I was particularly interested in the way that the title ‘wife’ was used interchangeably between genders in “A Male Mencius’s Mother Raises Her Son Properly By Moving House Three Times”. The story opens with Jifang discussing why he is averse to women, citing women’s artifice in their appearance and that “’They can’t compare with a pretty boy where looks are concerned’” (103). He then says, “’I can take a boy with me wherever I wish without scandal or concern- a pure wife for a pure husband’” (103). What first struck me about Jifang’s statement is that a man in a sexual relationship with a ‘pretty boy’ is not a cause for scandal so much as a man with an unattractive woman, but his labeling of himself and a pretty boy as husband and wife also surprised me. Husband and wife are not gendered, but categorized based on behavioral patterns (as we see, one is dominant and one is submissive).
There is actually hardly a use for women in this story, as Jifang’s wife dies in childbirth. She is labeled as a wife if only to posit her role in the story, but remains unnamed and somewhat irrelevant. She is a literal wife who fulfills her sole duty to give Jifang an heir, and dies.
After Jifang’s wife dies, he is “…constantly on the lookout for an exquisite catamite to take as his second wife” (104). His “exquisite catamite” is described as a “matchless beauty” and has other men looking to pay a “bride-price” (109). Once again, this traditionally feminine role is not specifically gendered. Interestingly, Jifang and Ruilang’s relationship is more fulfilling for them than that between a man and a woman, despite their compliance with gendered roles: ‘’But I intend to spend my whole life with you, and if I never set eyes on a woman, how are my sexual desires going to be aroused?’” (118). Despite their social positions as husband and wife, this remains a homosexual relationship.
Yet their social gendering becomes more physical; once Ruilang removes his penis, “…the resulting scar resembled a vagina” (121). His face and figure are very womanly, and it is impossible to tell that he is physically male. He starts dressing as a woman and changes his name “…to fit his new role” (121). Ruilang’s new role is really that of a woman, so his role of a wife is somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy. In other words, he has become that which he is socially objectified as. And, as someone else wrote, the story is supposedly about motherhood and how to do it “properly”. I don’t think I’ve actually ‘argued’ anything in this post, but I’d like to consider how titles like wife and mother are given, fulfilled, and gendered, in what order this happens, and how these titles alter sexual and familial relations.