The novel The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts by Maxine Hong Kingston is about herself, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, growing up in San Francisco and fighting to overcome the sexism plaguing her culture. Kingston shares the struggle of Chinese women to prove themselves and become more than a mere wife or slave for their husbands, as has been happening for centuries. She explains this through the stories of five women, all of whom have faced stereotypes and either defied them or succumbed to them. The memoir itself is very inspiring and will allow readers to reflect on instances of sexism in their own lives.
Filled with narratives of how women’s lives were shaped by their culture’s stereotypes and traditions, Kingston’s work is a true success. Her memoir discusses both shame and honor, which are defining ideals in her family and in many immigrant families like her own. She talks about how easy it is for a woman to bring shame to her family simply by caring about her appearance or by not liking the husband they chose for her, and what consequences follow — she is publicly shamed by her family, possibly even killed, and never honored after her death, dooming her spirit to an eternity of thirst, hunger, and begging. Kingston’s discussion on honor is also grim as she discusses how, in order to bring honor to her family, a woman in her culture must grow up to be an obedient wife to her husband.
Through hearing stories of how these ideas and the Chinese culture’s general sexist beliefs affected her family members, Kingston grows to doubt herself and her ability. She wonders if a woman like herself, surrounded by limitations, can truly become her own person. Kingston is constantly told conflicting advice from her mother. Kingston’s mother tells her daughter tales of legendary Chinese swordswomen and martial arts experts who didn’t let their gender stand in their way while teaching her to be good for a future husband. Kingston eventually shed these confusing standards and became a strong woman with a successful career. However, another main point in the memoir is that even women like Kingston, who shed their culture’s expectations to become their own person, are constantly plagued by the sexist ideas of their childhood, despite knowing that these should not hold true in their lives and should no longer affect them.
Kingston’s memoir is a somber recollection of events that will motivate the reader to look for and strive to correct instances of sexism in their own lives. Kingston’s professional tone helps add a certain helpless feeling to the novel, as if there is nothing that can be done to rid our society of its deep-rooted sexism, which certainly inspires the reader to look for ways to change this. Her organization — a chapter for each relative, five in total — allows the reader to see each woman’s life in detail and compare and contrast their reactions to the sexism in their culture and what they do to change it.
I would definitely recommend this memoir to anyone who would like to read a truly inspiring tale about success and failure and self-discovery that not only reveals a lot about one woman’s life but also sheds light on our society as a whole. The sexism in these women’s lives can really strike a thirst for empowerment in the reader and Kingston’s work is definitely provides that.