Gender over the Life Cycle

Different stages in the life cycle are named, although who falls within a specific grouping is not rigidly defined. The period before formal schooling begins is labeled you er qi, but no term is attached to that of elementary school (ages 6-12); the notion of childhood (tong nian) includes you er qi and the period spent in elementary school. Adolescence is called qing chun qi, literally teenage years. Adulthood (qing zhuang nian qi), depending on definition, begins at age 16, 18, or 20 and continues until middle age. This latter period (roughly ages 40-60) is labeled zhong nian qi. Old age (which begins after 60 or 65) is called lao nian qi.

Socialization of Boys and Girls

Taiwan's patrilineal kinship structure recognizes only male children as descent-group members with rights to the family's property. In general, residence is patrilocal; when a woman marries, she leaves her natal home to live as a member of her husband's family, severing her formal ties with her father's household. Parents consider daughters a liability—household members who drain family resources as children and withdraw their assets (domestic labor and earning power) when they marry. Sons, in contrast, steadily contribute to the family's economic security during its growth and expansion and provide a source of support in old age. Not surprisingly, parents strongly prefer male children.

Parents are fonder of boys, pay more attention to them, and are more indulgent of them than girls. From an early age, girls are expected to help with the myriad tasks their mothers perform, while their brothers experience much greater freedom. This differential treatment is intentional. In preparation for a woman's move to another family at marriage, a mother socializes her to be an able worker, submissive daughter-in-law, and obedient wife.

Male socialization, in contrast, encourages the construction of bonds of sentiment between mothers and their sons who will stay in the family and provide for parents in their old age (Wolf, 1972).

Parents also tend to "invest" more financially in boys than in girls. Epithets such as "spilled water" and "goods on which one loses one's capital" are applied to girls but never to boys. Accordingly, prior to industrialization, boys were more likely to attend primary school than girls. Although a boy's education might be terminated because of a family's poverty, many families minimized expenses to assure a son's education. After 1969, when junior high school education was made free and "compulsory," almost all elementary school graduates continued their education. But fewer girls than boys attend senior high school, for which students must take highly competitive entrance examinations (Gold, 1996).

Puberty and Adolescence

The enforcement and reinforcement of gender difference primarily takes place in school during adolescence. Curricula are gender biased and students are tracked into sex-stereotyped fields. Girls are encouraged to study humanities and fine arts, while boys are advised to study natural sciences and computers (Farris, 2000). Separate schools for girls and boys, which are common, also encourage gender difference. Even schools that admit both genders, usually assign girls and boys to separate classrooms or seating areas within classrooms. Ironically, however, the notion of difference inculcated by such practices is blunted by the rigid dress codes enforced in elementary and secondary schools. Uniforms and, until 1987, prescribed short hair cuts, as in the military, produce analogous and well-disciplined bodies.

Well-disciplined bodies are necessary for adolescents who are expected to concentrate on their studies, as dictated by Confucian values. Gender segregation prevents students from developing cross-sex relations that might distract them from their studies, while dress codes discourage them from focusing on their appearance. As a result, young women and men have little contact with each other before entering college, tend to form same-sex peer groups, and embrace norms of beauty usually only after graduating from senior high school. In short, educational practices that impose difference and encourage spartan behavior create conscientious students who will become the type of citizens required by Taiwan's political economy.

Attainment of Adulthood

Legal definitions of adulthood vary. Under some codes, adolescents are considered adults at age 18 when they are eligible for a driver's license; under others, they are not adults until age 20 when they can exercise their civil rights. Social definitions of adulthood also vary. In rural areas, many girls are considered young adults at age 16, and are deployed to the labor market to earn money while boys are still thought to be adolescents who need to continue their schooling (L. Kung, 1994 ). Regionally, people in Tainan (southern Taiwan) celebrate both girls and boy's attainment of adulthood at age 16. In other urban areas, formal rites are conducted in temples, but usually only for boys. Despite these differences, most parents believe that children do not become adults until they marry, a rite that heralds their maturity and capacity to assume responsibility for a family.

Middle Age and Old Age

The roots anchoring the age hierarchy in the Taiwanese family are the Confucian principles of filial piety (xiao) and veneration of age. Filial piety demands obedience and devotion to parents, obligating children to repay parents for caring for them and ensuring the elderly support in their later years. Veneration of age demands a similar obedience. It requires children to honor the strategic knowledge and skills of their elders with deference, respect, and compliance. Despite these dictums, the degree of respect accorded to elders varies by class, and control of resources important in a capitalist economy shapes the treatment of and respect accorded to older people. Those with assets are able and those without resources are unable to achieve a secure old age (R. S. Gallin, 1986, 1994). Different criteria are applied in the case of gender, however. While men are more likely to be evaluated according to the resources they control, women's worth is assessed in terms of family. Those with established families receive respect while those who are single (lao chu nu, "old virgins," or lao gu pao, "old aunts") are considered failures and stigmatized.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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