Cultural Construction of Gender

The construction of gender categories among Taiwanese Americans is influenced by several cultural concepts derived from the Confucian teachings of the five reciprocal relationships that maintain order within both family and society (subjects obey rulers, children obey their fathers, wives obey their husbands, younger brothers obey older brothers, and friends respect friends). Although these rules are mostly hierarchical in nature, they are not static divisions but rather reflect the fact that both polars in a dyad are compatible and inseparable (Barlow, 1994, p. 257). The main responsibility of men is to continue the patriarchic line and ensure the welfare of his family and the greater society. Women are required to support their husbands' quest in establishing a family. Having children is supposed to be their main purpose in life. In general, both men and women are obliged to marry, raise children, and care for their parents (Ahern & Gates, 1981).

The traditional ideal of division of labor between husband and wife is captured by the proverb "nan zai wai, nu zai nei" which means "the man works outside the house and the woman works inside the house." This points to one of the key virtues of a woman, to be the person who cares about the inner affairs of the household. Taiwanese Americans modify this expectation with their version of the saying to the situation of "astronaut" families, in which the wife stays with the children in the United States while the husband takes up more lucrative employment back in Taiwan: "wai zai tai, nei zai mei" which translates as "the outside person (the husband) is in Taiwan and the inside person (the wife) is in America" (Avenarius, 2003). Included in this adaptation is the fact that the Chinese character for America (mei) stands for the words "beautiful" and "virtuous." Since women are expected to dress beautifully and appear beautiful and are responsible for creating beautiful surroundings at home, it seems only fitting that they are the spouse which lives in the beautiful country, America (Chen, 1992).

Although there is no explicit celebration of masculinity among Taiwanese Americans in reference to body language or appearance, men's extramarital affairs are tolerated. Women, on the other hand, are expected to adhere to the cultural ideal of female chastity (J.-S. Chang, Tsang, Lin, & Lui, 1997). However, these ideals are viewed critically among members of the second generation. Over the years women have gained equal access to higher education, first in the United States and then in Taiwan. It is now common for Taiwanese American women to have well-paying occupations outside the home. Nevertheless, expectations regarding beautiful appearance and homemaking prevail.

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