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  • Human Rights Research Center

“Wave Makers”: Taiwan’s #MeToo Resurgence

January 16, 2024


#MeToo and Gender Equality in East Asia: Part 1



“Wave Makers” is a political drama on Netflix focusing on a presidential campaign in Taiwan. With its first episode in April 2023, no one believed it would become a cultural sensation that sparked the global #MeToo movement in the country. The drama opened the Taiwanese political sphere to address sexual harassment, a topic that has been slow to take root. Interestingly, gender equality is a point of success in politics with 42% of parliament being female, almost 20% above the global average, yet sexual harassment wasn’t defined as a crime until 2005 [1][9]. Even with women being a majority in politics, culturally, Taiwan remains patriarchal with expectations to respect and yield to elders and superiors [2].


Netflix has one million subscribers in Taiwan, with the platform dominating streaming for the past three years, according to a December 2022 survey [4][5]. “Wave Makers” showed the inner workings of Taiwanese politics and was in Netflix’s Top 10 in both Hong Kong and Taiwan [7]. Grabbing the attention of so many subscribers gave way to a mass discussion on the social media platform Weibo on sexual harassment, gender rights, and women in politics--even comparing these topics with their differences in China [7]. The new drama seems to have given the strength and hope needed for sexual harassment victims to tell their stories. The Ministry of Health and Welfare indicates that there were 17,000 sexual assaults reported in 2022, but only 2,100 incidents of sexual harassment that same year--because of an unwillingness to come forward due to any potential ambiguity regarding harassment [1]. But, after the #MeToo movement solidified itself in Taiwan’s society, over 150 people came forward with sexual harassment allegations just in the summer of 2023, bringing forth much-needed criminal investigations, resignations, and discussions about how to proceed [6]. This wave of mostly women and men coming forward helped open the eyes to what happens behind the scenes as many allegations were for high-ranking politicians, celebrities, academics, and even activists [2].


In 2018, a brave story from a woman named Chen Chien-jou, working for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) helped encourage other victims of sexual harassment to come forward and ignited #MeToo in 2018 [2]. She accused a film director of groping her and when the party’s head of women’s affairs, Hsu Chia-tien, was told, Chen was ignored and even asked why she hadn’t screamed [8]. Her story went viral, garnering apologies from both the president and the current DPP candidate for the 2024 presidential election, leading to the resignations of her supervisor and film director [8][9]. Her courageous account of what happened proved that powerful men can be punished for deeds that they assumed to get away with. Even her response to another victim became a rallying cry in the country.



“Let’s not just let this go.”


Deeply ingrained cultural norms in Taiwanese society keep many victims, mainly women, silenced. The Ministry of Labor’s 2021 survey showed that almost 80% of women said they’ve experienced sexual harassment at work but chose not to report it out of fear of being maligned or fired colloquially known as “eating tofu” or chi doufu [9]. This fear also stems from potential backlash and discrimination from the community questioning victims' “true” motives resulting in sarcastic comments and victim-blaming [2][3].


 With priorities seemingly skewed in Taiwan’s legislation regarding sexual harassment, parliament made amendments to three laws for governing work, schools, and elsewhere to introduce harsher penalties and close loopholes in criminalizing sexual harassment--including making it easier for victims to come forward, extending the statute of limitations for victims, increasing fines for failing to report sexual harassment complaints, and increasing the penalty for the convicted perpetrators to three years in prison [2][6]. This milestone is a new stepping stone for Taiwan and its cultural and political relationship with sexual harassment. It’s the first step in many to educate the public on gender and cultural norms that perpetuate the silence of many victims. Living in a world where fiction can positively change a country, it’s great to see progress at work, even with a bumpy road still ahead.


*View the accompanying infographic on our website.


 

Glossary


  1. Cultural Norms: Shared expectations and rules that guide the behavior of people within social groups.

  2. “Eating Tofu”: A Chinese phrase generally meaning to take advantage of someone, often with a sexual implication.

  3. Gender Equality: The state of having equal access to resources and opportunities, regardless of gender.

  4. Hong Kong: Officially known as the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China, it’s a special administrative region in China.

  5. Sexual Assault: Sexual contact or behavior that occurs without explicit consent of the victim.

  6. Sexual Harassment: Behavior generally portrayed by unwelcome and inappropriate sexual remarks or physical advances in a workplace, professional, or social situation.

  7. Taiwan: Officially known as the Republic of China, Taiwan is a country in East Asia.

  8. Weibo: A social media platform for people to create, distribute, and discover Chinese language content.


 

References


  1. Chiang, V., & Tobin, M. (2023, June 7). Hit netflix show sparks a wave of #MeToo allegations in Taiwan. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2023/06/07/taiwan-netflix-wave-makers-metoo-sexual-harassment/

  2. Davidson, H. (2023, August 8). Taiwan’s #MeToo movement has enmeshed politicians and celebrities – but a culture of silence endures. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/aug/09/taiwans-metoo-movement-has-enmeshed-politicians-and-celebrities-but-a-culture-of-silence-endures

  3. Lu, K. N. & B. (2023, August 4). Taiwan’s new MeToo laws are welcome but activists want more. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-66379933

  4. Netflix Users by Country 2024. Netflix users by country 2024. (n.d.). https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/netflix-users-by-country

  5. Thomala, L. L. (2023, September 22). Taiwan: Netflix penetration rate 2022. Statista. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1412892/taiwan-netflix-penetration-rate/

  6. Wei, C. (2023, August 12). How a netflix show sparked a #MeToo wave in Taiwan. Foreign Policy. https://foreignpolicy.com/2023/08/12/wave-makers-netflix-taiwan-metoo-sexual-harassment-dpp-china/

  7. Wu, A. (2023, June 14). Wave Makers and Copycat Killer: How Taiwanese Productions are “Making Waves” and “Copying” Successful Strategies. Global Taiwan Institute. https://globaltaiwan.org/2023/06/wave-makers-and-copycat-killer-how-taiwanese-productions-are-making-waves-and-copying-successful-strategies/

  8. Wu, H. (2023, July 11). Taiwan’s #MeToo movement is making a resurgence as accusations hit politics, TV and schools. AP News. https://apnews.com/article/taiwan-metoo-movement-5c1709a1c1c989104b316ff816894344

  9. Yang, S., & Shen, D. (2023, July 26). A Netflix hit, a Facebook flood and an overdue reckoning: How Taiwan’s #MeToo finally took off. https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2023-07-26/taiwan-metoo-sexual-harassment-reckoning-netflix-show

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