Gender Roles: The Subordination of Women in Chinese Culture

By Sophia Chimenti

In her book The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts, by Maxine Hong Kingston, she characterizes the traditional Chinese culture as having strict gender rules that oppress women’s ideas and values. This is first seen in the first chapter No Name Woman, where Kingston says, “Women in the old China did not choose” (6).  This portrays right from the start that women had no say and that men were dominant. This subordination of women is prevalent throughout the entire chapter, as the story of Kingston’s no name is built upon this devaluing of women.

As Kingston goes on to tell the story of her no name aunt, it is seen here that in the Chinese culture women are to look a certain way in order to please the men. Kingston says, “Once my aunt found a freckle on her chin… she dug it out with a hot needle and washed it with peroxide” (10). This line goes to show that women had to uphold this standard of perfection at any cost, in order to keep the honor in the family. Kingston then follows this up by speaking about the villagers, and how if your hair was not pulled back or you had a spot that was not supposed to be there, there would be “gossip among the villagers” (10). This idea of women having to look perfect is seen throughout the entire culture, as all of the women are judged by their village as well as their family members.

The idea of judgement also ties into these gender roles seen in the Chinese culture. It is prevalent in this time that the approval of others is dire. For example, Kingston states, “ …She cursed the year, the family, the village, and herself”(10), which goes to show that if it is not accepted by the villagers, the entire family gets disgraced. This is also seen in the anecdote of the no name aunt giving birth, as Kingston speaks about how the village shames her and destroys her home for committing adultery. Kingston shows how judgmental this culture really is to their women when she also speaks of how they slaughter the family’s animals and spray the blood around the house, shaming not just the aunt but the family as well.

This expectancy and idea of gender roles in this book portray how devalued women really are. This perfectionism pushed women away from their families and diminished their self-expression in everyday life, causing many to do unjust things, just like Kingston’s no name aunt.

Discussion Questions: 

Do you feel these gender roles are just? Why or why no?

Though the no name aunt committed adultery, do you feel this punishment was necessary?

Work Cited:

Kingston, Maxine Hong. The Woman Warrior. Vintage International, 1976.

11 Replies to “Gender Roles: The Subordination of Women in Chinese Culture”

  1. Hi Sophia, I really liked how your blog post was about how the women in Chinese culture had to be perfect all the time or else they would be shamed by the whole village. With the punishment for committing adultery to the no name aunt; I feel that it wasn’t necessary to destroy the house and have the no name aunt give birth in another location that wasn’t a safe location for the baby. According to Kingston, the man who had sex with the no name aunt could have forced her to do adultery and that “She obeyed him; she always did as she was told.” (6). This man probably raped and told her not to tell anyone else having no supportive family members surrounding her for the baby. The village should have just embraced the no name aunt and had the baby born in a better setting than “[going] to the pigsty”. (15).

  2. Hey Sophia, I liked how your post talked about the women being held to such a high standard of being perfect in the Chinese culture. They were looked at in such a negative way if their appearance was off and scrutinized about every little thing. Even though the no name ain’t committed the act of adultery, I feel this punishment and what she went through was completely unjust and inhuman. The acts the people in the village did took it to an extreme level. As the mother tells the story she explains “they threw mud and rocks at the house. Then they threw eggs and began slaughtering our stock. We could hear the animals scream their deaths”(p.4). Not only did the aunt and her new born child have to suffer through this, all of the people living in the house at that time had to experience the sound of their animals being killed and all of their food that they’ve worked so hard to grow being destroyed. The villagers saw this as such a horrendous crime that these acts were acceptable to them. This drove the no name aunt to taker her and her child’s life and I feel like the villagers took it way to far. The mom goes on to tell her daughter “don’t humiliate us” (p.5) because she’s started menstruation and doesn’t want the same thing to happen to her. The mom and family have completely disregarded the no name aunt and would use this story as a way to warn the kids about life.

    -Grace

  3. Hey Sophia, I like how you pointed out that the approval of others in this kind of culture is very important. It seems as though the aunt’s family was not supportive of her pregnancy and child at all, and because the whole village turned against her, her family did too by not speaking her name. This is evident when the mother says that her “father does not want to hear her name” and her father treats the situation as though “she has never been born”(15). I think the aunt did not deserve this punishment, especially because we do not specifically know if this was an affair that she chose or rape. Regardless, nobody deserves to be attacked and pushed into suicide, even if they make a mistake.

  4. Hey Sophia! I really loved the overall concept of your blog post, as I was reading the idea of gender roles was a major thing that jumped out to me. As Kingston states, “She obeyed him; she always did as she was told” (6), this idea of masuline superiority in tradtional Chinese culture is very prominent. The quote states how she always did what she was told clearly shows that she was obediant to men, even if they were not her husband. For discussion question 1, I do not think these gender roles are just, this is because I am a strong believer in gender equality, and this chapter was very upsetting to me, because of how women in this culture did as they were told and felt their appearence was the most important thing. Discussion question 2, yes she did commit adultry, but I do not think the punishment was fit for the crime. I think this punishment was too extreme for what she did.

  5. Hey Sophia, I liked how you talked about how high of a standard women were expected to be at, and how much others approval mattered to them. If something about them was off they were no longer seen as apart of the society. This is very much evident with her aunts story. As soon as people found out that she was pregnant. Everyone including her family pretend like she wasn’t there, especially after her death when her mother says “We say that your father has all brothers because it it as if she had never been born”(3). I feel her punishment was uncalled for because no one deserves that no matter how much it is frowned upon especially if no one but her aunt knew the actual circumstances.

  6. Hi Sophia I liked how you discussed the idea of judgement and tied it into the gender roles. I do not feel that the punishment for the no name aunt who committed adultery was necessary. Committing the crime was definitely not right but her punishment for the crime was too harsh and severe. As for the gender roles I feel that they are not just. Kingston states that, “she obeyed him; she always did as she was told” (6). This quote shows how a man is superior to a woman. In Chinese culture it is very clearly shown that masculinity is superior. She is expected to always do something based on gender and it I believe that a woman shouldn’t have to obey a man just because of their gender.

  7. Hi Sophia, I really enjoyed reading your insight about gender roles within Chinese culture. The story of the narrator’s no-name aunt is truly heartbreaking, and I can only imagine how many similar stories have happened to women across the world. In no way do I think her punishment was justified or necessary. As the narrator suggests, we don’t know the circumstances of the no-name aunt’s pregnancy, and it’s possible that she was raped. This plays into the quote you picked out that “Women in the old China did not choose” (6), which unfortunately could lead to sexual assault. Moreover, while the villagers’ punishment was cruel, her family’s reaction was worse. I can only imagine that if the family found out that one of their sons had committed adultery and had a child out of wedlock they would have not reacted so viciously, because as the narrator says, “There is some hope of forgiveness for boys” (15).

  8. Hey Sophia, I liked your blog and how it overviewed the obvious misery and oppression Chinese women faced. Answering your second discussion question, no, I don’t think this punishment was necessary at all. The punishment that she faced had to do with the specific time the community was living in and the ordeals they faced. On page 13, Kingston states “Adultery, perhaps only a mistake during good times, became a crime when the village needed food” (13). This shows that because of the desperate situation, the villagers gravely overreacted and saw this as a moment to let out some anger and resentment that was building up for who knows how long.

  9. Hi Sophia, I like how your post was centered around the inferiority of women in Chinese culture. The book starts off with an example of how Kingston’s father had a sister who killed herself and they don’t even speak of her anymore. To them she’s not even worth mentioning, her mother even says “we say your father has only brothers it is as if she had never been born.” (1) It seems that all the women have no names. Anything a women did seemed like it was punishable. Even though her aunt committed a horrible act, I believe her punishment was too extreme. How awful it must of been to stand with a straight face as your entire village gangs up on your family to destroy everything you have. The aunt had to give birth alone in a barn because her house was being raided. To kill all the stock and then parade through the house spreading the blood is inhumane. It’s sicking to see this treatment being allowed to happen and to be seen as just.

  10. Hey Sophia! Your blog post really stood out to me because I had similar ideas while reading the first chapter. It is obvious that Kingston is trying to get a message across to her readers, and I think you did an excellent job of pointing that out. It is so sad that the women of Chinese culture had such high standards and roles to live up to. Its almost like its all they can really worry about. And it especially sad that no men really had to worry about how the upheld themselves. Kingston shows this when she says, “They expected her alone to keep the traditional ways, which her brothers, now among the barbarians, could fumble without detection,” (8). There seems to be this double standard where women have to be perfect and traditional, meanwhile men can act like “barbarians” and not have to worry about it. This issue is still prevalent today and is a controversial topic among men and women’s gender roles in society.

  11. Hello Sophia, I love how in your blog you discuss how gender roles have a big effect especially on the women and how you include judgment as a type of gender role. Men can do certain things that if women do they would get shamed for it. After Kingston was sharing the story about the villagers the mom is says “Now that you have started to menstruate, what happen to her could happen to you. Don’t humiliate us” (5). This story is used as a tactic to keep women bin line and have them follow to society rules that men do not have to follow.

Leave a Reply