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The TV show sparked a wave of MeToo allegations in Taiwan

Taipei, Taiwan – More than 30 people, mainly women, have come forward in Taiwan in the past month to share stories of sexual harassment and assault on social media inspired by a hit Netflix series.

Some events took place more than a decade ago; Others were more recent, but they called men across politics, the arts, academia and even foreign diplomatic circles.

Many report that they face a culture of subtle misogyny at school and at work, including unwelcome comments from fellow students and colleagues about themselves and other women.

Nearly six years after the #MeToo campaign took the world by storm, Taiwan’s accounts of sexual harassment and assault are long overdue.

Taiwan’s first experience with #MeToo was relatively short compared to other places, although there were some well-publicized incidents. One included the publication of a novel by 26-year-old author Lin Yi-Han that drew on her experience of being groomed and sexually abused by her middle school teacher. The author later took his own life, setting off a national debate.

This time, it was the Taiwanese Netflix drama Wave Maker that inspired women to act

The show tells the story of two women working to hold a male colleague accountable for sexually harassing a thinly disguised version of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and was inspired by events in the life of Chien Lee, one of the show’s writers. Ying, who was harassed by the exiled Chinese writer Bei Ling. Bei Ling has publicly dismissed the allegations as “fabricated”, according to Taiwanese media.

Brian Heo, a regular commentator on Taiwan news and non-resident fellow in Taiwan Studies at the University of Nottingham, said both Chien and co-author Yan Shi-jie have direct experience in Taiwan’s political circles, which makes the show realistic for many Taiwanese viewers. activities.

“The series is very accurate with details. For example, the DPP office is replicated as an office in the TV show. It’s exactly the same,” he said. “And so a lot of it is drawn directly from real life.”

Ko Wen-Je is surrounded by supporters.  He wears a blue shirt and holds up his hands to show four fingers (his candidate number).  Supporters are doing the same.
Ko Wen-jae, center, a former mayor of Taipei who is running for president, was accused of sexism. He apologized and promised to change his behavior [File: Tyrone Siu/Reuters]

The reality has resonated with viewers since the show aired on April 28.

Just over a month later, accusations began to emerge – by activists from the two parties against their colleagues in the DPP, then against the exiled Chinese dissident Wang Dan who denied the accusations were “baseless”, and finally a stream of stories about the men. Taiwanese elite.

Upcoming elections

Heo said the reports could cause more stir as Taiwan prepares for presidential elections early next year, meaning political parties are under more scrutiny than ever.

Women have also come forward with allegations against members of the KMT, Taiwan’s main opposition party, and the smaller New Power Party.

Former Taipei mayor and Taiwan People’s Party presidential candidate Ko Wen-jae has also been accused of making “sexist comments” about female political candidates in the past and about her choice of specialty as a doctor.

Ko has since publicly apologized and promised to change his behavior as he begins his presidential campaign. His apology seems to have worked, and despite the backlash against him, Ko is still scoring higher than the KMT candidate in some polls.

“It’s a very sensitive time, so it can become a big story,” Hio said “And so, it started with the DPP, spread among Chinese dissidents, but also in literary and cultural circles, and it’s affecting different fields, academic life as well.”

The allegations also rocked diplomatic circles in Taipei after a Taiwanese woman publicly accused a Polish diplomat of sexual harassment and revealed that a criminal complaint she made in 2022 had not been prosecuted.

Writing on Twitter, the accused diplomat, Bartosz Rees, said the Taipei prosecutor’s office dismissed the woman’s charges, adding that her accuser was financially motivated because she had asked him for 2.5 million New Taiwan dollars (about $81,000) to drop the case.

The wave of complaints surprised even those familiar with Taiwan’s gender politics, such as Ting-Yu Kang, an associate professor at National Chengchi University who studies gender and media.

“As someone who works on gender equality in Taiwan, it’s no surprise to me that there are so many cases of sexual harassment in a wide range of different industries and fields. However, the sudden wave of #MeToo was surprising to me, considering Taiwan’s relative silence on the last wave of #MeToo,” he said.

Many of the institutions affected by the allegations – from DPPs to university programs – have pledged to improve their systems for reporting sexual harassment, but Kang told Al Jazeera that deeper problems could prevent victims from reporting incidents – moving from a desire to balance the workplace. at risk of possible repercussions from

“Like many other countries, online piracy in Taiwan has been growing stronger over the past decade. Whenever there is a news article about sexual harassment or rape, online comments on the news almost always include a lot of sarcasm and victim-blaming. This makes the online environment a very hostile place to expose yourself to predators,” he said.

“A popular online phrase in Taiwan goes, ‘If you’re a good-looking guy, there’s no such thing as sexual harassment,'” she said. “Another popular online comment when it comes to rape or sexual harassment is, ‘It’s not sexual harassment [or] Rape It’s just that they can’t agree on the number,’ means that in such cases the women are only cheating the men for money.”

‘Generation of effort’

This is a reality that contrasts sharply with Taiwan’s relatively positive image of gender relations.

Since 2016, Taiwan has been led by a female president, Tsai Ing-wen, who is unique in Asia for rising to power alone and without connections to political dynasties.

In 2019, Taiwan became the first place in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage and regularly ranks with the Scandinavian countries at the top of the UN’s Gender Equality Index.

People walk under a giant rainbow flag during Pride in Taipei
Taiwan scores high on gender equality and LGBTQ rights, but many still feel reluctant to talk about past abuses [File: Ann Wang/Reuters]

On the books, at least, Taiwan has sexual harassment laws on par with Western countries, said lawyer Audrey Lu, but in practice, sexual harassment can be a difficult crime to prove.

Beyond social pressure to remain silent, pinning down evidence can be difficult, he said, while statutes of limitations can also limit legal and civil prosecutions, and strict libel laws increase the risk of public accusations ending in a lawsuit.

“It’s also a significant hurdle that most victims have to face because, as you can see in this recent event, many victims are talking about events that happened years ago – decades ago – because at the time, they were under so much pressure that they didn’t have their teachers. , do not have the courage to speak against their bosses, their professors,” Lu said.

“At least they can tell the public what happened even though they can’t take any legal action because of the statute of limitations.”

Lu dismisses the idea that it is the Wave Makers program that is responsible for the recent wave of complaints.

“This is the effort of many men and women who have fought against sexual harassment and sexual assault for generations. It’s a composite, not a one-shot or one-event effect of the TV show,” he said. “The TV show itself is the result of many generations of effort, otherwise it wouldn’t be such a work of TV or literature. Maybe the timing is right.”

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