In many countries all over the world, including China, patriarchy is the overruling belief system of granting men more authority, social power, and political power than women according to historian and author, Dr. Robert Guisepi. In many instances, women are treated no differently than slaves with no voice in decisions or control over what happens in their houses. Our author, Maxine Hong Kingston, writes major themes surrounding the life of a Chinese immigrant that lived in a patriarchal society and kept those beliefs even after living in the United States for many years (Kingston). Being the daughter of first-generation immigrants that owned a laundry in Stockton, California, gave her a unique insight into the life of a Chinese immigrant and what life in China was like for her parents and grandparents. Her major titles were under the theme of “The Woman Warrior” and included: No Name Woman, White Tigers, Shaman, A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe, and General (uncp.edu).
In 1981, Kingston won the Guggenheim Fellowship for Fiction, an award that is given to the best artistic and creative talent (gf.org). In the story, No Name Woman, we are taken into the world of a woman who has sexual relations outside of her marriage and ends up pregnant. We soon discover that because of the patriarchal system in China during 1924, the pregnant woman was probably forced by a male in the village to submit to sexual demands (Kingston). Worse yet, the man most likely participated in the subsequent assault and shaming of the pregnant woman and her family. Because all of the control lies with the men of the family or village, the patriarchal system often leads to abusive gender bias and violence against women, including rape and pregnancy that inevitably become the fault of the woman with the man or attacker bearing no responsibility or blame. In the beginning of the story, we discover that the narrator’s aunt is pregnant even though her husband has been away for years. The village notices the ever-growing belly and makes note of when the baby would be due down to the exact date. It almost seems like the village also knew who the culprit may have been and when the sexual assaults began.
The villagers appear on the night of the birth due date to raid the family house disguised in white masks (Kingston). The villagers included both men and women. In patriarchal societies men hold the power over women, but to some degree women are accepting of this arrangement. The word “society” means men and women together that form this way of living according to the author Allan Johnson. Many would think that women would feel for a woman in this situation and not participate in the raid. Authors Frances O’Connor and Becky Drury explain that in a patriarchal society, women rarely get to experience power or being aggressive against another person. A raid such as this is one of those rare events where they can experience control and power even if it is against another woman.
In being complicit in these raids the women in the village are perpetuating the behaviors that they may find themselves the victim of one day. The most disturbing fact was that the man who had demanded sex was probably one of the people not only participating in the raid, but also orchestrating the raid to be rid of the woman he impregnated. There were no consequences or punishment of any kind for him. The patriarchal system reserved the punishment to the woman who was unfortunate enough to become pregnant as a result of her assault. Kingston writes, “Women in the old China did not choose. Some man had commanded her to lie with him and be his secret evil. I wonder whether he masked himself when he joined the raid on her family.” (Kingston 7)
The raid from the villagers was a total destruction of any and all of the family’s property (Kingston). Part of the assault involved killing the family’s livestock, including roosters, pigs, and even an ox. The villagers sprayed blood all over the house by flinging chickens after slitting their throats (Kingston). They destroyed the family possessions, and smashed walls and doors. “We stood together in the middle of the house, in the family hall with all the pictures and tables of ancestors around us, and looked straight ahead.” The women dared not move or fight back in any way. The shame that rained down on them that night from the villager’s assault was tremendous. The fact that the men and women of the village participated in this assault made it clear the family would be ostracized by all and there would be no forgiveness.
The aunt gave birth all alone that night and spent some time with her child. After spending some time with her child, sadly, the aunt killed herself and her child by jumping in the well and drowning them both. The child was most likely a daughter, because had it been a boy the aunt would have known that there might have been room for forgiveness from the villagers (Kingston). Dr. Guisepi explains that boy children have more value in the Chinese patriarchal system than girls. In patriarchal society, according to the author Jiping Zuo, women secure their position in the family by producing male children and assuring the lineage of a family.
The most disturbing result of this raid from the villagers, apart from the suicide, is the shame that the family felt even fifty years later (Kingston). The shame of the aunt getting pregnant never let up. The aunt was never discussed and the author only found out about it from her mother in hushed secretive discussion under a promise of never mentioning the aunt to her father. The author had been convinced over the years that mentioning the aunt might somehow truly injure her father. In retrospect, the author felt like a co-conspirator for intentionally forgetting her aunt and not carefully examining what really happened (Kingston). By participating in the silence, the author was helping to punish the dead spirit of her aunt. The family punished the aunt by never offering any “paper dresses, spirit money, paper houses, and the incense and steam from food.” The belief was that she would be forever a hungry spirit, punished for eternity. Kingston writes, “My aunt remains forever hungry. Goods are not distributed evenly among the dead.”
The patriarchal system is a gender-biased system and frequently irrationally abusive to the female gender according to Dr. Guisepi. Regardless of who may have participated in a shameful act, the woman is the only one punished and ostracized. In many situations, the shameful act is forced on the woman with no consequence to the men involved. In this type of society, women have no rights and treated as submissive property. They are hierarchically one level above slaves or livestock. Dr. Joseph Pleck explains that they are taught to obey without question and then must subsequently submit to any abuse heaped on them as a result of obeying. The patriarchal system is a violent, misogynist, and abusive way of living for women. The story of the forgotten aunt is a perfect example of patriarchy, abuse of power and people, hypocrisy, misplaced blame, and gender bias.