% support.
Whether you like her politics or not, Hilary Clinton is perhaps the most qualified Presidential candidate in history. A brilliant lawyer, twice First Lady (of the state of Arkansas and then of the USA), a New York State Senator and finally, Secretary of State. Her political chops are beyond repute and anyone who thinks otherwise is insane. Quite the contrary to what The Donald suggests, if she were a man, she’d have been handed the keys to the White House, no need to even campaign. She is an outstanding politician.
As is, no doubt, Tsai Ing-wen. She was elected with a startling majority – a majority who don’t give a damn if she’s single and childless, they only care that she has the best interests of the Taiwanese people at heart. What a progressive novelty amongst the backward, sexist bullshit at play in China, in Washington, and in our own backyard.
Bravo, Tsai Ing-wen and bravo, Taiwan. As we go to the polls this year, may we all take a leaf out of your book.