Husbands/Wives in “A Male Mencius’s Mother Raises Her Son Properly By Moving House Three Times”

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.


3 thoughts on “Husbands/Wives in “A Male Mencius’s Mother Raises Her Son Properly By Moving House Three Times”

  1. Your point about the lack of women (as members of a biological category) is an interesting point to remember. In this world women hold only value in their ability to birth children, because any value they would gain from fulfilling social needs is negated in the fact that clearly men are able to fill these roles, and there are some arguing that they fill it better. Women are necessary incubators and nothing else.
    Nice post!

    • Should we consider Ruiniang a trasngender woman though? I can’t remember a time where the character clearly states a gender identity but, s/he certainly lives as a woman and a (step)mother for many years. Her moving Chengxian to protect him suggests that when living as a woman, she has certain duties which she takes very seriously. She’s not a biological mother or a assigned female at birth, but I wonder how this affects the analysis. That Ruilang and Chengxian’s biological mothers are absent pulls the narrative in new directions. The narrator seems to not consider the character a “real woman” but what does this character’s trajectory demonstrate about the status of women and mothers in this society?

  2. It’s interesting to note, though, that the physical transformation of Ruilang directly leads to the traumatic scene in the courtroom. In some way, the judge is ruling upon a mismatch in gender presentation and sexual organs. Ruilang’s crime is a distinctly gendered one; he is now unable to fulfill his duty as a son.

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