Taiwanese Feminist Association (TFA)

Interview by Peiying Chen

The Taiwanese Feminist Association (TFA) is the first and largest organization composed of primarily Taiwanese feminist scholars and researchers across colleges, universities, and research institutes in Taiwan. It can be seen as a converging force between the women’s movement and intellectual activism in Taiwan. The collective goal of the TFA is to integrate theory and practice, research and social movements into one organization. It aims at developing the women’s movement by nurturing feminist awareness on campuses, shaping public discourse in favor of women’s rights, and networking feminist scholars and researchers around the island.

Dr. Lily Huang, the former director of the TFA, as with many other feminist scholars in Taiwan, stated that she and her colleagues' participation in the feminist organization came naturally after reflecting upon their cumulative experiences of discrimination. Simply, they cared about social justice and gender equity in Taiwanese society. "My first experience of gender discrimination occurred in the Academia Sinica when I worked as a researcher there," said Lily. "I was surprised by the dominant and demeaning masculine culture in Academia Sinica. The men unanimously devalued women researchers in one way or another, and it made me very sad!"

What amazed Lily was that there existed at least two kinds of gender discrimination at this institution. If a female researcher was outstanding, she was often ridiculed personally by degrading remarks about her figure, her body, her character, or her marital status. Conversely, if she was not a promising researcher, she was seen as the equivalent of a decorating "vase" and put on exhibition to contrast the outstanding performance of the male researchers. Either way, this kind of ridicule did undermine women’s academic performance. Not only were the masculine ethos manifested in academic institutions, but also the conservative ideology embraced by the so called "liberal" scholars in Taiwan’s universities made Lily feel that academia was merely for men.

She experienced alienation in her doctoral studies, yet at that time, she did not recognize it as sexual discrimination. Most of the time, male professors developed close mentoring relationships with male students and helped them to attain jobs in universities. She felt lucky enough to be treated as a "half-boy", to be accepted into the "old-boys’ club" in her graduate study and to learn how to survive and succeed in academia working for her renowned professor. But she still could not really be a full-fledged member of the great society. Later on, after she joined a feminist organization, she had to re-encounter these renowned liberal male professors who did not care to struggle in understanding why women were insistent on having their voices represented in academia. These confrontational experiences strengthened her belief that Taiwanese society still had a long way to go to achieving gender equality.

Lily developed her feminist awareness after her graduation from National Taiwan University. She is now an assistant professor in Tam-Kang University. From reflecting upon her unpleasant experiences, she started reading many feminist publications and voluntarily worked for the Feminist Awakening, the first feminist organization in Taiwan. She made a great deal of sense out of the discrimination in her past and decided to take feminist scholarship seriously. Through reflection upon women’s status in general, and women academicians in particular, Lily found her unique way of integrating her feminist scholarly interests with indigenous psychology. This was the reason that she joined the TFA and eventually served as the director of the organization from October 1999 to October 2001.

It is not surprising that the TFA soon became an empowering network established for feminist scholars who sought emotional, social, and intellectual support for doing alternative research and feminist teaching. It attracted many Taiwanese women academicians like Lily. The TFA now has around 150 members from 41 colleges and universities including the Academia Sinica. Their members communicate via email-and LISTSERV's frequently. The conversation topics range from personal to public issues. Many strategies of collective action have been initiated via on-line discussion and informal dialogues.

The association has successfully employed its resources and knowledge to produce public discourses, and through mass media, it has amplified feminist voices on women’s rights issues. The repertoire of collective action includes co-hosting gender conferences with other universities, seminars, an annual event informing the public about women’s situations on the date of Women’s Day, and publishing feminist research and books.

An all-woman staff runs the TFA. Although they allow male members to join the association, they cannot be elected into either the executive board or the monitoring board. These women professors and researchers made this crucial decision for they have come to know that men almost always dominate policy-making bodies. Consequently, these women have preserved their leadership to run this association. One characteristic of this organization is that it is a portable organization. It has no office or office staff. The director's office has become the association’s temporary office. The TFA’s website was established in November 2001, and now, these cyber-feminist scholars feel that they own a "Net home." The web site has three sections for members: to write about the organization's history, to tell her/his own personal life story about how she/he has become a feminist scholar/activist, to introduce foreign feminist activists or to make a connection to other feminist/women’s organizations around the world.

The TFA website: www.feminist.sinica.edu.tw