The first time I heard the word “tai-tai” was from Ang Lee’s celebrated yet controversial movie, Lust, Caution. Having no prior knowledge of the term, I simply thought of it as how women were addressed at that time.
It was not until the Crazy Rich Asians fever that I was introduced to the real meaning of it. The term “tai-tai” translates to women who are married to affluent men and spend their days leisurely without having to work. Lust, Caution portrays tai-tais spending their days playing mahjong and shopping for finest fabrics to be made into clothes. In Crazy Rich Asians, Eleanor Young is a woman who is into religious activities and the finest things life can offer.
It did not take long for the glorification of tai-tai lifestyle to influence some of my friends. They see it as the ideal life, something they aspire to become and embody. When another friend gets hitched to a rather well-off man, the hashtag “#roadtobecomingataitai” tails behind Instagram captions.
This situation got me conflicted, and I didn’t quite know how to respond to them. What I knew for sure is that I did not fully support the ambition of having a life with no work. Inevitably, one question crosses my mind: is being a tai-tai an insult to feminism?
As we are aware of, the basic foundation of feminism is equality, so that women are not regarded as the “other” or the “second” sex. If a woman’s life is a hundred percent funded by a man, does that imply that they are indeed inferior to and dependent on men? Surely, feminism does not come with three waves at three different times for women to be fed and sheltered by men? I thought to myself.
I have been ruminating on the answer to this question. After some time, I realize that I don’t have a problem with what tai-tais spend their money on or how they gallivant from one matinee to brunches filled with sparkling wines. I, however, do not support if being a tai-tai is made into women’s end goal and ambition.
Firstly, I believe we have to digest the word with neutrality, because the image that comes behind this word is problematic and limiting. And it does not help that there is a derogatory sense to this word. At first, I always imagined tai-tais to lead la dolce vita, a lavish life consisting of scrumptious caviar, afternoon dips in the Bahamas, and endless haute couture fittings. This image, like it or not, does to some extent suggest an indolent life where aspirations and goals cease to exist because they seem to have everything handed to them without having to bat an eyelash.
Eventually, I started looking at this situation objectively. Of course, there is more than meets the eye to how one decides to be a tai-tai, culture being one of the reasons. Traditional eastern values may come into play where women are told to be the nurturing ones and therefore are encouraged to leave their career, focus to be fabulous stay-at-home moms and become caretakers. After all, who is to say some tai-tais did not have high powered careers prior to settling into their current life?
Women today are more empowered than ever. As feminism has triumphed over time and women have the same opportunities and rights as men, I have seen instances where women can go through life without working but do the exact opposite. Priscilla Chan is one of the examples. Technically, Priscilla could easily resort to the tai-tai life since she is the wife of Mark Zuckerberg, one of the most successful men alive. But instead of enjoying a wealthy life without work, she puts her knowledge to good use and is working for grand causes. The same goes to Melinda Gates and Michelle Obama.
To be fair, although I am not a fan of the tai-tai life, it would be narrow-minded of me to judge a woman on her life choices. Just because I do not fancy a life without working or slow days without challenges does not give me the permission to assume that every woman wants the same thing as me. This realization hits close to home and slaps me in the face. As Meg March was quoted in the movie Little Women said, “Just because my dreams are different than yours, it doesn’t mean that they’re unimportant.”
The real meaning and purpose of feminism, I have come to learn, is a movement that empowers and propel women so that they can actualize the best versions of themselves. It is by no means something that dictates what is right and good and judges people’s life choices. Women have each other’s back; we do not exist to intentionally bring each other down.