Women as Symbols of Virtue and Honor

In Maxine Hong Kingston’s book “The Woman Warrior”, I was surprised that it opened with such a detailed anecdote of her fathers forgotten sister, who had been erased from time and history due to the shame she brought their family for conceiving a child behind her husbands back. However, as Kingston elaborates she clarifies that “The other man was not, after all, much different from her husband. They both gave orders: she followed. ‘If you tell your family, I’ll beat you. I’ll kill you. Be here again next week.'” (Kingston, 7). Kingston parallels her husband and the man she sleeps with as being in charge of her, in other words, as a woman her job was to obey any man that commands her to do their will. In this explanation, the adultery and the pregnancy are no longer entirely her fault as her mothers story suggested in the beginning, but they are the fault of a system in which her aunt is given absolutely no agency to have prevented the pregnancy to begin with. Kingston goes on to reveal that, more than likely, “She told the man, ‘I think I’m pregnant.’ He organized the raid against her” (Kingston, 7). As a man he feared his honor would be tarnished if word of his guilt in the adultery got out, and so he decided to be the organizer of the raid to cover his tracks. As a woman, her aunt could do nothing to prevent the raid, the same way she could not prevent her rape, and the same way she could not prevent the dishonor that would be brought upon her family.

Seeing as the book opens up with a tragic history of the forgotten woman, I can’t help but wonder if there is any form of agency that women have in this society. Kingston answers this question with a story about her mother plucking her eyebrows with thread, but when they complained she tells them, “It especially hurt at the temples, but my mother said we were lucky we didn’t have our feet bound when we were seven”(Kingston, 9). Their so called agency lies with their physical body and nothing more, and the way her mother rationalizes the unjust treatment of women and their lack of agency is by referring to history, in other words, things might seem bad to Kingston but for her mother, things had gotten better.

The question I have now is about the agency of women’s bodies versus the women themselves? For example, their hair, and their face and their virginity held so much power, enough power to change the village’s view of their entire family for years to come. That being said, how is it that women as people can lack agency, but women as physical property have enough agency to build or ruin a families reputation?