最毒妇人心
zuì dú fù rén xīn

The previous two chapters already set a rather foul flavour on how men view and treat women. Alas, this section is not going to bring about any betterment. On the contrary, this locution[1] is in all likelihood one of the most misogynistic in the entire collection. It is regu­larly brought as a catch-all phrase for everything truly evil males see in the opposite sex, inclu­ding malice, malignancy, malevolence, maleficence, and so forth. An equivalent Chi­nese proverb casting a similar bad light on manhood specifically cannot be found, at least not any that carries such a degree of virulence. Some readers might be offended or at least will not agree with the idea verbalised here. Yet it has to be included in the develop­ment of the discourse, not only as a way to demonstrate how disdainful certain human beings, or even entire civilisations can be, but also because it contains a few valuable insights about the beha­viour and tactics used by women in the mating game.

Since the dawn of time, a lot of effort has been expended to make women look bad in one way or another.[2] In the Chinese language, for example, numerous words denoting sins and other forms of bad things, deeds or characteristics comprise the character for “female” or “woman” (女, nǚ) as radical. For instance, the adjectives “evil” or “bewitching” as well as their embodied forms “demon” or “goblin” are written as 妖 (yāo), an amalgamation of 女 and 夭 (ǎo). Similarly, “to flatter” (in both positive and negative senses), 媚 (mèi), is com­po­sed of 女 and 眉 (méi), while “to envy” or “to be jealous”, 嫉妒 (jí dù), combines 女 and 疾 (jí, which interestingly, means “disease” or “illness”) on one hand plus 女 and 户 (hù) on the other. The most extreme illustration is provided with the term for “wicked”, “trea­cherous”, “traitor” or “rape”, which in Traditional Chinese is graphically spelt like a “tri­ple female”, i.e., 姦 (jiān; 奸in Simplified Chinese).

In addition, countless quotes from philosophers and poets across epochs and cultures testify to a literary “woman-bashing” as it was popular among many scholars for several centuries. Here a few specimens:

What mighty woes

To thy imperial race from woman rose.

Homer, The Odyssey (Alexander Pope’s translation)

There is no worse evil than a bad woman; and nothing has ever been produced better than a good one.

Euripides, Melanippe

Let man fear woman when she hateth: for man in his innermost soul is merely evil; woman, however, is mean.[3]

Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

For the female of the species is more deadly than the male.

Rudyard Kipling, The Female of the Species

Fairy tales, plays, or novels also make use of the stereotypical evil woman. One only needs to recall that many famous bedtime stories – those children get to listen to the most often – depict females (queens, witches, stepmothers, sisters, etc.) as the main villain.[4] Likewise, some of the fiercest and darkest characters in classical literature are women, as for example William Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth. Not only does she incite her husband to commit regicide, but the methods she employs are particularly heinous and manipulative. Although she cannot be considered as the originator of the idea, she is the one to plot the crime, and then naggingly encourages Macbeth to execute the murder. However, it is not before she challenges his manhood (by instructing him that he will only be a man in her eyes if he kills King Duncan) that he finally does. Critics have argued that Lady Macbeth does nothing but suppress her own feminine traits and instincts (e.g., empathy, nurturance, and fragility) and trade them against masculine ones, such as ambition, mercilessness, and the resolute pursuit of power. Nevertheless, despite her repeated striving to adopt a male mentality, her uncons­cious, yet unmistakable, femininity bubbles to the surface at regular intervals.


Notes

[1] The expression itself is quoted from a tale in Líng Méngchū’s (凌濛初) collection of short stories Slapping the Table in Amazement, also known as Amazing Tales (Series II, Volume 10, in Chinese: 二刻拍案惊奇, èr kè pāi àn jīng qí, 卷十 赵五虎合计挑家衅 莫大郎立地散神奸, juàn shí, zhào wǔ hǔ hé jì tiǎo jiā xìn, mò dà láng lì dì sàn shén jiān). Written in vernacular Chinese and employing vivid, straightforward descriptions of characters, the plots typically revolve around women’s fate, their miserable existence, their daring pursuit of genuine love and happiness, or their implications in legal disputes. The phrase used here offers a testimony of what social relationships among women in a polygamous society may have looked like at that time.

[2]    Notice that this section does not mention any references from religious texts. This omission is deliberate.

[3]    Original: “Der Mann fürchte sich vor dem Weibe, wenn es hasst: denn der Mann ist im Grunde der Seele nur böse, das Weib aber ist dort schlecht.”

[4]    This is, for instance, the case in Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella, Hansel & Gretel, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, The Hundred and One Dalmatians, The Little Mermaid, The Snow Queen, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, etc.

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