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Taina Morales

Professor Batty

English 102

Due: 10/18/17

Are You My Fluidfly

Man and Woman, East and West, Hetero and Homosexual. Those are just a few

of the binaries that help us perceive the world around us. Though there are instances that

require a polar opposition, life, and our human experiences are far from binary. Whether

while interpreting works of literature, the genders we identify with, or even cultural

infrastructures, a post-structuralism lens is demanded in order for us to understand them.

For decades artists have broken, and challenged this binary ideology through their work.

David Henry Hwang is one of those artists. To most sitting in the audience, or who read

Hwangs M Butterfly, one could make the quick assumption that on the surface, this play

tells the story of love and betrayal between a French diplomat and Chinese spy disguised

as a woman. However, I argue that through the lens of both a post-colonialist, and a

queer-theorist-Hwangs deeper purpose for writing M Butterfly promotes and also brings

into question traditional power dynamics by challenging patriarchal heteronormative

culture; gender roles, and identity; and the stigma of oriental femininity and masculine

Western colonialism.

Patriarchy and heteronormativity are the systematic, social, and cultural

ideologies that are both practiced and challenged in M Butterfly. Rene Gallimard, a

French politician who since adolescence has struggled to identify with heterosexuality. In
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his younger years, Gillmard did not engage in many heterosexual experiences like his

fellow peers. In fact, Gallimards first sexual encounter was set up for him by his friend

Marc Pinkerton. Despite Gallimards alienation from traditional heterosexual

participation, Gallimard lusts for femininity In Act Three, Scene Three Gallimard

expresses to song, Im a man who loved a woman (3.3.1). Its easy to assume that

Gallimard pictured himself in a romantic-binary-partnership. However, in Act One, Scene

Five, Gallimard bring us to question whether his lust for femininity, is just a disguise for

his lust in having power over women; patriarchy. Patriarchy, as Rochelle L. Dalla defines

for us in Patriarchal System, for Salem Press Encyclopedia, Is defined as

institutionalized power relationships that give men power over women. (Dalla, 2017). In

Act One, Scene Five, Gallimard describes the first instance in which he stumbles upon

heterosexual porn at his uncles house: The first time I saw them in the closet all lined

up-my body shook. Not with lust-no, with power. Here were women-a shelfful-who

would do exactly as I wanted. (1.5.18-21). These were the first moments in the play that

Gallimard appears to long for dominance over women than the women themselves.

Patriarchy is very prominent in Chinese culture, and practiced throughout this

play. We are able to depict this through what Song tells Gallimard in Act One, Scene Ten

while pouring his tea, China is a nation whose soul is firmly rooted two thousand years

in the past. (1.5.18-19.1) In a 2015 article by Yi Jai, TRANSFORMATIONS OF

WOMANS SOCIAL STATUS IN CHINA Annales: Series Historia et Sociologia. Jai

describes ancient China as a place were The Chinese, in the ancient time women whose

social status was relative-ly low were subordinated, even attached to men as in the

Chinese tradition the woman was regarded as a person of the lowest status, a sexual
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object, etc., the gender-based discrimination. (Jai, 2015) Ancient patriarchal ways in

oppressing women are seen in the how which Pinkerton devalues, and treats his Chinese

bride, and views almost all Oriental women in Act One, Scene Three. These are just a

few examples of how M Butterfly can be seen to promote traditional power dynamics

such as patriarchy and heterosexuality.

Approaching M Butterfly through queer-theorist lens, gender roles and gender

identity are the major themes in which this play is rooted. Not only do we have Song

whose mission in the Chinese communist party involves switching back and forth

between gender binaries-Song and Butterfly. We also watch Gallimard struggle to

exhibit the societal gender roles that are required of the gender he identifies with. In an

2015 Online Edition Research Starters: Sociology, Gender Roles Ruth A. Wienclaw

states that we may be more open to exceptions than were past generations, there still

are expected norms of behavior for women and men in society (Wienclaw, 2015). These

expected societal norms like Wienclaw states, play a huge part in how we identify

ourselves in society. We are socialized to identify women as the gender who wears

dresses, while men wear suits. Song challenges those gender roles by continuing to wear

the clothes of a Chinese woman, even when he steps out of his Butterfly character.

However, like the oriental mindset in the 1960s-Comrade Chin reminds Song of the

gender roles expected from the men of China. In Act Two, Scene Four, Chin finds Song

still dressed as Butterfly, breaking the gender roles of a Chinese man, which leads Chin

to question Songs real gender identity.

Chin: How come you dress like that?

Song: Like what? Miss Chin?


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Chin: Like that dress! Youre wearing a dress. And every time I come here, youre

wearing a dress

Dont forget there is no homosexuality in China! (2.4.4-8.21) By Song continuing to

wear clothes that step outside of the social norm for men, Chin automatically relates Song

as being a homosexual.

Another example of M Butterfly through a queer-theory lens is its deliberate

attempt to separate sex from gender. Much like Song was born a man, but becomes the

woman Butterfly- Simone de Beauvoir, whos famous quote One is not born but rather

becomes a woman. from her book The Second Sex-support the queer-theory by which

becoming a woman, and being born a female are two different things. A queer-theorist

would argue that our gender identities are a result of the social construction of identity

that we relate to the most. At times these gender identities challenge the gender binaries-

such as being gender queer, or genderless. Ironic that Simone de Beauvoir was also

French like Gallimard-a feminist, and social theorist. Keeping in mind the works

Beauvoir, Song challenged the concept of gender identity towards the end of the play in

Act Three, Scene Two. After revealing himself to Gallimard as a biological man, then

attempts to make him understand that despite his biological sex, he is still his Butterfly.

Not only does this concept of separating gender from sex challenge Gallimard, but he

also tells Song I think you must have some kind of identity problem. (3.2.17)

Gallimard telling Song he has an identity problem promotes heteronormative binary

traditions.
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Lastly, using a postcolonial lens, M Butterfly also promotes and brings

into question traditional power dynamics through the stigma of oriental femininity and

masculine Western colonialism. The idea by which the East and West take on a gender

identities, and promote the tradition power dynamic of femininity (Eastern nations)

submitting to masculinity (Western nations) as a result of colonial oppression. This

promotion of a Western-colonialist mindset first presents itself in Act One, Scene Three

when Pinkerton describes oriental women to Sharpless and Gallimard. Not like

American girls. Its true what they say about the Oriental girls. They want to be treated

bad! (1.3.17-18) Followed by Gallimard and Pinkerton singing in duet, The whole

word over the Yankee travels, casting his anchor wherever he wants. Life worth living

unless he can win the hearts of the fairest maidens. (1.4.7-11) This promotes the notion

that Westerners are free to travel to different Eastern nations, colonizing their women,

culture, and submit to adapting more Western ways of life.

Another example of a postcolonial lens being applied in this play was after Songs

performance of Madame Butterfly. Gallimard was fascinated of the idea that an oriental

woman would sacrifice herself for the love of an unworthy Westerner. Song is quick to

present his postcolonial interpretation of the play to Gallimard by providing him with a

alternative case scenario in which if a blonde home coming queen marries a Japanese

businessman. He treats her cruelly, and then goes home for three years when she

learns he is remarried, she kills herself. Youd consider this girl to be a deranged idiot

but because its an Oriental who kills herself for a Westerner-ah!-you find it beautiful.

(1.3.17-25) These scenes give implications of the acceptance of Oriental woman being at

the leisure, and dispense of Western men. Much like Eastern nations are the leisure and
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dispense of the West. This mind set, deems it acceptable for the East to submit to the

West but never the other way around.

The last example of a postcolonial view of M Butterfly was in Act Two, Scene

Three when Gallimard is expressing his view on the Orientals to his boss Toulon. He tells

Toulon, The Orientals simply want to be associated with whoever shows the most

strength and power. (2.3.5-6) However, this play challenges these tradition power

dynamics between the East and West, by allowing the East to take its power back.

Gallimard, like most Western nations underestimated the power of the Orientals, just as

he did with Song. Gallimards own colonialist mindset was the key his downfall. Despite

all the red flags raised, Gallimard, too clouded by his ego-high of colonized power over

an oriental woman that Gallimard underestimated the power of his Butterfly. In Act

Three, Scene One when the judge asks Song how it is possible that Gallimard never

found out his true identity, Song responds to the judge by saying, I am an Oriental, and

being an Oriental, I could never completely be a man. (3.1.21-22) Song is challenging

tradition power dynamics, by pointing out that the flaw is the binary ideology of Eastern

femininity, and Western masculinity.

As expressed, life, as much as we want to believe, is far from binary. Though

presently there are still societies in the world-who like China, as Song describes, are still

rooted deep into the past, and under patriarchical-heteronormativitve rule. In a

postcolonial Western world, we have grown to adopt a more fluid, and less binary

approach in how we identify ourselves as people and as a Nation. Though to some who

have watch or read M Butterfly, the substance of the play roots no deeper than a story of

betrayal. I believe that by analyzing this play from both a post-colonialist, and a queer-
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theorist, we are able to see that Hwangs purpose for writing M Butterfly was to question

traditional power dynamics, by challenging patriarchal heteronormative culture; gender

roles, and identity; and the stigma of oriental femininity and masculine Western

colonialism.
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Works Cited

Beauvoir, Simone de. The second sex. Vintage Classic, 2015.

Dalla, Rochelle L. "Patriarchal System." Salem Press Encyclopedia, January.

EBSCOhost,

library.lavc.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db

=ers&AN=96397564&site=eds-live.

Hwang, David Henry. M. Butterfly. Plume, 1989.

JIA, Yi. "Transformations of Woman's Social Status in China." ["TRASFORMAZIONI

DELLO STATUS DELLA DONNA IN CINA"]. Annales: Series Historia Et

Sociologia, vol. 25, no. 2, 15 June 2015, pp. 317-328. EBSCOhost,

library.lavc.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db

=aph&AN=112811439&site=eds-live

Wienclaw, Ruth A. "Gender Roles." Research Starters: Sociology (Online Edition), 2015.

EBSCOhost,

library.lavc.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db

=ers&AN=89185493&site=eds-live.