M Butterfly: How Racism and Sexism Shaped Stereotype

M Butterfly: How Racism and Sexism Shaped Stereotype

The story of a play called M. Butterfly by David Henry Hwang, in my opinion, is enriched by the stereotypes between the Western and Eastern, in this case Orients. Stereotype, based on Dictionary.com, defined as a simplified and standardized conception or image invested with special meaning and held in common by members of a group or to characterize or regard as a stereotype. Therefore, it was as if Western had the standard conception or imagination about the Orients in their mind, with special meaning about the concept itself. The Orients too, had the concept and imagination in their mind about the Western based on their experience, knowledge, explanation, and point of view. However, the question is: What makes the stereotype itself, especially in the drama of M. Butterfly? After reading the drama and the afterword, I think there are two main reasons that caused the stereotype existed, which are racism and sexism. Some stereotypes in the drama might seem like a fantasy in the end, but here I want to analyze the stereotypes that hid behind the conversations of the characters in the drama. 

The racism issue can be the reason why the stereotype becomes existed. Racism, defined in Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, is the belief that people's qualities are influenced by their race and that the members of other races are not as good as the members of your own, or the resulting unfair treatment of members of other races. By this definition, in the drama, racism is the belief that the Orients’ qualities are influenced by their race and the Western might believe that the members of other races are not as good as themselves. This is similar as what A. L. McLeod had said, that the Western always regard that non-Western is inferior. In this drama, the Western seemed success to make the Orients believed that they were made to "serve" the West. It can be seen by the way the Orients in this drama always had the thought that the Western is above them or superior. Looking at Song's behavior in Scene 10, when Gallimard visited Song's apartment, she seemed so respectful and felt a bit guilty when Shu-Fang, her maid, forgot to serve Gallimard a cup of tea. 

Song: Thank you. Oh! Haven’t you been poured any tea? 
Gallimard: I’m really not— 
Song: (To her offstage servant) Shu-Fang! Cha! Kwai-lah! (To Gallimard) I’m sorry.  
You want everything to be perfect— 
Gallimard: Please. 
Song: --and before the evening even begins— 
Gallimard: I’m really not thirsty. 
Song: --it’s ruined. 

It was like Song thought that Gallimard would be upset if he was treated bad by her, like Gallimard was her master and the slave was herself. Moreover, the Western often make a strange “look” to the Orients, based on what Edward Said had said. What I mean is there were always some things that the Orients made yet were seen as odd and strange from the Western point of view. In the Scene 7, when Gallimard had a chat with Helga about his experience watching Madama Butterfly opera.

Gallimard: No. I met, I suppose, the Chinese equivalent of a diva. She’s a singer in the Chinese opera. 
Helga: They have an opera, too? Do they sing in Chinese? Or maybe—in Italian? 
Gallimard: Tonight, she did sing in Italian. 
Helga: How’d she manage that? 

It was like she was so surprised about Chinese had an opera and the singer sang in Italian. I mean, what is so wrong about the Chinese had an opera and the singer could sing in Italia like the Western? It was like the Western, in this case Helga, did not believe that the Orients could have did something like the Western could do too, like it was unusual and different in her eyes. 

The second reason of how can the stereotype become existed is the sexism issue. Not just racism, sexism here also held a big impact for the stereotypes. Edward Said said that the Orients’ gender were assumed as ‘effeminate males’ and ‘sensual females’. In the drama, the sensual and dirty females of Orients can be seen in Scene 3, when Pinkerton showed his new house to Sharpless, and said that it would be great to impress the “chicks”. The word “chick” means “young lady”, and to impress some young ladies for a married man had the implicit meaning “to flirt them”. Also, Pinkerton in this scene said, “Not like American girls. It’s true what they say about Oriental girls. They want to be treated bad!” We all know that this sentence often be used to bad girls. One more theory from Said is that the Orients were assumed as feminine and weak, while the Western assumed themselves as masculine and heroic. Both sexes of the Orients in the drama often referred to feminine characteristics, which are submissive and obedient. It can be seen clearly in the conversation when Gallimard wanted to request something to Song. 

Gallimard: I have a request. 
Song: Is this a solution? Or are you ready to give up the flat? 
Gallimard: It may be a solution. But I'm sure you won't like it. 
Song: Oh well, that's very important. "Like it?" Do you think I "like" lying here alone, waiting, always waiting for your return? Please--don't worry about what I may not "like." 

From the conversation above in Scene 6, we can see that Song was like would force herself to like anything that Gallimard was going to request. She said like she did not care anymore about what she likes or dislikes. Even after she refused to get naked, she still let Gallimard to strip her. Therefore, Song obeyed what Gallimard said to her at first, which is to strip or get naked. This made Song looked weak in front of Gallimard. 

In my opinion, stereotype is the biggest issue in the drama of M. Butterfly by David Henry Hwang. Stereotype is like the big thing that grows among the people, especially among some certain races such as Western and Orient. To summarize, two things that made the stereotype between the West and the East (Orients) were the issue of racism and sexism.


Image Credits: Chicago Theatre Beat