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