Tsai likes pink

The other night I was at a cold and rainy rally for Tsai Ing-wen, and I looked down at the flag in my hand.  Tsai’s flag is pink, and I thought to myself, isn’t it strange that she would use pink for her flag.  Yesterday at a Ma rally, actress Bai Bing-bing 白冰冰 made an egregious comment tying together the facts that Yingluck Shinawatra is a woman and Thailand has experienced flooding, so I think maybe today I should write about the surprising role of gender in this campaign.  I’ll get to Bai later though.

Why would I think that it is strange that Tsai would use pink as her main color?  After all, she is advertising her femininity.  Well, Hillary Clinton, Michelle Bachman, and Elizabeth Dole have run for American president in recent years (wow, that’s a short list!), and none of them would have been caught dead in pink.  Hillary Clinton needed to emphasize toughness, not softness.  She worried that some voters might not support her because they thought a woman would not be able to command the military, dominate a cabinet meeting, or have the guts to send soldiers into battle to die.  For American female presidential candidates, gender has generally been an obstacle to overcome, not an asset to be advertised.  I can’t think of many female presidential candidates in other countries that I know anything about (Arroyo in the Philippines?), and Prime Ministers (ex: Yingluck, Thatcher, Merkel) are not quite the same since you don’t vote directly for a Prime Minister.  However, I’ll bet that gender was not a great asset for them either.

Questions about gender have been strangely absent from Taiwan’s presidential campaign.  No one has asked whether Tsai is tough enough to command the military or dominate a cabinet meeting.  I have heard a few people (almost always Tsai supporters) grouse that other people are too conservative and won’t vote for a woman, but I haven’t heard anyone say that they wouldn’t vote for a woman.  I certainly haven’t heard anything from the blue camp suggesting that gender is a reason that voters should vote for Ma.

If anything, gender has been an advantage for Tsai.  Many people are genuinely excited about the symbolism of having a female president.  If gender carries any political message, it is that Tsai is more compassionate and understands the problems that ordinary people, especially women, face.  (Think about this.  Ma is a family man, Tsai is unmarried.  Ma has children, Tsai has none.  Ma built his image on giving blood and doing charity work.  Yet Tsai is the nurturing, compassionate one.)

What about Bai Bing-bing?  The most notable thing about her comment is how quickly it was rejected by everyone.  The DPP blasted it, the KMT disavowed it, and even Ma stepped forward to clarify that he did not agree with that statement.  On stage, head of the Council on Agriculture Chen Wu-hsiung 陳武雄 (not exactly the symbol of gender equity) was visibly shocked.  Bai was not merely completely out of touch with mainstream values, she also crossed over the line of what is socially acceptable in today’s Taiwan.

Thirty years ago when political scientists started surveying Taiwanese, one of the questions asked was, “Some people say that women should not participate in politics like men do. Do you agree or disagree with this statement.”  In the early and mid-1980s, there were still many people who agreed.  If memory serves, it was about 30% agreeing in the earliest surveys.  By the mid-1990s, no one was disagreeing any more, and they eventually dropped the question altogether.  However, saying the socially acceptable thing and accepting and internalizing that value are different.  Today in 2011, it looks like gender equity is a consensus core value here in Taiwan.


13 Responses to “Tsai likes pink”

  1. Echo Says:

    Nice catch on the pink and gender issue. It’s indeed an interesting difference between Taiwan and other countries in this regard.

    But, I can throw in another piece of info — Tsai being a woman who could be seen as weak, although is not challenged in the current presidential campaign, but was challenged heavily during Tsai’s entire chairpersonship as well as the DPP primary by old-style DPP politicians and many TIers. Being growing up in a Japan-ruled era might play some factor in their role.

    For “Tsai chooses pink color”, I have to say, it’s one of the colors the DPP campaign uses. It seems to me that the DPP really doesn’t know how to brand their image — I am seeing all sort of different colors, seems to be a mess to me.

    (Think about this. Ma is a family man, Tsai is unmarried. Ma has children, Tsai has none. Ma built his image on giving blood and doing charity work. Yet Tsai is the nurturing, compassionate one.)

    Also think about this: Ma brags about how lucky he was for no need to eat plasticizer when he was younger, at the time that the whole country was suffering and in fear of the food pollution by plasticizer; Ma told the aboriginals that he treats them like humanbeing; … I can keep going on and on.

    Yes, Ma do have a wife, a wife who said in public that Ma is a sort of person who doesn’t care about others feeling.

    It’s not a surprise, man

  2. tommyinasia Says:

    I also wonder how much of it is due to the fact that her opponent is not exactly the paragon of masculinity. Oh yes, we know all about how housewives swoon for Ma in relatively large proportions, but when was the last time you saw him do anything macho or get his hands dirty? Running doesn’t count, especially when you wear short shorts while doing it. My intention is not to malign his sexuality, seeing as how I am also not one to get my hands dirty, but I do think it is harder to make a gender role contrast for Ma and Tsai. She doesn’t scream femininity, and he doesn’t scream masculinity.

    • frozengarlic Says:

      “She doesn’t scream femininity, and he doesn’t scream masculinity.”

      Interestingly, that topic hasn’t come up again either. Probably because, as you point out, they cancel each other out.

  3. frozengarlic Says:

    “… was challenged heavily during Tsai’s entire chairpersonship as well as the DPP primary by old-style DPP politicians and many TIers.”

    I thought about this. My impression is that those attacks generally did not resonate within in the party or with the public at large. The lesson other politicians learned is that this line of attack doesn’t work.

    But maybe I’m being too optimistic.

  4. Rust Says:

    Taiwan always strike me as being a country with the greatest gender equality in Asia, & greater gender equality in political participation than the western democracies.

    I am not exactly sure why this is the case in general, as the Japanese colonial rule & the later Kmt authoritarian rule are both from a culture that exercise gender bias. Maybe is just the local culture.

    As for greater equality for political participation, maybe it has to do with how in the early years in the fight for democracy, many Dpp activists were detained, & their families (often female) will carrying on their fight, & get elected in votes. Same goes for female activists. E.g. 葉菊蘭, 吳淑珍, 陳菊, 方素敏 (林義雄’s wife), 呂秀蓮

    • frozengarlic Says:

      There is another, much more male oriented, story about the democratization struggle encapsulated in the old saying 白天搞民主,晚上搞女人。Remember the story 北港香爐? I don’t know that I would classify the democratization struggle as a crucible for gender equity. I think this is a much broader societal trend.

      • Rust Says:

        I don’t know about 北港香爐, maybe I’m too young. As for 白天搞民主,晚上搞女人, this remind me of 施明德, since I heard that he used to be urn, the ladies’ man? That is until he completely screw up his ties with the green camp.

        Anyways, based on what I know, I would associate gender equality in politics more with the Dpp. I do wonder though, does the practice of having a significant number of women in the political scene (county, city representative, legislator,) extended before the Tangwai movement?

  5. Raj Says:

    So what’s your current prediction – Ma or Tsai to win?

  6. malaita Says:

    Another interesting contrast:
    Ma shed tears many times in public, while Tsai said in interviews that she had very few experiences of crying since growing up, not to mention doing so in public.

    • Echo Says:

      Interesting, malaita.

      Earlier today I watched TV on which shown is how people in N. Korea cried like the end of world for their dead leader Kim Jong IL. That scene reminded me of when I was younger, people in Taiwan cried like the end of world when the dictator Chiang Kai-shih died. Nowadays very little people in Taiwan would do that. Not many do that to his son, Chiang Jingguo, either.

      But Ma did that quite often. If he went to somewhere in Taiwan and sees the picture of Chiang Jingguo, he would start crying right there. There was once he did that when he visited a pig farm, shocking people around ‘cos they were wondering why he cried for the pigs. He cried for Chiang, but he never cried for the people who suffered (he actually teases them).

      Btw, malaita, Tsai did shed tears — or, in the brink of doing that, several times in her campaign trips around Taiwan — she was so touched by the people.

    • Rust Says:

      Tsai almost cried in this link, in one of the photos.


      The cause to what that move these two candidates is very indicative of where they put their thoughts, what they truly care for, is it not?

    • Echo Says:

      “The cause to what that move these two candidates is very indicative of where they put their thoughts, what they truly care for, is it not?”

      You are absolutely right, Rust.

      I’ve been paying attention to who cries and why they cried. It seems that the difference between Tsai and Ma more or less represents the difference between green and blue politicians —- green cried because that they are touched by the people, blue cried because they think they should have been treated better by the world( — for example, Liao liao-yi 廖了以 (Ma’s former Minister of the Interior, who cried in front of the camera cos he thought he said he already worked so hard but people still criticized him), Yeh Chin-chuan 葉金川 (Ma’s former Director of Department of Health, who cried because a student challenged him saying he “dwarf Taiwan.”)

      So, it’s not just Ma. The blue politicians tend to behave like they are the privileged ones and so should have been treated that way. If not, they might cry, in front of the camera. Privileged and fragile as class dolls.

  7. Echo Says:

    Another weeping politician on the blue side:

    宇昌案讓經建會受牽連 劉憶如難過哽咽

    Liu Yiru, the #1 suspect on the gov-and-KMT-conspired forgery, in which a document was forged 3 times to frame Tsai Ing-wen, wept in a gov party that she didn’t do anything wrong and if we can go back in time, she will do it again.

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