The women of Asia are oftentimes objectified because of exoticism and fetishes about the stereotypical Asian woman – submissive, accommodating, passive, meek, and agreeable. In reality, several Asian cultures treasure their women because they believe that the female species is the only source of life. Hence, the women of Asia are respected and valued, catered to by the men and given only the best treatment and offerings.
The play M. Butterfly by David Henry Hwang includes inaccurate representations of the Asian and Western cultures, mostly those concerning the stereotypical Asian woman and the Westerners with whom they interact in order to depict the often-warped relationship of the East and the West. In particular, Hwang describes the relationship of two characters, Song Liling – a Chinese actor pretending to be a woman – and Rene Gallimard – a French diplomat imprisoned for treason – to reveal the false perceptions the East and the West have of each other.
Hwang elucidates the interaction between the East and the West through his degradation of masculine tendencies, ironic use of stereotypes, and implication of “rape mentality. ” In M. Butterfly, Hwang’s exemplification of masculine predispositions demonstrates how the Easterners view male Westerners. He supposes that the patriarchal culture that the West has been born into is creating a misogynistic relationship between the East and the West – where the West is the, supposedly, manlier society.
In lieu of finding the East exotic, the West tends to jump to conclusions about the different cultures in Asia because they want to believe that their presumptions are factual, as they are the ones with the “upper hand. ” In Act Three, Scene One, Liling says to the judge questioning him about his relationship with Gallimard, Rule One is: Men always believe what they want to hear. So a girl can tell the most obnoxious lies and the guys will believe them every time – “This is my first time” – “That’s the biggest I’ve ever seen” – or both, which, if you really think about it, is not possible in a single lifetime. Hwang 82) Hwang emphasizes that men have the inclination of being selfcentered, leading them to be easily manipulated. He says that Westerners are likely to trust whatever they hear from the East even though it is false information since they desire to believe what they are hearing – they want to imagine that the East is as exotic as it seems. Hwang implies that like the Westerners in the M. Butterfly, the men presume that they have the power over a certain group of people – The “Oriental” and the women (17).
Hence, they tend to feel superior because they are living in a “progressive society”, which gives them the sense of entitlement to have the power over other countries (Hwang 43). Additionally, in an interview with Hwang, he mentions that “[the] notion that the East is mysterious, inscrutable, and therefore ultimately inferior,” which is why the play seems so interesting to both the East and the West, alike (DiGaetani 142).
While the Westerners are intrigued to watch the play to convince themselves that the East is indeed exotic and mysterious, the Easterners want to see how the perception of the West is clearly misguided – making the play more captivating for both sides. Ultimately, Hwang uses the masculine weaknesses to showcase the flaws of the Westerners when interacting with the East. Hwang’s use of ironic stereotypes in M. Butterfly provides a glimpse of Westerners’ and Easterners’ views of each other.
He initially portrays Song Liling as an outspoken and opinionated Asian, well off the stereotypical meek and submissive “Oriental” girl, to catch the attention of Gallimard. However, as the story progressed, Gallimard started distancing himself from Liling, ironically – since Liling is a spy who is manipulating him, manipulating Liling to give Gallimard more attention to continue her mission, and act as a meek and modest Asian. The change in Liling’s attitude is evident when he states, “I am out of words. I can hide behind dignity no longer. What do you want?
I have already given you my shame” (Hwang 35). Hwang’s implication is that through the Easterner’s use of strategic reasoning, they are able to hold the power over the condescending Westerners who try to conquer their nations. He supposes that the pompous attitude of the Westerners is their weakness, which is why they will not be able to successfully conquer the “Orient. ” Hwang uses the stereotypical modest Asian girl and the cruel white man to persuade the readers of the relationship of the East and the West, where the West thinks that it reins power over the East – when in reality, they don’t.
On the other hand, Hwang portrays Gallimard, initially, not as a womanizer, but as a faithful husband to his wife, Helga. However, since “Asians in general are depicted as helpless, ignorant and easily vanquished by the Westerner’s obvious superiority, the combination of the cultural ad gender stereotype in the Asian woman makes her an especially attractive target for the Western man” (Davis 55). Hence, Gallimard becomes a “womanizer” when he has an affair with Liling – a Chinese actor on a mission to elicit information from Gallimard.
Twenty years after they met, Gallimard is still in denial that Liling is a man, because he still believes that his fantasies about someone who listens to every word he says, gives him whatever he craves, and offers him an intellectual conversation – all pertaining to the fact that Liling is a spy and tries to pry all the information he can acquire from Gallimard. By using stereotypes and turning them around, Hwang was able to show that the relationship between the East and the West, and how versatile and fragile it is.
Hence, with the use of his reversible stereotypes, Hwang is able to implicate how Asians and Westerners interact. When Hwang mentions rape mentality, he elicits a reaction from the reader, backing up his opinion on the relationship of the East and the West. Rape is the act of sex without verbal consent from one of the parties involved – it has been an issue which still has not been resolved in today’s society, let alone in the 19th century. The common misconception of rapists is that they assume that the victim wants to be dominated or raped – because of the way that they dress, act, or speak – when they don’t.
Women dress for themselves, not for the prying eyes of the men around them – they want to be able to look into a mirror and say that they are beautiful, and not get catcalled on the streets. When Song says, Basically, “Her mouth says no, but her eyes say yes. ‘ The West thinks of itself as masculine – big guns, big industry, big money – so the East is feminine – weak, delicate, poor… but good at art, and full of inscrutable wisdom – the feminine mystique…
The West believes that the East, deep down, wants to be dominated – because a woman can’t think for herself. (Hwang 83) Hwang provides support to his argument that the West yearns to take advantage of the East because of its mysteriousness and exoticism. He is implying that Westerners take advantage of the Easterner’s naivety and femininity. Most Westerners cannot even distinguish the difference of Chinese from Japanese, Korean, Cantonese, Thai, Malaysian, Filipino, or Singaporean, “nor have they always made much effort to do so” (Davis 54).
Hence, this shows that the West shows little respect to the diverse cultures of the East, making it even more obvious that they are only seeking to dominate for the thrill of having the power over a certain nation. Thus, he triggers a reaction from the reader, making them have a negative connotation of the treatment of the West of Asians. Through Hwang’s implication of “rape mentality,” he is able to exemplify the unjust relationship of the East and the West, and how its basis is merely power.