I want to share some thoughts that I had in class today. In discussing the double entendre that women face, the double-edged sword in the Chinese culture we are examining that places upon women the responsibility of aspiring to be a ferocious force, a woman warrior, severe and unforgiving, while at the same time remaining soft, gentle, motherly, beautiful.

I want to unpack this, to get down to what the reality of this cultural expectation means in terms of patriarchal values and constructions. The severity of women when in their roles as feminine warriors and the softness that they exhibit in their roles as wives, slaves, and mothers become tools both used and manipulated by the men that surround them. For example, look at the story of Mulan. The power, ruthlessness, and hardened force that she exhibits in her role as a warrior, a soldier, a general, becomes a tool used by men in their goal of winning the war. Mulan’s weakening after the birth of her son furthers this idea, as we see that when the softness of her feminine self begins to show itself through childbirth and motherhood, she is not as strong, not as important, and not as powerful a tool to use.

In the case of Brave Orchid, we see her less as a direct tool of the patriarchy, and more as a feminine body and spirit that is manipulated by the patriarchal culture around her to serve the needs of men. We see this in the way that, while she is warrior-like in her fearless pursuit of education, success, and a strong career, she is still discounted as a married woman whose true purpose is to serve her husband, sons and daughters, produce children (meaning, as we all know, sons) and caring for other surrounding family members by being a soft yet sturdy maternal figure.

The patriarchal construction of gender and the way that it operates to serve men in the patriarchal society that sets these values, ideas, and standards. Does anyone else have thoughts/ideas about other ways that the book talks about this/reinforces these ideas?

Some thoughts…
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2 thoughts on “Some thoughts…

  • September 17, 2019 at 2:41 am

    This is a very well thought out way to read Mu Lan and Brave Orchid. They can only be strong within the confines of the patriarchal prison cell. To continue with that analogy, the woman are let out of their cell into the prison yard to experience some facade of freedom only to be lured back into their cage to play the roles that society permits. I think the label of “crazy” force women to hold on to their traditional role.

    I want to bring up a business view at Mu Lan as a leader. Many traits that describe a great leader in business can be a similar traits that are commonly associated with maternal (kind, respectful, servant, loyal, restraint, good, quiet, good listener, etc.). While it is a great point that the patriarchal society in the book does not have much respect for women freedom and men adopting maternal traits, Fa Mu Lan had great success as a general. It may be a small part of the story that was degraded when she births a child, but I still think the book shows some respect for the maternal traits.

  • September 18, 2019 at 10:36 am

    I think something to add that kind of expands on something that you’ve already said. The fact that Brave Orchid went to school and became a doctor is super empowering and awesome until you think about the fact that a) she was using money that her husband sent and b) she did this knowing that as soon as she was reunited with her husband she would stop and begin to have kids and be a mother again. I think like Joey was saying this one of those moments of being let out of that metaphorical jail cell, seeing the sun and the grass, only to know it will come to an end and you will have to go back into the cell.

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