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Sexism in the Joy Luck Club – Amy Tan

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In traditional Chinese culture, many judgments were made about a person just by observing their sex. The woman was looked upon as an inferior being and she had little or no status in society. Furthermore, very little was expected from women and they were discriminated against when they tried to stand up for themselves. Chinese culture was customarily male dominated; the male was expected to do most of the work, and the woman was expected to stay at home. Chinese women feel like no one cares and it is much harder for them to live with an optimistic view on life.

Although sexism is not a major theme of Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club, it is clear that it does affect the lives of the mothers and daughters.

Although sexism is not a major theme in this novel, it runs throughout the whole novel since the story is focused on Chinese women that grew up in China and therefore they have this tradition of sexism inside. The reader of Joy Luck Club can observe the signs of sexism in almost every story of the novel. Each mother or daughter tells two stories in the novel, except for Jing-mei, whose mother already died and so she is telling the story of her mother also.

An-Mei & Rose Hsu

An-Mei is very much affected by her mother’s behavior. An-Mei lives with her grandmother Popo because she disowned An-mei’s mother and she doesn’t allow her to bring up An-mei. The reason why is An-mei’s mother so hated by her own family is, because once when she is invited to a wealthy merchant’s house, he rapes her. She is forced to marry him in order to partially preserve her honor but in China, it is considered very shameful to marry another man, when the first one died. Unfortunately, it is perfectly okay for Wu-Tsing to rape her and that way to make An-mei’s mother marry him. As his third wife, she maintains a fairly low status in the society.

When An-mei’s mother once comes back to her family’s house, An-mei decides to go with her to Tientsin into Wu-Tsing’s house. There she learns about the position of her mother and women in general. Once during the night, An-mei’s mother tells An-mei to go to another room because Wu-Tsing came and she has to obey him. This shows that women in China were treated as possessions and it did not matter how they felt. It is interesting that in China, what An-mei’s mother has done, is considered bad, and rape is normal. Ironically, An-mei’s mother was forced to “do a bad thing” by a man.

Rose is very much affected by her mother and she feels the disadvantages of being a woman even though she lives in the US. She doesn’t believe in herself and feels that she can’t make any decisions and so her husband Ted decides everything – where to go on vacation, what furniture to buy. This is very similar to a traditional Chinese society – husband decides on everything and the wife just listens. Rose’s behavior proves her dependence on a male. Later on, An-Mei teaches Rose how to speak for herself and Rose soon after divorces Ted and breaks free from the male dominance.

Lindo & Waverly Jong

Lindo Jong was also in a similar position. As a young child (only 2 years old), she is promised to a boy and when she is twelve, her parents leave her at her future in-laws house because the floods destroyed everything they had. When Lindo arrives, the mother leads her to the kitchen and Lindo becomes another servant in the house. At first she is crying but then she slowly becomes accustomed to her new life and is happy when nobody is complaining about the food she made that day. When she is sitting in the wedding carriage, she says to herself that she has to keep her family’s honor by marrying Tyuan-yu but she promises herself that she would stay herself.

When she is married to Tyuan-yu, Lindo is quickly blamed for not having children. She cannot say that it is because of lack of interaction from Tyuan-yu side, because nobody would believe her. So after two years she devises a plan how to escape the marriage without being blamed for the failure of it. She manages to persuade the mother of her husband that the marriage is “a bad luck” and she obtains enough money from the family and leaves for America. This shows how women in Chinese society were undervalued and how women were prohibited to have any sort of status in society.

Waverly, Lindo’s daughter, encounters sexism when she is still a child. At the age of 7, Waverly started playing chess and became a child prodigy. Once, while walking home, she notices a group of old men playing chess. She approaches them and asks them if they want to play with her. The men are laughing at her and one of the responses is that they don’t play with little dolls. This can be considered as sexism since the men call her a doll, suggesting she is not able to do anything.

Ying Ying & Lena St. Clair

Ying-Ying’s life suggests a lack of honor for the females in the Chinese society. When she is 16 years old, she attends a party at her house, when a man plunges a knife into a watermelon, showing her that he will be the one with whom she will loose her virginity. This behavior is a clear sign of discourtesy towards women but it goes unnoticed at the party, proving that in the Chinese society, again, women have low status. Later, when she is married to this man, she actually grows to love him, because he treats her fairly well and promises her his love. Unfortunately it turns out, that he is cheating on her with an opera singer and breaks Ying-Ying’s heart. His behavior exhibits that he has no respect for her. Ying-Ying’s sorrow even grows that strong that she intentionally aborts her child with this man. Because she grew to love this man so much, she could never truly love again, even though she marries again.

Also Ying-Ying’s daughter absorbed some of the sexist assumptions. Lena is a mere associate in the architecture firm that she helped her husband to establish and so she is only making a fraction of her husband’s salary. She subordinated herself to her husband, but she can’t do anything about it since she has the values of male-dominated Chinese society deep inside of her. Naturally, these values come from her mother, but Lena herself doesn’t recognize it.

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