Male Heterosexual Desire as a Product of Power Differentials in M. Butterfly

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Male Heterosexual Desire as a Product of Power Differentials in M. Butterfly

        What is the definition of the perfect woman, the symbol of male heterosexual desire?  Is it a woman who has a picture perfect body, with a beautiful face, nice legs, and the rest of the body to match?  Or is it something more, something other than just physical appearance?  In Hwang’s M. Butterfly, Gallimard seems to be attracted to a number of different characteristics in women, but he keeps going back to one woman in particular.  Gallimard has his wife, Helga.  The play hints that Helga is unattractive and not someone that a man would find desirable.  Then Gallimard has his first affair with Song, a submissive Oriental woman, or so he thinks, who is attractive and modest.  And lastly there’s Renee, who is completely beautiful, the woman of every man’s dreams.  In M. Butterfly, the male heterosexual desire is a product of power differentials, where Gallimard is most attracted to the woman that has the least power, giving him even more.

        Helga is introduced in act one, scene five, where Gallimard himself hints that Helga is unattractive, or at least, not beautiful.  This impression is given when he says, “the sad truth is that all men want a beautiful woman, and the uglier the man, the greater the want” (Hwang 14).  Then later in the play, after Gallimard has met Song, his old friend from school, Marc, appears in his dream.  During their conversation, Marc says to Gallimard, “all your life you’ve waited for a beautiful girl who would lay down for you…” (Hwang 25).  This further implies that Helga isn’t beautiful because Gallimard has been waiting for a beautiful girl for his whole life.  This is one of the reasons why Gallimard is unhappy with Helga, because she is unattractive.  Gallimard is also unhappy because Helga possesses too much power.  Gallimard introduces her by saying, “I married a woman older than myself – Helga” (Hwang 14).  By being older than him, Helga holds some power.  She is a woman that speaks her mind and has her own opinions.  When the two of them are talking about going to the doctor, she tries to force him to go.  Gallimard doesn’t particularly want to go to the doctor, because he doesn’t really care if she gets pregnant or not, and she gets mad and yells “No!  Of course not! Whatever he finds – if he finds nothing, we decide what to do about nothing!  But go!” (Hwang 50).  Helga has some power in their relationship, and she isn’t very attractive, so she isn’t sexually desirable to Gallimard.

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        Another woman that Gallimard is attracted to is Renee, a student who is in China to learn Chinese.  This is how Gallimard describes Renee: “Renee was picture perfect.  With a body like those girls in the magazines” (Hwang 54).  According to Gallimard, Renee is the woman that every man dreams about.  She’s got the perfect body that every man wants.  Although she has the picture perfect appearance, Gallimard still doesn’t think she is the perfect woman.  After describing how Renee is picture perfect, he goes on to say, “But is it possible for a woman to be too uninhibited, too ...

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