As a novel centered entirely on women’s points of view, The Joy Luck Club grapples with the nuances of sexism. On an explicit scale, the forced marriage of Lindo to her childish husband, Tyan-yu, shows the powerlessness of being a woman in pre-modern China. Without any say in her future, Lindo is used as barter to please a more powerful family. Sexual assault and domestic abuse feature in each of the mothers’ personal histories. However, Tan does not only highlight blatant acts of sexism, but also carefully considers smaller aggressions against her female characters in daily life, which add up to life-altering problems. Lena’s husband Harold, who is also her boss, repeatedly denies Lena a raise, saying that it’d be awkward to reward his wife in front of other employees. Even though she has earned the company the most profit, she remains passive to maintain peace in her marriage. This power imbalance ultimately ruins her, as she grows resentful of Harold’s unwillingness to listen and cherish her. Similar instances of small, but constant, devaluations of all the protagonists show that sexism is not singular to one cultural experience, but universally shared as an oppressive force in their lives.
Sexism and Power ThemeTracker
Sexism and Power Quotes in The Joy Luck Club
In America I will have a daughter just like me. But over there nobody will say her worth is measured by the loudness of her husband’s belch. Over there nobody will look down on her, because I will make her speak only perfect American English.
“This feather may look worthless, but it comes from afar and carries with it all my good intentions." And she waited, year after year, for the day she could tell her daughter this in perfect American English.
I once sacrificed my life to keep my parents’ promise. This means nothing to you, because to you promises mean nothing. A daughter can promise to come to dinner, but if she has a headache, if she has a traffic jam, if she wants to watch a favorite movie on TV, she no longer has a promise.
I had no choice, now or later. That was how backward families in the country were. We were always the last to give up stupid old-fashioned customs. In other cities already, a man could choose his own wife, with his parents’ permission of course. But we were cut off from this new type of thought. You never heard if ideas were better in another city, only if they were worse.
All these years I kept my true nature hidden, running along like a small shadow so nobody could catch me. And because I moved so secretly now my daughter does not see me. She sees a list of things to buy, her checkbook out of balance, her ashtray sitting crooked on a straight table. And I want to tell her this: we are lost, she and I, unseen and not seeing, unheard and not hearing, unknown by others
“What is a secret wish?”
“It is what you want but cannot ask,” said Amah.
"Why can’t I ask?"
"This is because…because if you ask it…it is no longer a wish but a selfish desire," said Amah. "Haven’t I taught you – that it is wrong to think of your own needs? A girl can never ask, only listen."
And my mother loved to show me off, like one of the many trophies she polished. She used to discuss my games as if she had devised the strategies… and a hundred other useless things that had nothing to do with my winning.
Over the years, I learned to choose from the best opinions. Chinese people had Chinese opinions. American people had American opinions. And in almost every case, the American version was much better. It was only later that I discovered there was a serious flaw with the American version. There were too many choices, so it was easy to get confused and pick the wrong thing.
Ted pulled out the divorce papers and stared at them. His x’s were still there, the blanks were still blank. "What do you think you’re doing? Exactly what?" he said.
And the answer, the one that was important above everything else, ran through my body and fell from my lips: "You can’t just pull me out of your life and throw me away."