I don’t know if any book has moved me as much as the Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. I have read it more than once and have watched the movie several times. I am fascinated with human relationships and the mother daughter relationship may be one of the most fascinating and complicated of all.
My daughter, Olivia – beautiful, magnificent, a fire tiger, and because of this she was given an extremely strong will, a determined spirit, a fiery temperament, and as sometimes only a mother can know, a heart of gold. If what I have heard is true, the Chinese, because of their one child only law, would rid themselves of their female babies. Boy babies being much more desirable because when they become men they take care of their parents in their elderly years, while the daughters go on to live and take care of their husbands families. And if the girl baby happened to be a Tiger year baby, well heaven help her, she was definitely “disposed” of. Tigers were known to be “disobedient” and there is no room in a Chinese household for a disobedient daughter.
Flying up to Portland, deep in my own thoughts, thinking of my own daughter. If we were characters in the Joy Luck Club, Olivia would definitely be Waverly. Strong, ferocious, determined. I like to think that perhaps I would have been June’s mother, kind, soft and gentle, but I’m afraid I fit the part of Auntie Lindo much better. A bit manipulative, but a mother who wants only the best for her daughter, to see her fulfill all of her dreams, of which thankfully she has many. When Waverly cries to her mother “nothing I do seems to please you”, I feel a sadness and a keen sense of my own responsibility as a parent, knowing that on occasion my own Olivia has been made to feel that same way. But my intentions have always been good – my intentions have always been to let her be a free spirit, to live a life like a tiger should and shine in her own blinding light.
I thought about our self-worth and how hard it seems to be for women (or at least my experience with women) to believe in their own self-worth. It seems we are constantly trying to justify it. Knowing our own worth – believing in our own worth seems so difficult to do. Whether it be the art of homemaking, child rearing, or any of the outside jobs we hold, we are always fighting to be recognized for the work we do, for who we are. If a large paycheck doesn’t accompany it, it is sometimes regarded as insignificant.
In a society where everything and everyone wants it bigger, from our homes, our 8 seater SUV’s, super highways, our men, the Big Gulp, the Double-Double, the big screen TV, the largest computer monitor, etc., it seems the only thing we still want small is our women. And we comply, which by doing so we are sacrificing our own self worth. We torture ourselves with clothing that is too tight, plastic surgery to reduce our thighs and stomachs, we keep quiet when at times we want to scream out, we let "them" win at a board game, or tennis, or. . . we wear black endlessly instead of celebrating ourselves in color. From taking the tiniest of portions (even if we are crazy hungry) so that someone else can have more, to taking the most uncomfortable chair in the room, the worst side of the bed, the cup with the chip, is this just part of our training as women, or do we really believe we are not as worthy? It is not our true nature. If you observe little boys and girls, she is not such a push over, she will fight for equal time on the swing.
As I sit here in this cramped isle on my flight to Portland, jotting down notes on my airsickness bag, I’m noticing the large man seated next to me, who comfortably has legs spread wide open, has taken possession of the middle armrest (there is only one and it is also mine to use), his USA Today is spread across his air space and part of mine. I, on the other hand, sit with my knees forced together, both arms in my lap with my fingers clasped together. It is as if I am trying to disappear. Is this just being polite or am I doing what has been expected of us women for all of time? Stay quiet, stay small.
From the Joy Luck Club opening narration:
The old woman remembered a swan she had bought many years ago in Shanghai for a foolish sum. "This bird", boasted the market vendor, "was once a duck that stretched its neck in hopes of becoming a goose. And now look, it is too beautiful to eat!" Then the woman and the swan sailed across an ocean many thousands of lei wide, stretching their necks toward America. On her journey, she cooed to the swan, "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 husbands belch. Over there, nobody will look down on her because I will make her speak only perfect American English. And over there, she will always be too full to swallow any sorrow. She will know my meaning because I will give her this swan, a creature that became more than what was hoped for." But when she arrived in the new country the immigration officials pulled the swan away from her, leaving the woman fluttering her arms and with only one swan feather for a memory. For a long time now, the women had wanted to give her daughter the single swan feather and tell her; "This feather may look worthless, but it comes from afar and carries with it all my good intentions."