Gender Stereotypical Influence of the Feminism Movement
The discussion of gender equality and how stereotypes hinder the evolution of minority groups is a problem that has occurred throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The feminism movement throughout history has applied to the psychological way society has viewed women in a positive and negative way. The novel Flowers in the Mirror by Li Ju-Chen depicts the appalling way Chinese culture impacted women by reversing the roles upon men. This reversal allowed people to clearly identify gender inequality that is presented in society. Li Ju-Chen chose to highlight the way women were being treated to help further support the feminism movement. Similar to the the views of Li Ju-Chen, Jonah Gokova, the author of “Challenging Men to Resist Gender Stereotyping,” directly addressed male stereotypical influence on women and addressed masculinity in the context of how it negatively impacts women. Both of these pieces of literature represent the social ideas of gender stereotyping as it relates to the evolution of the feminism movement. The similar themes of societal gender stereotyping in both works explore the psychological way women have been impacted negatively in cultural aspects, sexually, and through the influence of male masculinity.
Psychological Feminism Impact
The first wave feminist movement of the nineteenth century allowed women to begin to speak out against oppression. Women believed that they should be educated and offered many of the same opportunities as men. This realization led to the fight for equal rights. The term “feminist” stemmed from this movement; however, some people did not completely agree with the views of the movement. Abby Werlock lists some of the ways women have criticized the feminist movement in her analysis of feminism by stating, “Feminist criticism has become a wide-ranging exploration of the construction of gender and identity, the role of women in culture and society, and the possibilities of women's creative expression” (Werlock par. 3). This description of the feminist movement has not assisted the gender stereotypes already placed upon women in society, yet, it offered a different opinion. Although the first wave feminist movement was criticized by some women, men also had no issue rejecting feminism ideals as well. Stereotyping of women throughout history did nothing but prevent women from achieving equal rights.
Cultural and Sexual Inequality
In the novel Flowers in the Mirror, Merchant Lin travels to the kingdom of women, where men wear women’s clothing and follow female rule. Merchant Lin began mocking the situation he encountered which is clearly depicted when he states, “Lucky I wasn’t born in this country,” he said. Catch me mincing around on bound feet!” (Chen 38). Chen attempted to expose the inhuman practices of foot binding and unwanted sexual relationships between a man and woman. By portraying these despicable events, Chen demonstrated that he sympathized with Chinese women that experienced this. The satirical tone of this story conveyed the circumstances that were unjust to women. Nancy Evans makes this statement about the overall meaning behind the story: “The obvious answer to his heroics is that women have had to stand this pain and humiliation as a matter of course for years” (Evans par. 19). If women had to experience this, then men should try to understand the things they were going through. Evans includes an excerpt from Wu Shuang-i that praises Chen for the remarkable way he stood up for women:
He bravely described a society in which women fulfilled the most important roles, which was completely opposed to the society of his times, a society in which men filled the most important roles." And Li Kuo comments that Li Ju-chen, by using descriptions, causes the men of his times, who have become accustomed to hold the honoured position in society and who believe that women rightfully occupy their lowly place, to feel the pain of having their ears pierced and their feet bound. (Evans par. 14)
The central purpose of the story is to expose the things women had to endure to justify their need to be freed of oppression. The inequality gap between men and women was largely illustrated in Flowers in the Mirror by the roles women obtained and men obtained. In the nineteenth and twentieth century society, men were seen as the providers and women had the domestic home responsibilities. The reversal of these roles in the story were shown because the “maids” were men and the “King” was a woman. Another way Chen sympathized with women was through the imagery of foot binding that was popular in Chinese culture. The description of Lin’s feet was truly horrific: “In due course, his feet lost much of their original shape. Blood and flesh were squeezed into a pulp and then little remained of his feet but dry bones and skin, shruck, indeed, to a dainty size” (Chen 44). Through the immense detail of this procedure, Chen further aided his argument that the gender roles between men and women needed to be changed.
Gender Stereotyping of Male Masculinity
Comparable to the efforts of Li Ju-Chen, Jonah Gokova also contributed to the argument of unwarranted gender stereotypes of males that had detrimental effects on women. In “Challenging Men to Resist Gender Stereotyping,” Gokova did not hesitate to aim his argument directly to the oppressors in his case. According to the article “Padare’s gender mainstreaming efforts hailed,” Padare men’s forum was an organization that helped make strides in fighting for equality (Padare par. 3). One of the officers of this organization believed that, “...men engagement for gender equality benefits everyone from women, children and even men themselves (Padare par. 4). Gokova was a prominent member of this organization and in his article, “Challenging Men to Resist Gender Stereotyping,” his goal was to help men understand that masculine gender stereotypes have done nothing but harm women in society. Gokova explains, “Men need to be challenged continually to seek change. This means openly and publicly rejecting the current image of manhood ... Developing a new man whose existence does not depend on any form of violence and abuse of women is possible” (Gokova 423). Throughout history, most men have always been accepting of the stereotype that they have to be dominate in society and in relationships; this is not the case. Through Gokova’s stance, he is openly supporting the feminist movement in seeing how male’s masculinity is indirectly and directly negatively impacting women. Gokova makes this excellent analysis of social expectations of men limiting the freedom of women in the article, “Padare’s gender mainstreaming efforts hailed”:
“We started this organisation as five men who all shared non-governmental organisation sector experience. We felt it was important that we unpack how the social expectations of men were restricting women’s choices and denying them dignity. This realisation gave rise to casual conversations that brought men together to discuss how society could shift towards embracing women’s rights and according them the space they need to self-actualise,” Gokova said. (Padare par. 7)
The depiction Gokova uses puts into simple terms where men can identify with the language of feminism that they most likely ignored in the past. Men’s societal expectations do not need to come in the expense of women. Men can still support the feminist movement and still be seen as the “normal” standards of a man.
Criticism of the Movement
Li Ju-Chen and Jonah Gokova both have created works of literature that reinforce women’s fight for equality; however, there have been opposition of their arguments. Li Ju-Chen was heavily criticized for his negative depiction of some Chinese culture practices such as foot binding. According to Nancy Evans, some writers believe Chen did not have the right to speak out for women because he could not have known exactly what they were going through (Evans par. 31). However, one scholar came to Chen’s defense by stating, “This may well be because Li Ju-chen was a scholar who failed and therefore could understand such issues "as if he were seeing fire," whereas he had much less knowledge about the tender feelings of youth” (Evans par. 31). Jonah Gokova also faced criticism from men that wanted to stay stagnant in their oppressive ways: “Padare encourages men to recognize and reject destructive assumptions and perceptions that result in gender inequality” (Gokova 423). Someone fighting for the equality of any minority group should never be criticized for standing up in the face of oppression. Although it has been difficult to get everyone on the right side of equality, male authors such as Gokova and Chen, help further support women and reject gender stereotypes.
In conclusion, the feminist movement has paved the way for the political and social equality of women. Authors such as Li Ju-Chen and Jonah Gokova contributed exponentially to furthering the abolishment of gender stereotypes and providing a male perspective on these issues. Abby Werlock gives readers this insight to the evolution of the feminist movement in modern society:
Today, most critics generally agree that there is no one kind of feminism; the study of women recognizes individual differences but has attempted to find common subjects of agreement: for instance, that patriarchal society oppresses women and minorities, among whom a close link exists; that women have been marginalized. (Werlock par. 1)
Gender stereotypes will continue to be detrimental to the strides this movement has made in history if psychological elements such as cultural aspects, unwarranted sexual domination, and the influence of male masculinity does not depart from societal expectations. While humanity has progressed with this issue, there are still men with unwavering perspectives about the women’s rights movement. Humanity needs to come together as a whole and realize that gender stereotyping has not done anything but prolong the oppression of women.
Chen, Li Ju. “From Flowers in the Mirror.” The Essential Feminist Reader, edited by Estelle B. Freedman, Modern Library Trade Paperback Edition, 2007, pp. 37-46.
Evans, Nancy J. F. "Social Criticism in the Ch'ing: The Novel Ching-hua yuan." Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism, edited by Lynn M. Zott, vol. 137, Gale, 2004. Gale Literature Resource Center, link.gale.com/apps/doc/H1420056196/LitRC
?u=floteccl&sid=bookmark-LitRC&xid=4d0db152. Accessed 19 Nov. 2021. Originally published in Papers on China, no. 23, 1970, pp. 52-64.
Gokova, Jonah. “Challenging Men to Reject Gender Stereotypes.” The Essential Feminist Reader, edited by Estelle B. Freedman, Modern Library Trade Paperback Edition, 2007, pp. 420-423.
"Padare’s gender mainstreaming efforts hailed." Zimbabwe Standard (Africa), sec. NEWS, 7 June 2020. NewsBank: Access World News, infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view?p=AWNB&docref=news/17B722B3F00048C8. Accessed 19 Nov. 2021.
Werlock, Abby H. P. “Feminism and Feminist Criticism.” Encyclopedia of the American Short Story, 2-Volume Set, Third Edition, Facts On File, 2013. History Research Center, online.infobase.com/Auth/Index?aid=&itemid=&articleId=9212. Accessed 19 Nov. 2021.
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