I am a Taiwanese woman.
Growing up between Taiwan and China, I always found it difficult to navigate my identity. In China, Taiwanese women are labeled “homewreckers” thanks to our seemingly helium-tainted voices. Taiwanese women are equipped with high-pitched, slurred voices, bearing a high resemblance to aegyo—cute, juvenile mannerisms conducted in a flirtatious manner. Because of this, many Chinese people criticize Taiwanese women for their supposed efforts to sound desirable.
Unfortunately, Chinese culture pretty much always enforces this. In the video for the Chinese hip-hop track “Trickery,” a rapper actively pursues a Taiwanese woman who seems unfazed yet amused by the rapper’s pining throughout most of the video. Ultimately, though, she gives in to his obviously empty promises—suggesting that Taiwanese women are easy. As the title suggests, the rapper makes promises and excuses in order to trick the girl into being with him, knowing she’ll eventually give in.
Even here in Taiwan, a country renowned as one of the most progressive countries in Asia, many people are still conservative at heart. Women are highly regarded here: we have our first female president in office, and we’re encouraging girls around the country they can be anything they want to be. But more often than not, I feel like women are held at a higher standard than men in Taiwan and are consequently expected to become jacks of all trades. Women in Taiwan are expected to be so much, to the point where many found themselves babying their children throughout adulthood, going out of their way to create the best life for their children. They’re expected to be “上得廳堂下得廚房,”—to uphold appearances as a perfect wife with ease while supporting their family. In Taiwanese TV shows and movies, women are perfect in every single aspect of their lives: they tend to their husband and family, are well-spoken and well-educated, and never makes mistakes.
And so, Taiwanese girls like me often feel trapped. We aren’t sneaky, seductive, and superficial, nor are we the perfect women everyone at home wants us to be. By creating stories about stereotypical Taiwanese women in popular media, damaging stereotypes keep being enforced. I don’t remember the last time I felt represented on television. Hell, I felt more connected to Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird than I ever did to Giddens Ko’s Shen Chia-Yi.
There’s a popular Taiwanese saying that “The most beautiful scenery in Taiwan is the people.” That’s pretty flattering, considering Taiwan is famous for its mountains and seas. But here in Taiwan, we’re never encouraged to be ourselves—we’re afraid of being too much or not enough. I was lucky enough to grow up with great female role models, like my mother and my grandmother—because they’re the only kind representation of Taiwanese women I had.
We can talk about the inaccuracy of representation for Taiwanese women all we want, but it’s more important to actually start making changes. Bringing diversity into writers’ rooms to create more realistic Taiwanese characters can be game-changing for the entertainment scene in East Asia, and it might just humanize my country’s women.
By Wen Hsiao
Illustrated by Hannah Kang