I Want a Filial Man

The Salty Egg is a tribute to one man’s culture shock, but the longer I’ve lived in Taiwan the more my struggles have come to revolve around arcane points of culture. As I found myself grappling with the cultural minutiae of the Taiwanese grandmother-in-law/foreign grandson-in-law relationship, I realized my experiences might not be applicable for many readers. The large, relatively visible cultural differences, no longer attract my interest, in fact I struggle to notice them. So here is an example of a relatively easily observable cultural difference that still blows my mind.

I’ve spent all my working life in Taiwan teaching young adults ages 18 to 30. Early in my teaching career I found myself trying to explain the term mama’s boy. You’d think it’d be easy, but I had one hell of a time. The class proved incapable of understanding the terms negative implications. “But he’s a man who loves and cares for his mommy. That’s good right? Any woman would want that”. Welllll,… I’m not so sure….

Later in class we were having a discussion about the student’s ideal mate. The class was mostly women in their very early 20s. I was expecting adjectives related to handsomeness, muscularity, height, skin tone, anything along those lines—something that’d make a vagina try to swallow itself. Instead, nearly universally, the students stated the first and most important thing was that he be filial.

Say whaa??? I guess I could’ve understood if the male students were giving that answer. After all, traditionally the wife might be expected to move in with his parents and take care of his family. Despite societal pressure, the boys tended to be much more appropriately laser focused on boobs and hair. Kudos to them. But where were the girls coming from?…

When I queried their priorities, the female students would assure me it’s very important that a boyfriend dote on his family, particularly his mother. That must be his foremost concern. They seemed to think that the way he treated his mother would have some implications for how well he’d treat other women. I don’t know how they came to that conclusion. The domineering mother-in-law, beleaguered wife, and whipped mama’s boy husband relationship is thematic in Chinese culture. How could they have missed it? It just seemed so obviously antithetical to their self-interests, and frankly a weird thing for very young women to think about.

With the benefit of a couple decades of Taiwanese experience, I now guess they were raised to believe that filial piety is an important quality in a boyfriend or husband. Their families, presumably, believing that if the man cares about his family, then, by extension, should they marry, he will also care about his wife’s family. Meh. Maybe. Also, perhaps some of these women were trying to appear to be “good girls”. As Taiwanese women approach thirty, filial piety seems to become less of a priority in a potential mate. Perhaps they’re less concerned about appearing to be a “good girl” and they’ve had enough life experience to see how it works out for other women.

The experiences I describe were a long time ago, but things haven’t changed that much. When I ask my current classes about their ideal mate, there’s a wider variety of answers from the females like; can dunk a basketball, has big biceps, tall, long wavy hair, etc. My students are currently all 18-19 years old, so those types of answers seem reasonable and age appropriate. I don’t think this really represents a change in young Taiwanese women’s ideals. It just seems like they’re a little more comfortable letting their freak flag fly than previous generations. Filial piety still is a frequently stated characteristic of the ideal mate for these women. [The boys remain hyper-fixated on knockers, tresses and a well-turned-out clavicle. Ya gotta love the rapscallions!]

The whole situation continues to astound me. I think it’s a pretty big difference between Western and Asian women. I can’t pretend to know Western women very well, but I’m pretty confident that the ideal man described by these Taiwanese women would cause pink nipples to invert.