The Butcher’s Wife – Li Ang

The Butcher's Wife

Akin to piercing a bunch of steely needles, quick, sharp pains pulsated between Lin Shi’s youthful legs, pinching a nerve within me. The excruciating screams resonating the “bleating of ghostly pigs” flooded my ears crashing into the serenity of nest-weaving on a nearby tree, numbness crept within me as I watched the crow gathering the wires from a broken cable. The words from the book kept reassembling blurred images juxtaposing polarized worlds of fact and fiction, exhausting my cognitive skills. The woman who kisses her children nightly goodbyes whispering motherly “I love you” in their naive ears, her four beautiful children, each a product of gruesome marital rape. The edgy lady over the cosmetic counter looking for the perfect Bobbi Brown matte hue to conceal her purplish contusions , the long sleeves worn on a scorching summer day ; the uninterrupted metaphors collide within my sanity , the squealing of pigs against the insensitive butcher’s knife reaching to its loudest decibel. “I killed him because he killed me thousand times over”; can an acquittal ever be found in this testimony of defence pertaining to the marital crimes? The slicing of a gut finds substantial verification in its streams of gushing blood. The vagina that bleeds just once, sexually, where can it find its essential proof of further marital violation? Can a bleeding soul be admitted as evidence in the court of law? In the holier-than-thou christened “sacrament of marriage” the men’s privileges is elevated onto a pedestal diluting the civil liberties of women, mocking the constitution of a womb that ironically reproduces its very own predators. The tree of patriarchy flourished in egocentric illusionary presumptions. The numbness within me now,discovers its first breathing sentiment– anger.

He had already set a pattern of wanting her when he returned from the slaughterhouse in the morning. The only question was how often. During the “honeymoon” period she had been forced to endure her man nearly every other day. Occasionally, the intervals were even shorter and he might want her several times in a single day. Always he would reach for her when she was least prepared…..he simply didn’t care.”

Inspired by a newspaper article of a factual domestic crime in 1930s Shanghai, China ; Li Ang interlace a admirably insightful narration of the social taboos, sexual abuse, female oppression, humanity downtrodden in issues of hunger , sex and death and the misconstrued emotional stance of female sexual ecstasy paramount in convoluted echelon of Taiwanese social order. The escalation of Lin Shi’s matrimonial nightmare ensnares in the socio-cultural stereotypes and Jiangshui’s sadistic sexual requisites. A pig butcher by profession, Chen Jiangshui was finest in his craft, an occupation consequential to his impoverished childhood. Although Li Ang conveys a humane side to Jiangshui, his benign being crumbles in the monstrosity adhered in his sadomasochism, grasping animalistic cravings for his share of women and their orgasmic overtures approaching the pitch of “squealing of pigs in the face of death.” Violence committed against women, irrespective to the sexual, physical or emotional nature of the abuse crosses the socio-economic barriers, the criminal profundity soaring the scales in rural territories. Lin Shi’s sanity obliterated in Chen’s ruthless abuse and her ordeal abandoned in the lunacy of debilitated human dignity.

“Once you get your own woman, you don’t have to be an old bum no more………. You got somebody to sleep with you. That’s what I call having it made!”

Is marriage a sexual contract? The demanding phallocentric discourse dictating penetrative sex as a prerogative of the husband. Can sexual abuse be warranted as a part and parcel of a marriage which a woman is fated to accept? Conjugal privileges, who regulates the rights? The phallocratic hierarchy? Who proposed the penile supremacy? And if, sexual climax is perceived through the culmination of a man’s orgasm, then where does the pinnacle of a woman’s sexual ecstasy stand? Doesn’t a wife have the privilege of achieving sexual pleasures or it is that lascivious moans are synonymous with the entirety of a prostitute? Shamefully, the conventions of patriarchy perceives a woman’s body to be a sexual outlet , a sex tool for men to gain pleasure , the demeaning construal gaining momentum in a conjugal sanctity. Li Ang highlights the dehumanization of women comparing the violent penetrative sex to the slaughter of the pigs. Sexual violence within a marriage is beyond restriction of penile penetration with the brutality further escalating in physical exploitation. Chen Jiangshui’s abusive treatment meted to Lin Shi contradicts his complacent demeanour during his brothel visits. The indulgence of sexual ecstasy favouring the prostitute more than the maltreatment of Lin Shi infers the extremities of male-female relationships especially to conjugal domestication. Is the vagina, a dowry that a wife brings in her matrimonial abode? In the order of phallocracy the wife is ordained to be a wedded “property” of the husband, the socio-culture overlooking the violation of sexism in the exercising physical, emotional abuse; sexual being the ultimate domination of power.

“He couldn’t ignore the popular belief that contact with menstrual blood brought bad luck to a man, especially considering the bloody nature of his occupation. Good omens were more important than anything else.”

The womb is the decisive source of life, menstruation being the path to the revered fertility. If menstrual blood is viewed as “tainted” the derivation of bad omen, then every penis procreated in the womb consequently should equate the malign prophecy of a “sinful” establishment. Frivolity of superstitions helm the patriarchal dogma; menstruation being the foremost sign of griminess. Menstrual blood fetches the affliction of a “bad omen”; however, brutally raping a menstruating woman has no such sacrilegious consequences. Duplicitous code of patriarchy masquerading in ludicrous premise to debase the sovereignty of a woman, isn’t it? The barrenness of a womb plunged into the darkness of malicious labelling. The cowardice of an impotent penis concealed in the courage of a maligned fertile womb.

“Good omen”; “bad omen”, the constant shuffle regenerates plagued superstitions overriding the ethical sensibilities submerged in the doomed hypocritical world. The ceremonial customs adhere in honouring the departed souls, the divine retribution blessed with good omen among the glowing joss sticks, multiple course meals crowding the celebratory table, is a resounding slap across the disingenuous societal visage reeking of sarcasm expecting obeisance of customary rites of sumptuous offerings to venerate the sacrifices of the dead, whilst brazenly violating the humanity of the earthbound living souls. The butchering of a pregnant sow is an unpardonable offence, conceived in the axiom –“The destruction of womb, the source of life…”, a bad omen petrifying Chen Jiangshui seeking deliverance , sardonically, showing no such earnest penitence in malevolently vilifying Lin Shi. The outlandish institution of patriarchy, a bunch of self-merited egocentric humans who lack the humane receptivity of wisdom and intellect to recognize that the thriving of ‘bad omen’ does not originate in the stream of menstrual blood or the emancipation of womankind, but in the oppression of a human being.

“All a woman has to do is put up with a while and it’ll pass. Who ever heard of someone yelling and carrying on until everybody in the neighbourhood knows and no other woman is willing to speak up for her. Honestly!”

The two-facedness of phallocracy strides outside the society of men, materializing in the communal quarters of women. Lamentably, women are not only oppressed by their male counterparts but also by the members of their own species. Li Ang moves from the confines phallus sectors elucidating the social traits of falsified morality and frustration over gender discrepancies, stemming from the female dilemmas trapped in overpowering phallocentric dogma. The elderly Ah-wang’s adherence to the iron-clad patriarchal system decodes her own fallacies rooted in promoting her probity, ardently championing female obeisance to their husband’s ascendancy. The “three-inch golden lotuses” that rendered Ah-wang to a life-long struggle, hideously depicts the callous approach of a phallocentric culture disregarding the misery of women and Ah-wang’s acceptance of a male dominating society to be a way of life, the phallocratic ethics embedded within her core rearing. Ah-wang found a bizarre sense of satisfactory excitement in her predatory habits of demeaning women. If men are guilty for the annihilation and condemnation of women, then women too should be held culpable in furthering the malicious circumstances. The lack of social and monetary support and the emptiness coagulated within the ruins of integrity, women rarely find an undeterred supporter in their own genus. Furthermore, women do tend to gossip spreading wanton rumours, speaking ill of the abused victim , failing to garner courage and speak up for the wounded; a dilemma faced by those surviving at the lowest rung of the sexist ladder. The social alienation face by the victim is a consequence of the defenceless minority. The world of oppressed women is eventually descended in deadly silence falling back into sinister depths of silent submissions. Lin Shi and her mother along with the women of Lucheng were doomed fatalities of nauseating silence.

Does having a kind heart save a woman from domestic abuse? Is kindness always rewarded? When does the final fragment of endurance disintegrate into the viscosity of fatigue? When will a perpetually horrified soul discover the solace of tranquillity?

In a land , my very own (India) where patriarchy still raises its ugly fangs, where the fruits of patriarchy are laboured through archaic laws and preposterous display of male ego , where marital rape is decriminalized in order to preserve the laughable “sacrament” of a marriage, and where the myopic sections of the Penal Code amend loopholes that are not grounded in reality but purview fallacy ; an astute scripted prose that put forth questions and seeks viable answers irrespective to its realistic mockery, simmers a debate between the perceptive reader and subsequent humanitarian outlook embroiled in a societal reality , making the undertaken manuscript reading worth every written page ,hoping that someplace, someday, the womb , the vagina, the breast , the haemorrhaged soul and its honoured possessor will find emancipation from its societal subjugation. Perhaps then, there shall be not a single speck of irony lingering within the melodious rendition of Chen Jiangshui’s preferred song–

As the second watch sounds, the moon lights up the courtyard,
I lead my darling girl into her chamber,
We are fated to be lovers tonight
Pay no heed to what others say.

4/5****

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