Rage Against the Patriarchy: Oppression and Misogyny in Chinese

Hello. My name is Bo Wa. Formerly written “波娃” but for reasons you’ll see soon, I’ve adopted “譒窊.” I’m a 19 year old Uni student from Beijing and I’ve been on exchange at Dartmouth for almost a year. When I first got here I was pretty shy. My dad paid a lot of money for me to come here so I mostly just tried to focus on my studies. I know, like, typical Asian girl, right? LOL. Anyway, I really came to admire this institution because the student body is so involved with campus life and the administration is really receptive to the students. Some of the American students I became acquainted with were always like, “hey Bo, why do spend so much time in the library? You work too hard. You should really come out and see what we’ve got organized this weekend.” So I started to get out more.

In my various interactions on campus, my white classmates always (like, constantly) tell me that I should celebrate my vibrant, colorful culture and people, because we put the “hue” in human (the preferred pronoun is hue-myn. Sorry for my poor English, I honestly didn’t know). Now, I have a fierce sense of Asian Pride, but since coming to America, I have been re-evaluating my culture and my native language. Suffice it to say, my eyes have been opened and I’m a little, okay really, disturbed.

Chinese is a super duper old language and it gives us lots of insight to how people thought and conceived of the world around them thousands of years ago. It’s a gateway to the past, and there is much truth to be found in written Chinese characters. But, it’s the past. What concerns us today is not truth. I mean, Science has pretty much settled everything. What concerns our diverse community today is social justice. Of course, the past is not completely useless; it can be utilized when it is in line with the purpose of promoting social justice. This is what I intend to do today.

As I said, I’ve been re-evaluating Chinese characters and they are totally, literally, sexist. Chinese characters are made of radicals, or roots, put together to form characters consisting of the total meaning of the radicals together, kind of like a puzzle that you can rearrange to make whatever picture you want. Over thousands of years, these radicals and characters have taken on social meanings that I think need to be reinvented, because many of them are unjust towards wymyn.

For example the character 姦jiān. It’s made of three “woman” radicals and it means “illicit sexual relations, adultery, rape.” This sexism has been noted and discussed by scholars for a long time, but no one ever took action about it.

This is far beyond the limits of decency. It. Needs. To. Stop. NOW! So, I’ve created a new set of characters that I think are appropriate for this modern world. It’s not much, but it’s a humble starting point. I’m calling for their immediate adoption by all agender, androgyne, androgynous, bigender, cis, cisgender, cis female, cis male, cis man, cis woman, cisgender female, cisgender man, cisgender woman, female to male, FTM, gender fluid, gender nonconforming, gender questioning, gender variant, genderqueer, intersex, Latin@, male to female, MTF, neither, neutrois, non-binary, other, pangender, trans, trans*, trans female, trans* female, trans male, trans* male, trans man, trans* man, trans person, trans* person, trans woman, trans* woman, transfeminine, transgender, transgender female, transgender male, transgender man, transgender person, transgender woman, transmasculine, transsexual, transsexual female, transsexual male, transsexual man, transsexual person, transsexual woman and two spirit allies.

For non Chinese speakers, allow me to familiarize you with some radicals and characters as to facilitate understanding, begin the dialogue, make our voices heard, shake up the status quo, raise awareness and start the conversation. Because, at the end of the day, when all is said and done, can’t we all just get along? Don’t take NO for an answer. Love is all you need, so let’s be the change we want to see. No pain, no gain, right? So when life gives you lemons….um, well, anyhizzles, here are the radicals and characters for you to refer to as we go along:

女nǚ – female

男nán – male

These are the two most important ones for our discussion.

宀mián – roof radical

亻rén – radical form of 人

人 means “person” and is believed by many to be neutral, but in reality it connotes men.

冏jiǒng – embarrassed, sad, depressed

This character used to mean a leaf of some kind, but now it has become the equivalent of : ( since it looks like a weird face.

自zì – the self  我wǒ – I, me

These characters together -自我- mean “ego.”

夫fū – husband

In different contexts and usages, this character can describe different kinds of men’s status.

钱qián – money

見jiàn – to see

For aesthetic purposes we will use the traditional form. (The simplified form is 见.)

耳ěr – ear; handle  又yòu – again; right hand

These characters together -取- mean take, receive, obtain, collect, fetch.

笨bèn – stupid, foolish, silly

雄xióng – male

This character is also used in the plant and animal kingdoms to denote maleness. It can be used in the sense of “manly” as in the word for hero – 英雄.

思sī – to think, to consider; thought

***

Okay so I know I’ve only done a few and that leaves a lot of work to be done. But let’s have a look at some fresh new ideas we can bring to the Chinese language. We’ll keep the pronunciations the same, there’s no sense changing them.

qǔ – to take a wife

So, basically, back in the day when you took a wife, you used your right hand -又- to grab a womyn -女- by the ear -耳- and literally dragged her back to your cave. It goes back even further to when warriors would cut off their slain enemy’s ears as a trophy. This character is problematic for obvious reasons. Everyone agrees that marriage is an outdated institution that should die peacefully, so we need to be extremely dedicated to expanding it to fit any and all forms of relationships so everyone can enjoy it. So, I’ve created a new character that better reflects our modern view of marriage (let’s just get rid of the idea of  “taking a wife”). I’ve incorporated the radicals 女, 冏, 宀, 男. From now on the character for marriage shall be:

new zi 4

nìng – flattery

So, here we have 亻the man radical with 二èr which means “two”, and 女nǚ- womyn. One man and two wymyn. Oh my god, seriously? Do I even have to explain why this is wrong? You flatter yourselves indeed, men. I’ve updated this one integrating 亻自 and 我. From now on, we will use this character for flattery:

new zi 2

jí – jealousy

So this is a character that uses the 女nǚ womyn radical with 疾jí which means “illness” or “disease”. So the “womyn disease” is jealousy? Uh huh. And men don’t get jealous? I see. Yup, time for an update. I’ve made a new character for jealousy using 笨bèn and 男nán. Let’s try this on for size…Fits great!

Jealousy

lán – avaricious, greedy

So this one cosists of the radicals 林lín – “forest” (literally two trees next to each other) and 女nǚ – womyn. So pretty much a forest of wymyn equals greed and avarice….WOW. JUST. WOW. Could this be any more wrong? If a man dies in a forest and there’s no womyn there to hear him scream…who cares? Wymyn need men like fish need oxygen to breathe…underwater LOL. A replacement of this character is long overdue. I’ve gone ahead and taken the 雄xióng and 思sī characters to make the replacement. Here’s what we’ll write from now on:

Greed

mèi – little sister

So this combines the radicals womyn and 未wèi, meaning “not yet, did not; still to come.” Wooooaaaahhhhh! Way to enforce gender roles and stereotypes China! How’s that workin’ out for ya? So, tell me again why our little sisters have to become wymyn? Why should we put them in this little box of oppression called womynhood? You are aware that foot binding ended way long ago, right? Let’s put an end to this mind binding. How about we let our children explore their identities and let them choose to be whatever gender they feel like they are? I haven’t even made a new character for this, we’re just going to get rid of it completely.

niǎo – tease; disturb

So basically….oh wait, this character is appropriate. No changes here, my bad. Next…

xián – suspicion, resentment, dislike

Ok so last one for now. So this has 女nǚ womyn and 兼jiān, meaning “double, twice; simultaneously.” *Sigh* I’m so tired of this old trope about wymyn being vicious with each other. Are we really still at this stage? Have you ever heard of a little thing called war? Plenty of suspicion and resentment there and it’s got men written all over it. Nothing arouses men’s suspicion and resentment like money, so I’ve reinvented this character using 夫fū, half of 钱qián and 見jiàn:

Suspicion

Again, I know it’s not much, but I hope our concerned Asain, Black, queer, agender, androgyne, androgynous, bigender, cis, cisgender, cis female, cis male, cis man, cis woman, cisgender female, cisgender man, cisgender woman, female to male, FTM, gender fluid, gender nonconforming, gender questioning, gender variant, genderqueer, intersex, Latin@, male to female, MTF, neither, neutrois, non-binary, other, pangender, trans, trans*, trans female, trans* female, trans male, trans* male, trans man, trans* man, trans person, trans* person, trans woman, trans* woman, transfeminine, trans* feminine, transgender, trans* gender, transgender female, trans* gender female, transgender male, trans* gendermale, transgender man, trans* gender man, transgender person, trans*gender person, transgender woman, trans* gender woman, transmasculine, trans* gender masculine, transsexual, trans* sexual, transsexual female, trans* sexual female, transsexual male, trans* sexual male, transsexual man, trans* sexual man, transsexual person, trans* sexual person, transsexual woman, trans* sexual woman, and two spirit allies can adopt this fresh, new writing system wherever possible.

Because really you guys, the LGBTQRSTUVWXYZ, alternatively-chromosomed, werewolf, vampire, genderbender-questioning trans* vampire, concerned Asian, Black, Latin@, agender, androgyne, androgynous, bigender, cis, cisgender, cis female, cis male, cis man, cis woman, cisgender female, cisgender man, cisgender woman, female to male, FTM, gender fluid, gender nonconforming, gender questioning, gender variant, genderqueer, intersex, people of light brown color, people of sort of dark color, people of light-but-not-too-light-color, male to female, MTF, neither, neutrois, non-binary, other, pangender, trans, trans*, trans female, trans* female, trans male, trans* male, trans man, trans* man, trans person, trans* person, trans woman, trans* woman, transfeminine, trans* feminine, transgender, trans* gender, transgender female, trans* gender female, transgender male, trans* gendermale, transgender man, trans* gender man, transgender person, trans*gender person, transgender woman, trans* gender woman, transmasculine, trans* gender masculine, transsexual, trans* sexual, transsexual female, trans* sexual female, transsexual male, trans* sexual male, transsexual man, trans* sexual man, transsexual person, trans* sexual person, transsexual woman, trans* sexual woman, two spirit, fox kin, turtle kin, leopard kin and all other kins community should not reinforce the patriarchy.

***

The other day I saw John, a white privileged male and Christian (ew) with a long, blond ponytail, but otherwise cool dude, sitting in the quad playing guitar and wearing a t-shirt with a yin-yang symbol. I know Westerners think this is cool and makes them look culturally aware. But really you guys, it’s cultural appropriation and it just perpetuates patriarchy.

As I walked up to him, he smiled and said “hey Bo! check out my new shirt! Pretty sweet, huh?” “Ummmm yeah, we need to talk about that shirt actually” I told him. “Do you realize that the concept of yang as applied to gender roles makes men the sun and everything bright and positive, while yin, the female side is associated with the moon and all things dark?” I asked. “Yeah but, in the ancient Daoist tradition these forces exist as equals, naturally balancing the universe. Isn’t that what we want? Balance, complement and reciprocation between men and women?” He said. “UGH! CHECK. YOUR. FUCKING. PRIVILEGE! John seriously, I…I can’t even…”

I considered filing a complaint with the university because I felt like John had literally, literally raped my brain. But he seemed genuinely confused and sufficiently repentant, so I let it go. This time.

I’m deeply concerned that this campus is becoming an unsafe space. So I’m organizing a protest this weekend to force change and make this a campus committed to #socialjustice. I just need to finish emailing my dad to wire more money so I can make the posters and buy snackies for everyone. Honestly, I don’t know why we still tolerate other opinions anymore. Because we shouldn’t.

Hope you can join us!

***

So why did I change my name? Bo “波” meaning wave or ripple, consists of two radicals: water and skin. Wa “娃” meaning baby or doll, consists of womyn and jade tablet. Sooooo, what am I….a doll for you to objectify? A soft skinned baby? Wow. Just wow.

6 thoughts on “Rage Against the Patriarchy: Oppression and Misogyny in Chinese

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