Trigger Warning: sexual harassment and rape culture
A few weeks ago, I read “Being in Public While Female, and though Jo says that she doesn’t face nearly as much street harassment as some other women, when she described the harassment she has faced, my reaction was ‘whoa, that’s a lot’ (as well as ‘that’s incredibly messed up’).
During my time in Taiwan, I haven’t seen a single instance of sexual harassment in public, and the only sexually intimidating behavior I’ve observed was committed by foreign men, not local men.
While I have read a lot of stories about women being sexually harassed in public in South Korea and Japan, I have not read such stories about Taiwan.
Does that mean that Taiwanese men are totally respectful of women and their bodily boundaries?
Unfortunately, the short answer is ‘no’.
I think there’s a lack of public sexual harassment because expressing oneself sexually in public is taboo in Taiwan.
Based on my observation, holding hands is the limit to how much physical affection people can display in public places.
One time, I went through ‘breast rubbing alley’ while some young men were inside. I timed my entry into the alley deliberately so that I would encounter them inside the alley, because I was curious as to whether they would actually rub my breasts. What happened? They contorted their bodies so they kept the greatest distance from me possible, and when I pointed out we were in ‘breast-rubbing alley’, one guy replied that he didn’t dare touch my breasts.
In the United States, I think that the young men would have, at the minimum, made lewd comments.
It’s worth noting that most of the ways to say that a man is sexually promiscuous in Mandarin are insulting (though not as insulting as the ways to say that a woman is promiscuous). In Chinese-speaking cultures, it’s something which should be kept private, not flaunted in public. This is quite different from American culture, where bragging about one’s ‘sexual conquests’ is a way for men to show off their status.
I know that, unfortunately, rape culture is alive and ‘well’ in Taiwan. It’s merely less obvious from the outside because of the taboos on displaying sexuality in public. While that spares me harassment in the street, it’s no help to the people suffering sexual abuse behind closed doors.