Taiwan celebrates March 8 as the International Women’s Day just like every other country in the world. Our marvelous female citizens are proud to live in a country that ranks number one in Asia for gender equality. We have a female president who just got elected for her second term, while other Taiwanese women held 41.59 percent of the legislative seats in 2020. We’re not saying that it’s high – frankly, it can never be high enough – but compared to Korea, Singapore, China or even the US and the UK which have less than 30 percent of women in their congress, we’re taking the lead, and still going.
▲ President Tsai Ingwen is the first woman president of Taiwan.
Taiwan’s feminism movement can be traced back to the 1970s. The pioneers’ efforts appeared to bear their first fruit in the ‘90s, as a unique shop that advocates women’s rights, the Witch House, was born. You might wonder: why do they call themselves witches? Wouldn’t queens be better? According to Witch House themselves:
“[A witch is not] an ugly old woman who turns you into her guinea pig, but a woman with certain powerful energies.”
OK, the quote might summarize the definition of a powerful woman well, but what exactly do they do/sell in the shop to promote women’s rights? Well, call it a cafe, a restaurant, a bar, or even a music venue. It’s a place that sets no limit to women, so why restrict them to doing only one thing?
A Space for Women
The owner of the Witch house, Peng Yu Jing, was an assistant of a chef at Sherwood Hotel back in 1995. One of her friends, who was the owner of Taiwan’s first famisim bookshop, Fembook, called her one day to ask if she wanted to open a cafe on the first floor of their bookstore, and we all know what her answer was.
When the business started, Peng just wanted to have a place for women to hang out late without worrying about their safety. As women’s rights rose in the ‘90s, it gradually turned into a space that encouraged women’s liberation. If you walk into Witch House, you’ll see bras hung on the back of the seats as there’s a rule in the shop: ‘Free your boobs to get a free drink!’ Other things like “do ten push-ups, get 10% off (women only)!” is the reason why you might see women suddenly start to work out there. Moreover, though it’s clearly written on the menu to prohibit nudity in the shop, there’s still an emergency measure to handle such an occurrence, which is covering the nude body with the biggest and warmest hug.
Enchanted at Witch House: The Voices from Women
Back in 1996, ten years after the end of the martial law era, Taiwanese singers and songwriters were ready to shine. At the time, pop music was still male-dominated, with masculine rock music being the mainstream. Peng took some of her friends’ old amps and equipment to put in her cafe, deciding to create a stage for women to sing and speak their mind. She invited young girls to her shop, using only an acoustic guitar or a keyboard to perform. The fresh voices of those talented performers brought a new energy into the Taiwanese music industry and suddenly gave Witch House a new meaning – a stage for musicians.
▲Cheer Chen performs at Witch.
Nowadays, you can see award-winning song writer Cheer Chen sell out Taipei Arena, singer/social activist Anpu being the opinion leader of the younger generation, or producer/singer Sandee Chen holding a leading post at the Golden Melody Awards (Taiwan’s Grammys). They all have one thing in common: coming from the Witch House.
▲Anpu’s live at Witch House
“You’re not a rebellious teenage girl anymore… I can tell that you now have the power of a witch to support yourself being an independent woman.” Peng once wrote a letter to Witch House, as if Witch House was one of her daughters. We’re all girls looking for ourselves, and we’re all the magical women living out loud. Aren’t we, witches?
Happy International Women’s Day!