Gender Configurations in Women from the Lake of Scented Souls: Male Feminism and Its Limitation
Keywords : male Feminism, marginal man, allegorical intent, emotional empathy, malicious matriarch, feministic concern, feminist point of view, literary stereotype
Although critics have traced inscriptions of feminist consciousness in the works of modern male writers, such as Mao Dun, Lu Xun, Rou Shi, Bai Xianyong and Huang Chunming, they indicate a constant condescending attitude, ambivalence, uneasiness and allegorical use of women in such writings, which mitigate their feminist intent. Feminist theory indicates that it is the distance between the male intellectuals as privileged “investigators” and the underprivileged female “objects” of their investigation that prevents them from speaking with an unadulterated feminist voice. Can a man imbued with Confucian values produce genuine feminist works? The modern Chinese film Women from the Lake of Scented Souls (1993) seems to provide a positive answer, though with some reservation. The film is adapted from a novella based on the life experience of the novelist Zhou Daxin, whose tragic failure in his first love engendered deep empathy for his high school sweet heart, and then women in general. The deprivation of women’s sexual rights that Zhou laments in his novella mirrors his own loss. The spiritual kinship between the male “investigator” and his female “object” enables him to present an ardent plea for women’s salvation from a genuine feminist position. However, when Zhou turns to portray the heroine Huan-huan’s victimizer, the vicious Sister Gao, he subconsciously succumbs to the conventional stereotype of malicious matriarch, that compromises the feminist intent of his work. Ambivalence also features the gender stance of Xie Fei, a screen auteur noted for his sympathetic portrayal of women in his films. While Xie artistically creates a feminist point of view on the screen with his cinematography to reinforce the feminist strength of his film, it is, however, unintentionally weakened in his attempt to allegorize his tale. To project his view that China is enslaved by the feudalistic values that it refuses to give away, and to transform his heroine into a cinematic personification of China, he deliberately creates a “flaw” in Huan-huan’s perception which leads to her own ruin. In so doing, however, the zero distance between the male investigator and the female object in Zhou’s novella gives way to a condescending distance in Xie’s film, which results in weakening his feminist position. In the large context of male feminism in modern Chinese literature, this study indicates both the possibility of genuine male feminism and the causes of its limitation. While personal experience, injury of personal interest, political/ideological alienation and liberal outlook may lead male scholars to take a genuine feminist stand, they tend to shift to traditional positions when their personal interest is uninvolved, as shown in Zhou’s acquiescence of the misogynist stereotype of malicious matriarch and Xie’s instinctive inclination for allegorical use of women. This limits the feminism in their works.