Of Tigers and Feathers – Day 1

Yesterday at dinner, my eldest aunt started talking about how “it’s better to have daughters”.

In general, there’s only one real reason why that is said around here: post marriage in law issues. In recent years, however, it’s also been coming up regarding the general unwillingness of their sons to perform emotional labor versus their daughters’ consideration and empathy.

So what would it be this time?

Turned out to be some unholy blend of the two.

According to her, her sister in law is a lovely woman who works herself to the bone doing all the things that are expected of the wife. In this particular story, things like cooking up the New Year feasts every year, without help. Keep in mind that often there are different celebrations and thus a lot of work to be done the entire week of the lunar new year. The amount of work would be enough to drive me into seclusion every time lunar new year rolled around, but that’s just me.

This year, her daughter told her to drop everything, including her two brothers and their wives, and took her mother out on a vacation abroad.

How her daughter was able to accomplish this?

Via her amazing foreigner husband who footed the bill and took them on a wonderful trip through Europe.

 

Therefore, my aunt concluded, the obvious thing to do for me was: “We should go to the temples, burn lots of incense, and pray that you find a good husband.” Oh yeah, and do good deeds so I can deserve such a wonderful paragon who will be willing to take care of my parents when they get old.

Uh-huh.

 

Let’s sort out the (many many) threads to this mess.

Lately, there’s been a lot of bounce in my family and in the general atmosphere about how so many men get married and start worshiping their wives to the exclusion of their parents, especially after the kids come. So whereas it used to be expected of the sons in the family to take care of the parents when they get older and to do the usual filial piety things like checking in, taking the parents to the doctor’s or grocery shopping, and so forth, now it’s often the daughters who’re doing it because the new wives are frequently very meh about performing to this sort of cultural expectation.

For one thing, in-law relationships are both super ingrained and the stuff of legend around here. It almost never fails to make an appearance in any televised drama. In fact, there are shows with hundred plus episodes that focus around nothing but in-law drama. There are numerous idioms passed down through the ages about the particular hell that is dealing with your mother in law as a new wife, each one funnier (scarier) than the last.

So whereas the more self-aware mother in law tries to curb the daughter in law hating crazy and attempts to ease everyone into the new situation, there are still women who go “this is how I ground my way through” and lay down the law and haze (yes, it’s hazing). Because, of course, why let someone take the school bus or, gods forbid, drive them to school when you personally had to walk uphill to school both ways in a raging typhoon?

For another thing, in our section of the world, we haven’t quite moved past the cultural expectation that a married son will still live with his parents so he can help take care of them. As one might think, this assumption is really interfacing badly with more modern thinking. Unfortunately, in Taiwan, a combination of helicopter parenting and general economic crazy (for some ungodly reason, real estate here is in the top five expensive in the world) means that most men do live with their parents at home and then it’s a whole stinky kettle of rotted fish to try and change that post-marriage.

For yet another aspect to the insanity: grandparents here expect lots of access to any children that might result from an union. These are their little passes to the only version of immortality open to us, after all. And with the economy as it is, oftentimes parents will have to leave their kids with the grandparents in order for both parents to go to work. This, of course, complicates the whole question of moving out.

Then there’s the usual bullshit where there’s the pay gap (smaller than the US though) and the still-prevalent (if somewhat more muted than other countries) expectation that a woman will give up her job to stay at home after marriage (because duh, children). I would not be surprised if this fueled part of the on-going expectation that it will be the son’s job to take care of the parents.

So there’s that snarling mess of piranha-teethed worms. (yes, I imported an alien species just so I could say that)

 

It’s fascinating how there’s this gradual shift from reliance on the sons to depending on the daughters, and how instead of looking at how screwed up the situation is and going “oh hey, maybe we should fix all these fucked up factors”, some people’s reaction is to try and patch things up with non-solutions.

 

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