單飛──女人造家困境

:::

1998 / 10月

文‧滕淑芬 圖‧張良綱



「男有分,女有歸」,自古以來中國人認定女性最幸福的歸宿就是找個男人嫁了,走入婚姻。

於是當不在婚姻制度之內的現代單身女性想建立自己的生活時,才發現要面對的是來自家庭倫理觀、社會文化價值、經濟法令等重重束縛……

文化歧視單身女人?不要說沒有這回事。我們一直把查看汽車油量、輪胎氣壓、修汽車、修廁所、理財規劃;對付水電工人、承包商、銀行、國稅局,當成男人的事,因此當單身女人必須自己應付這些生活細節時,付出的代價往往比男人大。

每逢暑假總會到紐西蘭住幾個月的王小姐,因為要重鋪屋前馬路,她請了當地包商和華人監工來估價,價格高得不盡合理,她不相信要這麼貴,又請了當地男性朋友出面詢問價格,竟然只要三分之一。 生命不能等待

任教美國大學的凱羅•安德森和九十位從未結婚、離婚、或守寡的單身婦女深談她們獨自生活的樂與苦後,完成了《單飛不寂寞》這本書,她指出,單身生活最困難的部分就是,什麼事都必須自己做,除了你,沒有人會去倒垃圾。

「但是找個不會大敲一筆的修水管工人或機械工,搬動沈重的家具、在車子發動不了的情況下趕去上班,這些問題才會把單身女人逼到崩潰邊緣,」作者說。

生活將單身女人逼入困境,而必須獨自過活的單身女人其實不在少數。根據內政部年初完成的「婦女生活狀況調查報告」顯示,十五到六十四歲的台灣婦女中,百分之三十•七為未婚、百分之二•三為離婚、百分之二•四為喪偶。未婚是女性單身的主要原因。

三十二歲在廣告公司任職的小婉,對婚姻的態度是:不會為了想把生活圈子擴大,而去報名參加電視徵友、或以交友為名的旅遊團。她早已習慣一個人去看電影、逛街、聽音樂,生活也沒有不快樂;當然,如果爸媽要她去相親,她也不排斥。

她的「不積極、不主動、不排斥三『不』曲」多少反映了現代未婚女性的心態,日子一天一天這麼過,偶爾午夜夢迴,不免自怨自艾,然後還是繼續往前走。

相較於單身男性,女性的弱勢是,年紀越大,行情越低,來自四周親戚朋友語重心長的逼婚壓力,往往比男性大。 都是不結婚惹的禍

三十四歲在大學教書的小惠,父母住在台南,她的逼婚壓力不是來自父母,而是學校裡的主管同事。尤其在喝喜酒、應酬的場合,視她為晚輩的主管往往將目標對準她,「有沒有好消息?下一次我們要喝妳的喜酒了。」不然就是向不認識的人介紹:「我們的小惠能力強、眼光高,是系上最年輕的女博士,我們一定要趕快把她嫁出去!」她只能陪著笑臉、將話輕鬆帶過,心裡暗自咒罵:「結不結婚關你們什麼事,還要你們把我嫁出去!」

中國人向來視單身為人生的過渡階段,只是有些女性的準備期長了點。

民國七十九年行政院主計處的統計發現,二十五到二十九歲的女性,平均三人有一人小姑獨處;三十到三十四歲則有十分之一的女性未婚。相較於十多年前,未婚率提高了百分之十四及六。

到了八十二年時,二十五到二十九歲女性的未婚率高達百分之三十六•四;三十到三十四歲的未婚者佔百分之十一,都比十年前提高了一倍。

女性晚婚,甚至拒婚的原因何在?

一般看法認為,女性教育年限延長影響到女性對婚姻的選擇,教育投資越長,結婚越可能延後;其次,女性投入工作事業,常無法顧及個人婚姻;最後是,社會的離婚率日增,不幸的婚姻故事常環繞周遭,患有結婚恐懼症或拒婚族的女性增加,遲婚率也就上升了。 非婚一族,文化弱勢

不過,台大社會系副教授王麗容為文指出,這樣的觀點過於保守,而忽略了兩性角色變遷的事實。她的看法是,女性遲婚可能來自婚姻帶給女性過多的束縛,傳統期待女性扮演好家庭主婦的角色,但現實環境又要求女性要是成功的職業婦女,和男性角色無異,「蠟燭兩頭燒」卻未能獲得滿意掌聲,使得許多女性對婚姻抱持觀望態度,寧可維持單身身份。

其次,社會對婚姻角色仍然有著「雙重標準」。王麗容表示,女性被要求「三從四德」,但是卻容許男性稍稍縱容、出軌,台灣社會的聲色文化已經威脅到女性對婚姻的安全感。

然而,單身女性一增加,社會似乎就感到不安。

中古時代歐洲,獨身的中年女性受到空前的災難,這些女性被冠上「女巫」之名,被處死或囚禁。

台灣民間則慣稱沒有進入婚姻制度的女性為「老姑婆」、「老處女」,諷刺單身女性是一群情緒不穩定、難以相處的人。宗教界對於拒婚的出家女尼,更是多所貶抑,佛教經典形容女人「如死狗死蛇,穢惡而壞爛」;清朝時為了防止出家女性情慾流弊,規定女子要四十歲以上才能出家。

祭祀習俗中還有所謂的「姑娘廟」,專門奉祀未婚而死去的女子,農曆七月十五日中原普渡拜祀「無主的孤魂」時,未婚過世的女子也包括在內,因為未婚,死後的牌位也不能放在家中。民間因而有「冥婚」傳統,必須找個男子娶回死去女子牌位,才能投胎轉世。

這樣的觀念仍然根深蒂固的烙印在某些本省籍家族中。三十二歲的小婉說,有次未婚的弟弟像是開玩笑的說,如果姊姊真的嫁不出去,「以後我讓我的兒子拜妳好了,」一旁的媽媽竟然很大聲的回答:「不行!」因為媽媽認為,不管女兒出家或未出嫁,反正死後都不是家裡的人,牌位自然不能放在家裡。

作家平路曾經指出,從我們對「家」的意像描寫「父慈子孝,兄友弟恭」,就可以看出女性在這樣的文化邏輯下是被刪除的。看看目前熱門的流行文化武俠小說中,女人在沒有家庭形式、沒有單一情感寄託時是怎麼被形容的,平路以金庸小說《神鵰俠侶》中的李莫愁、瑛姑為例:「這些人一生做惡多端卻也不是天性歹毒,只是因為情場失意、憤世嫉俗,由惱恨傷痛而成為乖辟,再由乖辟而成乖戾殘暴……」 致命的吸引力?

也許是為了「平反」單身女性過於負面的形象,女作家黃明堅創造了「單身貴族」一詞,鼓勵經濟獨立自主的女性,不需要男人,一個人也可以生活得很好。此後有關單身族群的各種國內外論述,一時之間似乎蓬勃起來,《不婚俱樂部》、《樂在不結婚》、《單身的挑戰》、《也是不結婚症候群》等等。

然而社會文化對單身女性仍持不友善的程度,認為她們是婚姻制度的 「女殺手」。

幾年前,男性作家苦苓在公開場合演說,請台灣已婚男人留心「單身公害」,尤其是那些高學歷、有理想、有抱負,卻不肯結婚的女人。她們不要錢、也不要名分,最令男人難以抗拒。

在外遇問題連續多年被已婚女性列為頭號緊張問題的同時,單身女性被指為頭號的罪魁禍首,而且到達人人得而誅之的「公害」地步。

更有名的例子則是一九八七年發行,賣座鼎盛的《致命吸引力》這部美國電影,劇情描述一個原本幸福的中產階級家庭,妻子外出幾天,先生偷腥,以為一夜情到此結束,想不到蛇蠍美人有如憤怒野獸,不願善罷甘休,而她的命運是死在維護家庭的妻子槍下。出軌的丈夫整個生活成了恐怖夢魘,但丈夫還能從夢魘中醒來,不倫之戀卻成了單身女郎的致命原因。

「過去大家把單身女性壓抑的太過厲害,必須有個出口解放出來,但不管是公害或貴族,名詞都是創造出來的,反映部分真實,卻不代表整體現象,」聯合報記者沈怡說。 獨自面對喜與憂

今年完成《關於單身》一書的她,在書中自我剖析過了四十歲大關、仍處於單身的處境,看清楚將獨自面對老之將至、寂寞無時而來、喜悅無人分享的劣勢;但享受充分的個人自由,準備好了隨時就可以出外旅行,不需徵得另一半同意的生活空間,「仔細評估優勢、劣勢,即使沒有計算到,都已經告訴自己,我可以承擔,」她說。

在她看來,單身女性不是光譜中極端的「貴族」,也不是刻板印象的「公害」,但是社會對單身女性種種形象描述的最大迷思在於對「性」的態度。

「或是以為單身者的性生活很放浪,一夜情經常在單身者身上上演;或者單身者天生對性沒興趣,仍然要求單身者守貞,因為只要沒有結婚就不能從事合法的性行為,」她說,價值觀槍口往往對準女性。

女性單身的身分常被「擴張」解釋,既然沒有結婚,就不可能有性活動,醫療專業體系也加入歧視單身女性的行列,指陳單身女性「容易有毛病」。

有媒體報導引述醫師的話:「發現長期單身婦女若個性內向、自我封閉,性情往往變得十分古怪,在壓抑性衝動之下,荷爾蒙分泌失調,容易產生生殖系統子宮肌瘤、子宮癌的症狀。另外,下腹腔疼痛、頭痛頭暈、長青春痘也很普遍。」

由於「男大當婚、女大當嫁」,這一類的醫療論述假設單身女性沒有性活動,因此會「陰陽失調」而發生病痛。 高貴不貴

「社會對不婚女人的情緒很複雜,又是恐懼,又是焦慮,」婦女新知基金會秘書長陳美華說,有時社會把單身女人刻劃得張牙舞爪,有時又把她們描寫得很逸樂,吃好穿好的,不用負擔任何責任。

但整體而言,即使是高學歷的單身女性,她們的經濟條件仍然不如男性。主計處的統計顯示,大學以上女性的失業率比同學歷男性高。

如果加上被迫或非自願加入單身行列的婦女人口,單身婦女居於經濟弱勢的情況將更嚴重。

台大社會學系教授薛承泰調查「台灣地區單親戶的數量」,台灣地區五百萬戶家庭中,單親戶約有二十萬戶,也就是說每二十五戶就有一戶為單親,其中單親媽媽佔了百分之六十。分析單親成因,以離婚最高(百分之五十八)、喪偶居次(百分之三十八)、最後是未婚單親(百分之四)。

根據統計,單親媽媽的就業率是百分之六十一,單親爸爸則達百分之八十,單親女性的經濟負擔比男性大。日前台北市政府舉辦「國際單親兒童文教論壇會議」,也有學者指陳,單親媽媽的人數比單親爸爸多,女性單親家庭的每月收入在兩萬元以下近四成左右。 隱性歧視

當女人的平均壽命七十七歲,比男性的七十一歲多出六年時,婦女落於單身的機會已經比男性大得多,但想獨自成家的單身者可能發現國家部分福利、法令對她們相當不利。

婦女新知基金會日前提出「單身女人社會處境報告」,她們舉辦座談會,質疑國家的社會福利如申購國宅的資格、和政府透過以「利息補貼」方式輔助人民購置住宅的低利貸款,將單身者排除在外,是一種「隱性歧視」。

此外,勞基法「每月延長工作總時數」的加班規定,男性不得超過四十六小時,女性不得超過二十四小時。婦女新知認為,法令本意也許是為了保護女性,但一天一小時的加班時數其實很容易超過,單身者因為沒有家累,很可能成為加班的最佳人選。而財政部免稅的規定則是,加班若超過時數就要併入薪資課稅,如此女性的加班免稅時數是二十四小時,男性卻可以免稅四十六小時,明顯不公平。

「社會一直在說婚姻是種選擇,但其實是種制度,」陳美華說,國家資源分配好像是要「懲罰」沒有進入婚姻、不遵守家庭意識形態的單身者。

內政部的回應是,「國宅要照顧的對象是『家庭』而非個人」。何況他們的規定也不是針對單身婦女而來,單身男性同樣也沒有申請資格。

醫生作家王浩威曾經為文感嘆,「如果一般夫妻有一定額度(一百六十萬元)的貸款福利,為什麼我連半數額度的機會也沒有?」

「如果因單身者選擇單身作為生活形態,而以經濟上的不平等來打壓,無形中等於只有一種價值觀被肯定,也是一種倒退,」本身為單親媽媽的立法委員葉菊蘭強調,個人選擇的自由應被尊重,婚姻可能是一種幸福、一種保障;但也可能是一場夢魘、一種壓力。

「尤其勞資雙方因經濟行為結合,更應人人平等,」她說,何況超時加班的條文對雇主沒有約束力,等於是懲罰乖乖加班的女性勞工。 還沒潑出去的水

不過,葉菊蘭也承認「為了單身者平權的問題而修法,會被認為是無聊的問題,」大多數立法者可能不覺得有急迫性。但我們確實必須體認到「法令沒有適應現代化結構改變的事實,」她說。

「當我們計算單身者的經濟條件時,多數人只想到一個人吃飯很簡單,但沒有想到單身者要盡的社會義務,」陳美華說。

在廣告公司任職、三十五歲的小美說,自銀行界退休的父親將價值數百萬元的股票分成四份,哥哥得兩份,她和姊姊各得一份。小美的態度是,財產是上一輩賺來的,他們有權如何分配。她的不平在,哥哥婚後自己出去組了小家庭,照顧罹患癌症母親的重擔其實是落在她這沒出嫁的女兒身上,有時加班晚回去,父親還要怪她對母親不盡心。

未婚女性生活看似有充分個人自由、時間,但卻常常不得不成為家族中最好的人力資源、財力資源、精神資源。

作家廖和敏在《不婚俱樂部》中描繪存在於這個時代的部分景象:「家族中有大小事,要調配有家分子出馬比較困難,因為他們要先安頓家中的老小,才能騰出多餘人力援外。單身的生活比較單純,也比較好調動。」

於是姑姑族、阿姨族常成為家族「備胎」,姊姊、哥哥忙不過來時,她們得代替接送外甥、姪女。

「單身者手頭多餘的錢不須為孩子儲備學費或家庭急用金,當家族需要,她們反正沒有什麼後顧之憂,大方出借,」《不婚俱樂部》中說。 單身的挑戰

單身者的社會責任不能免,但是社會對單身女性卻相當不友善,甚至充滿威脅。

單身女人之間有一個共同的小祕密,她們經常會在門口放一雙男鞋,而且會彼此互相提醒,記得定時更換不同式樣的鞋,無非想警告企圖闖入單身女人之家的「大野狼」。

但這麼做除了自我安慰外,能有多大防暴效果?「因為獨居被歹徒盯上的可能性非常大,生命權是人的基本保障,」陳美華說,當她們提出單身女人社會處境調查報告時,花最多時間討論的是單身女性的居家安全,但卻無法有任何具體結論。

幾起社會上重大的性侵害案件,都以獨居女性為目標,歹徒侵入東海大學女學生在外租屋;犯下白曉燕案的陳進興逃亡期間,也對準單身女子公寓;資深媒體工作者徐璐在她的書中披露,六年前深夜在自己家中,遭到強暴。

獨居女性的安全亮起紅燈,但陳美華說,她們不能只建議單身女性加裝鐵窗、選擇保全設施完善的社區,除非結構性因素改變,否則「沒有任何出路」。

由於男女體力懸殊,單身女性享受個人生活時,承受的心裡壓力往往比男性大。

沈怡的男同事阿奇,經常半夜睡不著,到附近政大校園跑萬米「解除情慾壓力」。她和台大校園只在一條馬路之隔,但如果沒有朋友陪伴,深夜再想散步,也只能作罷。

黑夜對單獨的女性來說,缺乏羅曼蒂克,卻總是優先測試著她的身體警報系統。

為了安全,生活中少了些項目。

小婉的困擾是,她喜歡到海邊走走,但單身女性來到海邊,可能會被懷疑是要自殺,為了避免造成別人的誤會,她也就少去了。

沒有人陪伴,沈怡也不會去看子夜場電影,多年來幾次想換屋不成,除了熟悉感,一直依賴現在的住處相當安全。尋來覓去,「斤斤計較的還是環境安全第一」。

美國聯邦調查局曾經公布一份報告指出,二十到二十四歲,單身、離婚、分居,住在城市的婦女,最容易成為暴力犯罪的受害者。而受害的場所,百分之四十五發生在受害人家中或附近。

國內清大學生輔導中心的調查也指出,每兩名女性大學生,就有一名曾遭到性騷擾或性侵害。落到工作職場,已婚女性背後有一個男人撐腰,騷擾者通常不會自找麻煩。未婚的年輕女性常被騷擾,因為人孤影單,勢力薄弱。 不再孤軍奮戰

但「不害怕天災,只恐懼人禍,」難道只是單身女性的困境?為了安全,單身女性就該積極尋找另一半,受男人保護?

現代婦女基金會的調查顯示,二十三到二十九歲未婚女性是強暴受害者的高危險群。但值得注意的是,歹徒和受害人並非都是陌生人,彼此熟識的比例,高達百分之六十六,可能是父親、繼父、叔伯表哥;也可能是師長、上司。婚姻中暴力也是台灣婦女最為擔心的問題之一。

「獨居越久,對安全越防衛過度,但寧可有反應過度的防衛態度,」沈怡說,工作夜歸時,偶爾會在將鑰匙插上鎖孔時假想,「如果這時候門後頭藏著一個人,該怎麼辦?」打開漆黑的大門,開燈立刻掃瞄室內,是不是和離開時一樣的凌亂?

「就算是約好人來送瓦斯、修電話,也都令我片面戒備,」她說,「家裡來一個陌生的男人,管他是在廚房換電熱管,在廁所修電燈,我最經常的反應就是打電話給朋友,彷彿藉著與外界通訊,獲得安全保障,這類保護動作從來沒有人教過。」

「我們不想讓被侵犯的恐懼感一直控制單身女性,」陳美華說,她們期望刑法將強姦罪由告訴乃論罪改為公訴罪後,至少可以減少一半的強暴犯在街上流動。

此外,社區街巷應有連接警察局的電鈴裝置,讓獨自走入巷弄的婦女不再害怕。

有人說,「寧為單身,是一種選擇;不得不單身,是命運。」選擇也好,命運也好,面對單身,更多的時候是面對自己。

相關文章

近期文章

EN

Single But Not Alone-- The Growing Number of Single Women in Taiwan

Teng Sue-feng /photos courtesy of Vincent Chang /tr. by Phil Newell


"Men find careers, women find husbands." Since ancient times Chinese have believed that the happiest situation for a woman was to find security in marriage.

Many modern women, on the other hand, prefer to build lives for themselves outside the institution of marriage. When they try to do so, however, they find obstacles on all sides-family pressures, cultural values, economic patterns, the law. . . .

Is there discrimination against single women? Don't be so quick to say "of course not." Many things in life have traditionally been seen as "man's work"-like taking care of the car, calling in the plumber, or handling family finances. When faced with plumbers, contractors, bankers, or tax bureaus, single women who must take care of these details of life often pay a much higher price than men.

Miss Wang spends a few months in New Zealand every summer. When she wanted to repave the drive in front of her house, she asked a few contractors to come over and make estimates. The prices they quoted seemed unreasonably high to her. So she got a local male friend to front for her, and the estimates contractors gave him were only about one-third of the ones they had given her. Life can't wait

For her book Flying Solo, American professor Carol Anderson conducted in-depth interviews with 90 never-married, divorced, or widowed women. She concludes that the most difficult thing about single life is having to take care of everything oneself-there's nobody to take out the garbage but you!

She adds that the problems that drive single women closest to the edge are ones like finding a reasonably priced plumber or electrician, moving heavy furniture, or facing a car that won't start just when they have to rush off to work.

Though life creates problems for single women, the number of women who must get through life on their own is not small. According to statistics in the Ministry of the Interior's "Survey of Women's Living Conditions," released at the beginning of this year, of women in Taiwan aged 15-64, 30.7% have never been married, 2.3% are divorced, and 2.4% are widowed. The overwhelming majority of single women fit in the category "never married."

Hsiao Wan, 32 years old, works in an advertising company. Her attitude is that she won't "actively seek to expand her circle of friends" just for marriage. Thus she foregoes such possibilities as matchmaking TV shows or "singles" trips abroad. She goes to movies, shops, and lives on her own. She is not unhappy. Of course, if her parents set up a meeting with some eligible bachelor, she doesn't refuse.

Countless modern women share her "three noes policy-no actively seeking marriage, no taking the initiative in relationships, and no rejection of meeting possible partners. She takes life one day at a time, and though there are times when she has her daydreams, or can't help but have complaints, she keeps moving forward. Under pressure

The biggest problem for single women is that as they get older, they experience ever-increasing pressure from friends and family to get hitched. Ordinarily, they come under much more pressure than single men.

Thirty-four-year-old Hsiao Hui is a university professor. Thanks to the fact that her parents live in faraway Tainan, she doesn't get direct pressure from them to get married. But she does feel pressure from her colleagues and superiors. It's worst when they are all together at a wedding or social gathering. Her superior, who treats her like a child, always puts her on the spot: "Any good news? Next time let's be toasting to your wedding." And to strangers, he introduces her by saying, "Our Hsiao Hui is capable and ambitious, the youngest PhD in our department. We must get her married off soon!" All she can do is laugh such comments off, but inside she seethes: "What business is it of yours if I am married or not!? And you even talk about marrying me off!"

Chinese have always seen the single life as a transitional period, allowing only that some women take longer to prepare for marriage than others.

The Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting, and Statistics (DGBAS) says that in 1980, one third of women aged 25 to 29 were unmarried. At the same time, one out of ten women aged 30 to 34 was unmarried. Compared to ten years before that, these two figures had increased by 14% and 6% respectively.

In 1993, the ratio of women aged 25-29 who were unmarried reached 36.4%, while the figure for women aged 30 to 34 was 11%. Both these figures were double the level of ten years previously.

Why are women getting married later, or not at all?

It is generally believed that more education has affected women's attitudes toward marriage. The greater the amount of time invested in education, the greater the likelihood marriage will be put off. In addition, women are devoting themselves to their careers, and often cannot take time for marriage. Finally, the rising divorce rate and a plethora of stories of disastrous marriages have infected a growing number with fear of marriage. Therefore, the number of women who postpone or reject marriage has increased. Cultural bias

However, in the view of Wang Li-jung, an associate professor of sociology at National Taiwan University, such explanations are overly conservative. They ignore the fact that gender roles have changed. Her view is that many women are reluctant to marry because marriage imposes too many restrictions on women. Women have always been expected to be good homemakers. But now women are also expected to have careers, head-to-head with the guys. They burn the candle at both ends, but end up with neither satisfaction nor appreciation. This causes many women to maintain a cautious attitude toward marriage.

In fact, there is still a double standard in society toward marital roles. Wang avers that women are expected to adhere to the "three obediences and four virtues," but men are permitted greater flexibility and room for lapses. Many women today feel insecure about marriage given Taiwan's thriving "entertainment" industry in which married men routinely participate.

However, when the number of unmarried women rises, it seems that many in society feel something is wrong.

In medieval Europe, single middle-aged women suffered barbarous treatment. Many were labeled as witches, and put to death or imprisoned.

In Taiwan, it is common for people to denigrate women who have chosen not to wed as "old maids." They are stereotyped as unstable people who are difficult to get along with. The religious community is even more demeaning toward women who refuse marriage and take religious orders. Buddhist classics describe such women as "like dead dogs or dead snakes, filthy and rotting." During the Qing Dynasty, in order to pre-empt the alleged danger of licentiousness among young nuns, it was decreed that women could only join religious orders after age 40.

In local folk-worship traditions in Taiwan, there are so-called "unmarried miss temples," dedicated to women who died unwed. Deceased unmarried women are considered to be among the "lonely souls without homes" to whom offerings are made on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month each year. This is because memorial tablets for unmarried women cannot be placed in the family home after their deaths, so there is no one to make offerings to them in the afterlife. This is also why there is the tradition of "funereal marriage," in which it is necessary to find a man to "marry" the deceased woman and accept her memorial tablet, as only then can she be reincarnated.

These ideas are still deeply ingrained in many Taiwanese families. Hsiao Wan says that one time her unmarried brother said in jest that if his sister really couldn't find a husband, "In the future I'll have my kids look after your departed soul." But her mother interjected: "That's impossible!" Her mother felt that if she remained unmarried for any reason, after death she would not be a member of the family, and her memorial tablet naturally could not be placed in the family home.

The writer Ping Lu has made an interesting point in noting that the Chinese description of the ideal family as including "a benevolent father, filial sons, kindly elder brothers, and respectful younger brothers" illustrates a kind of cultural logic in which women are excluded. As another example, she points to how women who have no families or do not have a single object of their affections are described in many popular martial arts novels. She notes that the evil female characters Li Mochou and Ying Gu, created by the writer Jin Yong, "are not evil by nature. It is just that they suffered failure in romance, and became angry at the world, and their pain became tendentiousness and finally viciousness." Fatal attraction?

Perhaps in order to "rehabilitate" the status of single women, the woman writer Huang Ming-chien came up with the expression "single noble," referring to elite, independent young women as the new "nobility" of society. She wanted to encourage economically independent women to understand that they did not need men and could live very well on their own. Thereafter, it seems like overnight, there was much discussion of single people in Taiwan and abroad, with many books on the subject appearing.

Many people have not taken kindly to the "single noble" characterization. Indeed, successful single women are often depicted as "murderesses" of the institution of marriage.

A few years ago, male writer Ku Ling, speaking at a public forum, advised married Taiwanese men to beware of "public menaces." He was referring to well-educated, independent, and ambitious women who were unwilling to settle down. It seems he worried that married men would find the temptation of such women-who asked for nothing, not security, money, or status-most difficult to refuse.

Married women, meanwhile, who list extra-marital affairs by their husbands as their number one concern, often put the blame on single women. It has gotten to the point where everyone thinks of single women as a "public menace."

Probably the most well-known example of such thinking is the 1987 film Fatal Attraction. The film depicts a happy middle-class family. When the wife goes out of town for a few days, her husband has what he thinks is a one-night stand. Unexpectedly, the seductive "other woman" becomes as furious and vengeful as a wild animal. Her fate is to die under the gun of the wife protecting her family. Meanwhile, though the husband's whole life becomes a terrifying nightmare, he is still able to wake up from this nightmare, while the single woman dies as a result of the adulterous relationship.

So are single women "the new nobility" or "menaces"? Shen Yi, a staff writer at the United Daily News, opines: "In the past people oppressed single women too virulently. It was necessary to find an escape route by which single women could be psychologically liberated from all that. But no matter whether the term is 'single noble' or 'public menace,' labels are generalizations that people make up for their own ends and only reflect part of the truth. They cannot represent the entire phenomenon." Alone in times of joy and trouble

Shen has just completed a book entitled About Being Single. Having recently turned 40, in the book she analyzes her single life, and speaks frankly of its hardships: facing growing old alone, the feelings of loneliness that come on from time to time, and the absence of anyone to share happy moments with. But she also notes the freedom: For example, she can travel abroad whenever she wants, without having to get the agreement of a partner. She concludes: "Having carefully weighed the advantages and disadvantages, even though there is no way to calculate them mathematically, I have already decided that I can accept being single."

In her view, single women are neither idealized "single nobles" nor stereotyped "public menaces." Moreover, the greatest myths of all are those about sexuality.

"Either people assume that single women have very liberated sex lives, and frequently have one-night stands, or they think that single people have no interest in sex, and demand that single people remain celibate because one cannot engage in legal sexual behavior outside of marriage," she says. The barrel of the gun of society's value system is often aimed right at women.

The status of single women is often "exaggerated." Under the assumption that women without husbands cannot have sexual activity, the medical system also has joined in the ranks of those discriminating against single women, accusing single women of "readily having problems."

In one media report, a doctor was quoted as saying: "It has been discovered that if women who have been single for a long time have introverted personalities, and are self-absorbed, their emotional life often becomes very bizarre. As they repress their sexual desires, their hormone secretions fall out of balance, and they are susceptible to tumors in the reproductive system. In addition, stomach and intestinal pain, headaches and dizziness, and adult acne are also common problems."

Medical theories that assume that marriage is the natural state for men and women, and that single women have no sexual activity, conclude that there is in single women "an imbalance between yin and yang," with illness being the result. Poor nobility

"Society's attitudes toward unmarried women are very complex, being partly fear, and partly concern," says Chen Meihua, secretary-general of the Awakening Foundation. Sometimes society depicts single women as fierce or predatory, but sometimes it depicts them as enjoying their lives, indulging in fine food and fashions, and having no responsibilities.

However, the economic status of women-including highly educated ones-is still not up to that of men. According to the DGBAS, the unemployment rate for women is always higher than for men of similar educational background.

The economic situation for single women is even more serious if one includes those women who are not single by choice.

According to a survey of single parent families in Taiwan by Professor Hsueh Cheng-tai of the Department of Sociology at National Taiwan University, of Taiwan's five million households, about 200,000 are single parent households. That is to say, about one in 25 households has only one parent. Of these, single mothers account for 60%. The number one reason for single parent households is divorce (58%), followed by the death of a spouse (38%), and finally parenthood outside of marriage (4%).

According to statistics, the employment rate for single mothers is 61%, while that for single fathers is 80%. At a recent international forum on education for children of single-parent families, sponsored by the Taipei city government, scholars noted nearly 40% of families headed by a single mother had incomes below NT$20,000 per month. Hidden discrimination

With life expectancy for women being 77 years, while that of men is 71 years, it is already much more likely that women will end up single than men will. But those who seek to establish themselves independently may have perhaps discovered that some state social policies and laws are quite disadvantageous for them.

Recently the Awakening Foundation released a report on the social condition of single women, and sponsored a seminar on the subject. They expressed suspicion that some government policies constitute forms of "hidden discrimination."

One example is overtime regulations. According to the Labor Standards Law, each month men are not supposed to work more than 46 hours of overtime, while women are not supposed to exceed 24 hours. The Awakening Foundation notes that, though perhaps the intention of the law was to "protect" women, it actually discriminates against them. After all, it is easy to exceed one hour in overtime per day, especially for single people, who have no family responsibilities, and therefore are the best candidates for overtime. Meanwhile, tax regulations of the Ministry of Finance state that overtime pay for hours within the Labor Standards Law is tax-exempt, but is taxable for hours in excess of the limits. The result of these two laws is that women are entitled to only 24 hours of tax-free overtime, while men get 46. This is clearly unfair.

Chen Meihua concludes: "Society has always said that marriage is an option, but in fact it is an institution." The distribution of resources by the state seems to punish those who do not enter marriage, and does not respect single people who do not adhere to the same family ideology as others.

Another example is that single people are not eligible for public housing or for low-interest mortgage subsidies. The Ministry of the Interior responds: "Public housing is intended to look after families, not individuals." Moreover, says the ministry, the regulations are not specifically directed against single women; single men also are not allowed to apply.

This logic has caused the doctor and writer Wang Hao-wei to say in an essay, "If a husband and wife are entitled to loan subsidies of NT$1.6 million, why don't I have the opportunity to get even half as much?"

Legislator Yeh Chu-lan, herself a single mother, stresses: "If single people have chosen to remain single as a way of life, oppressing them with economic inequality means that, deliberately or not, only one system of values is being affirmed. This is retrogressive." She says that the indivi-dual's freedom to choose should be respected. Marriage may be for some a delight and a source of security, but for others it may be a nightmare and a source of stress.

She adds, with particular reference to the problem of overtime pay, "It is especially unfair given that employer and employee interact as economic entities, a status in which every individual should be equal." The final irony of all is that the overtime regulations are frequently not observed by employers, so the people who are punished most are those single women who obediently agree to work past the legal limits on their overtime hours. Single and "free"?

However, Yeh Chu-lan admits that "amending the law to make things equal for single people is considered a pretty uninteresting question." The great majority of legislators do not think it is very urgent. Nevertheless, says Yeh, it is necessary to at least admit the fact that "the law has not adapted to changes in modern social structure."

Chen Meihua says: "When we calculate the economic conditions of single people, most people would only think that it's very simple to keep oneself fed. But they don't think about the social obligations that single people must fulfill."

Hsiao Mei, 35 years old, who works in an advertising firm, recalls without animosity that her father, who retired from a career in the banking industry, divided his stock into four equal parts, giving her older brother two parts, and her and her sister one part each. She is without animosity because she reasons that the money earned by one's parents belongs to them, so they have the right to decide how to divvy it up. On the other hand, she is unhappy that, after her older brother married and moved out to form his own household, the heavy responsibility of looking after their mother, who suffers from cancer, fell entirely on the daughters, who have not married. Sometimes when she works late at the office, her father will criticize her for not doing everything she can for her mom.

It may look like single women are very "free." But very often they are seen in their extended family as a "free" source of labor, money, and spiritual support.

In her book Buhun Julebu (The Unmarried Club), Liao Ho-min describes a part of the modern mosaic: "When there are things in the extended family to be taken care of, large or small, it is more difficult to coordinate with people who are married. They must first take care of their own families, and only then will they give help to others. Single life is simpler, so it is easier to put single people to work."

As a result, single aunts often become backup parents in many families. When their sisters or brothers are too busy, the aunts are the ones who end up carting the kids around.

In her book, Liao also writes: "The extra income of single people does not need to be saved for their children's college tuition or for family emergencies. When the extended family is in need, singles, without future responsibilities to worry about, are expected to be generous in lending it." The challenge of being single

Singles cannot escape their social responsibilities, yet society is quite unfriendly to single women, and is even replete with dangers.

Single women share a secret: They frequently put a pair of men's shoes outside the door, and remind each other to remember to switch to a different style of shoes from time to time, in order to warn off rapists who might try to break in.

Though this may bring some peace of mind, how much can women really do to prevent violence? Chen Meihua says: "Living alone, there is a high probability of being marked out by criminals." When her foundation released its report on the conditions for single women in society, the subject that occupied the most discussion time at the seminar was the safety of single women at home. But it was impossible to come up with any surefire measures to guarantee personal security.

In a number of recent major sex crimes, single women living alone were specifically targeted. In one case, a criminal broke into the off-campus housing of some a Soochow University female student. In another, when Chen Chin-hsing was on the run from police in the Pai Hsiao-yen murder case, he committed a series of rapes, targeting single women's apartments. Also, Hsu Lu, who has had a successful career in the media, revealed in her recent book that six years ago, she was raped in her own home in the middle of the night.

There are warning signs everywhere about the safety of single women. But, says Chen Mei-hua, it is not enough to simply suggest that single women bar their windows and lock their doors, or live in neighborhoods with comprehensive security. If structural factors are not changed, "There's no escape."

Simply because men and women differ so greatly in physical strength, single women have much more to worry about in trying to enjoy their lives than single men.

The high cost of personal safety

Ah Chi, a male colleague of Shen Yi, often takes long walks in the vicinity of the campus of National Chengchih University (in a remote suburb of Taipei) when he can't sleep at night, as a way to "let off steam." Shen, meanwhile, lives only one street away from the campus of National Taiwan University (in a busy part of the city), but if she has no friend to go with her, she dares not go out at night.

The darkness of night holds little romance for single women. On the contrary, it is a test of their personal security, for which they must sacrifice much.

Hsiao Wan loves to walk along the beach. But if a woman comes by herself to the seashore, she might be suspected of wanting to kill herself. To avoid giving people the wrong impression, Hsiao Wan rarely goes there.

Without a companion, Shen Yi won't go to any late-night films. She has on many occasions wanted to move, but she never has. Besides being familiar with the area where she lives, she has always depended on the fact that her current place of residence is quite safe. Whenever she looks around at other potential places, "I'm always most particular about the safety of the surrounding area."

A report published by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation notes that single, divorced, or separated women between the ages of 22 and 24 living in cities are the most likely victims of violent crimes. Moreover, 45 percent of such crimes are committed in the home of the victims or in its vicinity.

In Taiwan, a survey by the student guidance center at National Tsing Hua University discovered that one half of all female students had suffered sexual harassment or sexual attack. Married women have a man to back them up if things get rough. Young unmarried women are often harassed because they are alone and vulnerable. No longer alone?

For security, must single women find a man to protect them?

A survey by the Modern Women Foundation has discovered that the group at highest risk for rape is unmarried women from 23 to 29 years old. It's especially worth noting that the criminal and the victim are by no means necessarily strangers. Indeed, women know their assailant in 66% of cases. They could be fathers, stepfathers, uncles, cousins, teachers, or superiors at work.

Shen Yi says: "The longer you live alone, the more overprotective you become about security. But when it comes to personal safety, it's better to overreact." Sometimes, returning late from work, as she puts the key in the lock she thinks, "If right now someone came up from behind me, what would I do?" Opening the door on her darkened room, after flipping on the light she immediately gives her apartment a careful once-over: "Was the room this messy when I left?"

"Even if it's making an appointment with someone to deliver a tank of natural gas or fix the telephone, I take precautions," she says. "When there's a strange man in the house to fix the bathroom plumbing or do work in the kitchen or whatever, my usual response is to call a friend, and protect myself by having contact with somebody outside." She adds, to illustrate how conscientious she is about her security, that the idea came to her on her own: "No one ever taught me to do this."

Chen Mei-hua avers, "We don't want the fear of being assaulted to control single women." She hopes that criminal law will be changed so that rape becomes a crime that the state will automatically prosecute, rather than one that the victim must raise directly against the assailant. This could reduce the number of rapists roaming the streets by at least half.

In addition, streets should have telephone lines hooked up to the police station, so that women walking through small alleys no longer need be afraid.

It is said, "To prefer to be single is a choice, to be compelled to be single is fate." Whether it is a choice or fate, in facing being single, one is more often facing one's own self.

X 使用【台灣光華雜誌】APP!
更快速更方便!