Exploitation for Sexy Looks: Comparing Visuals of ‘Strong Female Characters’ in Anglophone Geek Pop Culture and in Jin Yong Stories (Part 2)

This is part of the Rambling Series about Sexism in Jin Yong Stories.

Content note: this post contains a satirical drawing of hypersexualized women, and a picture depicting sexual harassment.

The Geek Feminism Wiki lists two common criticisms of strong female characters as being:

– she still has to conform to gender-normative standards of attractiveness

– she will wear skimpy or fetishistic gear to fight in, and her battles and acts of heroism will be presented to the audience as erotic spectacles.

There are also the Hark! A Vagrant comics about strong female characters one and two which satirize ‘strong female characters’, including how they are visually presented for erotic appeal.

This is from Hark! A Vagrant!. I think the ‘strong female character’ in the lower left needs to move further to the left so that the audience can see her butt (yes I am being snarky).

If you want to see what the Geek Feminism Wiki and the Hark! A Vagrant comics are critiquing, satirizing, I put in the internet search ‘female marvel characters’ and one of the first hits was this this of the 10 strongest Marvel female characters. I will let you judge the pictures of those strong Marvel female characters for yourself. And here is an explanation of why contorting bodies to show the butt is an issue.

I’ve established in Part 1 that the first criticism about conforming to gender-normative standards of attractiveness definitely applies to the stories of Jin Yong. To the second criticism, I would add that it’s not just female fighters – even (strong) female characters who do not engage in combat are a lot more likely to be visually presented for prettiness than male characters.

The second criticism mainly applies to visual media – whereas Jin Yong novels are prose, not directly visual. But all of his novels have illustrations. Let’s see if this criticism applies to the illustrations.

All of the characters in this picture, including the baby, are female. That baby is SO DAMN CUTE that every adult who meets her wants her to be their daughter, so martial artists – both male and female – keep on kidnapping her and fighting each other over custody. In fact, the two adult women in this picture are about to have a martial arts match over who gets to be the baby’s guardian.

In the above illustration, none of the female characters are drawn in a particularly sexually exploitive way. However, one of them is a baby (and it would be very disturbing if a baby were presented in an erotic way), and the other two are in their 30s, a demographic of women which is less likely to be presented erotically. Furthermore, this is not a fight scene. So let’s look at an illustration of a younger woman in a fight scene:

Here is ‘Iron Hand’ He, who has an iron hook on her left arm, in the middle of a fight scene.

So, here we have a young woman in a fight scene, and she is not being shown in a way which is sexier than her male opponent (well, we get a better view of her face and feet, but that’s mainly because we see her front and his back). In all of the illustrations I’ve seen of female characters in fight scenes published with Jin Yong’s novels, I do not recall any which depicts her in a way which is more erotic than the male characters.

Let us look at yet another illustration from a Jin Yong novel – an illustration depicting sexual harassment.

Zhao Min does not want Zhang Wuji to touch her foot.

Even in this illustration depicting sexual harassment, the female character is not drawn in a particularly sexual way. (To be clear, I am merely saying that the *drawing* depicting this scene is not problematic – the scene itself is very problematic).

There is still the questions of Jin Yong adaptations. Generally, I would say that they do not VISUALLY present female character in a sexier way than the male characters. There is a bit of a double standard in the comic book adaptations by Tony Wong, but even those are mild compared to what would find by browsing the display window of an American comic book shop.

First, let’s see an example from a Marvel blockbuster movie. I typed ‘black widow fight’ into Youtube, and then looked at the first hit which was less than five minutes long – it’s this one from Iron Man 2 (I wanted to pick the first clip under 5 minutes so that I would not cherrypick the example). On the one hand, it’s not that bad in terms of depicting Black Widow as an erotic figure. If I were not critically examining it, it probably not bother me (or at least, not bother me much in isolation – if I kept on seeing stuff like this over and over in movie after movie, there would probably have a cumulative effect). However, her dress emphasizes her breasts and ‘sex appeal’ in way which the male characters’ clothes do not emphasize their sex appeal (not to mention the first bit where we see her take off her shirt and her naked leg).

Here is a fight scene from a TV adaptation which does not just feature any female character, but a female character who is supposedly the most beautiful woman in the world. The fight scene, however, is not an erotic display. (I do have problems with how this TV adaptation handles this fight scene, but they have nothing to do with sexism). I do not recall seeing any fight scenes from any TV adaptations of Jin Yong’s work which are any more erotic than this. Oh, and if you’re curious, yes the fight scene from that TV show clip is also depicted in an illustration from the original novel – the illustration of that fight scene looks like this:

There is the most beautiful woman in the world fighting a whole bunch of guys in a monastery. Even though she ultimately does not ‘win’ the fight, the fact that she holds out so long while she is badly outnumbered is very impressive.

If one really wants to know what this fight is like in the novel, here it is (note: I only took a quick look to make sure it’s the right scene, since I haven’t really read it I cannot tell whether or not this is a good translation).

Even in this scene (which pushes the sexy visuals envelope past what one would usually see in a Jin Yong TV show), there is a good look at the male character’s bare skin too.

Does this means that Jin Yong is not sexist after all? HECK NO! I think the lack of visual eroticism has less to do with respect for women, and more to do with Sinophone cultures’ general reluctance to put erotic visuals in mainstream media. Even in Taiwan – which, unlike some Sinophone societies, does not have government censorship of popular media – if one wants to see people shown in a visually erotic way (like the “Strong Female Characters” picture above), one has to turn to a) American media, b) Japanese media or c) go to the porn section. In Sinophone media, unlike American and Japanese media, there is not a continuum of mainstream-to-porn (or porn bleeding into mainstream, which is another way to look at it) – if it’s not explicitly intended to be porn, then it’s not going to be visually eroticized too much.

(Now I’m going to shift away from Jin Yong to Huang Yi. Just to be clear, Huang Yi is NOT Jin Yong)

I will say that in the works of Huang Yi, there is a discernible visual double standard between the illustrations of male and female characters (to see what I’m talking about, look at this, this, and this. Furthermore Wan Wan in the Cantonese language adaptation of Da Tang Shuang Long Zhuan has the most skin-exposing outfits of any major female character of an wuxia TV show I’ve seen. However, the other female character in that show seem to have clothing which is no more revealing than the clothes of their male counterparts. No Princess Leia in a slave outfit here!

Black Widow vs. Wan Wan: who has the more sexually -objectifying-aimed-at-male-gaze outfit?

(One can compare the dress of the male and female characters in this video of the theme song of Da Tang Shuang Long Zhuan, and yes, I like the theme song for the show quite a bit because it’s a very appropriate song for Kou Zhong, and it’s sung by the actor who plays Kou Zhong).

In short, Huang Yi is worse at this than Jin Yong, but Huang Yi is still mild compare to, say, Marvel Comics/Cinema.

There is something more going on here. Maybe you’ve noticed it already in all of these pictures and video clips. Namely, Jin Yong works (and even Huang Yi works) put relatively more emphasis on expressive parts of the female body, whereas Anglophone mainstream media puts relatively more emphasis on less expressive female body parts.

Here is a video which is just about the ‘beautiful women’ of just ONE Jin Yong TV adaptation, which then ranks six female characters from least to most beautiful. The fact that there is a lot more cataloguing of the beauty of Jin Yong’s female characters than the handsomeness of Jin Yong’s male characters says something. However, the body part which is most emphasized in catalogues is the FACE. In fact, we do not see much of the female characters’ other body parts.

If one goes back up to see the video showing Wan Wan, one also sees that it is mostly focused on her face. Even her dress – which shows a lot of skin for an wuxia outfit – is designed to emphasize her face, not her chest.

Yang Kang really likes Mu Nianci’s feet (this is from the 2008 TV adaptation of Legend of the Condor Heroes).

In Sinophone cultures, generally when someone says a woman is beautiful, they mean that her face is beautiful. Besides the face, the parts of the body they are most likely to discuss are her hands and feet. One can see this in Jin Yong novels – for all that he emphasizes how beautiful his female characters are, he has very little to say about their breasts or butts.

Does it make a difference which body parts are emphasized for physical beauty? Yes, it does. Breasts and butts are not very expressive. One cannot learn much about how a person thinks or feels by looking at their breasts and butts. Thus, focusing on those areas ignores them as an agent. By contrast, faces give tons of information about a person’s feelings and state of mind. Hands can also be very expressive. Feet are not as expressive as hands, but more expressive than breasts and butts. Thus, when one is mostly looking at the face (and to lesser extent, hands and feet) it is much more apparent that these women are sentient beings and not mere pretty objects.

Even though I do not think wuxia’s restraint in displaying female characters in an erotic way, and the emphasis on the face/hands/feet vs. emphasis on breasts/butts/exposed skin comes from a greater respect of women, I welcome it nonetheless. This is not the main reason why I love wuxia, but for me, it is an extra reason to gravitate more towards wuxia than mainstream American geek pop media.

Exploitation for Sexy Looks: Comparing Visuals of ‘Strong Female Characters’ in Anglophone Geek Pop Culture and in Jin Yong Stories (Part 1)

This is part of the Rambling Series about Sexism in Jin Yong Stories.

Last month I posted “Gender, Intelligence, and Physical Beauty in the World of Jin Yong”, and Siggy replied with a comment about Anglophone feminist critique of ‘strong female characters’. This led to me thinking about whether or not Anglophone feminist critique of ‘strong female characters’ applies to Jin Yong fiction. Since the answer is complex, I’m breaking this up into multiple posts. This post, obviously, is going to be about exploiting female characters for sexy looks.

As I said in the first post of what seems to becoming a series, most Jin Yong non-elderly female characters are described as being physically beautiful. If they are too young to be sexually mature, then they are phenomenally cute (which, to be fair, is not being exploited for sexy looks). In fact, it is remarkable when a non-elderly female character is not pretty because that is uncommon in Jin Yong stories. Off the top of my head, I think Cheng Lingsu (程靈素) is the most prominent non-pretty young female character in the Jin Yong stories.

An illustration showing Cheng Lingsu

By contrast, most young men in Jin Yong stories are described as being plain looking, and if they are described as being handsome, they are probably a villain. IIRC, the only male Jin Yong protagonist who is described as being handsome is Yang Guo (he is so handsome that he starts wearing a mask so that girls will stop falling in love with him as soon as they see his face).

Yang Guo is hiding his handsome face.

So … tons of pretty young women with few plain-looking women, and tons of plain-looking young men with a few handsome young men, mostly villains. I hope that the double standard here is so obvious that I do not have to explain it.

Did I mention that the plain-looking male protagonists of most Jin Yong stories have three or more pretty young women pining after him? (okay, to be fair, a few of them have only TWO pretty young women pining after him – for example, the male protagonist that Cheng Lingsu falls in love with has only two pretty women in love with him) (but hey that means that all Jin Yong stories have at least two female characters, which means they are automatically one third of the way to passing the very low bar set by the Bechdel test)

This is also a common problem in Anglophone geek pop culture. It can even be a problem in ‘feminist’ geek media. For example, Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga is often described as being ‘feminist’, yet some readers have critiqued it because most of the prominent female characters are gorgeous while most of the prominent male characters do not have handsome looks (the notable exceptions are Cordelia Naismith, Ivan Vorpatril, and in the most recent novel, Oliver Jole).

So far, I have only been talking about Jin Yong novels. When his stories are adapted to screen, his male protagonists experience a bout of adaptational attractiveness. The most notorious example of this is casting Hu Ge to play Guo Jing, a male protagonist who is repeatedly described in the novel as being plain looking.

In case you don’t know what Hu Ge looks like, here is a picture of him playing the allegedly non-handsome Guo Jing.

This, however, is also not particularly different from Anglophone media. I will say this in defence of the Jin Yong adaptations – in the only adaptation I saw with Cheng Lingsu, they did not cast a particularly pretty actress to play her (though, looking at photos of other adaptations, it seems that Cheng Lingsu can suffer from adaptational attractiveness).

What do I want? First of all, unless there is a good and specific reason not to have it, I want there to be gender parity for the level of physical attractiveness of male and female characters (i.e. I want it to be just as likely for a dude to be handsome as a lady to be beautiful).

Second, I want characters to have a diversity of appearances, including those which are not conventionally attractive. I like eye candy too, and I do not mind at all having *some* conventionally attractive characters, but I do not want it to go so far as to exclude everyone else. Only telling stories about conventionally attractive characters (and making all of your major female characters conventionally attractive) sends the message that people who are not conventionally attractive (including women who are not conventionally attractive) do not matter, and that’s not cool.

***

So far, I’ve been saying that Jin Yong stories are just like Anglophone geek pop media. This was the point at which I was going to start talking about how Jin Yong stories (and wuxia in general) are DIFFERENT from Anglophone geek pop media, until I decided to split this post into two parts. So, that will be discussed in Part 2!

Confusing Intelligence with Goodness

Content Note: This post discusses ableism, thus there are a few ableist slurs used as examples

The post I published couple weeks ago, “Gender, Intelligence, and Physical Beauty in the World of Jin Yong” was originally going to part of a much bigger post, but since it felt too ambitious to me at the time, I decided to break it down and focus on just a couple of ideas. However, by coincidence, I read this essay which is about one of the other points I had originally planned to discuss – namely, mistaking intelligence for goodness.

That article, like my blog post, used American political discourse as examples of how Americans tend to associate intelligence with (moral) good, even though there is no reason whatsoever to expect a ‘smart’ person to be have more moral/ethical behavior than a ‘stupid’ person. For example, there is the term ‘libtard’, and I hear/read a lot about how anyone who is Republican must be ‘stupid’ or ‘dumb’ (the main reason I hear a lot more about Republicans being ‘stupid’ or ‘dumb’ than Democrats being such is that I live in a city where the Republican party is so unpopular that they do not even bother to have candidates running in most local elections – I am sure that if I lived somewhere else I would hear a lot more about how ‘stupid’ and ‘dumb’ Democrats are).

I have also had experiences which are a bit like Rick Perlstein’s childhood experiences. In high school I had a reputation for being ‘smart’ – in fact, in the yearbook polls, I was voted ‘smartest girl’ for four years in a row. Mind you, at the time, I was not convinced that I really was the ‘smartest’ person in my year, but I was very good at making myself seem smart. I was so confident in my ability to impress my peers with my ‘intelligence’ that I did not mind at all telling them that I had been in special education in elementary school, because I knew even that fact would not dislodge their impressions that I was ‘smart’. And no, they did not believe me, even though it’s true.

Even today, I am still very good at persuading others that I am smart. However, once in a while, for whatever reason, I impress myself on people as being ‘stupid’ rather than ‘smart’, and I notice that it leads to me being treated in a significantly worse manner. When people who think I am ‘smart’ and people who think I am ‘stupid’ watch me do the exact same thing, the people who label me as ‘smart’ judge it much more favourably than the people who label me as ‘stupid’, even though, in theory, they ought to judge my action based on what actually happened rather than what kind of person I am.

And one of the reasons why life is more difficult for those who are perceived as being ‘dumb’ is that, in current American culture, ‘smart’ is associated with moral goodness, and ‘dumb’ is associated with moral badness. And this is so much easier to notice when compared to a milieu where intelligence is NOT associated with good morals.

In Jin Yong’s fiction, intelligent characters, though not necessarily evil, have a strong tendency to be amoral (Huang Rong and her father Huang Yaoshi are excellent examples, but there are plenty of others), whereas the people with good moral sense tend to be not so smart. In my earlier post on this topic, I tried to make the point that, since Jin Yong’s female protagonists tend to be more intelligent than his male protagonists, and intelligence is associated with amorality, this means that femininity is *also* associated with amorality and this has a misogynist scent. However, setting aside gender, immersing oneself in the stories of Jin Yong is a really good way to experience a mindset where the actions of intelligent characters are suspect, whereas the not-so-smart characters are more inclined to do what’s right for the world and not just themselves/closest loved ones.

Many cultures (including American culture) associate bad health and disability with immorality. This is ableist. And I think this extends to cognitive ability (or lack thereof). ‘Stupid’ people lack the level of cognitive abilities of ‘smart’ people, therefore they tend to be perceived as less moral. On the flipside, people with greater cognitive abilities are more likely to being perceived as morally good.

I strongly disagree with this view. I do not think there is much connection between one’s cognitive abilities and whether one acts in a moral/ethical manner. They are, it seems to be, independent variables. Thus, I actually also disagree with the way Jin Yong presents intelligent characters as being more likely to be amoral or immoral (unless they’ve submitted themselves to someone more moral than themselves), and not-so-intelligent characters as more likely to be moral. However, his fiction does offer the service of running counter to the prejudices of my culture, and thus makes it easier for fish to see water.

Gender, Intelligence, and Physical Beauty in the World of Jin Yong

Ah Zhu and Qiao Feng from the 1996 TV adaptation of Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils. Ah Zhu is possibly the most intelligent character in the story, yet her entire agenda seems to be serving or helping male characters.

This is part of the Rambling Series about Sexism in Jin Yong Stories.

There is a rule which applies to pretty much every major female character in the fiction of Jin Yong: she must be beautiful and/or intelligent.

Most major female Jin Yong characters are both beautiful and intelligent, but some are beautiful without being intelligent, and a very few – such as Cheng Lingsu (程靈素) from The Young Flying Fox (飛狐外傳) are intelligent – without being beautiful.

This rule does not apply to major male characters – a few are described as being physically handsome, and some of them are intelligent, but many of them – even the protagonists – are neither handsome nor intelligent.

The physical appearance aspect is fairly straightforward – the female characters are meant to appealing to readers who are attracted to females, whereas Jin Yong most of the time did not offer much to readers who are attracted to males (the most notable exception is Yang Guo, the only male protagonist who is described as being handsome – in fact, he is so handsome that he wears a mask to stop women from getting crushes on him). Feminist critics generally – and in my opinion, correctly – would say this is an example of objectification of women without equivalent objectification of men.

The intelligence aspect is a little trickier. In the Anglophone world, most feminist critics say they want more intelligent women in fiction, particularly women in leadership roles. Jin Yong’s fiction is not only full of intelligent women, some of them also rise to significant leadership roles through their own merits – for example, Huang Rong becomes the leader of the Beggars’ Sect, Ren Yingying not only leads the Sun Moon Holy Cult, she also returns the Wulin back to a state of peace, and so forth.

The rub here is that, whereas intelligence is generally considered to be good in the Anglophone world, it is not associated with goodness in the fiction of Jin Yong. The most intelligent protagonists are Yang Guo and Wei Xiaobao – Yang Guo is mischievous and considers helping the Mongols in their mass murder of Chinese, though in the end he works for good. Wei Xiaobao is an obviously immoral antihero, and Jin Yong himself says that it is wrong to follow his example. By contrast, the Jin Yong protagonists who are most obviously good in a moral sense are not very smart – and often need smart women to get them out of the fire. And many of the smartest characters in Jin Yong’s fiction are either morally grey or outright antagonists. In Jin Yong fiction, intelligence tends to make characters think that they don’t have to follow the rules or care about consequences to others, and if they are not restrained in some manner (by being taught Confucian principles and/or Buddhist principles, falling in love with a person more moral than themselves) they are bound to do more harm than good.

This is how the female characters get objectified for their intelligence – they are there so that the good male characters can make use of their intelligence without being tainted by the immorality which comes with intelligence. Furthermore, the female characters ‘need’ their less intelligent male lovers to offer them a moral center so that they do not sink into immorality. One of the many examples of this is Zhao Min and Zhang Wuji – Zhao Min is a badass, conniving Mongol princess who is both ruthless and clever enough to both take over her own family and rule all of China – but that all ends when she falls in love with Zhang Wuji, who is a Super Nice Guy and she wants him to like her. An even more extreme example is Ah Zi and Qiao Feng (though, to be fair, Ah Zi is not especially intelligent – but she is very sadistic) – to quote TV Tropes:

Morality Pet: A rare example of an older, stronger man being a young girl’s morality pet can be found in Demi Gods and Semi Devils. Xiao Feng is the only person who can bring out any sort of redeeming qualities in Ah Zi. Any good deed that Ah Zi ever attempts has been in the effort to seek his approval.

Meanwhile, Qiao Feng also gets a ton of use out of Ah Zi’s very intelligent (and mischievous) sister Ah Zhu.

There are, at most, two counter examples. One is maybe, maybe Wei Xiaobao and Shuang’er – Shuang’er is very subservient to Wei Xiaobao (even though he does not deserve it), but with her obedient goodness, she occasionally persuades Wei Xiaobao to be a bit less blatantly immoral. But I think this is a very borderline example. The better example is Yang Guo and Xiaolongü – he helps ground him so he is less inclined to being implusive and mischievous (and this is the only major example in Jin Yong fiction – well, except for Wei Xiaobao and some of his wives – of an intelligent male character being lovers with a not-particularly-intelligent female character).

I love the work of Jin Yong, and I love that it is full of so many complex and diverse female characters. But I cannot help but notice that the female characters are there to be used by the male characters – whether they are used for they physical appearance or used for their brains. And I am not sure that being objectified for one’s brains is much better than being objectified for one’s physical appearance.

And this raises the question: why do feminists often say they want more intelligent female characters? Do we really want more intelligent female characters, or are we really seeking something else and we just think having more intelligent female characters would be expedient to reaching that other goal?

Yang Guo As an Asexual and Disabled Character

Since I discussed Shēn Diāo Xiá Lǚ (神鵰俠侶) last week, and disability is still the theme of this month’s Carnival of Aces, it occurs to me … Yang Guo might is an example of a character who is both asexual and disabled.

I’ve already said a lot about why I read Yang Guo as being asexual, even though it is never explicitly said in canon. As far as disability … well, since I want to keep this post low-spoiler, I’ll just say that at the beginning of the novel Yang Guo is able-bodied, and at the end of the novel he’s not.

Encountering Prejudice

Yang Guo definitely encounters explicit ableism. Unfortunately, I cannot find any of Guo Fu’s ableist quotes, but I recall her saying something like ‘he must be a bad man because he is [diabled]’.

A young Chinese man is holding a sword.

This screenshot is from the 2005 TV series, starring Huang Xiaoming as Yang Guo. Here, Yang Guo is still able-bodied.

By contrast, Yang Guo does not encounter any anti-asexual prejudice which is anywhere close to being as clear-cut as Guo Fu’s commentary.

I think it is because the characters recognize that disability is a thing, and they can easily tell that Yang Guo has a disability, but I don’t think any of the characters (including Yang Guo himself) are aware that asexuality is a thing.

Of course, just because nobody makes pointed comments about Yang Guo’s asexuality does not mean there is not any predjudice directed towards asexuality. Some characters seem to have trouble wrapping their heads around the fact that Yang Guo is not having sex. This is one of the reasons people don’t understand him, and since they don’t understand him, they consider him to be dangerous.

How Yang Guo Breaks Asexual and Disability Sterotypes

Asexuals are sterotyped as being female, white, and middle class. Yang Guo is male, Chinese, and poor.

Disabled people are sterotyped as being bitter, wanting revenge on the world, or as being full of good cheer, or as objects of charitable pity. Well, Yang Guo sometimes does feel bitter, and he sometimes does want revenge, though he is much less motivated by vengence than Huang Rong assumes he is (and when he wants revenge, it has nothing to do with his disability). He is most definitely not constantly full of good cheer, and he wants opportunities, not pity. TvTropes claims that Yang Guo is an example of a ‘super crip’, but I disagree (I can’t explain why without spoilers).

Both asexual and disabled people are stereotyped as being not-so-social, introverted, aromantic, not physically attractive, etc. Well, Yang Guo is very social (when he can), is an extrovert, and is intensely romantic (though I would say he is demiromantic, not heteromantic). Oh, and he’s the most physically attractive male in the Jin Yong universe (though he might be tied with his father Yang Kang).

On the left, Yang Guo wears a metal mask, a big cape, and is holding a giant sword; on the right, there is an eagle that is even bigger than Yang Guo himself.

An illustration of the Giant Eagle with masked!Yang Guo by Tony Wong. My favorite Tony Wong illustration of Yang Guo makes his disability quite apparent, and I don’t want to spoil, so I picked this illustration, which conceals his disability, instead.

If anything, having a disability reinforces his image as a mysterious and dangerous ‘bad boy’, which some people say is why almost every maiden in the novel is strongly attracted to him. It’s worth noting that he starts wearing a mask to cover up his good looks (and thus stop having so maiden maidens feel attracted to him) *after* he becomes disabled. And the willingness of some of those maidens to get sexual makes it clear that his celibacy is entirely voluntary.

Speaking of stereotypes, one of those maidens is Lu Wushuang, who is also disabled. Apparently having a lame foot doesn’t stop her from experiencing romantic attraction [/snark].

And Lu Wushuang is the only person Yang Guo is depicted as feeling any sensual (and possibly sexual) attraction towards (I translated the relevant passage here). That’s another way he’s ‘doing it wrong’ – he should feel like kissing a ‘pretty’ girl like Guo Fu, not a disabled girl like Lu Wushuang [/snark].

Oh, and I should state the obvious – the fact that Yang Guo experiences a lack of sexual attraction, and is content with his celibacy, *before* he becomes disabled proves that that his asexuality is not caused by his disability.

Layers of Oppression

Though Yang Guo’s disability and asexuality (or more accurately, refusal to act like a heterosexual) play out in different ways, they both serve one common fuction – to make him an outcast.

They’re not the only reasons he’s a social outcast. Other reasons society pushes him to the margins at various points in the story include: he’s poor, his mother wasn’t married, he’s homeless, he’s an orphan, he refuses to conform to norms concerning romance, he cannot fight back. There’s also the fact that his father was a horrible person, and he looks just like his father, so his mere appearance stirs up certain characters’ bad memories.

The giant eagle, of course, does not care about any of this, so Yang Guo and the giant eagle become close friends. That’s why the official English title of the novel is The Giant Eagle and Its Companion.

On the left is an eagle who is bigger than a human being, in the center there is a beautiful woman with long hair wearing a white dress, and on the right is a man with both black and white hair.

This screenshot is from the 1995 TV series, starring Louis Koo as Yang Guo (right). His disability in not obvious in this screenshot.

The core conflict of the story is that Yang Guo craves to feel like he belongs to a group, yet society keeps on denying him for unfair reasons. This is an internal conflict – Yang Guo wants to be with people and help people and have people like him because it’s a need, but he also wants to avoid people and hurt people because he has a long history of people hurting him. It’s also an external conflict – when Yang Guo tries to meet his needs, others interfere.

As far as the maidens … well, they are one group who is interested in having close social contact with Yang Guo, and Yang Guo is also very interested in bringing (most of) them into his family. However, he wants to be their brother, and they want him in a romantic/sexual way … which is not a solid basis for mutually satisfying relationships.

Though introverts most certainly encounter loneliness and need companionship, the fact that Yang Guo is an extrovert makes these problems even more apparent.

In short, Yang Guo is the way he is because the story needs him to be that way.


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My Favorite Wedding Scene in All of Fiction

I bet that, when you think about ‘wedding scene’ and ‘fiction’, you assume that the wedding scene happens at the conclusion of the story. And indeed, a lot of wedding scenes do happen at the end of stories since so many stories follow the relationship escalator, as I discussed in “The Pirates at the Top of the Escalator”.

Of course, if you’ve read that post, you might have guessed that my favorite wedding scene is one of the rare fictional wedding scene which does *not* occur at the end of the story.

Indeed, my favorite wedding scene in all of fiction is the one in Shēn Diāo Xiá Lǚ, a novel I’ve written a lot about before.

I love the protagonists’ marriage partially because it is a very moving scene. It brought tears to my eyes.

I also love it because, for a change, the wedding is in the middle of the story, not at the end.

The very fact that the wedding is in the middle of the story demonstrates that getting married does not automatically create stability. Even after the protagonists get married, they still have to go through a lot of unstability before a new stasis is established.

Now, some people might say, since their marriage is not consummated (i.e. the protagonists don’t have sex with each other), the wedding does not really count, so of course there isn’t a new stasis. I would counter that by saying that it would be really easy to slip in a sex scene, and I’m sure some fanworks have already done that … and the sex would do absolutely nothing to stabilize the characters’ lives.

And if you suggest that their relationship wasn’t really ‘complete’ because they didn’t have a baby … well, they do have a baby, and the baby doesn’t do anything to make things more stable. Granted, the baby isn’t their biological child, but Yang Guo at least intends to raise the baby as his own child, and I don’t think the situation would be any more stable if the protagonists did have a biological child together.

The story only reaches a new stasis when the protagonists real problems reach a terminal point. Getting married is not a magic fix. Nor was it supposed to be. The protagonists understand quite well that getting married won’t make their lives any easier. That’s not why they get married.

They get married to express their love for each other.

It is because it’s clear that getting married won’t solve their problems, or make their lives any more stable, or confer any social status on them, yet they get married anyway, that the love feels so sincere and genuine.

And that is one of reasons why it is the most touching wedding scene I have ever found in fiction.


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Asexual Themes in Shēn Diāo Xiá Lǚ (Part 7): Fullness and Passion

This is for the November 2012 Carnival of Aces. Here is the introduction.

One reaction some people have to asexuality is that, if we don’t experience sexual attraction, then our lives must lack passion and meaning. I like Elizabeth’s post about this.

Yet another reason I like asexual!Yang Guo is that the novel makes it clear that he doesn’t need sexual feelings to have a full life.

Obviously, there is that whole passionate romance with Xiaolongnü, but aside from that, Yang Guo would have a full and passionate life (even though he claims that wouldn’t want to live anymore if Xiaolongnü died).

First, his relationship with Xiaolongnü is not purely romantic. There is also the shifu/tuer relationship – Xiaolongnü was Yang Guo’s guardian for years. And even after the romance starts, the shifu/tuer relationship continues, at least in my reckoning.

Putting aside Xiaolongnü, Yang Guo still has a set of complicated and potent relationships with other people. There is Ouyang Feng, Hong Qigong, and Huang Yaoshi. Even though these are all older men who taught Yang Guo some martial arts, each relationship is different – Ouyang Feng accepts Yang Guo as an adopted son, in spite of the age difference Huang Yaoshi accepts him as an equal and close friend, and Hong Qigong … well, I don’t know how to describe it briefly, but all three of these relationships are very important to Yang Guo.

There is Yang Guo’s relationship with Huang Rong, and its evolution over the years, tied up with Huang Rong’s history with Yang Guo’s father.

And there is Guo Jing. This is actually the most intriguing relationship to me. It’s so complex, contradictory, frustrating … just like most intense relationships. Though Guo Jing is Yang Guo’s ‘uncle’ … I don’t think there is really a word in the English language which describes this relationship.

There is Lu Wushuang and Cheng Ying, who Yang Guo eventually accepts as his sisters.

There is Yang Guo’s father. Even though he died before Yang Guo was born – no, because he died before Yang Guo was born – Yang Guo is deeply attached to him, or how he imagines him, and his evolving ‘relationship’ with his father is an important part of how Yang Guo matures.

There is the giant eagle, who becomes Yang Guo’s best friend and spends more time with him than any other character (including Xiaolongnü). Notice that the title is The Giant Eagle and its Companion/Divine Eagle, Gallant Companion. That’s right – it is this relationship, not the romance, which is put into the title.

Heck, most novels which aren’t romances don’t grant their main characters so many rich and intense non-romantic relationships.

And there is martial arts. Yang Guo spends years and years honing his martial arts full-time – by ‘full-time’ I mean ‘at least 10 hours a day’. He spends 7 years by the ocean, having cut off most contact with other people, to practice sword-fighting. That is dedication. Eventually, he becomes the greatest sword-fighter in China. With that his life, he doesn’t need sexual feelings.

Go to the conclusion.