Gender Identification

In the text A Male Mencius’s Mother Raises Her Son Properly By Moving House Three Times, I was most struck by the point in which Ruilang castrates himself and then changes his name to Ruiniang, in order to “fit his new role” (121). His voluntary, self-initiated name change implies that he feels that he needs a new name in order to accommodate a new identity. Just as we read in the Munn text, it appears that names do have power (the Munn text describes how the women hold power through their naming ability). It is unclear though, whether his personality and habits change as a result of his name change, or if his name change reflects the personality change that was already underway. After he changes his name, he engages in what would traditionally be thought of as “womanly” roles: staying only in his boudoir, embroidering, and supporting his husband in his studies. Perhaps it is a little of both: after slipping on his new identity via an obvious name change, he is more comfortable with his identity and can thus do that which is normally associated with that identity. Taking a new name is like coming out of the closet for Butler: only after you have declared your identity to the world will people expect you to perform the actions “typical” of that identity. (Butler is told to do more “lesbian” things, and Ruilang can now do more “womanly” things.)

After the name change, Ruilang is not referred to as Ruilang until the runners come to arrest Jifang and Ruiniang. Jifang goes into the house to tell “Ruiniang” of the occurrence, but the person who admits to the castration and takes the punishment is “Ruilang”. It is not until the move to Zhangzhou that he becomes Ruiniang again.

This changing usage of names is used to separate the identities of Ruilang. The person who serves as Jifang’s dutiful and loving wife is Ruiniang, and the person who committed a crime is Ruilang. Although they are physically the same person, referring to this person by two different names implies a split in personality and identity. I almost begin to think of them as two different people: I think of Ruilang as the masculine persona who makes rash decisions (i.e. castration), and I think of Ruiniang as the dutiful, loving persona who is caring enough to raise Jifang’s son and love him as his own. The fact that I even start to think of them as two distinct personas shows that identity is transitory, especially gender identity. It also goes to show that names are very important. Had Ruilang not changed his name, I may not have noticed the more womanly aspects of his personality. By giving that persona a concrete, and womanly, name by which to identify it, I associated the womanly name with new womanly aspects of his persona. Truly, naming is a powerful and important ability in terms of identity construction.

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One thought on “Gender Identification

  1. I also thought the change in pronouns and names of Ruilang and Ruiniang was very interesting. In particular, I’m interested in the events immediately following the self-castration. “Ruilang’s wound, as if by divine help, closed up in less than a month. Even more remarkably, the resulting scar resembled a vagina.” Does this imply that the character actually had a sort of divinely-sanctioned sex change? The narrator seems certain at the beginning and ending of this piece that heterosexuality and penile-vaginal intercourse prescribe the limits of proper sexuality. However, does this comment introduce ambiguity to be considered in our analysis? Additionally, how are we to read this character? A man in woman’s clothes–even a drag queen? A transgender woman? A transsexual woman? The character moves between different gender expressions at various times to protect husband and stepson but what is this character’s gender identity? Is it even fair to use these relatively recently coined terms in ancient myths?

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